Tracey Emin: My Life in a Column

'I had a mullet, I'd gone down to 45 kilos, was very brown, and strongly resembled a walnut'
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The Independent Online

I am sitting in Tracey Emin's studio. It's unusually quiet and serene until the door flies open and there, before me, in a long red mac, a very sporty and slightly sweaty Tracey announces quite loudly: "I'm really sorry I'm late!" I look at her. She doesn't seem sorry that she's late. She looks positively triumphant, and proceeds to explain to me how rude it is when people are early! And it's a known fact, she says, that most of her friends will lie to her about what time she should arrive somewhere. And this, she tells me, is really, really, really annoying. I explain that I enjoyed sitting in the studio as it was so peaceful and quiet. She knits her eyebrows together and proudly says: "That's because it goes from east to west." I asked her what that has to do with it. She tells me it's a gravitational thing, and about the calmness of the evening light. And that the studio is built on a Runic circle. "A what?" I say. "You know," she says, "like a mini Stonehenge. Ley lines - good ones." I tell her I'm not here on behalf of the Druid Society. I've come to interview her about her film.

Interviewer: "What prompted you to make TopShop?"

Tracey Emin: "It's TOPSPOT. And what do you mean 'prompted'?"

I: "I've never seen a film like TopSpot before. Shall we start off with the title? Where did it come from?"

TE: "TopSpot was a teenage disco that I used to go to. It was on Sunday nights in the ballroom at Dreamland in Margate. We used to drink snowballs or Pernod and black, and that was way before alcopops. We used to let ourselves get drunk enough to be groped and fingered behind the giant red velvet curtains. That was my TopSpot. But TopSpot actually is to do with sex. When a man's penis touches the neck of a woman's womb. It's what you called the topspot. I always thought it was really weird - a teenage disco being called TopSpot.

I: "Hmm. Fascinating."

TE: "Well, yeah actually, it is fascinating. A room full of hundreds of teenagers getting up to that stuff. A 13-year-old going up to the bar and saying: "Can I have a drink?" - which is 50 per cent proof - "And can I have another, and another, and another?"

I: "In the film there's a strong solidarity between the group of girls. Did they know each other beforehand, and how did you find them?

TE: "I put an advert in a stage magazine and 45 girls turned up for auditions. I made them shout obscenities across the room, as well as asking them trick questions. It was important to me that the girls I chose had individual strengths that could come out in the film, and that they would not be intimidated by me."

I: "Did you feel like a mother hen, being in charge of six teenage girls?"

TE: "Well actually their ages went from 16 to 24. It was brilliant when we did the first costume test, I was really worried that they might not look young enough, so we dressed them up in school uniforms and frogmarched them round to the Golden Heart. As I hid by the doorway, they had strict instructions to order a round of drinks, starting with a white wine spritzer. It was fantastic. Sandra, my friend and landlady of the pub, fell for it hook line and sinker! "Ooww babes!" she said, 'Get away with ya! You're never old enough! You look about 12 to me!"

I: "When did you write the script?"

TE: "I didn't. The story was already there, and every morning I would just tell the girls what they had to say. Sometimes they'd get really cross with me because I would insist that they say things with my inclination."

I: "Why do you appear in the film?"

TE: "I'm hardly in it! I was supposed to have been in it a lot more - a sort of larger-than-life character who talks straight to camera. But unfortunately, at the time of making the film, I hated myself. I had a mullet, I'd gone down to 45 kilos, was very brown, and strongly resembled a walnut. So I cut myself out. Also I wanted the film to be sweet, and for it to be about every girl. I wanted it to be bigger than me."

I: "Is there a moral behind the film?"

TE: "Yes. It's about survival. Self preservation."

I: "You were upset when the film received an 18 certificate..."

TE: "Yes I was. I specifically made the film with a teenage audience in mind. They said they could be made a 15 if I cut out 10 seconds of the suicide scene. The scene looked too real. The razor blade was too convincing. You didn't actually see her cut herself. All you knew was that she was dead. I made a film with no men in, only two swear words, no sex, and I made Margate look very beautiful. I made a film that I hoped would inspire young women - not to commit suicide - but to pick up a camera and make a film."

I: "So Tracey, have you plans to make more films?"

TE: "Yeah. I'm going to make a hardcore, violent sexually explicit film. I'll show them what an 18 cert is!

I: "Can't wait! Good luck - and thank you."

TopSpot is released on DVD this week by Tartan Video. Tracey will be signing copies at Tate Modern on Friday 5 May at 7pm

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