Helen Fielding interviews Bridget Jones

Helen Fielding | Mail Online - October 5, 2013

Eavesdrop on writer Helen Fielding’s one-time-only phone call to her chaotic creation, who is now a widowed mother-of-two...

HELEN FIELDING: Bridget, welcome back. A lot has changed since we last heard from you. You’re a single mum with two children, you’re quite a lot older and…

BRIDGET JONES [loud crashing noise followed by yelling].

H: Hello?

B: Give Saliva to me! Give Saliva to me! Mabel! That’s a One. Sorry. Sorry. Mabel’s hitting Billy with Saliva.

H: Saliva?

B: It’s Mabel’s dolly. Mabel! The next thing I’m going to say is… is… Two!

H: Didn’t you used to get annoyed when friends talked to their children in the middle of phone conversations?

B [laughs]: Yes, ironically. Mabel! Hang on, let me put Spongebob on. Grrr. What’s the Virgin Password? OK. Billy’s helping. Not 1066, that’s my bank card PIN. It’s 1896. OK. Sorry about that – I’ll just go into the other room. Right.

H: Your children are called Mabel and Billy?

B: Yes.

H: These are very sensible names in this day and age among things like Xerxes or Chlamydia.

B: Or indeed Saliva. I think she got mixed up between Sabrina and Sylvanian Bunnies. Apparently there’s a craze in South America for calling children after car engine parts. Some are actually quite pretty – carburetter, spark plug or similar. So much better than all these intellectual names – which are all the rage in London now. Cosmo, Cosma, Cosmas, Cosmata – it’s like trying to decline Latin verbs. And intellectual names don’t really work when people lose it with the children. I overheard a woman the other day yelling, ‘Clemency, you LITTLE ****!’

H: ‘Spark Plug’ would work better in that situation.

B: Yes.

H. It’s been quite a long time since you were widowed.

B [silence].

H: It’s five years ago now.

B: I don’t want to talk about it if you don’t mind.

H: How have you found getting back into the dating scene?

B [suspiciously]: I thought we were going to talk about my screenplay.

H [sighs]: Yes. We’re so very interested. Tell me about your new screenplay.

B [grandly]: It is an updating of Hedda Gabler by Anton Chekhov only moved from Norway or Sweden to a terraced house in Queen’s Park. I studied it for my finals at Bangor University, which unfortunately resulted in a Third, but I’m going to put that right! It’s a very modern play because it’s all about a very modern woman struggling not to live through men and…

H: Excuse me.

B: Yes?

H: Isn’t Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen?

B: What?

H: Yes. Google it.

B [sound of frantic typing]: Oh s***, it is by Henrik Ibsen. I’ve handed it in now, and it says Anton Chekhov all over the front. But I mean, they’re the same thing, right, Chekhov, Ibsen?

H: Um…

B: Anyway! Moving swiftly on…. [sound of duck quacking].

H: Do you keep a duck?

B: Sorry it’s… my text [giggling]; sorry.

H: Shouldn’t you have grown out of texting now you’re middle-aged?

B [silence].

H: Hello? Bridget?

B: Did you just use the words ‘middle’ and ‘aged’?

H: Yes. You’re 51. Do you object to being called middle-aged?

B: Yes. It is a horribly outdated term, though not as bad as ‘of a certain age’, with its insulting only-ever-applied-to-women insinuations of deluded past-it-ness. There’s this idea men don’t have a sexual sell-by date and older women do, and will never have sex again ever, ever, ever. I mean it isn’t the middle of our lives, is it? In Jane Austen’s day we would all be… oh, dead. Actually, maybe it is the middle of our lives, come to think of it. But what I mean is, when you look around, women keep themselves together and still have it all going on – look at Carol Vorderman and Kim Cattrall and Julianne Moore and… [text quacks].

H: Have you still got it all going on?

B: Well for a long time after… you know… for nearly five years I was a Born Again Virgin. But my friends were all saying I had to get a romantic life… it was very... hard. I embarked on an intensive period of Dating Self-Help-Book study. There were over 75 pages of dating self-help books on Amazon to choose from.

H: Do you have any favourites?

B: Hmm. Probably The Dating War, Romantic Suicide and Dating – It’s Not Complicated read in combination.

H: Were they useful?

B: Yes I studied their commonalities and distilled them down to a molten core of Key Dating Rules.

H: And what are the dating rules?

B: Well there are over 23 of them, but things like it’s more important to be on time than try on all your clothes and throw them on the floor and put the same thing back on again and be late. Rather like when trying to catch an aeroplane.

[There is a quacking sound again].

H: You seem to enjoy texting.

B: I love it. I can’t do it with my thumbs, which is very ageing, but it’s like you can just keep a running commentary with your friends going on all the time, when you’re supposed to be doing other things and practically have a whole relationship without needing to meet at all.

[Another quacking noise].

H: Could you concentrate on the interview now, please?

B [sulkily]: OK.

