Books of the Year: Celebrity memoirs
A Chelsea girl (and more) offer intimate memories
Sunday 19 December 2010
Take one ripe celebrity, the more battered and bruised the better. Using a professional writer, lightly grill, making sure to squeeze out one or two juicy bits, putting the rest to one side for a sequel. Place on the three-for-two table, and serve just before Christmas.
This is the recipe favoured by most publishers, but quality memoirs are written in the seventh age – a last hurrah before death. Take Molly Parkin, the 80-year-old doyenne of 1960s Chelsea, a painter, poet, and Olympic shagger. In Welcome to Mollywood (Beautiful Books, £18.99) she has written a dizzying account of a 20th-century sex life. Her first lover takes her to the Cadogan Hotel, where he inserts a toothbrush into her bottom, and a strip light elsewhere. But he teaches her a love of sex and dozens of encounters follow, including with famous names, such as an oversized Bo Diddley. Her swansong, aged 73, is a quickie with a 23-year-old surfer in the disabled loo of a hotel. But it's not all larks: Parkin leaves you choking with her account of being abused by her father as a girl.
Carol Vorderman's father was a different kind of shit: he abandoned her when she was three weeks old, giving Carol a resentment that simmers nicely through It All Counts (Headline Review, £20). Life was hard, there was no money, until one day her mum secretly sent off a job application to Countdown. The next thing you know, Vorders is buying a racehorse. The pace is irregular, and Carol chooses her warts carefully: two failed marriages get only a line each. Still, the chapters on Richard Whiteley are moving. Reader, I cried.
For Dannii Minogue, it's not the dad but the sister: who'd want to live in the shadow of Kylie (both pictured above)? Poor Dannii: the Princess Margaret of pop. But then, Maggie Jones was probably more fun, and in My Story (Simon & Schuster, £18.99), Dannii comes across as fun and likeable, an ordinary girl who lucked out. She leaves the Kylie question as long as possible, then addresses it with dignity: "The truth... is that I never felt like I was competing with my sister. I'll say it again. I NEVER FELT LIKE I WAS COMPETING WITH MY SISTER." So that settles it.
Why not be more like Deborah Devonshire, who happily bills herself as "the youngest Mitford sister" on the cover of Wait For Me (John Murray, £20). Fans will know the story, but the duchess's prose is so lively her telling is pure pleasure. I thought all the Mitford books had been written. How wrong I was.
Chris Evans is already on his second volume (see recipe, above left), and we join him in his nausea-inducing millionaire years in Memoirs of a Fruitcake (HarperCollins, £20). He borrows £85m to buy Virgin Radio and nearly gets the Daily Star for a "snip" (£25m). One day, he charters a helicopter to go house-hunting and blows £6m by teatime. Today, he laughs at his old self, though the self-deprecation is only a figleaf to a giant ego. Showing off aside, the story gallops along, even if you are a little bit sick in your mouth.
Less exciting is Barry Humphries' "unauthorised" biography of Dame Edna, Handling Edna (Weidenfeld, £18.99), a long-winded account of their life "together". There are some good double entendres and earthy gags, and his satire of Australia is as savage as the best Les Patterson sketch. But the slow-burn humour puffs out and you're left wading through padding. I'd rather read a biography of the complex Humphries. Perhaps Dame Edna could write it.
Nicholas Parsons wrote his autobiography 16 years ago but, now in his eighties, has made a welcome return to the subject for My Life in Comedy, With Just a Touch of Hesitation, Repetition and Deviation (Mainstream, £17.99). He uses it to settle some scores: Clement Freud was "bullying", Wendy Richard was a nightmare, Tim Rice not very funny, and the BBC and various producers constantly misunderstood his beloved programme. Who knew a simple radio show could mask such melodrama?
Maureen Lipman is not afraid to write about the mundane in her collection of reminiscences and stories, I Must Collect Myself (Simon & Schuster, £18.99). It's a mixed bag, and loosely edited, and the 21 monologues stand out from some inconsequential pensées. Still, it's a lively variation on the usual memoir recipe.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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