EVERY year, as Christmas approaches, publishers, reaching deep into their pockets with one hand, holding their noses with the other, place their bets on celebrity memoirs.
Usually these books have been bought and commissioned before they have been written, so the publishers don’t know what they’ll eventually be getting, how well-written they will be or whether they will contain any saleable revelations whatsoever.
Last year, there was a surprise success: Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart, kooky and innocuous stuff by the tall lady, miraculously shifting no fewer than 374,690 copies between publication in October and Christmas.
So far, the winners in this year’s wacky races have been more predictable: Alex Ferguson (sales of 415,181 and counting), David Jason (163,518), Morrissey (104,798, in pretend Penguin Classics paperback), Harry Redknapp (107,280) and that trouper Katie Price, scoring again, at the age of 35, with her fifth memoir, Love, Lipstick and Lies (48,773).
But are any of this year’s celeb memoirs any good, actually worth giving or receiving? My Autobiography by Sir Alex Ferguson (Hodder, £25). has little to intrigue the non-football obsessive other than the revelation that he has a “despots section” in his library composed of biographies of dictators. He is not, we learn, a leading feminist. His wife Cathy has never changed, he says proudly. “She’s a mother, a grandmother and a housewife. That is her life ... She almost never went to the football.”
Always Managing by Harry Redknapp with Martin Samuel (Ebury, £20) is also for footie fans only. On gender roles, he’s at one with Sir Alex. Of his wife Sandra, he choicely remarks: “I’ve been married 46 years, and I always say she was my best signing.” And he boasts: “She has waited on me hand and foot for years.”
Other sports memoirs this year come from Mike Tyson, Usain Bolt, Mo Farah, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Ricky Hatton and Mark Cavendish. Take your pick.
My Life by David Jason (Century, £20) is a verbose and mind-numbingly boring plod through his acting career. We can be sure that the ghost, Giles Smith, who did such a good job with rascally Rod Stewart last year, has captured the authentic tedium of the man. Highlights include the time another actor surprised him by making a gay pass and the time staying with Ronnie Barker in the country when he nearly fell out of a door in the dark but luckily didn’t.
In Bonkers: My Life in Laughs (Viking, £20), Jennifer Saunders seems crusty and disaffected from the task in hand. “It amazes me how many of the young today just want to be famous. To be a celebrity,” she sniffs. “There are too many celebrities! The fallen, the has-beens, the lucky, the untalented, now all writhing around in the same shallow, stinking swamp, pissing in the same water.” Could it be her heart isn’t in it?
In Love, Lipstick and Lies by Katie Price (Century, £18.99), it’s clear Katie’s heart is in it. “My most sensational autobiography yet!” proclaims a lurid pink cover sticker. It’s her fifth, once more silently contributed by her regular ghost, Rebecca Farnworth, and it covers the last three years of her life. She splits up with cage-fighter Alex Reid on discovering that not only is he a crossdresser but a perv. He turned her bedroom into a sex dungeon, she says. “My husband, dressed up in stockings, suspenders, heels, make-up and a wig, had tied a strap-on dildo to my dressing table. I won’t describe exactly what he was doing ...” Pity!
Then she hooks up with Leandro, an Argentinian who doesn’t speak English: “Of course at that stage it was a purely physical attraction because I couldn’t really tell what his personality was like.” Then there is Danny Cipriani, until she catches him in bed with another woman – “I marched up to him and flicked his dick with my hand ... I was in such a mess that I had to cancel the launch of my seventh novel, Santa Baby.”
Then comes boob job number six, this time in Belgium, which goes a bit wrong. Relaxing on the sofa with a friend, watching Silent Witness, both become aware of a rank smell. “It was so bad that not even the scent of my Jo Malone candles could disguise it,” Katie says. Then she realised it was her: “When I pressed the hole under my breast a stream of green pus shot out. Eeew!” Eeew indeed – but soon enough all was well: “They were exactly what I have always wanted. High up, stuck on, ready to fire bullets! The scars were amazing as well, you could hardly see them at all.”
