Andrew Marr had his stroke in 2013, a catastrophic medical event which left him partially paralysed and bisected his life into the before and the after, the then and the now, the boundless possibilities of a past versus the restrictions of a future he never imagined for himself.
‘I used to love running and when I see runners in the park, I have a twinge of sadness. Same with cycling, swimming and skiing,’ he says.
‘I used to love all those things, but I will never do them again. Well, I can swim ponderously. I am an optimistic bunny, but there are a lot of regrets.’
At first he was angry, then he was glum, but he never gave in to tears.
‘I am from Scotland. I don’t cry,’ he says.
‘In hospital, I met many people who were younger than me and who’d had terrible strokes, including a young woman who had a stroke while giving birth.
‘I could always talk a bit. My memory was all right, my eyesight was all right and my right hand, my dominant hand, was fine. So I came away knowing I was really lucky.’
He was also blessed with his devoted wife Jackie Ashley, who was at his bedside when he suffered a second bleed to the brain and doctors told her he was going to die.
Formerly a columnist for the Guardian newspaper and now head of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, she stopped working to care for her husband full-time when he came home.
‘She was amazing, in actual fact. She was fantastic,’ he says.
The part of his brain that was damaged affects control of mobility down his left hand side. ‘It was about the size of a segment of tangerine. It is dead now. It is just a hole, I think,’ he says.
When Marr is sitting in a TV studio, interrogating politicians in his usual courteous but deadly manner, he looks as able-bodied as the next man. Yet when we meet in a coffee shop near the BBC in Central London, the limitations of his condition are more evident.
He wears a brace on his left leg and he looks rather weary and scalded — clearly someone who has survived something very serious, but only just.
It takes a big effort for him to struggle out of a low-slung chair and there are ungainly scrambles to do something simple, such as put his phone back into the inside pocket of his tweed jacket.
I mention this not to point out his weakness, but to show his strength. When your life suddenly becomes a racecourse of hurdles and obstacles, it takes grit to force yourself through the fraught gallop of each day.
The 58-year-old broadcaster and author has learned to marshal the disappointments of disability and focus on the things he loves but can still do, instead of the things he cannot. And for him, that means painting.
Marr paints wild abstracts bursting with colour — an audacious departure from the timid landscapes he produced pre-stroke.
‘These are the kind of pictures I always wanted to paint, but never quite had the courage to,’ he says. And while he wouldn’t be too bothered if someone criticised his performance on radio or TV, he is supremely sensitive about his art.
‘If somebody tells me my paintings are terrible, crass and simplistic, oh that hurts. It is deep to me. So, putting them out there is quite scary.’
Of course, lack of confidence in himself has never been Marr’s problem. A First at Cambridge, the editorship of The Independent newspaper and then BBC political editor — all the glittering prizes came his way in a smooth progression of excellence, with barely a glitch along the way.
He’d spend time between making reports to camera outside No 10 by writing books and creating portentous documentaries about nation-building, British history, royals, eminent writers . . . you name it.
There was a time when it seemed that his every Marr-thought was turned into a three-part Marr series, with an accompanying Marr book published just in time for a very Marry Christmas. He once avowed that his stroke made him a better painter, but now he is not so sure.
He says: ‘I think the stroke released something in my mind which makes me less inhibited in the way I paint.’
He has just published A Short Book About Painting, an investigation into the creative process and how painters in general — himself in particular — can improve and learn from their mistakes.
None of it sounds like much fun. Marr is for ever trooping off to his studio, with the mockery of friends and family ringing in his ears. Then he spends the day painting madly, with Shostakovich or Van Morrison roaring away in the background.
Returning the next day, he is often appalled at what he has produced. ‘Jarring, clashing, really nasty!’ So he picks up his brush and begins again.
Who would expect anything less from a tough, old, blub-free Scot like him?
Although born in Glasgow, his family moved to Dundee when he was six weeks old. This means that he and I grew up in the same dreich (dreary and damp, to you southerners) town at the same dreich time, but our paths never crossed.
He went to the only private school in the area and was taken book-shopping by his mother across the River Tay to St Andrews, because there were ‘no proper bookshops in Dundee.’
