HOW WE MET

PETER YORK AND JULIE BURCHILL
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The Independent Culture
LEGAL NOTE: Peter York wrongly credited: he co-wrote the books with Ann Barr who had the first idea, and he did not coin the term Sloane Ranger.

EMMA COOK

The social commentator Peter York, 48, was born in Kensington. Author of the bestselling Sloane Ranger Handbook, he was also style editor of Harpers & Queen from 1980-87. His BBC2 series, Peter York's Eighties, begins this Saturday. He is single and lives in London.

The journalist and novelist Julie Burchill, 36, was born in Bristol. In 1976 she started out on the New Musical Express; her six books include the bestselling novel Ambition. Now separated from her second husband, she lives in Brighton

PETER YORK: I first heard about Miss Burchill in about 1976, when the balance of my mind was temporarily disturbed due to the advent of punk. At the time, I was a correspondent on stylistic matters for Harpers & Queen and running my new company. I was also reading every issue of the New Musical Express, which was a sort of comic for provincial teen- agers. I even read Sounds; there must have been something wrong. You couldn't miss Miss Burchill's voice on the NME - her range of interests was different from your standard person.

I noticed her first when she'd cut up and filleted something that I had written at the time. The idea that someone from the NME would be reading Harpers & Queen struck me as funny. I thought, "Well, this is a very singular voice; I want to know more about it."

I did that with a number of people at the time; Tony Parsons and Danny Baker - I wanted to see what they were about. But I particularly wanted to meet Miss Burchill. Punk provided a great social mobility process - it gave a window for bright kids to rush forward and say, "Notice me" - and she was clearly the brightest.

Nick Logan, then editor of the NME, gave me her phone number. So I met her and her first husband Tony Parsons in a pub on Carnaby Street. She was tremendously thin and most striking. Out of this tall, handsome person came this rather small voice, the voice of someone you might meet in a Bristol retailer, and that was surprising too. It was obvious that she was surprising all over.

I also got on very well with Tony, and after the first meeting I took to visiting them at their flat in Billericay, Essex. Although it wasn't core territory for me, I was familiar with their block of flats because I'd known someone else who used to live there. I used to go round and stay very late and it was all rather funny. I gave them one of those kitsch Indian rugs with a cat on it, and there was this period when it got more domestic by the minute, but Julie didn't seem to like it all that much.

I was the accidental agent who introduced her to her second husband, Cosmo Landesman, in 1984. He was a friend of a friend I'd asked to the launch of one of my books; I'd also invited Julie and Tony. Afterwards, I found it mortifying whenever I got wind of the relationship progressing between herself and Cosmo. I felt extremely worried about it, because she was still married to Tony, but I also wanted her to be happy.

Later, when it all came out and they began living together, there was the great benefit of her moving to civilised London. They moved into their own delightful flat in King's Cross, which I would often visit.

In the late Eighties, we did things like assemble great tables at Groucho's, where she would invite her friends for me to look at and inspect. They were laid on for my pleasure, and I thought that was delightful. We're very much Eighties people - something which attracts flak from those who didn't have what it took in that decade.

When we meet, we'll gossip a lot and talk about individuals; why they do what they do. Now, alas, she's gone to Brighton, but I dare say she'll grow out of that. I enjoy talking to her so much because she knows all the style and cultural references that I do. Like a lot of autodidacts, she reads assiduously - which is also why she writes like a dream.

People who don't write particularly well and have a rather obvious political agenda always find her writing profoundly upsetting - particularly hacks because of the "could be me" syndrome. I still think she's the cleverest woman in Britain. I also like the way she often thinks the same thoughts as me; she has the same range of responses but manages to come at them from another point of view and that's very exciting.

We don't always agree on things, and there have been a number of embarrassments when she's written something unflattering about someone I know. And yet I'm incapable of being judgemental about her. Normally, I moralise at people like crazy .

As long as she doesn't do anything profoundly illegal like kill anybody, everything she does is fine by me. I wasn't shocked when she told me that she had run off with a girl earlier this year - it adds to her repertoire. She has a wide range of interests, and always did have.

Around the time when things were going wrong with Tony, I detected a certain soppiness creeping into things - she got a bit sweet on me. Anything like that would have spoilt the friendship and been completely wrong. I didn't take it personally - she was distracted.

Usually, with friends, there's all this pouring out their hearts to each other - we don't do that. But Julie can always touch me for a few bob, and I think that's the best way; it's where you can really help a person. When she started the Modern Review, I thought it was a lovely idea and became its largest backer.

