Isn't it time to bury the hatchet, Julie?
As the 'Independent' writer embarks on a new feud, Tom Peck finds out if the years have mellowed her other great enmities
Saturday 04 June 2011
Although it may not be accurate to say Julie Burchill has met her match in Allen, certainly no previous adversary has deployed such an eclectic array of weaponry: first her mum, then Twitter.
"Julie Birchill [sic], you are an ignorant and bitter old troll, but I guess you know that already," the former singer wrote on her Twitter feed this week, in response to Burchill congratulating Cheryl Cole for having "spat back at that over-privileged cry-baby Lily Allen when the public-school tool took a poke at her way back in the day".
Allen told her near-three-million followers: "The amateur psychiatrist in me says [Burchill] sees a lot of her younger self in me, and she's a bit of a 'self-loather'."
Burchill replied in these pages earlier this week: "Being called self-loathing by Lily Allen is an achievement akin to being called fat by Dawn French (which I have been). This is the girl who once wrote on her blog that she was Googling cosmetic surgery because she felt 'fat, ugly and shitter than Winehouse'." She then revealed the hitherto unknown fact that the last time she had a pop at Allen, three years ago, the singer's mum, the film producer Alison Owen, had written to complain.
"I find it frankly amazing that a young, beautiful, immensely talented woman like your daughter should give a damn about the opinion of an old, fat hack long past her best," Burchill wrote in reply.
What Julie says now: "Cute, young, loads of potential. Nice mum!"
Though reassuringly not short on vitriol, the row with Dawn French took a uniquely long time to be aired in public.
The row dates back to the 1980s, when Burchill took offence at being asked by French to appear in a television documentary about fat women.
"I'm afraid I sent her a very rude note telling her that I could think of nothing worse than looking at her big fat mug in the flesh every day for three weeks so I wouldn't be joining," she wrote in The Spectator magazine in 2000.
"I decided French very probably wasn't the jolly, sex-mad, plump girl she seeks to portray herself as, but rather as screwed-up, bitter and hostile as any whingeing anorexic."
She said of French's marriage to Lenny Henry: "Her constant emphasis on how much sex she and Henry had seemed the phoniest claim of the lot.
"And when they adopted a baby instead of having one as the result of sex I wasn't too surprised." That the marriage is no more, and that French has never sought to retaliate might have engendered sympathy in more tranquil souls. Not so Burchill.
What Burchill says now: "I got sick of her picking on thin girls so let the clown have it. And then her husband was caught 'up talking all night' with a thin girl! Only thing either of them have ever done that made me laugh."
With its roots in domesticity, this was likely to remain the best of ding-dongs. The start was inauspicious: in 1984, after three years living together, 24-year-old Burchill left her then-husband Parsons to raise their son alone. With both parties having ready access to column inches in the years since, there has been plenty of excitement for the neutral observer:
Burchill, in 1998, on losing her virginity to Tony: "It was a nasty, brutish and short (though not short enough) shag, to which I responded with mild dismay, as though somebody had trodden on my toe."
Parsons, 1999, on her vitriol: "It's like having a stalker ... Why is she so interested? Has nothing happened to her since 1984? Move on. Try to stop thinking about me."
Burchill, 2000: "I do agree with him that his book Man and Boy is more fiction than fact. The hero has all his own hair, is catnip to women and doesn't need to grab at publicity and be ceaselessly attacking his vastly more attractive, talented, famous and younger ex-wife. So that rules Parsons and me right out."
Parsons says he made a "conscious decision" to withdraw from the row.
What Burchill says now: "I left him when he was 29 and reasonably fit so it's been madness all these years for him to keep insisting that I fancy him. The poor old sod looks like a dying rhesus monkey."
Martin Amis's legendary bust-up with Julie Burchill had many faces, though one was exponentially uglier than all the others combined. In his personal memoir, Experience, Amis pondered on his feelings over the murder of his cousin Lucy Partington by the serial killer Fred West.
"In the tragedy of Lucy Partington's death," wrote Burchill in The Spectator, "and Amis's clumsy attempt to co-opt it as part of a Writer's Own Story, we see the great flaw that runs through all of his work and ends up here naked and unadorned; namely that a lightweight mind attempting to grapple with heavyweight matters is one of the most wretched spectacles metropolitan life has to offer."
By way of reply Amis told a journalist: "I feel a kind of generalised species shame that I belong to the same breed as her," turning the conflagration decidedly ad hominem, where Burchill was only too content to follow, with regard to a man who had recently left his wife and mother of his children for one of her close friends.
"I've never heard Martin Amis explain exactly why it's bad – and probably indicative of some vast spiritual void – for bond traders to demand lots of money for their work and trade in their wives for younger models, but perfectly OK for novelists to do the same and still expect to be taken seriously as moral pontificators," she wrote in 2001. It is an animosity that has not cooled with age.
What Burchill says now of the 5ft 4in Amis: "A little man in every way it is possible for a man to be little."
"I find it highly objectionable, and personally insulting to me as a scholar, that you would think I would be interested in exacting this kind of 'tit-for tat' petty revenge," wrote the feminist and cultural critic Camille Paglia to the Burchill-edited magazine, Modern Review, in reply to an offer to review Burchill's new novel No Exit as an opportunity to redress her anger over Burchill's review of her own Sexual Personae. It came to be the first volley of a fax war.
Paglia: "I am read around the world from Japan to South America, and the basis of my fame is not just journalism ... You are completely unknown outside England."
Burchill: "It's great to see an academic cube like yourself get with it. I'm very glad you are big in Japan."
Paglia: "You think yourself madly clever but ... you seem trapped in juvenility."
"Dear Professor Paglia, Fuck off you crazy old dyke. Always, Julie Burchill."
When the author Naomi Wolf accused the Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom of sexual assault, 20 years after the alleged event, Camille Paglia called it a witch-hunt. Burchill had this to say: "Paglia is a frustrated, jealous bitch who has always wanted to fuck Wolf. And she could barely pull a skunk without money changing hands, she's so disgusting."
What Burchill says now: "A worthy opponent, as crazy as me! My closing line was a low blow, but I like to think I was cut down to size by afterwards becoming (however briefly) a crazy old dyke myself."
I'll rot in hell before I give that little bastard a quote for his book," said Burchill. So reads the cover of Young's How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.
And it all started so well. In 1991, Young, Burchill and her then husband, Cosmo Landesman, founded the "low culture for highbrows" magazine Modern Review, in Shepherd's Bush, west London.
Four years later Burchill left said husband for one of the publication's columnists, Charlotte Raven. Young responded by closing the organ, which was haemorrhaging cash, behind her back.
"Toby Young has no future here!" Burchill told The Times. "He'll have to leave the country, like everyone else who falls out with me."
Young left for New York and Vanity Fair moments after, where his spectacular failure brought him great success.
"Ultimately we fell out because our relationship began as a kind of mentor-apprentice, and that was a kind of relationship which Julie was comfortable with," Young reflected in 2005. "It was only when I succeeded in getting out from under her shadow that our relationship deteriorated."
The pair buried the hatchet briefly in 2001, although it didn't last. "The feud is like Freddy Krueger," said Young. "When you think it has finally been killed it roars back to life." But it would seem that Burchill is in the mood for rapprochement on this front.
What Burchill says now: "Hated him then, really admire him now."
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