Irvine Welsh interview

DAVINA McCALL is yelling into her microphone, wind whipping her hair into her face and a squealing, near hysterical mob is behind her brandishing their banners and shouting "out, out, out".

It's the celebrity version of the Big Brother reality show, a nation has been gripped – almost – for several weeks as the likes of model Caprice, rapper Kenzie, racing pundit John McCririck and astrologer Jackie Stallone bitched and backstabbed their way to eviction.

"And the winner is..." bawls Davina. "Irvine!"

Okay, it was really Happy Mondays dancer Bez, but if the producers of the hit Channel 4 show had had their way it could have been Edinburgh's infamous literary export, Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, exiting the Big Brother house to be met by a posse of photographers and cheque for 50,000.

And enfant terrible Welsh, who turned his experiences of Edinburgh's drug culture and council schemes, wayward characters and colourful language into the blueprint for the country's most stolen book and DVD, might have added Celebrity Big Brother winner to his already glowing CV.

There was just one problem, a fatal flaw in the Big Brother producers' masterplan. When it comes to reality television, Welsh is hardly its biggest fan.

"I was offered Celebrity Big Brother, the one that Bez won. Never watched a bit of it. And I was asked to do that celebrity one in the jungle as well," he reveals, referring to I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, hosted by cheery chaps Ant and Dec.

"I was actually tempted. The wife thought it might be quite nice to spend a few weeks put up in a six-star hotel in Australia, but the show itself, naw, she was very against it as well.

"These aren't the kinds of things I'd think about doing. If ever I did, it would be because I was desperate for money. But then I see Iggy Pop on TV selling insurance," he continues, "and Johnny Rotten's head on a cow advertising butter and think 'you can't be that skint'.

"Maybe people get to a point in life where they need that affirmation of being out there. Find it quite strange myself..."

So no chance of Welsh hitting the screens chewing on a crocodile's most intimate bits or, as former MSP Tommy Sheridan was seen recently, wearing a skintight Tory blue Lycra catsuit enduring electric shocks in the nether regions every time his fellow contestants failed a Big Brother test.

Instead, Muirhouse-raised Welsh will be hitting the screens from the other side of the camera, directing the short film he co-wrote which owes just a little of its genetic make-up to the reality shows and the minor celebrities who populate them – both of which he's come to despise.

The result is Good Arrows, the first comedy drama from Dust Films, the production company he has launched with former music journalist and long-term collaborator Dean Cavanagh, his writing partner on theatre drama Babylon Heights and television one-off Wedding Belles, among several others.

"We wanted to look at this obsession with celebrity, but not in an obvious way, just having a laugh and a joke about it," he explains. "We were thinking about darts. Thing is though, darts is difficult to satirise because it's 'hyper-real' anyway. So we decided to do it about our obsession with minor celebrity culture, portraying the darts world as a background to it."

It's his way of sticking his middle finger up to today's television executives, the ones who trot out reality shows, talent contests and intrusive shock documentaries for an audience he reckons deserves better.

"I feel sorry for the youth of today," adds Welsh, in real years aged 50 but, he insists, mentally still 26 with a rebellious punk streak. "They get middle-aged television executives deciding what they should watch."

Welsh might be middle-aged himself, yet he reckons he's more in tune with today's youth than some. And there are plenty out there who are happy to tune in to the latest Welsh production – whether it's a novel, a television one-off or the long-awaited film sequel to his debut and so far most popular work, Trainspotting.

Published in 1993 it blew the lid off genteel Edinburgh's drug-soaked underbelly in a cacophony of obscenities that reached a peak with its movie adaptation three years later. So mortified were some by the depiction of city junkies, that the movie prompted letters to newspapers declaring it "obscene" and one cinema to refuse to show it – the Dominion in Morningside said it wasn't what its audience wanted to see.

Still, it became a launch pad for Welsh to become one of his generation's most popular writers – even if it set the bar impossibly high for his successive works.

"From a creative point of view, it was a godsend," he insists. "You know you have an audience for what you do. If I'd written a book that had died a death I might have been inclined then to write a more commercial book or go into genre writing romance or crime.

"That stamp of affirmation meant I was able to develop in a more naturalistic way rather than a contrived way of embracing genres and thinking 'how can I sell this book?'.

"Trainspotting is the best commercially but you'd have to be a fool to think it's the best I've ever done. You always want to improve."

Some critics have failed to embrace his later works in quite the manner fans adopted Trainspotting as their bible, making the book one of the most stolen novels in Britain, the DVD one of the most nicked.

Yet for some it revealed a side to the Capital they hardly recognised.

"Cities are not one-dimensional places," he argues. "Edinburgh is not about people doing smack in shooting galleries or people sitting in a wine bar after a production of The Cherry Orchard at the Festival, or Morningside ladies sipping tea in Jenners. Edinburgh is all that and it's a million more things.

"Look at Edinburgh from its whole inception – people crowded in tenements in the Old Town, there's doctors on top, carpenters in the middle, labourers on the bottom. Then you had the New Town – the first middle-class suburb with all the professionals and the Old Town was a working-class ghetto."

Trainspotting, however, could only have been played out in the communities of Muirhouse and Leith, he insists. "There were certain things in Edinburgh at the time, particularly with heroin and HIV.

"It's an open secret that breaches in security at the pharmaceutical plant at Westfield Road meant all this pharmaceutical heroin was on the streets. There was that mass unemployment of the era kicking in, which happened in every city, but there was this surge of heroin that you didn't have elsewhere to the same extent.

"The port culture of Leith, the hard-drinking culture of whisky shorts rather than beer which meant people are into getting a hit of something and use needles rather than chase heroin.

"The 'Aids capital of Europe' thing, another myth but it all happened at once in Edinburgh."

He's now woven into the fabric of the city but apart from a foothold flat where he stays during visits to watch Hibs, home now is Dublin and Miami where he enjoys a millionaire lifestyle far removed from the drugs-saturated madness of Trainspotting.

Difficult then to reconcile his image as anti-hero of the chemical generation with comfy middle-aged health-conscious balding millionaire who worked as a trainee in the housing department of Edinburgh City Council and was once considered by his fellow MBA students at Heriot-Watt as a dead cert to make it big – in local government.

"You are what you are," he retaliates. "I can be sitting with buddies in a grotty bar in Leith Walk or a cocktail bar in Miami with supermodels. To people looking in it seems weird, to me it's just hanging out with friends, I don't think about it. I've got circles of friends in a lot of places, some might have more money, others have different values but they all get up, eat, go to the toilet...

"Do I get aggravation in Edinburgh? Naw," he sneers.

"My mates are hard and will kick f*** out of anyone who messes with me."

&#149 Good Arrows is on ITV4 on January 31 at 11pm


IRVINE WELSH was born in a tenement in Leith in 1958. His family later lived in prefabs in West Pilton and a maisonette flat in Muirhouse.

He went to the now defunct Ainslie Park High School and left aged 16 to do a course in electrical engineering.

Welsh left for London aged 17 where he got a job with Hackney Council. He profited during the London property boom, renovating and then selling properties.

He returned to Edinburgh to work at the city council housing department and study for an MBA at Heriot-Watt University.

Trainspotting was published in 1993 and made into a film three years later. Welsh has written ten books as well as various stage plays and films.