What makes Coren so cross?
As Matthew Bell found out at a (very) brief interview, pretty much anything and everything
Sunday 30 May 2010
Count to 10. And breathe. As anger management techniques go, it's elementary stuff, but it usually does the trick. I want to tell Giles Coren, the notoriously splenetic restaurant critic and columnist for The Times, about it, because even though he has just written a book called Anger Management for Beginners, he is pacing like a chained zoo bear when we meet.
"It's exactly fucked up situations like this that make me angry," he explodes as he comes into the sunny Kentish Town kitchen where I've been waiting for half an hour. "Fuck. Fuck." The reason for Coren's rage is that there has been an administrative cock up over our meeting, and he has only an hour and a half before he has to fly to Scotland to appear on Newsnight's Review Show, where he is expected to talk about a book he hasn't yet read and a film he has only half seen and a television series he hasn't formed an opinion of. He has just come from a viewing of the new Sex and the City film which, given the reviews, has perhaps not improved his mood. But he has to pack, and read, and think, and now The IoS is here to see him. "Fuck!"
It seems vaguely appropriate that Coren should be spitting teeth for an interview to promote a book about anger. It strikes me this is an elaborate publicity stunt. But no. "The publicity people have been a fucking nightmare," he yells. This interview was due to last half an hour but in the spirit of compromise I say let's do 10 minutes. In the end it lasts less than a minute before Coren stands up and calls it off. A few fucks later, coupled with a hasty apology, and I'm standing in the street, Dictaphone whirring.
Perhaps it was my first question that did it: "Are you a naturally angry man?" I asked. He never did answer, but later he calls to apologise. "I was angry with myself at the situation. Of course I would rather be talking to you than spending four hours of a sunny afternoon watching Sex and the City and reading a Tony Parsons novel."
In fact, I got off lightly; Coren has been in therapy for years to deal with his anger, and in the past there would have been a lot more shouting.
"Giles does get cross about tiny things," says Victoria Coren, his younger sister and a columnist on The Observer. "He is a rock in a crisis, but if you're driving somewhere with him and you're late he will shout at you, at other drivers, at the A-Z. He is a kind, loyal, good person, but not blessed with a naturally calm temperament. His frustrations are unmitigated by a sense of sanguine confidence that everybody is doing their best."
Sue Perkins, the comedian and friend with whom Giles Coren films the successful BBC series Supersizers, says Coren is cursed with unrealistically high expectations. "His anger is born of delusion and a slightly skewed expectation of the world," she says. "It sounds awful coming from a friend but I think it is born of a genuine disappointment that the world doesn't meet his ludicrously high standards."
Coren's latest public tantrum came last week, when he discovered Amazon had run out of copies of his new book, prompting him to write on Twitter: "Just spoke to my publishers. they say it's a 'distribution blip'. Fucknig WANKERS! wHY ARE All PUBLISHERS SO fucking shit?[sic]"
He says he regrets having agreed to the book, though it can't have been too onerous to write, given that it's a compilation of his columns from The Times, where he has been since 1999. The idea stemmed from an email Coren wrote to a Times sub-editor two years ago, berating him for tampering with his copy. The 1,000-word tirade was subsequently leaked to The Guardian and has done more to boost Coren's profile than any number of interviews ever could.
But where does it all come from? His father was the celebrated humourist Alan Coren, who once edited Punch and appeared on gentle BBC game shows such as Call My Bluff. He was not known for his temper and yet family life among the Corens has always been tempestuous, says Victoria. "My dad wasn't slow to express his point," she says. "We had almighty rows – everyone shouting and storming about – then lots of apologising and saying how much we loved each other. You'd think we were Italians. But we were just from Cricklewood. My mother has Hungarian blood, and you might think Giles's passionate temperament comes from 'the foreign side'. But actually my dad was the shouter. Everyone carries around as much potential anger as Giles, it's just more traditional to hide it behind the teapot."
Giles Coren's anger has landed him in trouble, notably when he tweeted in January that he couldn't decide whether just to kill the 12-year-old boy next door or whether he should fuck him first. Vivienne Pattison, director of Mediawatch UK, condemned the remark as being in "very bad taste" and Coren was forced to apologise. To many, his anger is a form of exhibitionism, and is born of arrogance and insecurity. But his friends say his passion is as ardent in his positive qualities, like loyalty and generosity.
"He does say terrible things," says Perkins, "and occasionally he gets it wrong. But there's a visceral thrill in watching him drop a clanger in public. Giles is a mixture of innocent schoolboy and belligerent cleric tyrant. I love being with him because as long as I am, I know I won't be the most irritating person in the room."
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