Sunday, 20 October 2013

Mad about Bridget: A night with Helen Fielding in Primrose Hill

When an old uni pal - let's call her the Accidental Classicist (for I know no one more geeky about the Romans than she) asked whether I fancied coming along to hear writer, Helen Fielding, talk about her most famous literary creation - the hapless, 'hopeless' singleton, Bridget Jones - I told her to count me in.  The fictional Bridget, via Fielding's 'Bridget Jones' Diary' and its sequel 'The Edge of Reason', had seen me through some tough times as a teenager.  During my miserably soggy final expedition for my Duke of Edinburgh award, my copy of 'The Edge of Reason' was the only thing in my backpack that wasn't soaked through after three days trekking through the Lake District. (It had been carefully stowed deep beneath my clean socks, safely water-tight inside, not one, but two zip-lock bags.) High on a stormy mountaintop in a dripping tent, I sought solace by the light of my headtorch in reading about poor old Bridget's trials and tribulations; forgetting for a few blissful minutes where I was and how much I was wishing to be anywhere else.
And that is where I left Bridget. At the end of her second book, she was happy with a seemingly lovely man, her friends were all on hand brandishing Chardonnay  and her crazy parents were leaving her in peace.  Two films of the books followed, but we thought that was the last we had heard from Bridget. Fielding went on to write another novel, starring a far less likeable heroine - Olivia Joules - but many assumed that was the last we'd ever read about Bridget. Until earlier this year, when Fielding quietly announced that she had written a third novel about Bridget Jones, entitled 'Mad About The Boy'.  For the first time Bridget had an age - she is now 51 years old - and 2 children, but she is also a widow, after the untimely demise of her love, Mark Darcy.

The third Bridget Jones book was released a couple of weeks ago to something of a savaging by the press and the feminist lobby.  But neither they nor the loss of her beloved Mark, can hold Bridget down and 'Mad About The Boy' rocketed straight to #1 in the bestsellers list, on 'Super Thursday' of all days.  And so it was rather noble of Helen Fielding to eschew (even if only for a few hours) the glamorous, shiny parties which no doubt awaited her to celebrate her triumphant return to the literary scene. Instead, on the day of her new book's release, Fielding took the creaky stage at Cecil Sharp House (home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society) on the border of Camden and Primrose Hill, in front of a roomful of Bridget fans and local worthies. Herself a resident of Primrose Hill (when she is not spending the school holidays in Los Angeles apparently), Fielding was joined by another local resident, and a formidable interviewer, Radio 4 legendary broadcaster Sue MacGregor. And it soon became clear that this cold October evening was as much about Primrose Hill as it was about Bridget Jones or even Helen Fielding.
The introduction to the evening made it clear that the event was first and foremost a fundraiser for the Primrose Hill Community Library. Now run as a community effort, following funding cuts from the local borough council, the library is kept alive by kind donations of both time and money. The money paid for out tickets for example, was to be donated to the library's cause. Both Fielding and MacGregor were lending their support as locals. As was much of the literary, arty Primrose Hill set, it seemed. When grilled about her professional experience, Fielding name dropped like a seasoned LA schmoozer. "Well you know, Richard, Richard Curtis. He's over there somewhere..." she gestured towards the front row as the assembled crowd craned its neck to catch a glimpse of the director.

Excellently prepped - even knowing the end of the third book and how Bridget's Mr Darcy met his untimely end - MacGregor's questions took the audience through the professional career of Helen Fielding; from her first (and highly underrated) first novel - 'Cause Celebre' through to the filming of the two Bridget Jones movies. Cue more frantic name-dropping. ("Telling Colin - Colin Firth, that is - that Mark Darcy was dead in this book was like informing him a real person had died!").  And the audience - filled with Primrose yummy mummies with surprisingly immobile, permatanned faces, and a few literary types, draped with scarves and glasses on chains round their necks - giggled along delightedly.

As the interview, and the brief Q&A session which followed, drew to a close. The ladies (yep, there were only a handful of men in the audience - and a couple of them admitted they were journalists who were only there for work) lined up in their masses to have Fielding autograph their copies of 'Mad About The Boy'.  I passed on the offer myself, waiting a while longer to see how Bridget's latest adventure would pan out.  I sort of wondered whether 51 year old Bridget would speak to me in the way that 20-something Bridget had.  Would the school-run and toyboy flirtations be as amusing or relevant to me as drunken nights out with her mates and a desperate desire to progress her career beyond that of an admin assistant? I'm sure we'll reconnect one of these days; my curiosity to learn how her life turns out will get the better of me, I know.  But when it does, at least I know there's no risk of us ever having to share a soggy school tent halfway up a mountain again... 

14 comments:

  1. I knew a third book was coming, but I didn't realize it had been released until reading this. I just put myself in the queue for it at the public library. There are only sixteen people waiting for eight copies, so I should be getting it fairly soon. I can't wait!

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    1. Wow - that's quite a queue, Patience! But definitely the way to do it, reading at the library...then one doesn't have buyer's remorse if the book turns out to be something you wouldn't want to read again. Hope you get your hands on a copy soon...

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  2. Sounds like a lovely evening, and all for a good cause too : ) I'm not in any rush to buy and read the new book but the films age very well and are a guaranteed good time. I enjoyed the little anecdote about how it was your Saviour on the D of E trip (I never had to do that, us music school types were too sensitive to be the outdoors type!) xx

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    1. I reckon there will be a third film. The fact that Helen Fielding said she'd had to tell Colin Firth 'he' wasn't in this book, suggests they have already planned it...

      Honestly, when all else was horrible and rainy on that miserable trip I was so grateful for Bridget! Her hilarious thoughts and accidents were all that kept me going.

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  3. I'll be seeing her in Seattle on the 29th (a week from today, whee!), so I feel this is an excellent preview of what's in store. Thank you!

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    1. Ooh, so only a couple of days to go, San. Hope you have a fun evening!

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  4. What a leap. It's certainly on my Goodreads list of "books to read" though.

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    1. Does seem to be quite a leap in time, but maybe less of a leap in terms of the character of the protagonist. Think I may need to find out how Bridget has aged, Regina...

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  5. Ah, this would have been so cool, I'm very jealous! I'm reading the book at the minute, I was sceptical at first but am really enjoying it x

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    1. Good to hear a positive review, Charlotte. Maybe I will give the new Bridget a read sooner rather than later...

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  6. Bridget Jones is a legend. I enjoyed the third book too. It is simply nice to read something uplifting, for once!

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    1. Like Charlotte's comment above, I'm pleased to hear people have enjoyed the third book, Muriel. Nice to hear it's uplifting - worth a read then?

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    2. Totally! I am sick and tired of serious books. This one is one of the few that will lift your mood! Loved it!

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  7. Looking forward to reading the latest adventures of Bridget, though I was not thrilled to learn of the demise of the lovely Mr. Darcy...

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