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Author Jilly Cooper awarded damehood in New Year Honours

Jilly Cooper who has been made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the New Year Honours list, for services to literature and to charity <i>(Image: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire)</i>
Jilly Cooper who has been made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the New Year Honours list, for services to literature and to charity (Image: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire)

Author Jilly Cooper said she is “incredibly bowled over” after being given a damehood in the New Year Honours list.

The 86-year-old author and journalist of steamy fiction was honoured for services to literature and to charity.

She is chiefly known for her Rutshire Chronicles, which focus on scandal and adultery in upper class society and an aristocratic character called Rupert Campbell-Black.

The series has seen a string of bestsellers with titles such as Riders, Rivals, Polo, Mount! and The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous along with her most recent work, 2023’s Tackle!.

Dame Jilly said in a statement to the PA news agency: “I am absolutely and incredibly bowled over. I cannot believe I am a DBE, which in my case also stands for Delighted, Bewildered and Ecstatic!”.

She can also count the Prime Minister among her fans with Rishi Sunak confirming to ITV’s This Morning in May that he was a fan of the chronicles, set in the fictional county of Rutshire.

Her work has been adapted at various points with Coronation Street star Stephen Billington and Downtown Abbey actor Hugh Bonneville appearing in an ITV adaption of The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous and Marcus Gilbert starring in a Riders series during the 1990s.

A Disney+ series, based on Rivals and featuring British actor Alex Hassell as Rupert, will also star David Tennant, Aidan Turner, Emily Atack and Danny Dyer, and is currently in production.

Dame Jilly’s first novel in the series, Riders, published in 1985, also made the BBC list of 100 important English language novels in the love, sex and romance selection alongside Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice.

Born in Hornchurch, Essex in 1937, Dame Jilly grew up in Yorkshire and attended the private Godolphin School in Salisbury.

Her father was a brigadier and her family moved to London in the 1950s where she became a reporter on The Middlesex Independent when she was 20.

She has said she moved to public relations and was sacked from 22 jobs before ending up in book publishing.

In 1968, she got a break when she met Godfrey Smith, the editor of The Sunday Times Magazine (then called The Sunday Times Colour Section), at a dinner party who commissioned her to write a piece, which led to a regular column in which she wrote openly about sex, marriage and housework.

Her first book, How To Stay Married, was soon published and in the 1970s she began turning her magazine stories into the romance novels Emily, Bella, Imogen, Prudence, Harriet and Octavia along with a collection of short stories called Lisa & Co.

In March 1972, the author rated famous men such as British actor David Niven and former Labour chancellor Roy Jenkins by how she thought they would be in bed in the first UK edition of Cosmopolitan.

Both Riders and Rivals, published in 1988, went to number one in the bestseller lists and 1991 novel Polo became the highest-selling hardback novel of the year.

In 1998, Dame Jilly received a lifetime achievement award, which has also been won by JK Rowling, Martin Amis and Terry Pratchett, at the British Book Awards.

In October of the next year, she survived the Paddington rail crash.

She said of the experience that she believed she was going to die when her train carriage overturned but she escaped unhurt by climbing through a broken window on the First Great Western train.

Dame Jilly has continued to have success and her books have sold over 11 million copies in the UK, according to her website.

She became an CBE for services to literature and charity during the 2018 New Year Honours.

When she received a previous honour from Buckingham Palace in 2004, she said she nearly fainted when she was told about the OBE for her services to literature.

In 2009, Gloucestershire University awarded her an honorary doctorate for services to literature and the county and 10 years later she received the first Comedy Women In Print (CWIP) lifetime achievement award.

In 1961 she married publisher and her childhood sweetheart Leo Cooper, whom she was with for more than half a century before his death in November 2013 at the age of 79.

Their marriage had its ups and downs and in 1993 Dame Jilly discovered her husband had been having an affair with a colleague for six years. They adopted two children, Emily and Felix.

She moved to the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire in 1982 where she has said she writes in a summerhouse at the bottom of her manor house’s garden on a manual typewriter called “Monica” while listening to classical music.

Dame Jilly has long been a patron of animal charities and spearheaded the Animals In War Memorial Fund in 1998, which led to a memorial being unveiled in Park Lane in November 2004.

She has been listed as a patron for Compassion in World Farming, the Racehorse Sanctuary and Re-homing Centre and Secret World Wildlife Rescue.

 



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