The veteran celebrity journalist looks back on her legendary ability for asking questions others wouldn't dare.
Barber (An Education, 2010, etc.) believes being "exceptionally nosy" is part of what has made her so successful as a journalist. "I want to understand other people,” she writes, “I want to know what they think, what they do when I'm not there, how they interact, especially with their families, and how they got to be how they are." The author’s astringent manner and desire to cut through the typical PR fluff and draw her subjects out have made her many celebrity profiles—as well as her memoir—worth reading. Barber is equally frank discussing her working-class upbringing (that and her bookish nature made her stand apart from her well-heeled schoolmates) and seven-year apprenticeship at Penthouse magazine, after which she moved on to Vanity Fair, Observer, Sunday Times and others. Rather than common folk, she has interviewed celebrities and artists whom she admires "for their talent, but even more for the courage it takes to become a star, to leave the cosy camaraderie of the herd." The author complains that actors are the most difficult to interview and that athletes "never seem to have anything interesting to say.” For example, she regards her 2011 interview with tennis champion Rafael Nadal (reprinted here, along with several others)—during which his handler told him what to say—as making “a silk purse out of a sow's ear." Footnotes are definitely in order, as Barber's British references will puzzle American readers who won't have a clue what "I don't want to sound pi about it" means or think making coffee in a "Smeg-filled kitchen" sounds unsanitary.
Barber’s "automatic bullshit detector" has served her well and makes for a winning book.