With cigs, chocs and Chardonnay, Bridget toasts her next million
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Saturday 20 November 1999
The second instalment of diaries by Helen Fielding's heroine was launched on Thursday at a suitably cheesy venue, the penthouse of the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane. Waiters circulated with trays of Silk Cut and chocolates, Ms Jones's twin indulgences, though they drew the line at offering free Instants scratch-cards. The mise-en-scene was calculatedly tacky, the dress code seemed mostly little black numbers, decolletages and designer spangles, the music was Seventies disco - but the guest list was grand cru.
Earl Spencer had an intense discussion with Elisabeth Murdoch, girlfriend of Matthew Freud, the ubiquitous PR guru whose firm was masterminding the launch and whose ex-wife Pidge is being romanced by the Earl. Salman Rushdie chatted on the dance floor with Helena Bonham Carter, while literary babes looked on and murmured: "Poor Helena - she's looking so thin" as if they were old friends.
Harry Enfield, David Baddiel, John Lloyd, Angus Deayton and Tim McInerney represented the comedy circuit on which Fielding began her career, while the dual embodiments of British fictional bestsellerdom, Robert Harris and Sebastian Faulks, discussed the iniquities of the Books of the Year pages.
The sweet smell of triumph was in the air. Everyone knew they had a runaway, transatlantic, transmedial success, like Harry Potter but with more sex. Fielding's publisher Peter Strauss, throwing restraint to the winds, claimed the first volume of the diaries had been "the fastest-selling book since the Authorised Version of the Bible" and called his star performer "the Jane Austen of her day".
She may well be just that, but it's her capacity to shift units here and in 30 countries worldwide (four million copies last count) that has everyone fighting for a slice of her diamante rump. Every bookseller in the UK has gone on Bridget alert. Huge displays of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason will cram Waterstone's, Borders, and their lesser rivals. Two days before publication, with 300,000 hardback copies in print, Picador had to reprint again. The lovely Ms Fielding surveys the fuss with equanimity.
In her most breathy, goodness-me Bridget Jones delivery she said her resemblance to her heroine was nil ("I'm a non-smoking teetotal virgin"), and quoted a review from an Italian daily describing the diary as "a transcendental study of existential despair". After the sales will come the movie, and everyone connected will make a fortune. Working Title, maker of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, has bought the rights. Sharon Maguire, TV documentary-maker friend of Fielding's who appears in the diary as Bridget's buddy Shazzer, is to direct. Richard Curtis, King Midas of British screenwriting, was at the party.
Who's to play Bridget? "There are four or five possibles," said a Working Title producer, glancing around. "But I can't tell you any more, because they're all in this room."
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