Profile: Julie Burchill - And you thought you'd seen the back of her...

Julie Burchill used to be a big noise: punk rock journalist turned top-dollar newspaper columnist, she laid about her with savage vigour. Harpie or genius (or harpie-genius) with one finger on the pulse and another on the trigger, she was horribly essential reading. Then she went all quiet. This week there were signs of life, but, asks Ann Treneman, is it life as she knew it?
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Is Julie Burchill past her sell-by date? It's the kind of question that the woman herself would never ask - not out of embarrassment but because she has a view on everything. Julie Burchill would rather die than not have an opinion.

This week alone the editor-in-chief of the new Modern Review has showered us with at least 20 of them. "An abortion clinic is a factory not of death but of life, giving women the chance of a fulfilled, properly enjoyed existence," she insists, thus becoming the first to relaunch a magazine by reliving those happy abortion moments.

Flip a few pages and there she is again, this time on the subject of perfume, though she manages to have a go at the Pope, Nancy Mitford, Allison Pearson, Anita Roddick, Kate Moss and the perfume "CK one", too: "The only thing that smells equally well on both genders is the smell of money".

If all of this sounds a little nostalgic, that is because Julie Burchill has not been around much to quote lately and her absence has created quite a gap. After all, she was the Princess of Punk before she was 20 and the Queen of the Groucho by 30. Her blockbuster novel, Ambition, caught the Eighties Zeitgeist and she commanded huge sums for her writing. Everything - her marriages, her debauchery, her children - seemed to be news. For a moment there, it seemed as if she would never go away. And then the Nineties kicked in and she did.

"It's hard for me to tell if she's past her sell-by date or not because I haven't read her lately," says Andrew Neil, her former editor at The Sunday Times. "She's certainly gone through a bit of a quiet period."

This is another way of saying she's been out of work. Others are not so tactful. They say she crashed and burned in her own high-living Eighties. That she doesn't have anything serious to say anymore. She's too demanding, too bitchy, too expensive. She is, they say, a controversialist who has had her day. But most of all they say that they haven't read her much lately.

All of that is about to change, as becomes clear the moment I speak to Julie Burchill herself. "But why are you writing about me, I haven't done anything!" she squeaks in her little girl voice. I mumble something about sell-by dates and Modern Review. "This is about my Renaissance, isn't it? Everyone's got to have a Renaissance and I'm having mine."

And how. The coming year will see no less than three books by Julie Burchill. There will be her autobiography (entitled I Knew I Was Right) and a novel called Married Alive (described by her publisher as Bridget Jones on a large dose of amphetamine). And there is also to be a book on Princess Diana. Why Diana? "Because I love her so much! It will be like Norman Mailer on Marilyn but much, much better." She may produce a fourth book, though she will probably be too busy. "But it does have the most pretentious title and I love it. It's called The Long Goodbye: The Slow Death of Female Desire in the 20th Century".

There is to be another newspaper column and, of course, a lot of perfumed thoughts in Modern Review, too. But it is the autobiography that is the big one. It is typical of her that she should be writing this at the ancient age of 37.

It will start with Bristol and her parents. Her father was a distillery worker and her mother made cardboard boxes but "found a way to make it operatic". There will be a lot of politics of the old-fashioned kind. "My dad was a proper Communist, a Soviet Communist, and was obsessed with the Vietnam war," she told the small literary magazine Printer's Devil in a rare in-depth interview last year. "We had a map on the wall with colour pins on it and all. The most beautiful moment of my life was when I was in bed and the VC took Saigon and my dad came up and woke me up and said `We won'." At this point she started to weep. (She still calls herself a Communist though most see her as a Stalinist Thatcherite. "No one read her for her politics!" exclaims Andrew Neil. Now she will be staunchly anti-Blair.)

She says her parents did not believe their daughter was famous until they heard her referred to in an episode of Brookside and she remains devoted to them. "When I write about my childhood and teens, I don't have to force it," she has said. "I mean to write about it more than I have. I want to do one great thing - one great book before I die. Perhaps this autobiography is it."

Charlotte Raven - friend, former lover and her protegee at Modern Review - has read most of it and pronounces it brilliant. "A lot of people write about things like, say, alcoholism with self-justification in mind. They either excuse it or glamorise it," she says. "Julie's not like that. She does kind of talk about herself as a psychopath. Shehas no sentimentality about herself."

In many ways, Julie Burchill was the Eighties. "I'm not pretending I was the Duke of Westminster but I actually owned London," she told the Printer's Devil. "There was a time, from the late Eighties to the early Nineties, when London belonged to me. I was the Queen of the Groucho Club and I totally enjoyed it. But now there's a kickback from this. There are only so many nights you can sit in the Groucho Club doing cocaine up to your eyeballs, hanging out with toot Londray. The first 999 nights are brilliant bloody fun. And on the 1,000th night, you look around and you think: `I'm bored to tears. I'm so bored I may fall over backwards and die if this goes on for a moment longer'."

It didn't: she fell in love with Raven, moved to Brighton and separated from her second husband Cosmo Landesman. And, she notes in an understated way, she also took her eye off her work. "And so I got sacked! But I think that was a mistake because even when I'm not keeping my eye on my work I'm better than most people."

It's the kind of thing people used to say in the Eighties. Julie Burchill says that she can see why people didn't like her then. She is working- class, female, flashy. "People are cross with the Eighties but I've never really left them. Now that the Eighties are back in style, so am I."

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