Former Sun newspaper editor David Yelland tells how his Yorkshire upbringing served him well
PUBLISHED: 08:33 02 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:47 20 February 2013
David Yelland, a once troubled editor of The Sun newspaper, says his Yorkshire upbringing has served him well. <br/>Tony Greenway talks to him
A former editor of The Sun newspaper, David Yelland, has been frank about his childhood alopecia, alcoholism, failed marriage and the tragic death of his ex-wife. Hes admitted publicly that, for quite a long time, his life was a mess.
Even so, just before my interview, I ask his press officer if there are any subjects that are off limits. Not really, she says. Good. Because it would be ironic, wouldnt it, if a former red-top editor started to lay down the law about what he would and wouldnt talk about.
When we speak, though, Yelland does insist on one pre-condition. Hes not going to discuss his former boss and Sun proprietor, Rupert Murdoch.
Im very happy to talk about my upbringing and Yorkshire, he says, but every time Im asked about Murdoch I get a bit... He tails off and doesnt actually say what he gets a bit of but we can guess.
Editing The Sun, he says reasonably, was years ago for me.
Yelland was born in Harrogate in 1963 and his birth mother put him up for immediate adoption. I was adopted by my mum and dad in 1964, he says. We lived in York for a while dad worked at Barclays in the city and then we moved to Lincolnshire, Bridlington and, later, Manchester.
Of all these locations, Yelland considers Bridlington to be the family home. My mums parents ran the Carlton Hotel on the seafront which will be remembered by many people, he says. David Hockneys mum used to live nearby. Ive since met Hockney on a couple of occasions and he calls me the boy from Brid. When I was growing up, Id see him pushing his mum along the front very regularly. Its funny, no one knows who Hockney is in Bridlington. Well, they sort of know now; but for years he was completely anonymous, whereas in London hed have been mobbed.
Suffering from alopecia aged 11, Yelland wore a wig and was taunted at school. As an adult, he was shy but also focussed and determined, rising from the ranks of local journalism to become editor of The Sun in just 14 years, aged 35. In 2002 he was listed as the 22nd most powerful man in the country.
As Yellands career went up, however, his personal life went down.
Indeed, he once wrote for 24 years, I was drunk nearly every night.
Quite a feat when youre editing the UKs most popular newspaper. He has said he was intensely uncomfortable at The Sun, but it was alcohol, ultimately, that ended his marriage with Tania. More tragedy was to follow when Tania, died of cancer in 2006.
Yelland had checked into rehab the year before and conquered his drinking problem. Hed saved himself just in time because, with Tania gone, the couples young son, Max, now depended on him.
These days Yelland is an alcohol-free happy dad and a partner in London PR firm, Brunswick; but hes also started a new career as an author.
Earlier this year his debut novel a book for children and adults was published to much acclaim. Called The Truth About Leo, its about a 10-year-old boy whose mother has died and whose father is a chronic alcoholic.
Yelland has said that Its not about me... but it is about the man I was dangerously close to becoming. So which character does he most identify with? Im not so much the father, he says. I was like Leo as a child. And the figure of the prime minister is also autobiographical because I do know what its like to have an important job but not be able to control what youre supposed to be doing. I was ambitious and ambition can be a very dangerous thing, so I wanted to write about that.
The book took Yelland three years to complete. There were elements which were emotionally painful to write, he admits. Theres a chapter where Leo remembers his mum plus theres a letter at the end of the book which explains how his father couldnt get better when she was alive. That was painful because the fact is I was unable to get well when Tania was alive.
Max, now 11, has never seen his dad drink and, says Yelland, never will. But now Max has read the book, what does he think of the story and his dads old life? He doesnt associate me with that person, says Yelland, because its the opposite of what I am. And Max doesnt take me seriously at all. Were a bit like Bart and Homer in The Simpsons.Yellands parents still live in York and their son and grandson visit often.
Yelland is fiercely proud of his roots and is a passionate advocate of Yorkshire-bred culture. I think Yorkshire has an incredible culture which we dont celebrate enough, he says.
Take Alan Bennett and Hockney who are, without doubt, the greatest of their kind in the world at the moment. And Christopher Bailey (chief creative director of Burberry) is the greatest fashion designer in the world. Theres a reason for that but theres also a Yorkshire tendency not to make too much of things.
When he sees old cine films of himself as a child, Yelland is viewing a Yorkshire that doesnt exist anymore. But he remembers it well. Up until I left junior school, I had an idyllic time, he says. A Yorkshire childhood is something that never leaves you. It instils certain values which stay with you your whole life: a love of simple pleasures, a love of peace, quiet, family and of minding your own business.
An ex-Editor of The Sun? Minding his own business? I did lose that for a while, admits David Yelland. My head was turned a little bit. But my upbringing stood me in extremely good stead.
The Truth About Leo by David Yelland is published by Penguin, 6.99.