Magazine article The Spectator

I Don't Want to Be Normal

Magazine article The Spectator

I Don't Want to Be Normal

Article excerpt

A relatively sober lunch with my old mucker Julie Burchill

Seeing Julie Burchill sitting at the back of the restaurant near Victoria Station, I feel a surge of affection. Chin up, sunglasses on, lips fixed in a pout, she is presenting her usual defiant face to the world. In the past, I've always thought of her as being like a screen goddess from Hollywood's golden age - Marlene Dietrich, for instance. Now, she seems more like a fading Broadway diva and I half expect her to break into a rendition of 'I'm Still Here' by Stephen Sondheim.

The one-time enfant terrible of Fleet Street is now 53 and lives in Brighton, but she is very much still here. Earlier this year, a column she wrote for the Observer in which she referred to transsexuals as 'bed-wetters in bad wigs' caused no end of trouble and this month sees the re-release of Ambition , her 1989 bonkbuster about a female newspaper editor with a penchant for sadomasochism. This seems like a blatant attempt on the part of her publisher to cash in on the success of 50 Shades of Grey , a book Julie says she hasn't read.

'Remember how Gore Vidal said television's for appearing on, not for watching?' she says. 'I feel a bit like that about porn. It's for writing, not for reading.'

I'm a little nervous about seeing her, because the last time we had lunch we both got quite pissed and my wife takes a dim view of lunchtime drinking, particularly when I'm due to pick up the kids from school. But Julie allays my fears - initially, at least - by explaining that the reason she's in London is because she's just been to see a hypnotist in an effort to curb her excessive eating and drinking. Or, rather, for the purposes of writing a Daily Mail article Daily Mail Daily Mail about trying to curb her excessive eating and drinking, which isn't quite the same thing.

'Can I have another double scotch on the rocks please?' she asks the waitress, holding up an empty tumbler. Then, turning to me, she says, 'Didn't work, did it?'

Julie is completely unembarrassed about her love of alcohol. We briefly discuss a recent Sunday Times interview she did with Camilla Long, winner of the 2013 Hatchet Job of the Year. The piece began with Julie being sick over herself in the Groucho Club and ended with her falling asleep on Brighton Beach, having drunk a bottle of Calvados.

Given that Julie used to work for the Sunday Times - and occupied a similarly exalted position to Camilla - she is remarkably sanguine about it.

'I was so nervous when that piece came out because I thought I'd slapped the make on her, ' she says, laughing. 'Have you seen her? She's gorgeous and she was wearing this ridiculously low-cut top. I thought it was some kind of honey trap. Thank God I didn't.'

Since the pinnacle of her career in the mid-1990s, Julie has worked for a succession of different broadsheets, including the Guardian, the Times and the Independent, but she doesn't currently have a column.

She claims not to mind this since it leaves her with the time to concentrate on writing Unchosen, a memoir about her lifelong love affair with the Jews. …

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