At one point, some years later, we were fellow columnists on the same Edinburgh-based newspaper and when we briefly met, I found him aloof and with a rather high opinion of himself. Then he took the high road and I took the low road and life moved on.
Marr became the biggest of big beasts in a boiling nexus of high-minded, Leftish, liberal politico-media circles in London and I, um, did not. Yet today he seems the very soul of diligent modesty.
And I have nothing but admiration for the torrent of clever, perceptive, sure-footed words he has produced in the intervening years. Indeed, Marr believes it was mainly the pace of his Stakhanovite work ethic that caused the stroke.
He was on a rowing machine when the tangerine-sized segment in his brain burst, during a stressful period. He was frustrated that his History Of The World series was not as good as he wanted, he was writing books, he was presenting on TV and radio — and he was running amok in his personal life.
Marr had an affair with another journalist, which he had tried to keep secret for years by the use of a super-injunction (which prevents any discussion in the media of not only the facts and the names of the parties but even the existence of legal proceedings). He believed he had fathered a child by the woman, but a DNA test eventually showed that he was not the girl’s father.
Then, four months before his stroke, he was photographed snogging a different woman outside a Soho pub, his hand shoved down the back of her trousers in a rather ungentlemanly fashion.
Andrew! What was going on? Was the whole thing some kind of ghastly, mid-life crisis?
‘I am not going to go there I am afraid. Sorry,’ he says, and he looks disappointed — although perhaps more with me than with himself. ‘Jackie was very supportive, but I am not going to go any further. I just don’t talk about this.’
Today, Marr’s abridged, post-stroke schedule still finds him working like a demon. His current obligations include his weekly Sunday morning politics show on BBC1, radio work, documentaries and his inevitable appearance during coverage of major events such as elections and referendums.
Following the publication of the BBC’s annual report earlier this year, it was revealed that his salary is £400,000 — £139,000 less than he was earning two years previously.
‘I don’t deserve what I get, I don’t think any of us do. We work inside, with no heavy lifting. Compared to people who work in house-building or hospitals, no one in the media deserves what they get.
‘But I think all comparisons are odious,’ he says. ‘How can you adjudicate what is fair pay? It is always absurd.’
He expects that the ongoing ‘rebalancing’ of wages within the BBC means that men such as him will be paid less in future, so that women can be paid more.
‘A lot of people inside the BBC were horrified when they looked at what some of the very high-profile women were being paid. They didn’t think it was enough.’
Women such as Laura Kuenssberg, perhaps, who, as political editor, earns approximately half of what Marr gets.
He is a huge admirer and despairs that Kuenssberg needed a bodyguard at Labour’s last political conference to protect her from the fury of nutters convinced that she is politically biased.
‘This is a sad moment — a very sad state of affairs,’ he says. ‘The country has become angrier. Social media has ripped things up a bit. Laura is a great, great political editor doing a fantastic job. She is tough, gutsy and I don’t think there is a shred of bias in her.’
Yet the volume and velocity of instant, online reaction means that he, too, is subject to similar criticism.
‘The biggest problem for all of us in selling the BBC is trying to keep our balance,’ he says. ‘It feels like you are being buffeted by very strong winds from unpredictable directions the whole time. We have to stay calm and balanced, and try to be fair, which is a job in itself.’
In the meantime, he is not as well as he would like and is frustrated that he seems to have reached a plateau with the physiotherapy and exercise he diligently executes — they are not delivering results.
‘I am not getting better. I am mostly having to do all this just to stay where I am.’
Five years on, he thinks that the worst time was when he came out of hospital and first realised how disabled he was.
‘I had the naïve idea that I would walk with a stick and I would get stronger and throw the stick away. When I realised that was not going to happen, and the disability was quite serious, I was upset.’
Now he is calmer, with a better attitude to his situation.
‘I take a little more time to sniff the flowers. And despite everything, my overwhelming feeling is that of the extraordinary luck of being alive in this beautiful, interesting, awe-inspiring world.
Our time here is incredibly short and as you get older, it seems to get shorter and shorter. What I feel is that I am painting very fast against the dying of the light, in every sense.’
Andrew Marr’s A Short Book About Painting is published by Quadrille on November 2 at £15.