Tracey Emin: My life as a column

My grandmother once said: 'There's a lot of money in chairs' - and I listened to her
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The Independent Online

Just when I thought nothing was happening, and my life had reached an all-time social low... "Bam!" an invite to Buckingham Palace arrives through the door. The private secretary to HRH The Duke of York has been commanded to invite Me, Ms Tracey Emin. And do you know what? I said yes. I have an insatiable interest to know what it's like in other people's houses.

Just when I thought nothing was happening, and my life had reached an all-time social low... "Bam!" an invite to Buckingham Palace arrives through the door. The private secretary to HRH The Duke of York has been commanded to invite Me, Ms Tracey Emin. And do you know what? I said yes. I have an insatiable interest to know what it's like in other people's houses.

Not just that, but I've been asked to speak on behalf of the NSPCC for its Full Stop campaign (full stop meaning no more cruelty to children). I've always made donations to the NSPCC, ever since I started earning money. When we were students, my friend Maria and I worked out that a monthly payment to save children's lives was no more than what we would spend on biscuits.

This is a really obvious thing, but I can't understand that anybody would be cruel to children. Mental abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse. Babies with cigarette burns up their arms, Children sitting in their own excrement in dustbins for days - the list is endless.

But let's go back to Buckingham Palace. I was invited there once before, by the Queen's equerry. He'd been asked to look at the Queen's paintings and invited me along. But he'd only been in the job a few days, so I said to him "You must be joking. Do you want to get the sack?". Now, looking back, maybe promotion would have been in order.

A very British coup

If you read my childhood CV, it goes something like: Sunday school (against my mum's wishes); gym club (which I was useless at); St John's youth club; Jesus Art Club (against my mum's wishes); and the Girl Guides, (against my mum's wishes). The Guides was a problem mainly because she had to buy a uniform - and the posh one that I wanted to go to was miles away from where I lived. But I was in my element sitting around campfires singing "Haila Shaila ging gang gooly gooly gooly watcha ging gang goo" which, to this day, I've never been able to work out. But I do say "watcha" all the time like some demented 11-year-old.

When I remember the Girl Guides, what really confuses me is that we had to swear allegiance to the Queen. Even at the age of 10, I felt there was something profoundly dodgy about this.

There was a time in my life when I thought the Royal Family should be given two options: to keep their possessions and lose their titles; or be shot. But now I've changed my mind. And no, not just because I've got an invitation to Buckingham Palace. The Royal Family is like a living soap opera - years ago I said "They should pay more taxes, and spend more time doing Hello covers" and hey presto, they are.

I was so much against the class system in Britain because I believe so firmly in the meritocracy, the constant battle to distribute wealth more fairly. As they said in the TV series A Very British Coup, it's not what you inherit, it's what you do with your inheritance. My grandma died when she was 94. I was in a state of complete bereavement and shock. People just didn't get it. For them it was obvious she was going to die because of her age.

We are conditioned to know our grandparents will probably die before us, but she was one of my best friends. As she got older and more frail, I would go to Margate to visit her. I would sit on her bed, holding her hand, listening to the radio. Sometimes we dozed off to sleep, and when we woke up we would tell each other our dreams.

Two years before my Nan died, she gave me a small armchair that had belonged to her mother. When she gave it to me she said "There's a lot of money in chairs". By that, she meant people stuffed the upholstery with wads of cash. But I took it to be a legacy.

In 1994 I wrote a book called Exploration of the Soul. It was the story of my life from the moment of conception to me losing my virginity. Then I decorated my Nan's chair. With the book and the chair, my then boyfriend, the gallerist Carl Freedman, and I drove across America. Stopping off at museums and galleries, I would perform readings from the book, using the chair as my mini throne, my point of confidence, selling the book on the way.

I think my highlight was performing at the Majestic Theatre in Detroit. It was the last place Houdini performed, and it seated an audience of 1,000. I had a grand total of 50. You could hear a pin drop, and yet there are still art magazines that refer to my sellout US tour. But by selling copies of the book I did raise £6,000, which paid for our flights, our Cadillac, our hotels, shopping in New York, belly surfing in San Diego, bear watching in Big Sur, and four days of mental gambling in Las Vegas.

My grandma didn't say: "I am going to die soon. Here is some money. I want you and your boyfriend to have the holiday of a lifetime in America." She said: "There's a lot of money in chairs". And I listened to her. And if you don't believe me, pop down to Tate Britain, and see the chair for yourself. I think that's a very British coup.

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