The living history of celebrity book launches

Because I hate waste, I read from cover to cover Alan Titchmarsh's memoir, called 'Trowel and Error'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

As long-suffering wives go, Hillary Clinton has travelled a lot further than most. For this reason alone, if I had been anywhere near Piccadilly last Thursday I'd probably have joined the queue outside Waterstone's to see her signing copies of her autobiography, Living History. Then again, it might have been awkward because I don't actually want to buy it. Two extracts on the radio read by the author herself were quite enough, thank you. It was the timbre of her voice that put me off. How can a woman who had been through what Hillary Rodham Clinton has been through possibly sound so calm and understanding and forgiving? I know I couldn't, but then I haven't as much to lose by projecting the wrong image. Apparently it's the fastest-selling book since records began, which is saying something when you're up against the Harry Potter phenomenon.

The snippets I heard dealt with what autobiographers usually refer to as "the early years". I think it was the Mills & Boon-style description of Mrs Clinton's first meeting with her future husband, all curly chestnut hair and fresh-from-Oxford Rhodes scholar charisma, that did it for me. Celebrity autobiographies are not my favourite literary genre. Give me a meticulously researched, reliably sourced (and sauced) unauthorised biography with a bit of needle any day.

But this, par excellence, is the age of self-advertisement. Those that can write books do, those that can't wear personalised T-shirts. At Stansted airport the other day, I saw three girls queuing for the Ibiza check-in. They were wearing identical pink T-shirts with KYLIE'S HEN PARTY on the front and their names on the back (viz, Lay Me Down Linda, Randy Rosie and Jenny Jugs). It didn't help that they were all deeply unattractive, but that's self-publicity for you. It has become an obsession.

Someone gave me Alan Titchmarsh's autobiography for Christmas, which is called Trowel and Error and which, because I hate waste, I read from cover to cover. I wish I hadn't. It had all the obligatory requirements of the celebrity genre: punning title, humble childhood, incredulity at fame and success, sickening self-deprecation and enough material left in the bottom drawer to write a sequel when the author is either translated to the Upper House as Lord Titchmarsh of Decking or beatified as St Groundforce.

Former First Ladies, admittedly, do have rather more to write about than television gardeners. One of my first assignments as a cub reporter was to interview Lady Bird Johnson, who was in London to publicise her Beautify America campaign and accompanying book. I remember less about Lady Bird than her surroundings. She was staying in a suite at Claridges with a grand piano in the drawing room piled high with bowls of sculptured fruit and photographs in antique silver frames depicting the Johnson family relaxing in their very gracious Texas home or shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth of England. When I arrived, she was sitting at the piano strumming idly on the keys like a character from an old Hollywood movie. She remained in this musical situ throughout the interview, and at suitably dramatic moments she struck suitably dramatic chords.

When I left, she gave me a copy of her book, which I have to this day. It says: "For Susan from Lady Bird and may your future be filled with as many beautiful memories as my past'', which doesn't actually make sense, but you don't argue with a First Lady. At the rate she was having to sign books last Thursday, I doubt Mrs Clinton could manage more than a scribbled HC, so my Lady Bird book must be worth a packet.

When Monica Dickens, the granddaughter of Charles, was on a book-signing tour in Australia many, many years ago to publicise her latest novel, she had much the same problem. To speed things along, her publicist stood discreetly beside the book-signing table and advised every potential customer to give either their name or the name of the person to whom they wished Miss Dickens to dedicate the book and then pass swiftly on to the checkout. They were going through this procedure one morning at a signing in Melbourne when a woman wearing Dame Edna spectacles showed up. "Emma Chissit'', she said and Miss Dickens dutifully wrote the inscription. The woman with the upswept specs looked blankly at the flyleaf. She had only wanted to know the price.

Maybe I'm being unfair. I wish Mrs Clinton every success, not with the book - she doesn't need it - but with her political career, which they say is targeted at the White House. Then, I dare say, we'll get Bill's version of events. Now there's a book I will read.

Comments