The Things That Shaped Our Year: Bridget Jones Goes Global

From the death of Diana to the birth of Dolly, and from the rise of Bridget Jones to the fall of the Spice Girls - our writers choose the 10 people and events which made 1997 so special

Drunken women often lurch up to the best-selling writer Helen Fielding and claim that they're Bridget Jones, the original; that she's read their thoughts, overheard their inner dialogue and seen their hidden turbulence. She must have.

They're all kinds of women, these drunken lurchers who feel they can identify with her. Bridget herself, meanwhile, is a very particular kind of woman: a currently interesting demographic/life-stage kind of woman.

She is, objectively, hugely unrepresentative and dead lucky - an unattached, early-thirtysomething, metropolitan media babe, enjoying middle youth. She goes to 192 and to publishers' parties, she shops at Harvey Nichols, her wardrobe is brand rich. She's aspirational, enviable, a minority. But, like the Princess of Wales, that other metropolitan thirtysomething whose inner life we knew so well, she's hit an I'm-every-woman nerve. It's an unbeatable combination, the woman thing and the aspirational one.

In the unsettling context of modern life, Bridget Jones's instincts, concerns and priorities are absolutely on the button. She wants a variety of conflicting things simultaneously, especially when she's drunk. She's more desperate than Hyacinth Bucket about keeping up appearances, but knows she shouldn't be. She wants e-mail, dirty-talking, careerist, instrumental sex with her boss and something nicer with Mr Darcy at Pemberley. And she records, on a daily basis, the indices that really matter: weight, alcohol consumption, fag and calorie intake, how old she looks that day...

She reads newspaper stories and world events in an instinctual way. She goes to Kensington Palace during The Mourning and leaves a box of chocolates and a copy of Vogue. She wonders about grown women having 14-year-old- boy love-slaves and whether things are easier that way. She sees Newsnight as a way to get in some conversational English while waxing her legs. Her dinner parties are desperate, comic feasts of embarrassment, because she tries much too hard.

She knows her crucial having-it-all cues in life have come from Cosmopolitan - she imagines an ex's intended as "a giant, thin, blonde, roof-top giantess- type who rises at five each morning, goes to the gym, rubs herself down with salt then runs an international merchant bank all day without smudging her mascara" - but she's not about to do anything about it.

She is also, according to the intellectual TV presenter and restaurant critic Tracey MacLeod (a friend of Fielding's), "not really an approved text" in feminist circles because she's too "post" by half and some of her ramblings give comfort to the enemy - men who want to believe that, underneath it all, women remain stupid and soppy.

This clearly hasn't deterred anyone, however. Bridget Jones's Diary sells out of bookshops like nothing since Adrian Mole's. (Of course, it helped enormously, in both cases, that the authors were brilliant comic writers who picked up on contemporary themes like ventriloquists.)

Bridget Jones became a bestseller on the grapevine of recommendation. It didn't start with a huge PR budget or in-store promotion, and it worked because women responded in exactly the same way as all those thirtysomething men with the child in their eyes did to Fever Pitch.

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