Narcissus reclining (with beard)

I might be a little in love with the comedian turned novelist David Baddiel. But then so, too, might he be. In fact, we're both sure of it
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The Independent Culture
I must say I rather fancy David Baddiel at the off. I know a lot of people won't get this. Possibly, it's something of a Jewish thing. Possibly, it goes back to never having dated Jewish boys when I could have because I couldn't bear their shoes - you know, David, the ones with the tassels on? "God, yes, the dreaded burgundy loafer!" - and now realising I was maybe too hasty. That I could, today, be pleasantly settled with an account at John Lewis (Brent Cross) that he would obligingly pay off every month.

Certainly, I have softened considerably over the years and am, even, willing to forgive David for being a bit beardy these days. Beards have never especially been my thing, not since a beardy old uncle of mine once told me that he always had soup the night before Yom Kippur - the Jewish Day of Atonement, which calls for a 24-hour fast - because, if he spooned the soup in sufficiently sloppily, he'd have something tasty to suck at the next day. Mmm! Nice! Yum-yum.

Still, we bond instantly, as you do if you grew up Jewish in north London, standing under the clock tower in Golders Green waiting to hear if someone knows of a party in Southgate, or going to discos at Kinloss, or reading The Jewish Chronicle to laugh at the wedding photographs and the television reviews which, most weeks, struggle valiantly to locate the Jewish angle. "Harry Leiberstein, who played the third-from-left extra at the bar in the Rovers Return, lifted his pint with all the dramatic emphasis we have come to expect from him since he so memorably dropped the keys off at reception in Crossroads in 1972."

David laughs, which is good, because it means I am getting somewhere. David's shoes are black and soft and un-tasselly and luscious. David's beard is quite taut and un-bushy and un-soupy. David goes on to add that the Jewish Chronicle TV reviews "haven't really been the same since Dr Legg left EastEnders". I laugh. We are getting on stormingly. I am already in the bedding department at John Lewis, choosing a pure, goose-down duvet to take us through the winter. It is absurdly expensive, but we can afford it, I think.

He is rich, yes. Very rich. He simultaneously manages a number of hugely profitable careers - he is writer, comedian and performer. He first achieved success with the TV series The Mary Whitehouse Experience, which he co- wrote with Rob Newman. In 1993, they became the first British comedians to sell out the 12,000 seats at Wembley Arena. He now lives in the most brilliant house in Hampstead, a whacking great thing, very interior-designed, with brightly painted walls, white plastic sculptured chaises longues, thick, almost Gothic, wooden doors and tables. "Fantastic," I say. "Thank you," he says.

We make our way to the top floor, past his bedroom where our new duvet will go, past the entirely white, minimalist spare room with its big statue of the Virgin Mary on the mantelpiece... Hang on; a big statue of the Virgin Mary on the mantelpiece? "My girlfriend is a Catholic," he explains quickly. He adds that his parents came to stay recently and, after they'd left, he discovered "they'd turned the statuette round to face the wall". He most certainly needs a Jewish girlfriend. I think we'll get new sheets, too - silk? - while I'm at it.

We reach the top of the house, which is a vast, arched, windowed room, with a huge telly and a huge hammock and, darting about, a teeny, mewing tabby kitten. This, he says, is Monkey. He bought Monkey for his girlfriend - "a comedian, whom I've promised not to speak about" - but she's away at the moment, so he is kitten-sitting. I don't think that he and his girlfriend live together. I had spotted a "double-chin exerciser" in the bedroom, but I rather suspect it is his. Monkey is very sweet, he says, but, upsettingly, his cat, Chairman Meow, has taken umbrage and now disappears for hours on end. This saddens him because: "I like the Chairman a lot. Still, she came in for 20 minutes yesterday, which was really nice."

I had not expected him to be sentimental in this way. He says that most people don't. He says he is largely misunderstood. He says because of the Fantasy Football thing and his matey relationship with Frank Skinner and his passion for Chelsea he is too often regarded as "just a lad". Still, he would have liked, primarily, to have become a footballer. He thinks, even, he could have been a footballer. "But my mum never taught me to tie my shoelaces properly, so I was always falling over on the pitch."

I make a big and prolonged fuss of Monkey, not because I am especially a cat-lover myself, but because I'm desperately trying to put off talking about why I am here today, which is, ostensibly, to discuss his second, just-published novel, Whatever Love Means. It's about Vic and Tess and Emma and Joe and sex and Aids and infidelity, and I'm not sure it entirely works, because Emma's forehead lines are described as "tracks in her skin, virgin there like snow", and Vic worries that he has "unpinched the fingers holding the tip of his balloon of self too quickly". I am desperately hoping that he doesn't ask what I think. I'm quite the most spectacular toady and have already mentally moved into the John Lewis kitchen department, where I'm choosing hand-made tiles from Italy. So, if he did, I would find myself in something of a dilemma. Should I tell a little lie - "It has some good things in it"? Or a big one - "Great stuff, David"?

