I may be older, but I’m still Bridget Jones

Shane Watson | The Times - October 2, 2013

Marriage and parenthood don’t always alter your hang-ups, alcohol intake or talent for disaster. Once a singleton...

Bridget Jones is back, you may have heard, but with one significant difference: she’s a widow (Mark Darcy died!) and the mother of two small children.

Just to be absolutely clear. Bridget got married. She has given birth, twice. The world’s most famous singleton has crawled through all the hoops in the slippery tunnel leading to genuine adult womanhood, and yet she is exactly the same Duh! Grrrr! Ooof! Hic!

Bridget Jones. Same hang-ups, same alcohol intake, same talent for disaster. For some of us, who have, in the same period, married and become mothers (stepmother in my case) this is no surprise, whatsoever.

As I write this, I am two Cokes and one Twix down (was going to attempt 5:2 diet because husband on 5:2 and insisting on lean chicken dinner, but then felt faint) and smoking a cigarette (can’t find electronic cigarette and anyway not the same, too big and hard).

Meanwhile, am fielding texts/emoticons from stepson whose birthday cake I have promised to make tonight (two days late); and e-mailing stepdaughter to get her to pick up white wine on the way home, (“spend about £7, not chardonnay”). I can’t help feeling the eerie sense, once again, of having my life played back to me.

For those of us who were also single and in our thirties, back in the mid-Nineties, when Helen Fielding’s fictional character first appeared in a newspaper column, Bridget Jones was never just a feckless singleton. She was the face of a new phenomenon — the woman who didn’t want to become (or couldn’t if she tried) a serene, responsible adult.

Fielding gave a voice to everyone for whom acquiring poise and moderation and an interest in their future security (official adult female qualities) seemed as alien as entering a Miss World Competition. And this was not a club exclusively made up of flakey, weight-obsessed blondes: it was all kinds of women — ladettes, successful barristers, Spice Girls fans, meek Sloanes – who were frequently to be found arguing among themselves about who was most like Fielding’s creation.

I like to think I wasn’t one of those roaring “I am Bridget Jones” at anyone who would listen. On the other hand I was Bridget Jones: thirtysomething and single (actually single, not swinging between assignations with a hot publisher and a human rights lawyer) living in a twinkly Notting Hill flat and working in the glamorous end of the media, for Elle and then the Evening Standard.

I was going to the shows, interviewing celebrities, rubbing shoulders with Mandelson and Madonna (well, I went to that private gig at The Fridge). I was also waking up with a filthy hangover most mornings, setting my knickers on fire while trying to dry them on a very low oven setting, and using a chisel instead of a tin opener.

I could carry off a Helmut Lang suit and a pair of Manolos, interview Kate Moss or Susan Sarandon or Jon Bon Jovi, no problem, and then much later I’d find myself stuck in my too-small cowboy boots, and having to be cut out of them by my neighbour in the downstairs flat.

My parents were not divorcing and that’s pretty much all that separated my life experience from Bridget’s, or Helen Fielding’s for that matter.

We had offices round the corner from each other on Portobello Road (hers in the glamorous Richard Curtis building) and worked in the same industry. When I interviewed her for American Harper’s Bazaar in 1996 and we ended up popping round the corner to 192, the Notting Hill hangout at the time, glugging back small vases of chardonnay, scoffing olives, and chain smoking Silk Cut, it was not in an ironic homage to her character.

That was a routine week night, just as blinding hangovers at work were normal, and having a gym membership you never got round to using, and being on the Scarsdale or the Hay diet (without giving up alcohol) and owning The River Café Cookbook and a full set of Sabatier knives (though never actually cooking) and buying so many clothes that you had to keep a rail on the communal stairs.

Bridget Jones’s Diary was a forensically detailed snapshot of a tiny privileged world at a particular time in a particular place that also happened to be (as its international success testifies) a celebration of friendship and fun and glamorous jobs, taken lightly, and refusing to look too far into the future. They were frivolous times — when you actually did feng shui your living space and read Hello! — with an undercurrent of low-level anxiety about where you would end up.

Still. If there was occasional panic about finding a husband and having babies, the odd late-night discussion about egg freezing, it was never taken seriously enough to do something about it. We were convinced we had time for everything, and if we didn’t we were having too much fun to care.

Should we have stopped and had a plan? Maybe. When you get married in your mid-forties, children are no longer on the cards, and I’m not alone among my friends in having “left it too late”. But we could have played it differently and at the time we chose not to.

Fielding has been accused of being anti-feminist — giving women permission to moon about, waiting for their prince to come. Yet she was only identifying a new phenomenon — the middle-aged refuseenik (a bit commitment-phobic) adult female — and giving it a jolly, unthreatening face. And it didn’t feel the opposite of feminist to be entirely independent, and focused on ourselves.

Of course when Fielding met Kevin Curran, a writer-executive on The Simpsons , in her forties, went to LA, bought a house with a pool and started a family, it was a crisis moment for every fortysomething single woman. When the creator of Bridget Jones sails into the sunset, coupled up, mothered up and by then worth millions, you begin to wonder if you have missed the small print: “Everyone changes or they get left behind.”

I imagined Fielding transformed by her responsibilities, gliding through her California life, calm and serene and yoga- toned – all vices and insecurities finally laid to rest. The chances are that she never saw a smoker from one week to the next, let alone a boil in the bag risotto. But now I know, having got married and acquired a family in my forties, that it’s not that simple.

Fielding is, of course, single again, back living in London and reunited with her gang — which explains why she’s been inspired to resurrect Bridget — but the real story is how little has changed for all of us, single or not.

Getting older and becoming a parent definitely alters the landscape in some respects (it’s much harder to get locked out, for example) but it’s only a couple of months since I went to a friend’s 50th birthday party, decided I’d just nip upstairs for a refreshing face wash, and woke up the following morning fully dressed in the same double bed as two of my 20-year-old goddaughter’s girlfriends.

If anything parenthood increases the opportunity for Jonesian disasters. I have been caught roaming the house naked in the middle of the night, by a visiting 15-year-old (male) thereby scarring him for life. And recently I was wearing a pair of black socks which, on closer examination (by the person I was interviewing), featured my stepson’s best friend’s name embroidered on two nametapes.

I could go on. And on. Nothing really changes — with one notable exception: that mild irritation that you once experienced in the presence of a certain sort — Smug Married? Love Them. Worship them.

Can’t believe how reliable and sorted they are and how easily they rustle up food and find a parking space and print out boarding cards and measure up for an Ikea kitchen and know what to do when the washing machine floods — all the really important stuff in life (to think we used to torture ourselves envying leggy model types. Now it’s all about those fabulous, enviable, rule-the-world Smug Marrieds, otherwise known as the grown-ups).

Who knew? Once a singleton always a singleton, however it pans out. You’ve got to laugh really.