My So-called Life: Barbie's time isn't up just yet

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The Independent Online

So, off to interview Barbie, who, for the first time ever, has been knocked off the Christmas Top 10 toy list by the new, streetwise Bratz dolls.

So, off to interview Barbie, who, for the first time ever, has been knocked off the Christmas Top 10 toy list by the new, streetwise Bratz dolls. However, it is a condition of the interview that I do not mention the Bratz. "If you do," says her PR, Max Clifford, who is mostly a tireless charity worker and not just a scandalmonger, as some seem to think, "I cannot be held responsible for her actions. She may even hold your head under in the Pink Sparkle Bubble Spa."

Her PR used to be Matthew Freud, but, as I understand it, they fell out rather when he suggested that there might be more to life than pink. Like green, for example. Or even brown. Barbie, apparently, was so outraged that she almost forgot to go to Kabbala, which would have been awful, because, as she says: "I thought about pretending to be a Jewish person and corrupting an ancient tradition with new-age phooey long before Madonna."

Of course, she has homes all over the world: the Dream House with pretty bathroom and fold-down Victorian tub in Hollywood; the Enchanted Castle with Twirling Musical Dance Stand and Transforming Rooms in the South of France; plus an Enchanted Forest in Tuscany populated by beautiful unicorns with shimmering pink manes you can comb and clip back with sparkly barrettes. However, I meet her in Scotland, in the Highlands, at her Enchanted Musical Royal Castle with a real working lift that chimes as it goes up and down.

Her nearest neighbour is JK Rowling, but they are not, I later discover, that friendly. "I once asked her over so she could make use of my 20-piece beauty set, with hairdryer, curling iron, lipstick, nail polish, compact and many more items for a girl to add glitz and glamour," says Barbie. "I was only trying to be helpful, as she does not make the most of herself, frankly, but she was very snooty about it and said she had to go Potter. I said, it's alright for you, Jo-Jo, if you don't mind me calling you that, and I wish I could potter, but being the icon I am, I just don't have time. Anyway, I won't invite her into my Cool Lookz Salon again."

Amazingly, after ringing the doorbell that really, really works, Barbie herself answers the door. She is 45 now, and still in astonishing shape, with those conical breasts, feet that are always on tippy-toes, perpetually startled turquoise eyes, and the hair, which, she says, "is not only beautiful and blonde and excellent for swinging but really, really grows". She is, today, wearing an outfit from her Barbie Glam collection: satin fuchsia trousers, fluffy pink stole, open-toed stilettos. "I receive about 100 outfits a year, and everybody has designed for me: Yves Saint Laurent, Versace, Calvin Klein... I've even been painted by Andy Warhol. Funny chap. We had lunch, but as soon as the soup came out he rather lost interest in me."

We settle in the living room, with its pink bookcase, pink carpets, pink sofa and Living Pretty Mirror. Later, she promises to zoom me upstairs in the lift that really, really works to see her Dream Glow Boudoir. "It's divine," she exclaims, happily. I can hear vacuuming from upstairs. The maid? "No dear, Ken. Sadly, he's not much in demand. Oh yes, in the Sixties, he was quite the thing, in his Suede Scene outfits with zips that really zipped, and his painted-on hair.

"Ken set new standards when it came to painted-on hair. Everybody says so. But then Action Man came along with his big clumping boots, and Ken was made to seem woefully passé. He now draws a salary as my housekeeper, but I do whatever I can to protect his dignity. Ken!" she calls out. "Could we have two milkshakes as made in the Dream Barbie Milkshake Maker? Or I'll dock your wages, you useless old parasitical poof-who-had-to-send-the-Ferrari-back!"

As it happens, she is the first to mention the Bratz. "A flash in the pan," she says, lightly. And as for the return of the Cabbage Patch dolls: "They're just creepy. If I ever knew a child like that, I'm afraid I would have to put the soft pillow from my Magical Dream Canopy Bed over its face. I'm sorry, but it would, ultimately, be the kindest thing."

I tell her that I have a niece who, when I said that I couldn't - ahem - play Barbie any more because it's too boring, gave me a look of icy contempt and said: "Barbie is never boring." This pleases Barbie no end. "How sweet!" she says. "I'd send her my autograph, if only my fingers would unfold sufficiently to hold a pen. No, life is not a bed of pink roses for me by any means. I haven't got a vagina, either, and I think I might have quite liked one of those. Tell me, are they fun?"

Well, I say, trying to downplay what fun they can be, you can sometimes wet yourself when you sneeze, especially at our age. "Ah. Maybe not, then. And Ken loves me just the way I am."

Ken arrives with the milkshakes wearing what one assumes is one of Barbie's frilly pink aprons. "He loves that apron," she sighs. "And on occasion, I've found him in my nurse outfit. Is it any wonder that Action Man had the edge? However, we are thinking of relaunching him as Rude Boy Ken, who will be big and intimidating and wear sags and get involved in gang warfare and mugging old ladies. But he's resisting, of course. That's the trouble with Ken. Can't move with the times. 'Can't I just be a flight attendant?', he whines. I believe a lot of his problems stem from being smoothly moulded in the genital department."

Our time is nearly up. One last question. What about the feminist argument that you are a poor role model for little girls? She laughs as heartily as anyone can laugh when you can't bend in the middle, then says: "Listen, in my time I have been astronaut, doctor, ballet dancer, skier, ice-skating champion, air hostess, pop star, musician and vet. I have even been a mermaid. I am a feminist icon. Would you like to see all my uniforms? Ken, you big girl's blouse, get them down for me. And if the nurse's uniform is in your wardrobe, PUT IT BACK NOW!"