It’s been a great year for the celebrity memoir. Here are some of our favourites to read this Christmas.
It’s been a great year for the celebrity memoir. Here are some of our favourites to read this Christmas.
Famous people are just like you and me. Well, except that they live lives of glory, guestlists and fan mail while you ride the bus to work and pay for your own haircuts. If only there were a way of leaping over the velvet rope into their gilded worlds to poke about and learn what makes them tick...
It can be a roll of the dice, picking up a celebrity memoir. Some are bad. Many are boring. But done well, they can be a thrilling glimpse into someone you admire, a lesson in the secrets of success and a way of blurring the boundaries between their world and ours. Sometimes, just sometimes, they are just downright hilarious.
Without further ado, here is a selection of the best celebrity books written in 2019.
Airhead by Emily Maitlis
As Britain rocked from one Brexit crisis to another and politicians of all stripes revealed themselves even more cowardly or duplicitous than we might have feared, one person managed to emerge from the 2019 Westminster circus with their reputation actually enhanced. Step forward Emily Maitlis, the BBC’s indefatigable interviewer and absolute master of the on-air side-eye.
As well as holding Boris, Jeremy and the rest to account on behalf of an exasperated nation, Maitlis also found time to release one of this year’s most fascinating and richly-told memoirs. Subtitled ‘The imperfect art of making news’, she takes readers right into the often tense seconds before and after going on-air and the frenzy of bust-ups, walk-outs and last-second script changes that go into making live news. Covering stories like the Paris terror attacks, the Grenfell disaster and #MeToo, it’s also a brilliant document of a turbulent time in history from someone with front row tickets.
The Beautiful Ones by Prince
Prince died in 2016 without leaving a will, so those who knew him best were left to guess what he’d have wanted done with his estate. One of those decisions, to the delight of fans, was to finish his memoir.
Fortunately, he’d written a lot of it already. The result – curated and gap-filled by friend and writer David Piepenbring – is a phantasmagoria of old photos (the section on his scrapbook reads like an Instagram page from 1977), handwritten pages and prose detailing the artist’s life and musings, from his childhood obsession with Superman to his rocky relationship with his mother, his first kiss to adolescence and getting signed with Warner Bros. Records aged 19.
Funny, sad and sensationally revealing, it isn’t so much a book as it is an immersive experience – a deep dive into the mind of a musical genius.
North Korea Journal by Michael Palin
Imagine two solid weeks without any internet or mobile phone signal. That was the reality for TV’s globetrotter-in-chief Michael Palin when he went to North Korea last year. ‘Can there be a country more shrouded in mystery and fear?’ he asks. Quite a reasonable question when you consider that in 2011 its government spent just $15 on creating its English language website.
Palin, on the other hand, has lots to say about North Korea in this fascinating and funny account of his time in the secretive shadow state. It’s full of smart observations and surreal encounters, like the moment he passes a statue that depicts, among other heroes of the revolution, ‘two women looking heavenwards, one of them carrying a chicken, the other a television.’ There’s also the moment he shows some bewildered locals a video of the famous fish-slapping dance sketch in Monty Python.
WHAM! George & Me by Andrew Ridgeley
In 1975, a new boy arrived at Bushey Meads Comprehensive School in Hertfordshire. He was chubby and awkward with Penfold spectacles, and flushed with embarrassment when the teacher pronounced his Greek name, Georgios Panayiotou, ‘with all the finesse of an urban fox tearing open a bin liner’. But Andrew Ridgeley liked him immediately.
There began a friendship that would spirit the young dreamboats on a journey from bonding over George’s drum kit in his bedroom to attending concerts by Queen and Genesis to eventually, headlining Wembley Stadium aged just 23.
Wham! George and Me is a rollercoaster ride of tight shorts, perm-raising paparazzi chases, pulsating stadiums and a lifelong friendship that ended in an untimely and tragic death. Ridgeley paints a fuzzy-edged and tender picture of his childhood pal, infused with an honesty rarely seen in such memoirs - fans will be interested to learn how Ridgeley felt when his best friend ultimately jilted him at the altar of pop in their prime in order to pursue a solo career. A very careful whisper to the memory of an extraordinary friend.
I, Robot by Peter Crouch
These days, most professional footballers retire into a life of coaching or moaning about the next generation of stars from the warmth of a studio sofa. Peter Crouch had other ideas. The former England striker and famously tall man has combined his experience in the some of the world’s most dreamt-about dressing rooms and his gift as a raconteur to write what is arguably the funniest celebrity book of the year.
Of course, fans of Crouch’s podcasts and video appearances will not be surprised, nor will anyone who bought his best-selling first memoir, How To Be A Footballer, last year. The sequel I, Robot offers even more priceless insights into an idolised but still often misunderstood profession, from team holidays to footballer fashion to eating out in the same restaurants every week.
Before We Was We by Madness
They were a bunch of misfits and ne’er-do-wells. They lived in squats and pubs, riding freight trains, spraying graffiti, stealing records and fighting skinheads. Unemployment was rife, strikes were de rigueur, the National Front was on the rise and Thatcher’s feet were just sliding under the table. It was the perfect time for an anarchic ska revival group to get famous – and become the most fun band in pop.
