The Actual Best Celebrity Biographies
The Debrief: Where else could you read about a medieval Jodie Marsh and Gareth Gates' foreskin....
At the end of last year, Charlie Redmayne, Chief Exec of publisher HarperCollins, announced that his publishing house would be making severe cutbacks on the amount of celebrity autobiographies it picked up as the genre had ‘peaked’. He’s right: the current market is saturated and a slew of new titles are already queued for release this summer. It’s a genre that’s very easy to be snobby about – one suspects Charlotte from Geordie Shore’s release next month will not display a modernist alienation of content and form – but that’s because it’s often a time-sensitive market, desperate to capitalise quickly on fame. I refer you to Charlotte Church’s memoirs, released at the age of 14 (she herself has since described this as 'ridiculous').
However, when good, autobiographies can be the most compelling of literary forms – combining nostalgia, self-mythologising, gossip and out and out lies. So we have selected some top recommendations for anyone who wants a glimpse into the lives of others this summer:
1. The Autobiography of Malcolm X – Malcolm X and Alex Haley
A heavy start, but almost certainly one of the most compelling autobiographies ever written. Malcom, who renounced the surname given to his ancestors by white slave owners, weaves a narrative of a drug-using criminal radicalised into the Nation of Islam and a hero for African Americans in the civil rights movement. The story of the book itself is as fascinating as its subject – it was a collaboration with journalist Alex Haley. When they first met, it did not go as planned, Malcolm told Haley: 'You’re another of the white man’s tools sent to spy.' When Malcolm X was assassinated, the original publisher dropped the book, fearing for the lives of his staff. Fifty years later, its ability to radically change the way its reader perceives racial politics remains.
2. If Only – Geri Halliwell
The memoir of the woman who invented Girl Power and dominated the pop culture geist of the '90s is even more fun over a decade after its publication. Lest we not forget, Geri Halliwell went from Page 3 girl to UN ambassador in five years. Highlights include her account of the time Nelson Mandela told her that their meeting was 'the highlight of my life' to the time she ate cake out of George Michael’s bin. Really.
3. Bossypants – Tina Fey
Tina Fey wrote 30 Rock and Mean Girls – it would have been impossible for her not to have written a witty autobiography and she does not disappoint. Combining feminist commentary on her experiences as a writer in the male-dominated entertainment industry with wry jokes about everything, even a facial scar given to her by a random attacker aged five, this is an easy read but also provides food for thought.
4. The Book of Margery Kempe – Margery Kempe
Margery Kempe’s book is the first autobiography ever written in the English language. When her home brewery business goes bust, Margery has a series of visions and becomes convinced she must go on world tour, preaching to crowds and having mystical conversations with God. Her husband John is not entirely happy with this (especially when she tells him Jesus is kind of her boyfriend now so they can’t have sex anymore). Margery became one of the most famous women in 14th century England and a source of much public controversy– was she a role model for Christian women or a fame-hungry heretic? Think Jodie Marsh, but medieval.
5. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
So beautifully written at times it can feel more like a novel than a memoir, Angelou’s autobiography truly expands and redefines your idea of the whole genre. Angelou’s writing lends itself to the kind of short wikiquote soundbite wisdom the internet loves, but that does a discredit to its brilliance when taken as a whole. Her story itself, in which she matures against a landscape of childhood trauma and racism, is elegantly balanced by the beauty of her prose.
6. Being Jordan – Katie Price
This is great trash and, thanks to Price’s unashamed use of a professional ghost writer, not too terribly written. A celebrity gossip fest and barbed take down of pretty much every man she’s ever slept with, the book is both lewd and ludicrous. She manages to devote an entire paragraph to an incident in which David Beckham barely touches her arm and even more to an anatomical hiccup with Gareth Gates’ foreskin.
7. Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins – Rupert Everett
Proving that the best autobiographies don’t come from the biggest celebrities, but those near them, Rupert Everett’s story of running way from a monastic boarding school to become a sex worker and then an actor contains great name dropping with honest and humourous accounts of those discussed. He comes on to Ian McKellen and has an affair with Paula Yates, then later works with Julia Roberts, Madonna and Sharon Stone. As well as the A-list cast, the book also provides an insight into Everett’s own sick sense of humour and the effect that being gay or bisexual still has on Hollywood actors’ careers.
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