Jilly’s Biography

Jilly Cooper was born in Hornchurch, Essex in 1937, but she comes from a well-known Yorkshire family. Her great great grandfather founded The Leeds Mercury (which eventually merged with the Yorkshire Post) and was Liberal MP for Leeds. Her maternal grandfather went to St Peter’s, York, and then into the church. As a padre, he won an M.C. in the First World War, and later became Canon of Heaton, Yorkshire.

Her father was in the army and when she was two they moved back to Ilkley where she was mostly brought up. She went to school at Godolphin in Salisbury where she became known to the staff as “the Unholy Terror”. In the mid-fifties her family moved to London. Her writing career began in 1956 when she got a job as a cub reporter on the Middlesex Independent. She then moved to public relations and was sacked from 22 jobs before ending up in book publishing.

In 1961 she married publisher Leo Cooper, who comes from Long Preston, whom she had first met in Yorkshire in 1948. They have two children, Felix and Emily, and four grandchildren, Jago, Lysander, Acer and Scarlett, as well as a rescued cat, Feral, and a rescued greyhound, Feather. They live in an old house in the Cotswolds which they moved to in 1982.

Jilly had already started writing stories for women’s magazines when in 1968 she met Godfrey Smith the editor of The Sunday Times Colour Magazine at a dinner party. He invited her to write a piece for him on the difficulties of being a young working wife; as well as being typically outrageous; it was very funny and, as a result, The Sunday Times took her on as a regular columnist. Subsequently she established a remarkable following among Sunday Times readers whom she delighted regularly over thirteen and a half years with a range of memorably entertaining pieces together with a series of more serious interviews that included Mrs Thatcher, Dame Rebecca West, George Best, Jill Bennett and Sacheverill Sitwell. Her Sunday Times pieces and many others have been published in several volumes. Her pieces were regularly syndicated abroad in South Africa and Australasia. In 1982 she left The Sunday Times and joined The Mail on Sunday for whom she wrote a bi-monthly column until 1987.

Her first book, How To Stay Married, was written in 1969. Since then she has written or helped to compile 41 other books. She has appeared on radio and television, including What’s My Line which regularly achieved 14 million viewers. In 1970 she also wrote a TV series about four girls in a flat entitled It’s Awfully Bad For Your Eyes Darling, in which Joanna Lumley played a starring role. Jilly’s non fiction includes a book completed for Heinemann and The Imperial War Museum called Animals In War, a book about her London life called The Common Years, a collection of newspaper pieces mostly about her life in Gloucestershire called Turn Right at the Spotted Dog, and two more humorous best-sellers, How to Survive Christmas and How to Survive from 9 to 5. She is also the author of four children’s books about Little Mabel (a mongrel) and a book about mongrels called Mongrel Magic. Her most famous non-fiction work, however, is Class which has gone into many editions.

In 1975 Jilly Cooper began to write a series of “permissive” romances based on long magazine stories she had published earlier and these became Emily, Bella, Imogen, Prudence, Harriet and Octavia and a collection of short stories called Lisa & Co – her first fiction in book form. In 1993 she published Araminta’s Wedding, a witty novella of English country life inspired by the paintings of Sue McCarney-Snape.

Her first big novel, Riders was published in 1985 and went straight to number one in the bestseller lists, as did Rivals published in 1988. Polo, which was published in 1991, was the highest selling hardback novel of the year. The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous, which was published in April of 1993 went straight into the number one position too and remained there for eight weeks. All of these books have sold well over 1 million copies each in their UK editions.

Riders was her first novel to be adapted for a major two part mini-series for television. It achieved an astounding 9 million viewers for the first episode and 15 million for the second. In March 1997 The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous was shown on ITV to similar audiences.

In April 1996 Jilly Cooper’s twelfth novel Appasionata was published by Bantam Press. It received acres of press coverage and was a runaway bestseller, going straight into the number one position on The Sunday Times list – it remained there until 12th May 1996. In 1998, Jilly received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the British Book Awards.

Jilly Coooper’s thirteenth novel Score! was published in May 1999 by Bantam Press. It follows on from Appassionata with many of her best loved characters reappearing, including the irrepressible Rupert Campbell-Black and the arch villain Sir Robert Rannaldini. The Corgi paperback edition was published in March 2000 and went straight to number one, selling over 500,000 copies to date.

Animals in War, Jilly Cooper’s much loved classic depiction of animals in wartime, was reissued in March 2000 to coincide with the launch of the Animals In War Memorial Campaign. Jilly Cooper is one of the patrons of this campaign. A memorial to animals in war was unveiled in Park Lane in November 2004.

Jilly Cooper’s fourteenth novel, Pandora, was published in 2002 and was on the bestseller list for 19 weeks. It is set in the dazzling and glitzy international art world with favourite and much-loved characters such as Rupert Campbell-Black making cameo appearances. Jilly Cooper’s books have sold over 11 million copies in the UK alone. Her books have been translated into Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Greek, Japanese, Norwegian, Swedish, Polish, Russian, Finnish, Hungarian and Lithuanian as well as being published in The United States.

In June 2004 Jilly was awarded the O.B.E for Services to Literature, and in July she received the Variety Club Heart of Yorkshire Award for Services to the Media.

Her fifteenth novel Wicked! about an independent boarding school forming a partnership with a comprehensive school, was published in May 2006. It was number one on the bestseller list for five weeks.

Her novel Jump! is about a grandmother, Etta, who, having moved to a Cotswold village, finds escape from her demanding family by rescuing an abandoned and abused filly. Having nursed her back to health, Etta discovers the filly is a seriously good race horse and forms a syndicate with other village characters to put her into training. To aid her research, Jilly joined a syndicate called Thoroughbred Ladies who own three horses trained by Tom and Sophie George in the Slad Valley.

Mount!, released in 2016, sold 40,000 copies in its first month,

In 2009, Jilly was awarded an honorary doctorate by Gloucestershire University for services to Literature and the county.

In 2004, Jilly was appointed OBE for services to literature and charity.

Jilly was appointed CBE in the 2018 New Year Honours for servics to literature and charity.


< Back