I may be older, but
I’m still Bridget Jones
Shane Watson | The Times - October 2, 2013
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.