Sex and the City writer Candace Bushnell brings her one woman show to Scotland
Pour yourself a Cosmopolitan, climb into your high heels and hit the town with your gang as Candace Bushnell, the real life Carrie Bradshaw who poured her life story into the hit TV show Sex and the City, two films and numerous bestselling books, brings her one-woman show to Scotland this month.
Speaking from her Upper East Side apartment, Bushnell’s glamour hasn’t dimmed with the years and the 65-year-old looks every inch the New York icon as she talks about taking her show on the road.
True Tales of Sex, Success and SEX AND THE CITY is Bushnell’s onstage memoir and is her take on not just dating and sex, but marriage and children, divorce and bereavement. Embodying her witty social commentary, through which she has earned her living for 40 years now, it is peppered with anecdotes and memories and takes us from her arrival in New York City with $20 in her pocket to household name.
As an 18-year-old she hit the ground dancing, with her description of the legendary Studio 54 winning her a first byline, followed by the column in the New York Observer which inspired Sex and the City and features in Time Magazine, the New York Times and Variety Magazine.
“The show is basically how I wrote Sex in the City, how hard I worked to get there, why I invented Carrie Bradshaw and what happened to me afterward and it’s mixed in a bit with my life story, how I came to New York, a bit about my early career, a couple of cheeky, naughty, sex stories, some of the relationship lessons I’ve learned over the years and we also play a game called Real or Not Real, because so much of what happened on the TV show is better or worse than my real life.
Bushnell has already performed the show in the US, including at the prestigious Cafe Carlyle in New York, in South Africa and will be heading to Scotland after performing at the London Palladium, before going on to Ireland, Italy, Canada and Australia.
“I’ve got a great reaction to it so far,” she says.”It’s a really fun, girls’ night out. Of course men come too, and there are some couples who come, and women dress up. People have said that they find it very inspiring, and it has a feminist bent to it, I would say.”
This rings true as besides the fabulous fashion and funny dating dramas, Bushnell is about much more than that, and has always made a living through her writing, always interviewing and listening to women telling it like it is, and as her latest book Is There Still Sex in the City? (2019) makes plain, she and her friends understand the importance of a woman being able to survive without a man in their life, having experienced what happens when relationships end.
“Exactly,” she says. “As one gets older one sees that things are not necessarily permanent and relationships end for a variety of reasons. Some continue and last but quite a few don’t and the kids grow up and leave the nest and I found for a lot of women they really have to reinvent themselves in some ways in their fifties.
“Actually, as I say in the show, it’s about reinvigorating yourself as opposed to reinventing, because reinventing yourself is what the young people have to do, and when you get to be in your sixties you don’t want to reinvent yourself. Once you get to your sixties you feel good about who you are and you feel comfortable, so I think people explore different aspects of their personalities and things that they’ve always wanted to do. I found that a lot of women become much more creative post-menopause, you know Sharon Stone has started painting and selling them, which is something that I have seen quite a bit, women reconnecting with a creative part of yourself that you’d suppressed because you didn’t think that you were allowed to do it. You feel ‘if not now, when’ and realise that actually, I have a talent for this, which is pretty amazing.”
Bushnell is speaking from first hand experience, having never performed on stage until now and finding that it’s something she loves to do.
“I’d done a lot of lectures and speaking engagements and book tours where you have to talk but not performing on a stage. At first I really did not know what I was getting into because we I thought it was going to be me standing with a mic, more of a stand up kind of routine, but as we developed the show it wasn’t that at all. It’s actually staged with a little set and choreographed, and it’s a one-woman show but really it’s a play. And it turns out I really enjoy it and don’t have stage fright at all. I feel very comfortable doing it, so that’s been a little bit of a surprise and something great to discover.”
What about the Real or Not Real game, which of the scenes from Sex and the City are the ones she revisits?
“A couple of them have to do with men who Carrie dated, did I date these guys, for instance a senator, so it’s quite fun.
She did date her own Mr Big, publisher Ron Galotti, who is said to be the inspiration for the character, played by actor Chris Noth in the series and is said to have gone on a date with John Corbett, who played Carrie's boyfriend Aidan, as well as dating Penthouse heir and Spin publisher Bob Guccione Jr, Senator Al D'Amato and model Michael Bergin and being married to Charles Askegard, a New York City Ballet dancer from 2002-2012.
“The reason for doing Real or Not Real is because a lot of things that happened in the show happened in my real life. But they’re either better or worse than the show, so it’s just a fun little interval.”.
Bradshaw says she “occasionally goes on a date” these days, but seems more interested in hearing about other people’s experiences, many of which found their way into Is There Still Sex in the City? and after the show will get back to her writing.
“I might write another play. I don’t know. I’m working on a couple of other things, I’ve got a couple of TV projects out there, will they happen, I have no idea. I feel like I write about social anthropology really, social politics. Much like Edith Wharton did and I write about society, as much as that exists today. And it certainly doesn’t in the way it used to with the rise of the internet.
“I wrote about New York and society and people who want things and how they get ahead and when I started writing Sex in The City, we really thought this is going to be about New York City and things that could only happen there and what we discovered was that it turned out to be pretty universal. But it’s a different world now, it’s all very spread out, scattered, so I think it’s a little bit harder to do that. People are online and dating online, and internet dating has made every permutation of dating possible in ways that didn’t exist before.
“And people have more negative experiences than they used to. This is a generalisation but in the 1980s and the 1990s before internet dating, you sort of knew a little something about the person before you went on a date and it felt much more romantic.
