It has often been said that Jeffrey Archer’s own story would make an international bestseller. He was born in London, brought up in Somerset, the son of a printer, and educated at Wellington School and Brasenose College, Oxford, where he was President of the University Athletics Club, and went on to run the 100 yards in 9.6 ¬seconds for Great Britain in 1966.
After leaving Oxford he was elected to the Greater London Council, and three years later, at the age of twenty-nine, he became MP for Louth. After five years in the House of Commons and with a promising political career ahead of him, he invested heavily in a Canadian company called Aquablast, on the advice of the Bank of Boston. The company went into liquidation and three directors were later sent to jail for fraud. Left with debts of £427,727, and on the brink of bankruptcy, Jeffrey Archer resigned from the Commons.
Aged thirty-four, and determined to repay his creditors in full, he sat down to write his first novel Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less. It was sold to seventeen countries within a year. It was also made into a ¬successful serial for BBC Radio 4, and was later tele¬vised in 1990 by the BBC. Shall We Tell the President?, his second novel, was published in 1977, and from that point on Archer produced almost a book a year for the next twenty years. He is now published in sixty-three countries and more than thirty-two languages, with international sales totalling over 125 million copies.
After resigning from the House of Commons, his political career ¬continued, and from September 1985 to November 1986 he was Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party. Alongside his writing, he was active in many fields, co-ordinating the Campaign for Kurdish Relief and ¬raising money for charity—more than £10 million in the last ten years—as an amateur auctioneer. For his achievements he was made a Life Peer in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List of 1992.
Having run a successful campaign for Mayor of London for two-and-a-half years, from 1997, in 1999 Jeffrey Archer was selected, by an ¬overwhelming majority, as the official Conservative Party Candidate for London’s Mayor. In November that same year, he withdrew his ¬candidacy, having been charged with perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. He was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment and was released in July 2003, having served two years. Three published ¬volumes of his Prison Diary recount that time of his life. Volume I, Hell, is a searing account of his first three weeks in the high-security prison, HMP Belmarsh; Volume II, Purgatory, is set in HMP Wayland, a C-¬category prison; and the third and final volume, Heaven, is about his final transfer to an open prison.
Jeffrey Archer completed the Flora London Marathon in 2004, raising money for several charities. He says he has no plans to repeat the experience, but nevertheless likes to stay fit. He trains six days a week with the help of an Australian coach, and he won’t let travel interfere.
Seemingly indefatigable in every area of his life, he describes his ¬writing regime as follows: ‘I am very disciplined and usually go abroad to try and eliminate any distractions. I work in two-hour blocks—and I have a huge hourglass, which was a present from Mary, on my desk to ensure that I work for the full 120 minutes of each session. I write from six to eight a.m., breaking for two hours for breakfast and to read the morning newspapers, or catch up on the cricket scores; then, from ten a.m. until twelve p.m., when I break to go to the gym or for a long walk before a light lunch. Back to work at two until four p.m., after which I might relax by watching an episode of my favourite TV show, The West Wing, and then my final session is from six till eight p.m. I find that my morning sessions are usually the most productive.’
And at the outset, does he always know how his books will end? ‘I usually know the first four or five chapters in detail, and the next ten in outline, which will take me to the middle of the book. Then it’s time to pray. As I write, I’m wondering what will happen on the next page. My theory is: if I wonder what will happen on the next page, there’s a good chance you will as well . . . ‘
Jeffrey has been married for forty years to Dr Mary Archer, who is chairman of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. They have two sons, William and James.