Thankfully, he does not. He talks, instead, about the reviews, the one in The Times (which called it "compelling") and which he thinks was "fair", and Julie's Burchill's one in The Guardian (she called it "a sour, snide and snobbish little book"), which he thinks was not. Julie, he says, used to be very much in love with his one-time comedy partner Rob Newman. "She hates me. She's always hated me. The fact that I've been successful whereas Rob has not is unbearable to her." He is good, it would seem, at protecting his ego and, naturally, I sympathise enthusiastically. Apparently, he and Rob fell apart after the Wembley gig because they grew to loathe each other. Still, it is not an especially nice thing to say. I think his ego might be both the making and the undoing of him in a lot of ways.

He is, yes, phenomenally bright. Plus he has that "high-achieving gene". He got all As at O-level, four As at A-level, then won an exhibition to Cambridge where he got a starred double first in English. He likes Dickens and George Eliot and Austen, and did like Martin Amis a lot until he read John Updike and "felt there was a level of maturity beyond". So why can he not see that tracks in skin are rarely, if ever, "virgin there like snow"? This must be an ego thing, I think. A kind of syndrome that happens when total self-belief obscures what is really going on.

I am puzzling over this when David himself helpfully puts his finger on it. "I have a narcissistic personality disorder," he suddenly exclaims. Oh? "Yes, I found it in a psychiatric book the other day." Oh? "It means you tend to exaggerate your own talents and abilities without a basis in reality." I think, maybe, this does get to the heart of it. I think, even, that if Narcissus were around today he wouldn't drown in a pond. He'd just write a novel that wasn't as good as he thought. This may just be another way of drowning, in fact.

David was born and bought up in Dollis Hill, north London, which isn't quite as smart as Hampstead Garden Suburb, which is where I was brought up. No, his mother, Sarah, did not get everything from Jaeger. "She was more Oxfam." His father, Colin, was a research scientist who worked for Unilever until he was made redundant. (He now trades in old toys.) David had his Bar Mitzvah reception at home rather than at the King David Suite, like some of his posher friends, "who'd get gifts of five grand, while I'd get a toy guitar".

His parents' relationship, he says, was always very explosive. "There was a lot of shouting and swearing, lots of arguments. My mum's emotional and romantic, whereas my father is a bit of a lad who wanted intellectual discussions about chemistry." Their sex life sounds as if it was just as lively.

At the age of nine, David discovered his father's store of Swedish hard- core porn magazines (with titles like Swedish Number Nine and Weekend Sex), which he kept in a drawer by his bedside. David read these avidly until he was 12. His two brothers did, too. He knows that now, because they talk about it, "but, no, we never seemed to collide at the drawer at the same time".

Weren't you disturbed when you first came across them? "I was a bit. I was a bit worried my dad was doing it. But then my parents did make the most extraordinary noises during sex. My bedroom was next to theirs. It would sound as if a wounded walrus was in there."

These things, I can assure you, never went on in Hampstead Garden Suburb.

I'm not sure his parents would especially wish to read all this. But I have since acquired the psychiatry book he referred to - Caring for the Mind, the Comprehensive Guide to Mental Health, by Dianne Hales and Robert E Hales, MD. It's a very interesting read even though, disappointingly, it does not seem to list my own particular disorders, Spectacular Toady Syndrome and The John Lewis Rich Jewish Wife Fantasy Psychosis.

Anyway, in reading up on "narcissistic personality disorder" I note that along with "a grandiose sense of self-importance" and "a need for excessive admiration", features include "a lack of empathy and unwillingness to recognise or identify with the feelings and needs of others". I note, too, that he is wearing a sweet little gold ring on one of his fingers. "My girlfriend gave it to me. It's not a nice ring... but if I stop wearing it..." Diagnosis confirmed?

Marriage? Kids? Hopefully, he says. Indeed, he started psychoanalysis - "I'm on the couch and everything" - eight months ago, to this end. He went into it because "I'd always had long-term relationships that had broken down". So? "Well, I felt I'd invested a lot of time and energy in them, plus it's really painful when they go wrong." Perhaps lack of empathy is the key here. Or perhaps it's all the porn.

That said, however, he has rarely been single, and is glad to have rarely been single.

"I don't want to go to Soho House in the hope of meeting someone to have sex with..." He feels more "rooted and stable" when he is in a relationship. Perhaps it is another way for him to be able to gaze at his reflection.

Still, I could live with all this, I think. And, certainly, we part amicably and affectionately enough, with lots of "it was nice meeting you". I may be in with quite a good chance, which is satisfying, as I am now in the bathroom department, choosing the highest-priced, most jumbo-sized towels. And they're lovely.

`Whatever Love Means' by David Baddiel is published by Little, Brown, price pounds 14.99

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