Jeremy Paxman admits he once ‘kept a loaded air rifle by the loo’

Jeremy Paxman, 73, has reflected on how ageing has removed his “urge to kill”, as he recalled once keeping a “loaded air rifle” by the toilet so that he could shoot at garden pests from the window of his home.

The University Challenge presenter, who is stepping down from the BBC show later this month, recalled a time when he would have “taken the opportunity to shoot dead” the squirrels on his lawn.

In his new column for Saga Exceptional, he wrote about how times have changed.

Jeremy, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, has spoken candidly about his declining health and the effects of ageing.

The journalist described a pack of squirrels playing in the tree outside his window, before admitting he would have once taken a very different approach with them.

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“I do not know for certain what they do,” he wrote. “Perhaps they are courting, making love, or pursuing age-old vendettas.

He then continued matter-of-factly: “There was a time when I would have taken the opportunity to shoot them dead.

“In fact, I permanently kept a loaded air rifle by the loo, ready for the time a shot presented itself and I could knock one out of the old apple tree on the front lawn.”

Jeremy went on to point out that grey squirrels, who were imported to the UK at the price of endangering our native red squirrels, were quite similar to rats.

He also admitted to killing rats “without a backward glance” before adding: “I have changed, though.

“I no longer keep any kind of gun, and not merely because I live in a town, where the slightest glimpse of such a thing would cause panic. Nor do I deny the damage caused to young trees by squirrels.

“I just don’t want to kill them any longer,” he explained. “I recognise that losing the urge to kill is a product of age.”

Jeremy also pointed out that it would never be “an equal struggle” between himself and the animals in his garden, as they are not armed with weapons.

He added: “The older I get, the more I want things to live and let live.”

Last year, 18 months after he announced his Parkinson’s diagnosis, Jeremy shone a light on his health condition with his TV documentary, Paxman: Putting Up With Parkinson’s.

Discussing how he found out about the illness, he said: “Well it was completely out of the blue. I was having a walk in the square across the way.

“There was ice around and I had the dog with me, the dog was on a lead. The first thing I knew was when somebody was sitting me on a bench. I’d fallen over and I made a terrible mess of my face.

“I’d gone straight down on my hooter. Which, as you can see, is not small. Cuts all over the place. I was a real mess.

“And when I was in A&E, a doctor walked in and said, ‘I think you’ve got Parkinson’s.’

“And it turned out that he had been watching University Challenge and had noticed that my face had acquired what’s known as the Parkinson’s ‘mask’. I wasn’t as effusive and exuberant as normal. I had no idea.”

Jeremy’s column first appeared in the June 2023 issue of Saga Magazine. Subscribe to Saga Magazine for just £5 today.

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