From hell to Hollywood: Demi’s mother sold her for sex. Elton’s hit him with a wire brush – as the year’s raciest celebrity memoirs show, it can be a tough road to the top
- Roger Lewis rounded-up a selection of this year’s best showbiz memoirs
- Demi Moore whose mother engineered her loss of virginity reflects in Inside Out
- Elton John who was toilet-trained by being hit shares his upbringing in Me
THE IMPATIENT PEN by Nicky Haslam (Zuleika £22.99, 240 pp)
SHOWBIZ MEMOIRS OF THE YEAR
THE IMPATIENT PEN
by Nicky Haslam (Zuleika £22.99, 240 pp)
If you are in agreement that ‘gossip is simply another word for finding other people interesting’ then, from start to finish, this book is a cheeky joy. Haslam’s prose, as he discusses his High Society sorts, is ‘a shower of silver knives’.
In our dour, puritanical age, it is good to know hedonism and a taste for the gilded baroque carries on. He likes Noel Coward, Harold Acton and Cole Porter. He is an admirer of Wallis Simpson, Princess Margaret and Cecil Beaton — people who lived in rooms of snuff-coloured silk, overlooking lilac-scented gardens.
WHAM! GEORGE AND ME
by Andrew Ridgeley (Michael Joseph £20, 368 pp)
WHAM! GEORGE AND ME by Andrew Ridgeley (Michael Joseph £20, 368 pp)
Andrew Ridgeley, of Italian-Egyptian-Yemeni extraction, was the prettier one in effervescent pop band Wham! They released their first album in 1983 and performed a final concert at Wembley, before tens of thousands of fans, just three years later. By then, says Andrew, ‘I’d already reached the summit of my musical ambition’.
Not so his partner, George Michael, born Georgios Panayiotou, who had always been ‘thinking beyond Wham!’ and now wanted a solo career.
Yet, where Andrew showed ‘unwavering confidence’ and was happy for the Press to view him as ‘a sex machine lurching from nightclub to nightclub who slept with any woman’, behind the picture of a teen pin-up, George, by contrast, was more tormented. He was a guilt-stricken homosexual, ‘struggling to define the reality behind the public image’.
George was convinced he was ‘scruffy and podgy’, no matter how much effort went into his grooming routines. He once flew in a hairstylist at a cost of £10,000.
After the final Wembley gig, they drifted apart. Andrew effectively retired in his early 20s, living very comfortably off the royalties, and is now grey and balding — while the mystery of George’s premature death in 2016 remains.
I LOVE THE BONES OF YOU
by Christopher Eccleston (Simon & Schuster £20, 336 pp)
Intense, gloomy, seething and serious, Eccleston has always had difficulty reconciling the northern working-class ideals of masculinity with the namby-pamby world of acting. A lot of this was the fault of his father, who worked long hours at a Colgate factory and was given to displays of ‘frightening anger’, banging cupboards and slamming doors, ‘infantile in the speed of his mood swings’.
The beauty of the book is Eccleston’s sympathetic analysis of why his father had to be like this — for he was a highly intelligent man, crushed by his terrible job and lack of educational opportunities, raised in a society where men were not allowed displays of sensitivity. He’d had so much more to offer — but, soon after retirement, descended into dementia.
Meanwhile, Eccleston can see himself as a chip off the old block. While at the Central School of Speech and Drama, he suffered from anorexia and dysmorphia — breakdowns that were ‘very unmanly’. He had to be heavily medicated and, to this day, ‘I can exist in profound discomfort’. Yet here is a first-class actor who can portray frustration, unhappiness and personal limitation like no other.
WHO AM I, AGAIN?
by Lenny Henry (Faber £20, 288 pp)
WHO AM I, AGAIN? by Lenny Henry (Faber £20, 288 pp)
When his family first came from the Caribbean and settled in the ‘semi-hostile environment’ of Dudley, in the West Midlands, the racial abuse Lenny Henry and his mother received daily was horrendous. People would make monkey noises at them in the street.
Born in 1958, Lenny’s importance is that throughout his career as an entertainer and actor, he has done more than most to overcome bigotry and consign it to history. What he perhaps never overcame, however, was his mother’s temperament. She regularly smacked him ‘with belts, branches, boots, sometimes the occasional pan lid’.
On the other hand, when Lenny was in the Royal Variety Show at the Palladium, it was Lenny’s mum who leant across to the Royal Box and offered the Queen a toffee.
During his childhood, Lenny adored watching Mike Yarwood, the impressionist, on the BBC. ‘I began to develop an arsenal of voices and ideas and jokes that would stand me in good stead for the next 30 years.’
