Saturday, 5 December 2009


The Christmas run did begin again and dispelled myths that St. Nick had cancelled the event this year. Aside from the usual complaints about it occurring earlier per annum I was more delighted to read about the possible decline of "celebrity" autobiographies (I use the "auto" prefix in the loosest term") in an article in The Independent the other week. Apparently sales are slumping for the, majority ghost-written, celeb life stories this year, and I am forced to agree with Liz Thomson in welcoming what we hope will be the end of an era. There is so much wrong with the autobiography craze that it's difficult to know where to start complaining. Forgive me for being pompous, but just for today I'll give it a go…

First and foremost is the age that these celebrities are: Kate Price, her books now virtually part of traditional Crimbo decorations, is releasing her fourth incarnation this year at only 31 years old; Fernando Torres, the baby-faced Liverpool striker, is 25 (check a wonderful review on the Amazon page, praising how "interesting font sizez [sic] and colours are used unlike the normal ones found in books"); and Leona Lewis is making her first outing at just 24 years old. I mean, seriously, how much can there really be to write about? What do you really remember about your pre-teenage life? Enough for a couple of chapters full of the odd memory, probably. So you've got ten or fifteen years to play around with in Times New Roman. Big deal.

What have these people really achieved? I'm sure they've had to overcome marvellous difficulties to get where they are now, i.e. B-D list, but quite frankly I don't believe that John Barrowman has had to push through difficulties similar to, say, Lance Armstrong. This is where the age argument does break down somewhat, because there are genuinely good life stories and achievements out there from younger generations. I just don't happen to agree that starring in Coronation Street since its conception is one of these exceptions.

Sure, I admit, I'm a Top Gear fan, and maybe Richard Hammond's biog about his big crash and, mercifully, his recovery is a wonderful journey of pain and rediscovery. Yet is it really comparable to the title sitting a couple of decimal places away from it in Borders, that of Sir Ranulph Fiennes? Here's a man that's run seven marathons in seven days on seven different continents after major heart surgery, is an accomplished author, served in the British army, has been awarded a second clasp to a Polar Medal, lost various pieces of his body in expeditions, been awarded an OBE, been presented with the Sultan's Bravery Medal while serving with the Omani Army, and despite a fear of heights climbed the Eiger and Mount Everest - of which he is the oldest man to do it. What I'm saying is, while the Hamster's story is probably good, and tears at the heartstrings, perhaps he should wait until he's retired and recount all the good old days in a couple of releases if really necessary.

To be honest, I don't really make enough time to read things other than the papers and books prescribed to me for my course and so there are few biographies, auto or not, that I manage to read. There is one that I have read over the last couple of years though, in both senses of the ambiguity: Memoirs of the Second World War, by Sir Winston Churchill. Now, before you accuse me of being some tory, Daily Mail reading, Murdoch loving plonker, I'd like to retort that it's a stunning book (the abridged version, it's long enough, thank you). Did you know it won the Nobel Prize for Literature? Even if it's biased, it's the most brilliant account of one man's struggle for a voice and leadership, for justice and accuracy, for freedom and the future. This man had an incredible life, and the thousands of pages written within those covers are only about one aspect of a mere twenty years of it. In my view, that's what an autobiography is about. Surely we want to read about men and women who have made their place in history, not what led Frankie Boyle to be "so abusive he's funny".

Maybe I'm really out of touch here. Perhaps these celebs are inspiring our lowly generations to pick themselves out of their crack habits. I can't help thinking of the timing of these publication releases though; yes, they are in time for the Christmas gift nightmare "What do I buy little Sarah?" scenario, but they're also remarkably close to the New Year's Honour's List - and I'm never surprised how closely the best sellers seem to correlate.

Illustration by Hannah Wallace

1 comment:

  1. The meaning of that image is a concept I've discussed with people many times. Its ridicules that someone that young writes about their life…the worst bit is that they’ve done almost nothing worth actually writing about.