Tracey Emin: My Life In A Column

'I like sending all manner of notes and missives through the post. I like it in an old-fashioned kind of way'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Gilbert & George show at Tate Modern is mind-blowingly fantastic. It's so brilliant to see the progression of 40 years of work. And it was great to see Gilbert and George surrounded by their legions. I think that they should be made "Sirs". Sir Gilbert & Sir George. It would be brilliant, because you know that the Queen would get them muddled up. You can imagine one of her aides subtly whispering into her ear: "Ma'am. George is the taller. Gilbert is the shorter."

This week I've been showered with accolades. It's been a week of extremely strange, wonderful letters. One letter I received was from the University of Kent, inviting me to accept an honorary PhD, to be made a Doctor of Letters this summer. I was really chuffed and quite taken aback. I kept having to explain to people: "But you're not a real doctor. People don't actually call you a doctor." The other week I was on a plane where they actually asked: "Is there a doctor on board?" And then quickly followed with the words: "medical doctor". I said to my friend: "Lucky they got that in quick. Before you know it, you would have half the plane debating the Descartian theory, determinism and the finer points between Hegel and Kant." Dr Emin.

A few years ago, I was made an Honorary Fellow by Kent Institute of Art and Design. My gown and puffy beefeater hat were designed by Zandra Rhodes. And they actually really suit me. And I've been a guest speaker at the Oxford Union. I said to the Union president, about half-an-hour before the talk: "Is there somewhere where I can change into my gown?" At which he just presumed it would be Westwood.

But as I strutted down the stairs in my cowboy boots, and my puffy beefeater hat, and my royal-looking satin silks, he asked me: "Where the hell did you get that from?" I replied: "What? Do you think I've nicked it?" And I remember, when I walked into the grand hall, I'd never heard so many wolf whistles.

But it is odd; if you have a slightly "chavy" twang, let's just say you're a little bit rough round the edges, and you have a good education, let's say you got into a good university, people somehow think that your dad must have sold a few pairs of tights under the table or pulled a few strings to get you in there. It's not like that with other dialects or accents, say northern or Scottish; you're either cultured, or you have to work really hard to get a place. I don't know, maybe that's just how it was 20 years ago. Hopefully it's all changed now.

I like being a doctor of letters. I think it suits me. And people who know me really well know that I like sending all manner of missives and notes through the post. I like it in an old-fashioned kind of way. It's how I imagine myself being when I'm really old. That's if I'm old and happy, sitting cosy by a fire with Docket, who's just broken the Guinness Book of Records record again for being the oldest cat on the planet. Happily sitting there, writing letters and sending them out into the ether.

I have received some cracking letters this week. One from Africa - an ex-mercenary putting me straight. It's a fascinating letter that describes the whole history of mercenaries. It was a very thoughtful, sophisticated letter - something which would be quite hard to achieve in conversation. That's what is so amazing about letters, there's a timelessness about them, where the thoughts hang in space and then you have time to deal with those thoughts. Especially in terms of an argument which, for the record, I am absolutely useless at. I have no chance of ever winning an argument. I am too emotional and react very immaturely to certain situations.

For example, I could be arguing about the Suez Canal crisis in 1956 knowing that I am 100 per cent right, and I find myself in a heated moment saying: "And you turned up late at the restaurant last week!" My friend Sacky, who has got an IQ of 175 (not that it should matter, but she is pretty sharp), says: "Quite often Tracey is 100 per cent right but her delivery is 100 per cent wrong".

Back to the letters. I had a lovely one from the NSPCC who want to induct me into the third NSPCC Hall of Fame for the support I have given them over the last few years. I became all teary when I read the letter. When you speak out on behalf of people or children who don't have a voice, that's the reward in doing it. Hoping that you are making a difference somewhere. But to be honoured for doing it is really lovely.

Even Docket received a letter today. It was sent to "Docket Emin c/o White Cube", with a giant, great big pack of fishy organic cat food (Burgess "Supa Cat with Ocean fish - extra tasty for adult cats"). Docket still hasn't recovered from not appearing in the Whiskas calendar. We almost had to invent a new month. Anyway, what I liked was that the letter was really cute and it put a smile on my face...

...But not half as big a smile as the letter I received last Friday. "May I offer my sincere apologies that you did not receive my letter of 28th November 2006. I have the greatest pleasure in inviting you, on behalf of the Council and the Senate of the College, to accept an Honorary Doctorate of the Royal College of Art..." YES! Double whammy! Dr Dr Emin. X X X

Comments