I’ve read a fair few of these. Some have been *awful* others have been so awful they’re actually quite good – good to bad is a circle in my mind, rather than a line; awful and brilliant are right next to one another, but only if it’s just the right sort of awful. Some have been so self-satisfyingly smug that I thought they were trying to copy Alan Partridge’s book, where he ended most chapters with ‘Suffice it to say, i had the last laugh.’ But alas, that particularly smug actor in question wasn’t being ironic or clever, just very very smug. Others start when the celebrity was a child and nothing really gets going until they’re a young adult. Janet Street-Porter’s was an exception to this as her childhood was spent hoping she’d been adopted and that her real parents would collect her from her suburban hell in Perviale at any moment – they didn’t.
Jennifer Saunders begins it with: “I have been told that publishers these days like a particular type of memoir. They like a bit of misery. They like a ‘mis mem’.
Well, I’m afraid I have had very little of the ‘mis’ in my life, and nowadays I have even less ‘mem’. So we can knock that one on the head.”
Saunders avoids this waiting for the real story to start problem by jumping about a bit. It starts with her at the Central School of Speech and Drama where she met the other half of her comedy partner duo, Dawn French. She writes as I imagine she talks, lots of circuitous diversions off topic for the sake of a good laugh, coming back to a rough overall narrative. It’s very easy to read, and I found myself yomping through it at a terrific pace. She quotes her diaries as a teenager, phone conversations with her agent of many years, Maureen. The chapters on my favourite of her comedies, Absolutely Fabulous are a great joy; it’s like having a conversation with her about what was going on in her head as she put together the cast, where she got the idea from, when she wrote some of the episodes and scenes that, even twenty years after they first aired, I still quote endlessly. Yes, Ab Fab first aired in 1994! I was shocked too. She sums up why, I think it’s still so popular now: “The heart of the show isn’t the drinking and smoking and partying. It’s the painful ménage a trios of Eddie, Patsy and Saffy. The jealousies. The hatreds. And, most crucially, the need to be loved.”
There are chapters about working on her all that’s British countryside show, Jam and Jerusalem, which again, has the strong relationships between interesting women at its heart.
She talks about working on the Shrek film, where “In the whole of the Shrek process, I was never in a studio with any other actors.”
On Viva Forever! the ill-fated Spice Girls musical she wrote, she says: “The reviewers killed the show, for the moment...I think some are still bitter about Mamma Mia! being a hit despite their efforts.”
Her relationship with “Ade” (Edmonson) her husband and fellow actor, and their daughters shines through the book. The part about her breast cancer and subsequent bout of depression is also told with her trademark sense of humour. “Crying in the bath is not normal. Not for me, anyway.
“It was Tanya Byron who put me straight. ‘I think you might be depressed.’
“ ‘No. I’m just angry all the time.’
“But of course she was right, as she generally is about these things. It was all about chemicals and hormones and the general lack of serotonin...So I went and got help and got some little pills which opened the curtains again and exiled Evil Jennifer.” Evil Jennifer was the name she gave for the part of her that criticised everything around her, whether it was by her dear husband, Ade, or a stranger – Evil Jennifer would criticise it.
To me, this sounds like a perfect way of describing depression, and a sensible way to deal with it.
Even if you don’t normally read autobiographies, I think you would enjoy chatting to Jennifer Saunders, as she’s led such a varied and interesting life, all described with self deprecating good humour.
Do you read autobiographies? Have you never dipped your toe into the guilty pleasures of one? I’d love to know.
In other news, my first full length novel, Best Friends Perfect Book One is out now. I will be blogging about things all things Best Friends Perfect over the next few weeks. The great team at Wilde City Press are sending to review sites, but if you're a review site and would like an interview with me, just contact me through this website
Until next time,
Liam Livings xx