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Sunny outlook for patriotic Parsons
7:00am Saturday 30th June 2012 in NewsXtra
His latest novel, Catching The Sun, describes broken Britain and a family's escape to a tropical paradise. But bestselling author Tony Parsons will never leave this country, he confesses to Hannah Stephenson, and reveals why the grass isn't always greener.
Tony Parsons has enjoyed a good rant in his time, as a writer and former hell-raiser who once hung out with The Sex Pistols, took drugs and slept with lots of women.
But today the multi-millionaire author, who made his name 13 years ago with Man And Boy, has become Mr Respectable with an Essex twang, a fervent monarchist who still believes in this country despite an economy on its knees and rising unemployment. If he had a Union Jack flag, he'd be waving it.
"I love this country and I feel very British," declares Parsons.
"I'm a fanatical royalist. I'm the punk rocker who defected to the Crown. I think the Queen is more of a punk than Johnny Rotten. She's following her destiny - and Johnny Rotten's advertising margarine."
Yet Parsons was brought up in a working-class household which was sceptical about the monarchy.
"My dad always used to tell the story about meeting George VI when he received his Distinguished Service Medal at Buckingham Palace. The story goes that the King said, 'You've done very well, Parsons' and Dad looked at him and said, 'And you've done all right yourself'. Dad had that non-deferential attitude."
Parsons, a former punk chronicler who used to chop out lines of speed on restaurant tables, is now more at home promoting adult literacy with the Duchess of Cornwall, slagging off political parties in equal measure in his Mirror newspaper column and doing the (private) school run with his nine-year-old daughter, Jasmine.
He bangs the drum about the lack of social mobility in this country, yet his argument seems to be directed as much towards the Labour party as the Tories.
"To say I was a lifelong Labour supporter is overstating it," he says.
"I was brought up in a Labour household. My sympathies would lie with the underdog but at the same time I live in the real world and I've probably seen a bit more of the world than the average Labour politician on the front bench who's been to Oxford."
Parsons, 58, looks fit - thanks to his regular boxing training - and is amiable enough. He plays down his wealth, intimating that while it may give him a certain amount of freedom he can't rest on his laurels because he's not tied to a book contract.
He may love Britain, but he doesn't paint a very favourable picture of the country in his latest novel, Catching The Sun.
It's set against a menacing backdrop, including hoodies who intimidate old people, while the taxi driver central character is almost jailed for confronting two burglars in his own home. This fuels him to leave the country with his wife and children to seek a happier life on the tropical island of Phuket.
Indeed, there have been times when Parsons, who has been married to his Japanese wife Yuriko for 20 years, considered leaving Britain.
"A few years ago my wife and I talked about moving to Japan, but we were in quite a bad earthquake in Tokyo five years ago.
"We were on the 38th floor of the Conrad Hotel. The sliding door of the bathroom just started going backwards and forwards. It was very scary.
"My wife grew up with earthquakes and I've been going there for 20 years. Earthquakes are usually just a little shudder. Our daughter, Jasmine, was three at the time and was incredibly calm but we were frightened.
"When it stopped, my wife said, 'We're never living here'. But her dad's dying of lung cancer and as she gets older, there's the call of home."
The book, however, is more of a tribute to his father, Victor, a former Royal Naval Commando who felt disillusioned about the life offered to him on his return to Britain after serving his country.
"Catching The Sun doesn't represent my life in London - it's more like my dad," says Parsons. "The hero's done everything he was meant to do, he's grafted and yet everything is taken away from him. It all came from my dad's experience."
When the author was a child, the Parsons family nearly moved to Australia because of his father's disillusionment, but his mother wouldn't leave her mother.
"My dad was more than a tough guy, he was a killer. It made civilian life very difficult for him. By the time he was 20, the commando life was over. He was very disappointed in the life that was left for him after World War Two.
"Both my parents had low-paid jobs - he was a greengrocer, she was a dinner lady - and he felt that surely there should be more to life than that. He didn't believe he had returned to a land fit for heroes."
His father died from cancer before Parsons achieved success with Man And Boy and went on to repeat it with One For My Baby and Stories We Could Tell.
Victor had seen his son go through the trauma of the breakdown of his first marriage to the writer Julie Burchill, whom he met while working on NME and with whom he has a son, Robert.
Parsons became a single father for 10 years and his parents provided much of the support he needed.
"It really hurt me in ways that I wasn't prepared to acknowledge for years," he has said. "But you don't get endless chances. One of the things that's wrong with our culture is that people think you can always try again, there's always a new family, a new love, more children, and you don't value what you have."
These days, he lives a quiet life with Yuriko and Jasmine, but doesn't see much of Robert, 32, who is now a professional gambler living in Billericay, Essex.
"He goes his own way and he doesn't ask me for money. I love him and he loves me. Of course I want him to have a happy life but I've got a nine-year-old to bring up."
While Parsons has now written eight novels, his debut Man And Boy, published in 1999, remains the one which has sold the most. But he isn't frustrated by that, he insists.
"It's an impossible act to follow. I know I've written better books. I'm a better writer than I was 12 years ago but at the same time I understand that it touched something. It was a song that a lot of people could understand."
He's now working on the next book, a contemporary detective story introducing a new character, Victor Logan, which he hopes will become a series. And he always likes to end on an optimistic note.
"I believe in the healing power of happy endings," he says. "And Catching The Sun feels like a lucky book to me."
:: Catching The Sun by Tony Parsons is published by HarperCollins, priced £7.99. Available now
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