Toby Young: Gifted and disliked

Share

As a rule, it's a mistake for authors to respond to their bad reviews.

As a rule, it's a mistake for authors to respond to their bad reviews. We're supposed blithely to ignore them; to pretend that the negative words haven't reached us up here on Mount Olympus. To reply – whether by writing a letter to the editor or throwing a glass of wine in the critic's face – is considered the height of bad form. It is to commit what the critic Paul Fussell has dubbed "the ABM" – the Author's Big Mistake.

I'm not confident I'm going to pass this test. I've just written a book about my spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to "take" Manhattan and I'm expecting a deluge of bad reviews. This is partly because, as an occasional critic myself, I've been dishing it out for years. But even if I'd spent my entire career dispensing saccharine praise, I expect I'd still get bad notices. I do have a malign talent for attracting animosity. Everyone has a gift in life and mine is the ability to make people dislike me.

I first noticed this in primary school where, needless to say, I was always the last to be picked at games. This wouldn't have been so humiliating, but there were so many boys at my school called Toby that some bright spark came up with the idea of starting a football team called "Toby United" – and I couldn't even get picked to play for them. My only friend was a black boy called Remi, who explained that the reason he'd taken a shine to me was because he knew what it was like to be a "nigger".

At Oxford it's no exaggeration to say I was the most unpopular undergraduate of my generation. Even Darius Guppy, who went on to be imprisoned for fraud, had nothing on me. I once ran for election to the secretary's committee at the Oxford Union and got fewer votes than Kermit the Frog. I coined the term "negative charisma" to describe the effect I had on people: all I needed to do was walk across a crowded room in which I knew no one and no one knew me and already I'd made 10 enemies. Clearly, a career in politics wasn't for me.

I flattered myself that the reason people disliked me so much was because I was so pushy. I refused to play the game whereby you pretend you're not interested in some fabulous job while frantically campaigning for it behind the scenes. I've always been nakedly ambitious. This might not go over very well in stuffy old England, I told myself, but in America it's par for the course. New York was obviously my spiritual home.

My chance to put this to the test came in 1995, when the magazine I'd been editing for the previous four years went belly up. This was The Modern Review, a bitchy periodical I'd founded with Julie Burchill and Cosmo Landesman, and it had caught the eye of Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair. When it folded, he asked me to come and work for him and I thought my ship had come in. At last! Here was a chance to prove myself. I thought the Big Apple would be in the palm of my hand within six months.

Five years later I was back in London, having made a whole new set of enemies on the other side of the Atlantic. Evidently, my lack of appeal was universal.

So what is it about me that puts people's backs up? My father's theory is that I deliberately antagonise people in order to pre-empt rejection. I'm so terrified of being rebuffed that I end up behaving like an arsehole, so when people inevitably reject me I can tell myself that I engineered the whole process. According to him, I'm a bit like a neurotic woman who sabotages all her relationships with the opposite sex because she's scared of being hurt.

Unfortunately, this is too charitable. The sad truth is, I've often done my level best to win people's affection and they end up disliking me as much as everyone else. In New York, I spent five years assiduously courting celebrities but it never seemed to do me any good. No matter how often I told them I loved their work, they always looked at me suspiciously, as though I was laughing on the other side of my face. The only famous person I ever got along with on the Manhattan party circuit was Donald Trump. Perhaps he recognised a kindred spirit. The title of my book is How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. Trust me. I'm an expert.

'How to Lose Friends and Alienate People' is published in November by Little, Brown

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

I saw the immigration lies a mile off - and now nobody can deny it

Nigel Farage
The Uber app allows passengers to hail a taxi with a smartphone  

Who wouldn’t like a sharing economy? Well, me, for one

Mary Dejevsky
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game