He won New Faces, an ITV talent show, in 1975. ‘I was a 15-year-old child of Jamaican heritage who could impersonate white people off the telly.’ Audiences adored his versions of Windsor Davies, Michael Crawford, Tommy Cooper and David Bellamy.
It’s excruciating to be told this, but, for five years, Lenny was a guest artiste with The Black & White Minstrel Show. Lenny was ‘the only real black person among all those fake ones’.
His task was to get the racist jokes in first: ‘If you don’t laugh, I’ll move in next door — that’ll bring your rent down,’ he would threaten.
He then became part of the team on Tiswas, a Saturday-morning children’s show: ‘A chaotic mess. I loved it,’ says Lenny.
Further volumes of memoir are promised. Can’t wait.
BETWEEN THE STOPS by Sandi Toksvig (Virago £20, 320 pp)
BETWEEN THE STOPS
by Sandi Toksvig (Virago £20, 320 pp)
Describing herself as a ‘mini-geek’ who is ‘unbearably cheerful’, Scandi-celebrity Sandi Toksvig was born in Denmark, where her great-aunt was a milkmaid, and educated at a boarding school in Surrey, where the headmistress said she ‘has a tendency to over-dramatise’. I think there’s something in that.
Take her odd, droning, theatrically bossy voice, for example. All is explained when Sandi says it is based on Dame Celia Johnson from Brief Encounter: ‘I remember thinking: “I’ll speak like that.” ’
Sandi went to Girton College, Cambridge, where the visiting Queen Mother, possibly being sarcastic, said: ‘What beautiful English you speak!’
Though she graduated with a First, Sandi was not happy at Girton, where she was shunned for her open lesbianism — ‘as if I had brought a plague to the college’. She is now an honorary fellow, a stalwart of Radio 4 panel shows and presenter of light-hearted quizzes and competitions on the box. As regards her Bake Off fame: ‘Truth is, I don’t really like cake very much.’
GONE FISHING by Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse (Blink £18.99, 320 pp)
by Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse (Blink £18.99, 320 pp)
Here we have a pair of television comedians in late middle-age, both of them recuperating from serious heart trouble, chuntering on about fishing and the ‘colossal beauty’ of the English countryside. The whole project is as delightful as Pru and Tim West on their canals.
Bob and Paul ‘have a daft laugh’ on the banks of the Wye, Usk or Test, and assure us ‘a lot of the appeal is also the anticipation of how enjoyable it’s going to be when you get there’.
It is a very British scene, the way the blokes come equipped with ‘a Thermos full of hot coffee and a plastic box filled with clingfilm-wrapped sandwiches’.
It is not an expensive hobby. Their rods come from Argos and a fishing licence costs between £3.75 and £27 a year. Worms, sweetcorn and luncheon meat make good bait. Flies can be made from coloured feathers.
The one big issue today is pollution from farmers’ fertiliser, which leeches into river systems when it rains.
INSIDE OUT by Demi Moore (Fourth Estate £20, 272 pp)
by Demi Moore (Fourth Estate £20, 272 pp)
You wouldn’t want to be her, despite the ranch in Idaho, private jet, Manhattan apartment on three floors, $12 million movie fees and the rest of the Hollywood trappings.
In her book, Demi is almost proud of the disasters she had to overcome on the rocky road to success. Her mother was an attention-seeking wretch and her father, who always came home ‘raging, drunk and broke’, committed suicide, perhaps to escape the Mafia. Demi’s parents lived off stolen credit cards, were always hiding behind aliases and frequently moved house.
Unaware of her beauty, Demi was puzzled when creepy blokes started to make passes. ‘I didn’t question why a middle-aged man would want to hang out with a 15-year-old girl,’ she says with hindsight — and it was her mother who engineered her loss of virginity. ‘How does it feel to be whored by your mother for five hundred dollars?’ Demi was asked afterwards.
Addiction, anxiety, eating disorders and insomnia predictably followed. ‘I had nobody to protect me,’ says Demi, who by now was in Hollywood, being offered roles in soaps and in brat-pack pictures with Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez. She was in rehab by the age of 21.
We hear about wedded bliss with ‘the cocky, dark and handsome’ Bruce Willis, who also said almost immediately: ‘I don’t know if I want to be married.’
Demi, then 40, went on to have a relationship with Ashton Kutcher, 25, who ‘made it possible to connect sexually in a way I’d never experienced before’.
That marriage didn’t last, either, and Demi now has a best friend she refers to as her ‘gay husband’, called Eric.