Most of Madness’ stories must be read to be properly absorbed. Like the time they dressed up as policemen and raided a music studio where The Clash were recording (they say The Clash didn’t speak to them for five years afterwards), or the time guitarist Chrissy Boy Foreman attacked sax-player Kix with a knife and fork.
Before We Was We is a rollicking coming of age story told by the seven who were there. It doesn't matter whether you're a Madness fanatic or if your interest is simply piqued by all things music or pop culture: their memories of a bygone time dance and sing as if they were still on stage.
Behind Closed Doors by Gary Lineker and Danny Baker
Gary Lineker: crisp dealer, bon mot dispenser, ineffably affable giant of the small screen... he knows his way around an anecdote like he once did a flailing goalkeeper. So if you want to know what the post-match sofa king really thinks about football, read Behind Closed Doors, the hilariously revealing new book he’s penned alongside radio doyen Danny Baker.
Inspired by the pair’s wildly successful podcast of the same name, this (as one reviewer described it) is ‘Linker unleashed’. He doesn’t want to tell you about the game of football, that’s never been his job – not even on Match of the Day. He wants to tell you what life in football is really like: in the dressing room, in the commentary box, on the pitch and off it – as Lineker puts it: ‘everything you always wanted to know about football but didn’t realise that you did.
How to Grow Old by John Bishop
John Bishop wants you to know he’s old – horribly, creakingly, bowel-looseningly old. As such, the arena-filling comic, 52, has learned a few things about the process, and now he has some advice about how best to do it. Two words: don’t die. ‘Provided you don’t die,’ he says, ‘you are growing old.’
How to Grow Old is a guide to laughing at yourself as the years roll by, from the struggle to stay fit to keeping hold of your friends. It's also a thoughtful and heartfelt self-portrait of a man who really isn’t the slightest bit bothered about going over the hill. That, and it’s choke-on-your-false-teeth funny.
Straight Otta Crawley by Romesh Ranganathan
Romesh Ranganathan never planned on becoming a stand-up comedian. He was a fat schoolboy with a lazy eye who was prone to inopportune toilet emergencies. His dad left his mum for another woman, then was sent to prison for fraud before rejoining the family to make amends. Ranganathan suffered racism for his Sri Lankan descent, became a rapper under the stage name ‘Ranga’, got a masters in economics, got depressed, and became a maths teacher. He got married and had some kids, his father died. And then he realised all that is… just material.
Now, a range of sitcoms, documentaries, sell-out arena tours, newspaper columns and a hit podcast later, here he is; one of the most prolific comedians in Britain right now. His Martini-dry comedy is a joy to behold - and so is his memoir.
The Autobiography by Alastair Cook
Sir Alastair’s memoir delivers in sixes. It’s not your usual sportsman’s ‘it-was-all-worth-it-in-the-end’ memoir of a life of goals, wickets or 100mph serves punctuated by a handful of depressing injuries. Instead, it reveals not only the determination required to become England’s greatest batsman but the deep emotions, friendship-destroying anxieties and awake-in-the-night fear of failure that drives a man to become the best.
Why, really, did he fall out so sensationally with Kevin Pietersen? How did his gruelling lifestyle impact his family? And what drove his decision to retire at the relatively young age of 33? Cook answers these questions and more with bracing candour rarely seen in such books, a truly sensational account of what it takes to become a hero.
Where the Wild Cooks Go by Cerys Matthews
Anyone who tunes into BBC6 Music on a Sunday will be well acquainted with former Catatonia singer Cerys Matthew’s impeccable taste in music and easy-going charm. This cookery book-cum-memoir-cum guide to living is, like the show, a perfect way to relax after a long week which captures Matthews’ zest for life in its many forms.
Compiled during her many years touring, expect poems, proverbs, Spotify playlists for different countries and, of course, recipes and cocktail ideas from around the world.
Rise Up by Stormzy
How does a young, working-class man go from freestyling on pavements in lo-fi grime videos to hiring out the whole of Thorpe Park for his 23rd birthday party? It’s best to let Stormzy explain: 'It’s been a long time coming, I swear.'
Rise up takes you behind the scenes of one of the most remarkable ascents in British pop culture history, in which Stormzy has gone from an underground musician living in a ‘place where success doesn't happen’ to headlining Glastonbury, mixed with never-before-seen photographs and annotated lyrics.
Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton
In a world where everyone publishes their innermost thoughts and best jokes on social media for free, it takes a lot for a newspaper columnist to stand out. Dolly Alderton has managed to do just that in recent years by writing consistently hilarious and perfectly crafted pieces for the Sunday Times taking readers into the trials and tribulations of her love life.
It led, inevitably, to the release of her first memoir, Everything I Know About Love, which quickly became a must-read for millenials (and parents who want to understand their millenials better). And with her debut novel due next year, it’s a great time to find out what all the fuss is about.