Then she finds love again with Kieran, husband number three, a topless waiter, plasterer and part-time stripper, “so at least he worked”, she rejoices. She’s kissed a lot of frogs, she admits, but she’s hoping he’s her prince.
It’s no surprise to find One Direction in the top ten, but 1D: Where We Are (HarperCollins, £18.99, sales of 138,925) is the sort of book your teenage daughter will only read for the pictures, And as for John Bishop’s How Did All This Happen? (HarperCollins, £20, sales of 39,598), the title does at least sum up any sane person’s reaction to celebrity memoirs. How did it all happen indeed?
Anniversaries, births and deaths all help biographies to sell, and this year there were three key events: the birth of a new prince in the summer, which saw a slew of new titles and updated old ones. The death of Margaret Thatcher saw not only a re-release of her autobiography but chimed with the publication of the first volume of Charles Moore’s “authorized biography”(Allen Lane, £30) which has attracted rave reviews even from non-Tories, but which only takes the story of her life as far as the Falklands Dinner in November 1982. In Not for Turning (Bantam, £20) her speechwriter Robin Harris, does at least manage the whole life in 512 pages, but north of the Border many more may turn to Scot Damian Barr’s wonderful and riveting memoir, Maggie and Me (Bloomsbury, £14.99), which wasn’t so much a biography of the Iron Lady but a wry look at the influence she had on Barr growing up.
But it’s the 50th anniversary of another death that put them all in the shade: everyone with a conspiracy theory, no matter how threadbare, published books about the shooting of John F Kennedy in Dallas in November 1963 and you have to take your chances (The Kennedy Half-Century; The Kennedy Letters;
JFK Has Been Shot: A Parkland Hospital Surgeon Speaks Out; Parkland: Four Days in November; Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House; John F Kennedy: The Life, The Presidency, the Assassination; CrossFire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy; and so on and so on). It’s the conspiracy that keeps on giving and publishers at the very least must be thankful for it.
Another death that sparks conspiracy theorists’ interest is Richard III. In February, the Richard III Society and Leicester City Council confirmed that the remains found under a car park were indeed those of the last Plantagenet king. This may be the find that will finally knock the Tudors off the top of the historical biography list, which they’ve occupied for quite a few years now. Biographies of such Plantagenets as Elizabeth of York, the Woodvilles and Anne Neville, were all released this year, as opposed to just one or two Tudor titles (and even then, half of Leanda De Lisle’s splendid Tudor: The Family Story (Chatto, £20) is spent up on the Plantagenet background). As bloody and vicious and incestuous a bunch as anything the Tudors could come up with, the Plantagenet era could dominate the biography charts for some time to come.
Some lovely literary memoirs and biographies have delighted us this year, with the fashion for single-study biographies coming back (a rare group biography was Andrew McConnell Stott’s The Vampyre Family (Canongate, £25), about Byron and the Shelleys). Hermione Lee’s biography of Penelope Fitzgerald (Chatto, £25) delighted us, along with Andrew Lycett’s Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation (Hutchinson, £20).
Andrew Wilson began the year with his study of the early life of Sylvia Plath, in Mad Girl’s Love Song (Simon and Schuster, £20), and the year followed with works about Daphne du Maurier and her sisters, George Orwell, Norman Mailer, Jane Austen and CS Lewis. Notable women figured too, with Judith Mackrell’s lovely group biography that looked at “flappers” such as Zelda Fitzgerald and Josephine Baker, while James Essinger gave us a life of Ada Lovelace, Byron’s mathematically-inclined daughter, in A Female Genius (Gibson Square, £14.99).
Perhaps, though, the year really belongs to Andy Murray, the young Scotsman who finally won Wimbledon, and whose autobiography, Seventy-Seven: My Road to Wimbledon Glory (Headline, £20) might even come close to selling as well as the autobiography of that other famous sporting Scot, Sir Alex Ferguson (Hodder, £25), which remains by far the biggest bestseller in the genre (see above). For all the political controversies and conspiracy theories, historical families and literary greats, it’s a tennis achievement that’s grabbed our attention this year. Let’s hope it’s the first of a multi-volume set.