& opinion


The usual protocol for interviewing someone involves meeting that person and asking them a series of questions. With Guardian columnist Julie Burchill, protocol is suspended. A request for an interview is met with the uncharacteristically sheepish, "could we do by email?" Without meeting her, itís hard to decide what Burchill is really like.

What we do know about Julie is that she started out as a journalist for the NME in 1976 at the tender age of 17, during the height of the Punk wave, where she met, married and now famously loathes Daily Mirror hack Tony Parsons; she was dubbed "the worldís worst mother" by the Daily Mail; she lives in Brighton; she has never left the country except for one holiday to New York; she has never been to university - something of a sore subject; she has written a book about the Beckhams; and she has had her fair share of cocaine, lesbian affairs and high-profile bust-ups. Yes, Julie Burchill is what we know as a controversialí journalist. She is now most famous for writing a vicious and much loved and hated weekly column for the Guardian, although many see her role at the paper as inciting the liberal and docile Guardian readers into writing angry letters for the following weeksí entertainment. She is also painfully shy when it comes to meeting people. Julie Burchill is a well-rounded lady with a high squeaky voice and despite her vociferous writings on all sorts of subjects, rarely makes television or radio appearances, and is much softer and more pleasant in her correspondence than in her column.

Having not met the Queen of the Groucho Club, I am in no better position than you to talk about what Julie Burchill is really like. So perhaps we should let her do the talking.

How are you?

Iím very smooth and very happy, thank you.

What made you get into music journalism in the first place?

I would have had to have gone into factory otherwise, which I didnít much fancy, as I was a jumped-up little madam from the age of twelve.

Who was the first band you saw that inspired you to write about music?

I was inspired by the music I grew up listening to - black dancing music, but never by any of the bands I saw during punk. I just pretended, as I wanted the job.

Do you still have an interest in music?

Iím 43, for goodness sake! Itís a bit sad to be into music at 30, let alone 43. left the NME when I was 19 because of this - I didnít want to be some wanker still thinking pop music was important when I hit the menopause. Tragic!

What was the last band you saw live?

Brian Wilson at the Brighton Centre. was like seeing Isambard Kingdom Brunel working on the Suspension Bridge or something - magic, history, everything. Much more than music. Gosh that sounds pretentious!

Do you still read NME?

My 16 year old does, he says itís crap written by a bunch of old men. Things appear to have gone back to the way they were before Tony and I arrived.

What books are you reading?

Patrick Hamilton, Graham Greene, David Sedaris.

Do you resent the pressure to be opinionated at all times?

No, I like it.

Do you always believe in the opinions you advocate, or do you appreciate the need to be controversial?

Lifeís too short to wind people up for the sake of it. You get enough rubbish over stuff you believe in.

Which are your newspapers of choice?

Guardian, News of the World.

Are there any articles or columns that in retrospect you wish you hadnít written?


Does regret have any place in journalism?

Not in mine.

How do you feel about an imminent war with Iraq?

It wouldnít have happened if weíd killed the sucker in the first place.

Do you think if Britain did go to war, that the population as whole would be fairly represented?

Only if the view of the population as whole can be represented in other issues, such as whether we have capital punishment or not.

What are your feelings towards George Bush at the moment?

Not a mad fan, but heís O.K. Heís obviously not the baby-eating monster certain hysterics make out. Heíd be funny if you could get him drunk. He obviously doesnít use gassing or rape as weapon of terror against his own people, so if itís him and Saddam, itís obviously better the devil you know. Condoleeza Rice seems very cool.

How far do you think student unions are able to put pressure on the government about a possible war?

Not at all. What are they going to threaten to withdraw? Their labour? Not watching Countdown?

Do you think students are doing enough to oppose war? I think they are doing all within their power.

Some Sussex students have been applauded for visiting the occupied territories. How do you feel about Israel?

I am pro-Israel. But Iíd never be conceited enough to think I could make difference. I think western people can get very up themselves when it comes to the Middle East situation. It doesnít really matter what we think. When and if the people involved are ready, theyíll sort it out between themselves.

Youíve lived in Brighton for years. What is it about Brighton that appeals to you so much?

Itís not London!

How has Brighton changed in the time youíve known it?

The council seem to know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Who on earth would sell our library to be made into a bar while bidding for the City of Culture!

What are your favourite Brighton haunts?

Hotel du Vin, Englishís, the bar at the end of the Pier.

What does the future hold for you? Will you be at the Guardian for long?


What advice could you offer budding journalists?

Donít write about what you know. Donít be yourself. All that will come later.

How did you find New York?

Pleasant and relaxing. Itís for people who canít handle London.

Have you ever met the Beckhams?

Where would I meet them? By the Sunny Delight fridge at the 7-11? I stopped going to those parties when was 19.

How you did and Alan Rusbridger sort out your differences?
(Julie wrote a review of current Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridgerís guide to sex manuals some years ago, completely tearing it apart in the most vicious terms)

Heís too big a man to care about rubbish like that. And so am I.

So there we have it. Julie Burchill in her own words, and bizarrely she thinks Condoleeza Rice is cool. The contrast between the style of her correspondence and her answers is marked. By not meeting potential interviewers, gives her the ability to remain detached, and allows her to be as spiky, honest and controversial as she likes, without opening herself up to comments about her physical appearance. I donít feel I know the real Julie Burchill any better from this interview, but then maybe thatís the way she wants it.