If you watch the Simpsons you’ll see that beneath the apparent dysfunction there is a solid foundation which is based upon family and friendship. The same could be said if you read either Denise Welch’s second volume of autobiography Starting Over and Jo Whiley’s My World in Motion, both of which I’ve read recently.
I start with Welch’s book which is a fascinating insight into both the breakdown of her marriage, the media treatment of her and the nature of celebrity as well as her experience of being on and winning Celebrity Big Brother as well as competing in Dancing on Ice.
The book is, as indicated, a second volume of autobiography and whilst there is a short break in time between volumes it picks up in many ways where her first book Pulling Myself Together left off. That said the exact starting point of this book is when she discovers the press are about to announce the break up of her marriage. Like the last book it contains her battles with depression and continues to discuss the way in which she is both very much family woman and party girl. Hedonism mixes with traditional family values in a heady cocktail of apparent contradiction at times.
The book makes the point, which I would argue the Simpsons does in many ways, that real life is often much more complex than we often appreciate. In many ways Welch has publicly displayed a range of subterranean values which exist in our society but which we seek to portray in a negative way. The result is the press have vilified her at times for being x,y or z.
Now I don’t wish to romanticise some of the hedonistic aspects of her lifestyle or indicate that I personally hold some of the same moral codes that she apparently does or has regarding sex. However, I do want to say that she is very obviously not the person who the media sometimes seek to portray her as.
The Jo Whiley book acts as a complete contrast to the Welch book in some ways whilst having a range of similarities in other senses. Both books focus very much on the importance of their families (including both their parents and children) and the centrality of these figures in their lives. However, whilst Whiley’s book indicates that she has her moments of hedonism her writing shows she has lived a very different life to Welch in many ways. Part of this is the different nature of their jobs and the different levels of ‘celebrity’ involved. This discussion of celebrity and the different levels of it is something Whiley explores as a general sub-theme with her book.
Whiley’s book begins by an extremely moving description of her sister who has Cri du Chat syndrome, a rare chromosomal disorder and the caring responsibilities which have been associated with her care. The sheer level of love within this chapter without seeking to romanticise the situation in anyway is something incredible to read. It made me
realise this is not your standard biography, it is neither ‘poor me’ material or seeking to avoid making the personal public.
Throughout the book, as she discusses her family, life and work Whiley also puts together playlists of tunes she associates with particular people, periods or aspects of her life. The mix of music mentioned is, as probably expected, somewhat eclectic.
As already mentioned I found this book moving to read. However, I also connected with it in a way I haven’t with any other celebrity autobiography. The key reason for this is that whilst Whiley’s life is a world away from mine in many ways in other ways it wasn’t.
Her eldest daughter is only a couple of years older than Third Party and so when she was talking about some parenting it was within a time scale I understood.
Secondly, she is a member of the festival culture, a proper one rather than a celebrity one. Her description of Glastonbury highlights this. Whilst there are the backstage descriptions she talks about how much of her time has been spent in the kids field, for example. She writes about the Glastonbury which I know and which, as I have spoken about before, Third Party grew up within.
The next reason this was different was because it took me back to the places I was when I heard certain records or radio shows. I can tell you exactly where I was on the evening of the chaotic early Newcastle Oasis show she talks about. I was in my student room listening to her and Steve on the Evening Session.
The geography of much of the book helped too. I know what it is to rush down onto a train at Milton Keynes station hoping you’ve got on the right one and managing to leave something important on it when you get off.
Finally, within the book was a description of extended family which resonated with me. The multi-generational love of music, particularly live music is something that I understand.
I have been inspired by the Jo Whiley book to come up with my own short playlist of important music/ gigs.
Earliest proper gig (i.e. not one my dad took me to which I can’t really remember) – Toyah Wilcox (my 10th birthday treat).
Music of my early secondary school years – The Riddle by Nik Kershaw.
Music of my later secondary school years – Happy Hour by The Housemartins and Panic by The Smiths.
Music of my later teens – Only Living Boy in New Cross by Carter USM, This is How it Feels by Inspiral Carpets, Billy and Jackie by Fat and Frantic and Mary Mary Run DMC
Music of my BA years – Def Con One by PWEI, Caught by the Fuzz by Supergrass, Size of Cow by Wonderstuff
Music when Immy was tiny – Fire Starter by Prodigy, Wonderwall by Oasis and Parklife by Blur and Year 2000 by Pulp
Festival favourites – One Way of Life by The Levellers, God is a DJ by Faithless, Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport by Rolf Harris and N17 by The Saw Doctors
Music as I’ve got older – Roots by Show of Hands, Meet On the Ledge by Fairport Convention and St. Jimmy by Green Day
Most precious stuff – Anything by Billy Bragg, anything by Ralph McTell, Boys Don’t Cry by the Cure, This is Us by Martyn Joseph, anything by Grace Petrie and Come As You Are by Nirvana.
Best gigs – Green Day Milton Keynes Bowl 2005, Manic Street Preachers Brixton Academy 2000/2001 (just know during PGCE year), Dire Straits Portman Road, Ipswich 1992, My Chemical Romance Belfast Kings Hall 2007, Kirsty McColl Northampton Roadmender 1995 and Wonderstuff Leicester De Montfort Hall 1995. And a late addition Prodigy Cambridge Corn Exchange October 1997.