ME by Elton John (Macmillan £25, 384 pp)
by Elton John (Macmillan £25, 384 pp)
Everything you have heard about Elton John is true, including the myths. Believing himself to be ‘a terribly shy person’, his way of coping is to be incredibly flamboyant, parading around in silver hot pants, sequins, feathers, an orange fur coat and platform boots. A compulsive shopper, he once put a tram on his credit card, which was delivered to his garden dangling from a Chinook helicopter.
He was born plain Reg Dwight in Pinner, Middlesex. His father was an RAF officer, for whom any emotion other than anger was a weakness. His mother was vile, ‘stubborn and short-tempered’. She toilet-trained the future Elton by hitting him with a wire brush. He was filled with anxiety, hating himself: ‘I was too fat, I was too short.’
Music was his salvation. ‘It’s hard to explain how revolutionary and shocking rock and roll seemed,’ Elton says in this rollicking autobiography. He absorbed its ‘brutal, feral power’, while at the same time being an eager student at the Royal Academy of Music, learning about Beethoven and Chopin.
He worked on his own songs with lyricist Bernie Taupin (‘the brother I’d never had’) and, at first, there were lots of rejections.
But things took off, especially when Elton was managed by the intimidating John Reid, who was known to ‘threaten someone with a broken glass’.
He has never known writer’s block. His songs are composed within minutes. ‘I can’t explain it’ — as genius can never be explained.
At the pinnacle of success, binge-eating, drinking and smashing up hotel suites, he tried to kill himself regularly. Cocaine took him over. ‘My appetite for the stuff was unbelievable.’ As a result, ‘I wasn’t a rational human being any more’.
On top of his regular addictions, he became addicted to going to AA meetings, notching up 1,400 attendances.
Husband David Furnish is the man who sorted Elton out: ‘I was finally happy.’
At their stag do, Rod Stewart, aware that Elton’s hair had fallen out and it was wigs from now on, gave him a hair dryer.
BEHIND THE LENS: MY LIFE
BEHIND THE LENS: MY LIFE by David Suchet (Constable £25, 320 pp)
by David Suchet (Constable £25, 320 pp)
David Suchet played Hercule Poirot for 25 years. ‘I even used to speak to my wife like Poirot, and to my agent, when he rang.’
As an actor, he likes to get thoroughly absorbed in the role and the scripts, annotating the texts, composing mini-essays. In his way, he is as diligent and scrupulous as his late father, a distinguished Harley Street gynaecologist who’d studied the effects of penicillin on venereal disease with Alexander Fleming.
Suchet estimates 750 million people have watched the Poirot programmes, and ‘I can’t go anywhere in the world without being recognised’. He hides himself, therefore, behind his camera, a Leica M3 or a Rolleiflex.
This expensively produced book contains many fine examples of his work. He is drawn to rain on window panes, deserted buildings and rivers, sinister shadows, rocks and trees with gnarled roots.
Clearly, Suchet is not interested in jolly, convivial scenes. His instinct is to capture the morose, the melancholy — characteristics of his Poirot, particularly in the later, darker episodes.
HOME WORK: MY MEMOIR OF MY HOLLYWOOD YEARS by Julie Andrews (Weidenfeld £20, 352 pp)
HOME WORK: MY MEMOIR OF MY HOLLYWOOD YEARS
by Julie Andrews (Weidenfeld £20, 352 pp)
Her most famous roles, Mary Poppins and Maria Von Trapp, suggest a briskness, an immaculate control, even a serenity.
Behind the scenes, however, Julie Andrews was more of a damaged child star. As she reminds us here, while hardly out of infancy she was sent on the road as a professional to sing and dance, ‘a prodigy with pigtails’ who traipsed around wartime England, a place ‘filthy with soot and grey with fog’.
One way and another, she graduated to West End shows, which led to My Fair Lady on Broadway. Then came Mary Poppins for Walt Disney and, by 1964, Julie was portraying a nun in rainy Salzburg.
But, behind the smiles, Julie’s private life was one long bout of emotional and domestic chaos, with problematic children, step-children and squabbling spouses and ex-spouses.
Her husband, Blake Edwards, ‘tired and grumpy’ when not making Pink Panther comedies with Peter Sellers, was always in hospital with fatigue, nausea, back pain, chest pain and appendicitis.
Not to be outdone, Julie endures surgery on her bunions. Even her cat gets gastroenteritis. Then the house in Malibu burns down.
What a resilient woman, who should take over from Olivia Colman as the Queen.
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