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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 February 2006, 12:16 GMT
Life after prison
On Sunday 26 February 2006 Andrew Marr interviewed Jeffrey Archer

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Jeffrey Archer
Jeffrey Archer

ANDREW MARR: Now he was once one of the most glamorous, talked about figures in public life; best-selling millionaire, prolific fundraiser, socialite, Vice Chairman of the Tory Party, and he aimed to crown it all by becoming Mayor of London and then everything came crashing down for Jeffrey Archer in 2001.

Convicted of perjury and for perverting the course of justice, he spent two years in prison, partly in high security. He's since admitted that he contemplated suicide at the time.

In his first television interview since being released I talked to him at his fabled Thames-side penthouse. Now he refuses to discuss his original perjury trial - that followed, you may recall, a libel case involving his liaison with a prostitute but he is now in the middle of an appeal.

I began by asking him about his new book False Impression and why this novel, his first since being released from prison, was so important.

JEFFREY ARCHER: Well I think after leaving prison, and having written three diaries about life in prison, it became a sort of a new challenge to write another novel, to write a new novel. And so I gave up everything for it - time, energy, research - I dropped everything and so yes False Impression to me was very important indeed.

ANDREW MARR: Now it's different from some of the other novels in the sense it's got a female protagonist and its set in the aftermath of 9/11. Quite a bold thing, to take 9/11, and use it as a plot device.

JEFFREY ARCHER: Yes I - I read an article in the New York Times that said after 9/11 the police were not willing to say everybody announced as missing, presumed dead, were necessarily missing, presumed dead, but many, for financial reasons, for marital reasons, for criminal reasons even, suddenly disappeared off the face of the earth.

And I thought it was quite an interesting idea to take a heroine, who is on the 82nd floor when the plane crashes into the tower, she gets out of the building and she discovers that she's listed as missing, presumed dead. And she doesn't want to disappear for all the wrong reasons, she wants to disappear for the right reasons. She wants to stop something happening that her boss is about to do, and she's got about a 48 hour start.

ANDREW MARR: And it's also very much about the art world and the art market - something you know a great deal about and enjoy. Why put so much art into a book, which is after all a thriller?

JEFFREY ARCHER: Yes. I mean you had to have a reason for the book and it's the stealing of an amazing self-portrait by Van Gogh, Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear, so that was the picture that was being stolen. And then it struck me that having been a lover of art for so long, and been a collector for so long, I should impart in the pages my love of art and perhaps a little bit of knowledge as well.

ANDREW MARR: How did prison change you?

JEFFREY ARCHER: I think if you live in that situation for two years it would be fairly remarkable if you weren't changed. I think I came out realising how very privileged and lucky I was. I remember when I only had two weeks to go before being released and a young kid of 24, good-looking kid, came into my room and said "I'd change places with you, I'll be 63, you be 24, and I'll have the 20 years you're now going to have and you can have the 20 years I'm now going to have."

And I think that really hit home. We were both leaving at the same time and this kid would have rather had 20 years living the style of life I lead than I'd obviously rather be 24. And that shook me. And I sense with the young in prison that they didn't know where they were going or what they were doing. If you - at times I would say to someone "Where will you be in six months time young man," "I haven't got a clue Jeff. Haven't got a clue."

ANDREW MARR: Do you think that our prisons are overall badly run, under-resourced, brutal places?

JEFFREY ARCHER: I would like to see two reforms that I learnt from my two years in. We go on a lot in this country about offences being caused by drugs. The truth is just as many offences are caused by drink. And that should be taken into account. But the thing I felt most strongly about, and put at the end of one of the prison diaries, was education.

Sixty per cent of people entering prison today are illiterate. If you were to go into prison tomorrow, Andrew, you could choose to work in a kitchen, you could choose to clean the floors, you could be on hospital duty - as I was - and you'd get 12.50 a week. If you said well I'd really like to do some education, you'll get 8.50 a week. And I thought it was madness that you got less pay to do education than you did to peel potatoes.

ANDREW MARR: This is the first TV interview you've done since prison; a lot of people will want to know the answer to one simple question. Do you feel contrite about what happened? Do you come away thinking I have learned, I'm now moving on?

JEFFREY ARCHER: Well I certainly have learned and I hope I'm moving on and certainly two years of prison was a terrible punishment.

It was a revelation in many ways, because of course it showed me a totally different world. But I certainly made mistakes, for which I regret, I think most human beings in their lifetime make mistakes, mine ended up in two years prison - two very remarkable years from which I learnt a lot.

I learnt a lot about myself, I learnt a lot about other people and the problems they have. If I was lucky enough to live to a hundred, how I will feel about two per cent of my life being that way, I don't know.

Certainly at the time it was dreadful. I remember those three weeks in Belmarsh, a category A prison, virtually everyone a murderer or a major drug dealer or grievous bodily harm, and me in the middle of them all. It was a pretty terrifying time and not something I'll ever forget the rest of my life.

And I did wonder - because it's now three years ago since I left prison - whether there would come a time when I would forget it, or it would be in the past as anything else might be - no, it's there every day of my life.

ANDREW MARR: I wonder how all those people that you had here to parties, that you had mixed with before, reacted to you. Were you concerned about that?

JEFFREY ARCHER: When I came out I was genuinely worried I would be shunned in the street. I wouldn't be invited to anything or be able to do anything - the exact opposite.

Of my friends, we did it as an exercise for our Christmas parties, the 300 people who had come to the two Christmas parties, eight people out of 300 decided they didn't want to come. And then the other side of course was prison visits.

It became a standing joke, of course, of which Dame Edna got the biggest laugh of all by saying it's easier to get a table at The Caprice than it is to visit Jeffrey Archer in prison. They were queuing, which was kind.

ANDREW MARR: You have, clearly, very creative instincts and talents inside you. Do you think that alongside that, over the course of your life, you've had some self-destructive ones too?


ANDREW MARR: And that the two are tied together?

JEFFREY ARCHER: Yes possibly. Whenever you analyse anyone who has had any success and they're in the headlines, you will find they are human and make mistakes. I'm certainly that and I've made a lot of mistakes.

ANDREW MARR: Looking ahead, can I just get it clear, are you back in the Conservative Party?

JEFFREY ARCHER: Well in the sense that I, at the end of last year, rejoined my local association in Cambridge and in Lambeth, yes, but I'm not taking any interest in politics, I'm not involved in politics in any way - my life is in writing now.

ANDREW MARR: You are a Member of the House of Lords.


ANDREW MARR: Do you see a point where you will be back in the House of Lords making speeches, being part of that?

JEFFREY ARCHER: I think it's very unlikely. As I say, my real interest is in writing. I'm - though I'm bound to say, if a bill came up for prison reform, in which I saw something that I knew just wasn't right because they hadn't had that experience, I would want to go back and speak about it and I would want to vote on it. But it would have to be, I would have to feel that strongly.

ANDREW MARR: And when people like William Hague, and indeed David Cameron, say his career at front line politics is over, did you feel any sense of hurt or resentment about what they were saying?

JEFFREY ARCHER: None at all - they were right. I'm not involved in politics any more and they're quite right.

ANDREW MARR: And yet, whether you live to a hundred or not, when you are finally deceased and cut open, there will be Conservative written right the way through there - you're always going to be rooting for the Tory Party.

JEFFREY ARCHER: Oh yes. I hope the Conservatives win the next election. I think Cameron's had a terrific start, I think his first couple of months have been very good; he's going to be up against Gordon Brown. So you will see just from those statements that I remain interested, but I'm not involved in any way. My involvement is in writing.

ANDREW MARR: Jeffrey Archer, thank you very much.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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