Poignant, funny and truthful
Bridget Jones, a
30-something single girl living a life in which relationships fail even
faster than diets, is one of the great comic characters of our times.
Her daily struggles will appear in her new column each Saturday. Her
creator, Helen Fielding, tells Lydia Slater about life with Bridget.
single, she's broke, she smokes and drinks far too much, she's sick to
death of being asked why she isn't married yet and she's been on a diet
for 18 years without losing any weight.
yet, she seems to have struck a chord with anyone who has ever had a
disastrous relationship, a mother, a bad hair day or a humiliating
experience in a communal changing room.
paperback Diaries of Bridget Jones have topped the bestseller lists for
the past 11 weeks and has been sold to America, the author has been
featured in Newsweek and a film of her life is now in progress.
week, Ms Jones will be joining etcetera to share her views on life, love
and (somewhat alarmingly) politics.
diaries, which have been variously described as "a dazzling urban
satire of modern human relations", "an ironic, tragic insight
into the demise of the nuclear family" and "the confused
ramblings of a pissed thirtysomething", provide an intimate window
on the lifestyle of a London girl convinced that everyone is getting it
right except her. Ms Jones has been instructed not to stay out too late
on Friday nights to file her copy the following morning, in a sober and
coherent manner, ready for inclusion in our Life and Times section. We
shall see how it goes.
Jones is a 30-something single girl who lives in west London and works
as a researcher for a daytime television company.
ambitions are few - she would like to lose weight and find true love -
but apparently unattainable and her romantic life is in a state of
perpetual crisis as she lurches from one dysfunctional boyfriend to the
next. Luckily, Shazzer and Jude, her best friends, are on hand to
provide pseudo-feminist advice and Australian plonk, sometimes rather
too much of it.
column frequently ends with an abrupt "Oops!" as she
collapses, drunken and fully-dressed, on to her sitting room floor. This
heroine de nos jours has received many proposals of marriage from her
fans, entranced by her sparky prose and the tantalisingly obscured
photograph which accompanies it.
has lain uncomfortably on the couch of the psychoanalyst Oliver James
(who concluded she needed Prozac), and this year turned her hand to
celebrity interviewing when she was sent by The Independent to Rome, to
meet her hero, Colin Firth.
trenchant turns of phrase have become popular parlance, even among those
who have never read her work: "singleton", her preferred word
for spinster, has entered the national vocabulary, as has its
corresponding insult, "Smug Marrieds".
is even a new adjective, "very Bridget Jones", which implies a
certain kind of chaotic hedonism.
for her many fans, Bridget Jones does not actually exist. Her Diary is
the creation of Helen Fielding, who invented it in self-defence after
she was asked to join the ever-growing band of women columnists who
confess their singleton sins to the public in a weekly column. "I
couldn't possibly have splurged my private life all over the
papers," Helen says with a shudder.
she whipped up an imaginary amalgam of insecurities, a woman who was
always on three diets simultaneously (Hay, Scarsdale and F-Plan) because
she liked to choose between the best aspects of all three.
was also a practical reason for the pastiche. "If you write as
yourself, you can't help but want people to like you. If you write as
somebody else, you can be honest about the secret, stupid, shameful
things you really think; such as when you're at a funeral and you start
imagining what will happen at your funeral; ex-boyfriends being sorry,
the marvellous things everyone will say about you and whether you will
have a lovely coffin with lilies on, like Princess Diana."
search of inspiration, she re-read her old university diaries and was
surprised to find them peppered with lists of calorie-counted puddings
and cocktails, alongside exhortations to herself not to bite her nails
and to become a better person.
she kicked off her first column with a detailed list of the calories,
cigarettes and alcohol her protagonist had ingested, followed by an
account of a telephone conversation with the man at the Cones Hotline.
"I thought the column was so silly, it would only last three weeks,
and I was too embarrassed to admit to anyone that I'd written it,"
right from the start, her Diary touched a nerve of pre-millennial
anxiety. National statistics have forecast that a quarter of all women
will be single by 2020 and a healthy proportion of these will be
discerning singletons unable to find a man with whom they are prepared
to settle down.
is of such women that her Diary speaks: of their habits and habitats but
mainly of the never-ending struggle to maintain self-respect in the face
of tactless parents, Smug Marrieds, and inadequate dates.
Fielding is herself in her thirties, unmarried and living alone in west
London. Despite her efforts to deny all similarities between herself and
her creation, she admits that many of the more embarrassing episodes in
the columns have been drawn from her own experiences: notably, the time
she realised, while out shopping, that her skirt had somehow rucked up
to her waist.
something horrid happens to me, my first thought is always that I can
use it for Bridget. It insulates me a bit."
is reluctant to reveal much about herself, "because lots of people
think Bridget is real". She will admit that she went to St Anne's
College, Oxford (Bridget was at Bangor), and then joined the BBC,
working on a variety of programmes from Nationwide to Playschool.
eight years and a spell as a producer, she left to try her hand at
writing. It took her some time to find her niche: she sent an
unsolicited article about car alarms to The Guardian every week for six
weeks, without success.
after a failed attempt at a Mills and Boon romance (her rejection letter
read: "neither your characters nor your story are up to the high
standards required by the Mills and Boon reader") she wrote her
first novel, Cause Celeb, based on her experiences filming documentaries
for Comic Relief in Africa.
book - a satire on the relationship between starvation in Africa and
media celebrity in London - nevertheless has Bridget-esque overtones.
The heroine, Rosie, a well-meaning socialite-turned-aid worker,
eventually dumps a commitment-phobe television celebrity for Mr Right.
a mass of neuroses and modern addictions (cigarettes, chocolate and
Lottery Instants) is rarely so successful; her columns, on the other
hand, are as beloved as her love life is disastrous.
novel based on her diaries, a modern-day version of Pride and Prejudice,
has been No 1 in the bestseller list for the past 15 weeks. Two more
books and a film are to follow and the new singleton genre she inspired
has spawned a whole feral colony of copycat tomes.
Bridget is popular," says Helen, "it's because she lives in a
state of nameless dread, thinking everyone knows how to live their life
except her. What she doesn't realise is that lots of other people feel
the same way."
Helen admits to a temptation to claim that she is Bridget. "I'm
afraid it has all gone to my head and I have become an embarrassing
show-off." She has only played her for real once, when interviewing
Colin Firth, and says she found the experience liberating.
could ask all sorts of questions I'd never have dared to if I'd been me,
like whether being called Colin was a disadvantage and whether, instead
of his Italian fiancée, [now wife] he shouldn't be going out with
someone who was English and more his own age."
is precisely this kind of straight talking which has made Bridget more
famous than her creator but Helen insists she has only been jealous once
- last year, when Bridget was sent 13 Valentine cards while she only got
one. "Otherwise, I am incredibly grateful to her."
is Bridget Jones?
lost in average year: 357lbs;
gained in average year: 358lbs;
life: her mother, over-confident advocate of the floral Country Casuals
two-piece and serial adulteress;
Mr Darcy; self-help books; computer messaging; her friends Tom, Jude and
Shazzer; going out; chocolate croissants; Silk Cut; bottles of
chardonnay; Instants lottery scratch cards; Agnes B, Whistles and
Jigsaw; Milk Tray; resolving to start diet in the morning;
Her own bottom, actually going on a diet; exercise; bossy, scary people;
getting up in the morning; going to parties thrown by her mother's
friends; work; people who say "how's your love life?";
communal changing rooms peopled by ghastly thin girls who go round
saying "does it make me look fat?" to their obese friend who
looks like a water buffalo in everything.