H: What are the main drawbacks to the practice known as sexting?

B: I think the main drawbacks to any form of texting is the practice known as being drunk. Before touching a drop of alcohol you should wrap the phone in clingfilm, and put it on a high shelf with a note saying ‘DATING RULE NO 1: DO NOT TEXT WHEN DRUNK.’

H: Have you ever texted drunk?

B [mumbles]: Might have done. But only if the babysitter’s here.

H: I see. Have you ever tweeted while drunk?

B: Well, not yet.

H. You’re not on Twitter then?

B: No, I am on Twitter.

H: How many followers do you have?

B [silence].

H: Hello?

B: None.

H: None?

B: Well it is early days. [Airily]: I’ll probably just go viral soon or something.

H: How long have you been on Twitter?

B [darkly]: Three weeks. Humph. I thought the whole POINT of Twitter was you were supposed to talk to people, but there isn’t anyone to talk to. And then people like Lady Gaga have, like, 40 million followers. It’s like a giant popularity contest. I only started it because I was lonely after the kids went to sleep, but now I feel not only lonely but unpopular and that all the twitterati are tweeting behind my back about how unpopular I am.

H: Do you see Gaga as a role model?

B: I like her number of followers and I like her, but I don’t think one should wear meat in later life, especially not mutton.

H: Do you do internet dating?

B: Jude talked me into it but it was all a disaster. The first message I got – ‘Hiya sexy’ – was from an overweight man in a blonde wig and a black leather dress. But Jude is into all the niche sites – they can be really very specific: single parent, dance lover, doctor, married, overweight, snowboarding, fireman. Jude is very accomplished at it but I treat it like online shopping – looking at nice things instead of getting on with your work – clothes on Asos and Net-a-Porter, coffee machines in John Lewis, firemen, dance-loving doctors. But it does get confusing.

H: Talking of Jude, how is the urban family? Have they all settled down?

B: Tom – you know my gay friend – is single but he’s bogged down with this Hungarian architect called Arkis who he met on the Scruffs app and thinks is All Text and No Trousers.

H: All Text and No Trousers?

B: You know, when you have a constant Sexting conversation which never actually materialises into meeting or having sex.

H: Do you know what twerking is? Have you tried it yourself?

B: No. It sounds rude.

H: How about your other friends, the Smug Marrieds?

B: I’m still really close to Magda, who is always kind even though her Smug Married lot are back to asking when they’re going to get me a boyfriend and saying widowed ‘women of a certain age’ can’t get a man, whereas men have women throwing themselves at them. Tee hee. If only they knew…

H: What?

B: Nothing. But I do think there’s a lot to be said for the younger… anyway, I wanted to talk about the feminist themes in Hedda Gabler.

H: Do you have a toyboy?

B: The thing about Hedda Gabler…

H: Do you ever have erotic fantasies about Prince Harry?

B: What are you suggesting? Of course I have erotic fantasies about Prince Harry. How old do you think I am?

H: What about the rest of the Royals?

B: I LOVE the Queen and Princess Anne and I LOVE Prince William and Kate Middleton and that she wears Topshop and Mum and Una wear Kate Middleton’s mother’s coat-and-dress sets.

H: What are your own fashion rules?

B: Well, I always feel I ought to be one of those red-carpet girls and keep buying things like skinny jeans and floaty scarves from Zara and Topshop that I think might make me look like that, but I end up leaving them stuffed in the wardrobe and wearing the same blue dress for anything where I feel a bit scared. I try to tell myself it’s like the Dalai Lama’s robes. But then the Dalai Lama probably doesn’t have outfits he bought from Topshop and Zara but doesn’t wear stuffed in the wardrobe does he? 

H: No, no… [slight groaning sound]. Anyway, your friends! You were talking about Tom and Jude – what about the others?

B: You won’t believe this. Shazzer, after all the years of feminist ranting, got MARRIED to a whizzy dot-com American guy and lives in Silicon Valley. But we’ve got a new friend now, Talitha, who I met on Sit Up Britain. She’s 60 and she’s incredibly elegant and sexy, always has some besotted man in tow and knows everything there is to know about dating.

H: And is Tom still obsessed with fashion detail?

B: He’s obsessed with Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle blog, Goop, and is constantly trying to encourage me to tailor my lifestyle to fit in with it. Of course, I live very elegantly, and always have a little quinoa salad ready prepared for… gaah! [Sound of fire alarm].

B: Er… could you just… hang on…

H: Everything alright?

B: It’s just I left half the spaghetti sticking out over of the side of the pan, like you do? But it’s all dropped down onto the flame and… s*** it’s really  on fire…

H: Perhaps you could find a fireman online?

B: Billy! What’s the fire alarm code? Maybe it’s 1066 – no, that’s my bank’s card PIN, or maybe it’s the year when Chekhov’s Hedda Gabler was written or…

H: Would you say you’ve changed?

B [Answer drowned by fire-engine siren].