Although we're both reasonably distant people, at an instinctive level we know an awful lot about each other. Miss Burchill is a remarkable person whose views are very much in tune with my own - it's the most obvious thing in the world that we should be friends.

JULIE BURCHILL: I met Peter when I was 18 years old, soon after punk had gone off and turned horrible. I was totally cheesed off with absolutely everything in the world, and then one day the phone rang. The voice on the other end was so posh that it made Brian Sewell sound like Bianca from EastEnders. He said something like, "I'd like to take you out. You're a clever young person."

I was from this graceless social milieu where the nearest you got to politesse was someone spitting in your face. To go from Sid Vicious to Peter York was a big deal; I couldn't believe someone really spoke like this and had these beautiful manners. All my friends were completely monosyllabic or moronic - literally.

He phoned me because he was always spotting working-class talent. At first we thought there must have been some ulterior motive. My first husband, myself and Danny Baker were all spotted at once, and for ages we'd say, "What is it with this guy? Is he a parasite? Does he want to feed off our working-class energy?" It turned out he was just brilliant and was interested in helping young people - a Professor Higgins of the best kind.

Peter took us to a pub in Carnaby Street and asked us lots of questions. He seemed to be compiling a dossier on us. When he decided we were the real thing, not from central casting, he went about making things nice for us. He pulled various strings and told people, "They're 18 years old and they really do know their stuff." Peter was completely wonderful, because he was the only one who bridged that gap between people who had the knowledge - like myself, Robert Elms and Danny Baker - and those with money and jobs, which was Fleet Street.

I'd been working on the NME for a year and a half. I was already fed up, and Peter wanted bigger things for me - he thought I should be on Fleet Street. I knew straight away he was different from anyone I'd known before. His looks also impressed me; where I came from, if a man bathed once a month, you thought you were going out with Bertie Wooster.

On the one hand, he was very curious about me personally, but you could also tell he was filing things away for future reference. Because we were this specific group of people, young and at the cutting edge, we were valuable to him. I never found that a problem, because I was always interested in a cold observance of social types myself. I'm not the sort of person who goes around screaming, "Love me for myself." I don't mind being loved for what's cliched about me.

I spotted straight away that Peter was an only child; I'm one, too. Somebody once said that only children are natural psychopaths; it does take a big jump for us to relate to people in the way others do. You identify with people as objects to push about. At a certain level, even while Peter feels complete affection for someone, there's also this detachment, which I certainly have.

When I lived in Essex with my first husband, Peter was the only person who used to visit us, because it was so horrible. He'd come out in a cashmere coat and with his little suitcase with a nice bottle of wine in it. At the time, we were living in squalor; it was such a treat to see him, almost like Christmas. He was like Dr Livingstone passing among the uncivilised people. We'd stay up all night long, play endless records and talk about everything under the sun.

In the Eighties, we used to sit around drinking kirs royales, listening to Duran Duran. At one point, around 1982, I believe I was actually in love with him. I'd call him up late at night, whine on for hours, and look at him meaningfully when we were alone. But I wasn't his type - and a good thing, too.

When you make friends after your teens, there's a level of something not being there. Most people have to do things like go to dinner parties and talk about nannies or children. With Peter, I've never had to do those sad adult things that fill in for the fact that the friendship doesn't have teenage intensity.

I can go for months without speaking to him. But when I hear his singular voice saying, "Hello, you," it's the most beautiful feeling. He's always there when I need him. When I wanted to leave my first marriage, he gave me the money to run away from it. Then I wanted to start a magazine, and he gave me money for that. He's been a saint.

I'm known for having intense friendships with people, then dumping them. Peter's the oldest friend I have. The friendship's lasted because there's a financial and spiritual bond. Also, I think a level of formality is a good thing: for the first two years I called him Mr York. Reserve in a relationship makes it last for a long time. Peter wouldn't support me emotionally; neither of us would want that. If I needed a shoulder to cry on, I'd use one of my inferior friends. I've done some things in my life that have horrified him, but Peter has always stood by me. He once said to someone who was criticising my morals, "What Julie wants, Julie must have." He didn't say, "must have" as in, "she's a grasping bitch", but as in, "we must make sure she gets it."

Peter and Soviet communism are the two things I'll never lose faith in. If he told me to jump off Beachy Head, I'd do it, because I know that he'd fix it so that he'd get down there in time to catch me - no matter how full his Filofax was. !

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