Born in Greenock on the Firth of Clyde in Scotland on July 9, 1945, he is the son of a Scots mother and a London-born father. He was born in the same tenement in Greenock as his mother, but was brought back to north London at the age of two – where he has remained for most of the rest of his life.
Educated at the local church schools, he passed the now despised 11 plus and won a scholarship to Haberdashers’ Aske’s School, then in Hampstead, where he joined an immensely talented generation that included his exact contemporaries, historian Simon Schama, advertising tycoon Sir Martin Sorrell and media entrepreneur David Elstein.
Wansell won a scholarship to the London School of Economics in 1962, when he was 17, and graduated in 1966 after helping to run the student newspaper and magazine, as well as the drama and revue societies. After leaving he went to do a second degree and teach British Politics at the University of Sheffield, but always wanted to become a journalist and writer.
In the first weeks of 1967, he answered an advertisement in the personal column of The Times, which was then still on the newspaper’s front page, suggesting that an editorial trainee was wanted for ‘an educational weekly’. It turned out to be the Times Educational Supplement, which he joined as a reporter in March 1967, within six months he was a columnist and within two years the paper’s News Editor.
And in June 1970 he moved to The Times as a reporter – one of the youngest in the paper’s then 185 year history. Two years later he became one of the paper’s first full-time feature writers – before leaving to join Britain’s first commercial radio stations – London Broadcasting and Independent Radio News in the summer of 1973 as its features editor – a post he held until a reorganization of the station two years later.
While he was at LBC/IRN Wansell published his first book, a study of juvenile delinquency and the law, written with his Times colleague Marcel Berlins for Pelican Books. It was later credited with having altered the way in which the law treated, and considered, the most frequent juvenile offenders.
Joining The Observer as the Pendennis columnist in 1977, he then moved to a new news magazine, Now!, as a columnist, when it was launched in October 1979, and remained with the magazine until it was closed by its owner Sir James Goldsmith in April 1981.
Wansell had already embarked on his first full-scale biography, of the move star Cary Grant, whom he’s met during his time at The Observer, but then embarked on a second book, the first biography of the controversial Anglo-French tycoon Sir James Goldsmith, the owner of Now!. Both books were published in 1982, not long after the birth of his first child, a son Daniel in January 1981.
By now a retained feature writer on the Sunday Telegraph’s colour magazine, where he also contributed a People column and Man of the Week column and a regular contributor to the Mail on Sunday’s You magazine, Wansell also started to write screenplays, the first of novelist Phil Rickman’s first thriller, Candlenight. His second child, a daughter Molly, was born in November 1983.
In 1985, he returned to writing an extended book on Goldsmith, in the light of the tycoon’s sudden successes in the United States, and his departure from his native France. Written with the controversial entrepreneur’s collaboration, although never officially authorised, this second book was published in both Britain and America, where it reached the best-seller list.
Wansell’s interest in films sharpened in 1987, when he started a campaign to get Michael Morpurgo’s award winning story about the fate of a school of Narwhals washed up on the shores of the Scilly Isles, 35 miles off Land’s End in south west England into a feature film. (See Home page on this site.)
Wansell went on to write the first authorised biography of one of his long time heroes, the British playwright Sir Terence Rattigan, whose work included The Winslow Boy, The Browning Version, The Deep Blue Sea and Separate Tables, using the playwright’s extensive and never previously seen papers. The book was published in both Britain and the United States, and was nominated for the Whitbread Prize as the book of the year.
Just as the book was finished, Wansell was asked to become the official biographer of the Herefordshire born serial killer Frederick West, who was charged with the murder of 12 young women before killing himself on January 1, 1995.
In an unprecedented act – which caused great political controversy, including questions to the Prime Minister John Major in the House of Commons – he was given access to all the Gloucester police interviews with West and his wife Rosemary who was later tried and convicted of 10 of the killings – a trial that Wansell attended. He was also given Frederick West’s prison diaries, interviews with his solicitor and the thousands of police witness statements for the case.
One reviewer commented when the book was published, that it was ‘unlikely that much will ever be added to Mr Wansell’s portrait’. An Evil Love, as it was called, was published in Britain, Australia, Canada and Japan, selling thousands of copies in both countries. Half the profits from the sales went to help support five of Frederick and Rosemary West’s children who had been taken into local authority care and separated from their parents.
Still regularly contributing to magazines and newspapers around the world, including Vanity Fair in the United States, the Australian, the Straits Times,South theAfrican Times, the Times of India, Parade magazine, he also became a columnist for the Sunday Express in Britain, writing about the media.
But it was the public’s fascination with the story of Frederick West – and a planned biography of the Scots-born movie actor and former James Bond – that led him to start writing large features for the Daily Mail in England. When Connery threatened to sue Wansell for invading his privacy, he responded by asking the Mail help him write a major three part series on the star.
As a result, by 2000 he was writing regular major features for the Daily Mail, covering such diverse subjects as the return of tuberculosis, the abuse of the elderly in care homes and the madness of some diets. But it was his fascination with human stories, and the lives of individuals that shaped the majority of his Mail features.
Wansell charted the rise of the David Beckham phenomenon throughout its greatest years – at one stage writing a four part series on the footballer, Beckham Unexpurgated. But he also wrote about the lives of footballer’s wives, of rich movie stars, like Elizabeth Taylor, and of the foolishness of some of the Spice Girls.
But it was the case of the Wiltshire-born solicitor Sally Clark, convicted in November 1999 of killing two of her infant children that came to pre-occupy him. Convinced from the very outset that this had been a terrible miscarriage of justice, he wrote persistently about the case, and Sally Clark’s plight at having been sentenced to life imprisonment.
Finally, in January 2003, after two Court of Appeal hearings and a Criminal Case Review, Clark was released, and her conviction quashed. Yet tragedy continued to stalk the young mother, and in 2007 she was found dead in her new home in Essex, after apparently taking her own life.
As of 2016 Geoffrey is in the process of writing a thriller, his first excursion into fiction - at the age of 70! On the other hand he is still writing for the Daily Mail – ‘and anyone else who’ll have me.....!'
Geoffrey has two children, daughter Molly and son Dan, both are in their thirties –
Molly having graduated from King’s College, London and Dan, the Edinburgh College of Art.
In Paris for a 'working' lunch!
Geoffrey is grateful to the talented French photographer, Marguerite D'Ackerlie, for this delightful and witty photograph!
Geoffrey is now a proud Grandfather - twice over! His son Dan and his lovely wife Suzannah now have two glorious daughters named Kitty and Amelie.
Here they are - celebrating Father's Day in the garden of the Chelsea Arts Club in London!
Suzannah with baby Amelie
Amelie, a year older, enjoying a liquid lunch with her dad at the Chelsea Arts Club!
Amelie - growing up fast!
Cartoon drawn by Clive Francis and presented to Geoffrey at his 70th birthday party
by his friends at the Garrick Club.