WHICH CELEBRITY ICON FROM THE PAST WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO WRITE ABOUT?
My all-time favourite is Marilyn Monroe. I know it’s not especially original but I fell a little in love with Marilyn when I was growing up and used to watch all her films. I still watch them because they are timeless and she is a very funny actress. She would be the biggest name in the movies if she was a young actress today, although some fool would probably have insisted she go on a diet. I was always intrigued that Marilyn married both a baseball legend, Joe DiMaggio, and one of the greatest playwrights of the twentieth century, Arthur Miller. I think Marilyn was a tortured soul and I would love to find out why.
DO YOU LIKE EVERYONE THAT YOU WRITE ABOUT?
I always try and be positive about the subject. I make a point of not being judgemental. These are people with fascinating lives and there is absolutely no point in trying to spin their stories to make headlines. The people I interview in connection with the books generally have enthusiastic memories of the person and their enthusiasm is infectious. When I was in Stoke- on-Trent I was moved by the genuine affection that Robbie’s old friends had for him. I hope I was able to carry that feeling forward on to the page. So, to date, I have liked the celebrities – although I probably like them better before they became famous!
HOW DID YOU BECOME A CELEBRITY BIOGRAPHER?
I had already written a few books without any particular theme when an old friend asked me to help him research a biography of the late DJ and television star, Kenny Everett. I travelled to Crosby, the area of Liverpool where Kenny was brought up as Maurice Cole. I knocked on the door of the house next to his old family home in an uninspiring row of terraced houses and a lovely woman came to the door. She chatted about Maurice and how her mum had popped next door to help deliver him. She directed me across the road to the house of Maurice’s best childhood friend who invited me in and shared his stories of when they were kids together. I left with a feeling that I was really starting to get to know the real Kenny Everett. I also thought that this was what I wanted to do. I love writing but I also enjoy meeting people and hearing their stories.
HOW DO YOU GET YOUR INFORMATION?
I never believe what I read in the papers for a start. I used to be a journalist and have a pretty good idea of what is a proper, real story is and what has been embellished or made up to suit the purposes of a celebrity’s PR or a writer’s news editor. I always have a good laugh when I see a story in which a star ‘cheats death.’ I listen to people and trust my judgement about what is and is not genuine. The important thing for me is to get out in the world – you cannot write these books from the comfort of your Google home page. I also need luck on my side. When I flew into Louisiana to research Britney’s early life, all I had was the name of a shop in McComb, Mississippi run by someone who went to the same school. Fortunately she knew Britney’s first serious boyfriend who subsequently gave me one of the best interviews I have ever had.
WHAT’S THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
I like my independence. I like not having to go into an office every day, travelling on the tube, waiting for a taxi in the rain, always being late! Instead, I work in my study at home with my cat next to me, safe in the knowledge that I can go and raid the fridge whenever I want.
WHAT’S THE WORST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Turning the computer on at 6am when the house is freezing knowing that I have to write a thousand words before I can have breakfast and read the papers.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE FILM?
I’ve always been fascinated by Alfred Hitchcock and Rear Window is one of my all time favourites. I interviewed Hitch in L.A. before he died and he was riveting. If he was a book he would have been unputdownable. Anthony Hopkins’s performance of Hitch in Hitchcock was spellbinding and he would have had my vote for anOscar or a BAFTA.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE ALBUM OF THE YEAR SO FAR?
I was finally going to put Emeli Sandé’s fantastic album, Our Version of Events, back in the CD rack when she brought out the deluxe version, so now I play that in the car all the time – I just wished she hadn’t bothered recording ‘Imagine’!