“You could meet somebody anywhere and people did have bad or not so great experiences, but when I talked to young women for Is There Still Sex in the City? I walked away feeling they had had so many overwhelmingly negative experiences and there seemed to be a lot of disappointment now. There’s a lot of ghosting, you’re never going to see that person again and don’t know if people are really looking for relationships. Or online dating just becomes something to do. Yes everybody knows somebody who met somebody online and ended up marrying them, but that is very, very much the exception as opposed to the rule. Yes, 50% of people do meet somebody online but the percentage of people who actually end up having a relationship is very low, under 20%. Online dating in itself becomes a pursuit, something to do.”
Bushnell admits she does it herself.
“I find myself thinking ‘ah, I’m a little bored, you know what’, and I go to a couple of dating apps and swipe through and this and that but am I really looking for somebody? Not really. It’s another form of entertainment being on dating apps.”
In her conversations with younger online daters Bushnell was struck by how they wanted to hear how dating was back in the day, considering it more romantic than today’s swipe and ghost experiences.
“And it WAS romantic,” she says, “because you’re finding out all kinds of information about them that you did not get from a screen where you really don’t know anything about the person. People are incredible at judging other people in person and you just can’t do that on a screen. Online you get an overwhelming amount of information, pictures and texts that might be the opposite of reality so when you meet them in person that’s always a little jarring and there could be a feeling of ‘what the hell am I doing?’. I think that’s where a lot of the disappointment comes from, it’s like ’oh this person is not anything like I imagined’.”
“There’s a lot of rejection in a way there didn’t used to be because the rejection happened before you even had a date. So once you had a date with somebody there was already an acceptance because chances are they had seen you. Even blind dates, they were fixed up because you knew somebody, knew people in common. So there’s way more rejection and that wears on the soul. I talk to young women and they’ve been online dating for years and not having any luck and they could be 25 and beautiful and had a string of really bad experiences.”
And then there’s ghosting…
“Yeah, the ghosting happens continually,” she says. “The worst thing is I do it too. Once you’re on the dating apps and it’s ‘oh god, this person is not for me, I can’t be bothered’, or it’s really common not to hear from somebody for a couple of months then hear from then again, so it’s very hard to get any momentum going which is something that you need in relationships.”
So what is her advice for those wishing to date and not have their self-esteem battered online?
“I really don’t have any,” she says and laughs.”I do not. The problem is you have women who maybe they’re looking for relationships but now they’ve learned not to look for relationships and it seems like the guys are not really looking for relationships. I suppose at some point we’re going to just do away with this whole idea of pairing up, because it seems to be harder and harder for the younger generation to find somebody.
“It seems like a young woman who has it all together, who’s attractive, has self-esteem, should be able to find a partner when she wants to and to be able to start building a family when she wants but men are not co-operating, so I don’t know what to say about that except that mothers you need to raise better boys. Maybe we women need to go out there and start creating the men who we want to mate with because there seems to be a problem out there.”
“It’s also really important not to romanticise the past because women did not have a choice. The only way you had access to the income stream was through a man and that really meant you were a secondary citizen. Women were treated very badly and there was very little they could do about it. There’s a lot of abuse in heterosexual relationships and still the most dangerous person for a heterosexual woman is an intimate partner. Let’s remember, I don’t know what the number is in the UK but it’s something like three women are killed every single day by an intimate partner, so I think it is really important not to romanticise these relationships that never existed, to say oh things were better back then because they actually weren’t, and there’s a reason why so many women are single.”
“My advice is don’t put off doing anything you want to do in life waiting for a partner. You just have to make your own life, knowing that maybe you’re going to be single, maybe you will be with somebody for a while, but you have to be nimble about being able to be in those situations.So much of what happens to you is going to really depend on what cards you’ve been dealt in life and the trick is to do the best you can with the cards you’ve been dealt.”
Looking at Bushnell in her beautiful Upper East Side apartment, she’s the picture of a woman who has made the most of the cards she’s been dealt, indeed as she stands at her computer desk, right behind her on the wall hangs a portrait of her by Megan Hess, who illustrated many of her books, showing a glamorous woman living her best life, like Carrie and friends with their cocktail dresses and Manolo Blahnics and best girlfriends.
Speaking of shoes, which of course we must, how many pairs does she have?
“Um…. I don’t know. Probably not as many as people think. But enough to fill my closet,” she laughs. “When I started the show I had a lot of my old shoes on stage and was so happy to get them out of my closet to make way for new shoes, but now they’ve given some of them back, so agghhhh…”
And is that tartan I can see on her bedspread behind her? Does she have Scottish roots and will she be checking out the tartan shops when she hits Scotland?
“Yes, it is. I love tartan. I’ll have to get some more when I come. I don’t know if I have Scottish roots. I may have, but very, very far back. My family came to the United States in 1635, and I think there might be some Scottish in there but it would be back in the 1600s. I love Scotland and was in Edinburgh once before at the Edinburgh International Book Festival so I’m excited to be coming back.”
And what is the tartan on her bed, its chic pink and cream tones fitting perfectly with her Uptown New York life?
“Oh, that’s Ralph Lauren,” she says.
Of course it is. We’d expect nothing less from a real life Carrie Bradshaw.
Carrie Bradshaw performs True Tales of Sex, Success and SEX AND THE CITY at Glasgow's King's Theatre, Friday 9 February, https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/candace-bushnell-true-tales-of-sex-success-and-sex-and-the-city/kings-theatre-glasgow/
and Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Saturday 10 February, 2024, https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/all-shows/candace-bushnell-true-tales-of-sex-success-and-sex-and-the-city/2270