After spending decades assiduously building a reputation as the most annoying man on either side of the Atlantic, Toby Young is finally about to make some friends. He may be relying on coachloads of Japanese tourists, but somehow the much-derided writer and critic is poised to become the unlikeliest West End hit in recent history.
This week sees the opening of a stage version of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, the autobiographical novel that chronicles one of Young's most disastrous forays in the world of journalism – as a contributing editor on society magazine Vanity Fair.
All the signs are that the one-man show, in which Young is played by Jack Davenport, the rather more photogenic star of This Life, will be a roaring success. It has already sold out for much of its three-week run.
For good or ill, the producers have invited many of Young's sworn enemies to the opening night, but, this being Toby Young, it was only a matter of time before the sniping started. As final preparations are made, some of the friends even he hasn't yet alienated are starting to grumble about being left off the VIP list.
Their reactions might well be even more hostile once they have seen the production. At just under an hour, it has left much of Young's book on the cutting-room floor, yet it contains several new scenes – many of them featuring jokes at the expense of his long-standing foes.
Among those mocked in the play is Will Self, who famously fell out with Young over a drunken dispute about the cost of Martin Amis's dental work. He is satirised in a sequence in which Young suggests to Vanity Fair's editor, Graydon Carter, that he run a profile on the writer describing him as "elusive and publicity-shy".
As with everything Young does, his latest foray into self-promotion has a perverse draw even for those who have suffered most from his whims. Peter York, the style critic who bankrolled Young's ill-fated culture magazine Modern Review, is one of those frustrated at being left off the guest list.
"I spoke to William Cash [the writer] the other day and we were talking about the fact that neither of us had been invited," he said. "I suppose it's understandable in my case, because we haven't talked for six years – although he has written a couple of apologetic emails to me.
"With Modern Review, when he torched it very quickly, whatever his excuses, he was torching my money. I felt rather peeved. From that day I didn't talk to him, and thought of him as a sort of bald homunculus." Mr York, however, admits that his views have since "softened" towards Young. "The fact is that he's amusing," he said. "The fact is that the book is wonderful."
Describing Young as a "natural product of the Eighties", he added: "If you live in Islington, your father practically invented the welfare state, and your sister is Krishna or something similar, you are absolutely obliged to be Toby – ie, cynical and brattish."
Other acquaintances of Young feel spurned by his decision to invite them only on the proviso that they buy their own tickets. In a round-robin email sent last week, he gave them details of how to book seats, adding, with studied self-deprecation: "A one-man show based on my book is opening at the Soho Theatre on 28 April and will run for three weeks (unless it closes on the first night). It's been adapted by Tim Fountain, the man behind Puppetry of the Penis, so he's well qualified for the job.
"I'm being played by Jack Davenport ... I know, I know, he's about a thousand times better looking than me, but it's no more of a stretch than Jeffrey Bernard being played by Peter O'Toole. OK, maybe a teensy weensy bit more."
Young himself remains typically unrepentant. He admits deliberately omitting to invite certain people, including Amis, Graydon Carter and Elizabeth Hurley, who once hurled a friend's copy of his novel on a barbecue in fury over his attempt to feature nude photographs of her in Modern Review.
"I was only given 15 tickets to hand out, and two of those are for me and my wife, so I couldn't do much to prevent some people having to pay," he said of the others left off the VIP list.
Young, 39, who is also working on a screenplay of his book, added that he hoped his portrayal by handsome male leads would continue on to the big screen.
"Julia Roberts was attached to play my wife a few months ago, on the basis that Hugh Grant would play me," he said. "The producers wanted to re-capture the chemistry of Notting Hill, but Hugh said 'no way'.
"Apparently, Graydon Carter was asked while drinking in New York recently who he thought should play me in the film. He said 'Verne Troyer' – the dwarf from the Austin Powers films. I'd have thought Brad Pitt."Famous feuds and fallings out: what Toby's former friends say
Julie Burchill (journalist and author):
Julie Burchill famously fell out with Young in 1995, when 'Modern Review', of which the two were founder editors, folded. She has previously accused Young of being "bald, bilious and paying for sex".
"I met Toby when he was about 19. We fell out eight years ago, but have been friends for the last two years. I have received an invitation to the play, and will make sure that I see it while it is running. Toby is one of the best writers in the English language at the moment. His book is wonderful. Absolutely brilliant. He's a much better writer than me!"
Elizabeth Hurley (model and actress):
Elizabeth Hurley fell out with Young in 1994, when he printed nude pictures of her in 'Modern Review'. She allegedly made a friend burn Young's book on a barbecue when she caught her reading it on holiday.
"No comment," said her agent.
Charlotte Raven (journalist):
Charlotte Raven started her journalism career as a staff writer at 'Modern Review', but is said to have rowed with Young when the magazine folded.
"My relationship with Toby is all right at the moment. I see him intermittently and he is always fairly civil. I wouldn't say age has mellowed him exactly. I have no plans to see the play. I like his wife very much. She is charming, nice and outgoing."
Peter York (style critic):
Peter York fell out with Young over his decision to fold 'Modern Review', which York had financed, without letting him know. They have scarcely spoken since.
"He is absolutely marvellously publicity-crazed. There's a moral valve that doesn't quite work properly, but maybe he's got a bit better now. When he wrote his book I rather softened towards him, because talent does tend to soften your ability to think badly of people."
Sophie Dahl (model and actress):
Young's website quoted his ex-flatmate as saying: "Toby was always trying to get me to introduce him to my model friends. It was sad really."
"I am still great friends with him. I was invited to Toby's play, but can't attend because I'm not in London."
Beth Kseniak (PR director for Vanity Fair) speaking about Graydon Carter's relationship with Young:
Graydon Carter, editor-in-chief of 'Vanity Fair' during Young's startling rise to non-success in New York, once described Young as "a piece of gum that stuck to my shoe five years ago and that I still can't get rid of".
"I don't think Graydon Carter and Toby are still bickering. I don't think they ever were, actually."
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