Cult Q & A: Julie Burchill

❉  Arch-contrarian Julie Burchill on Midnight Cowboy, The World At War, Ambition, Sugar Rush, and how the ballet career went tits-up.

Julie Burchill started her career at the NME, aged 17, and has gone onto write for numerous tabloids and broadsheets. In 1989, her none-more-80s bonkbuster ‘Ambition’ became a bestseller, and her 2004 novel ‘Sugar Rush’, about an intense friendship between two teenage girls, was successfully adapted by Channel 4, giving Lenora Crichlow (Being Human) her first big break. In 2008, she co-wrote ‘Not In My Name: A Compendium of Modern Hypocrisy’ with Chas Newkey-Burden. Julie is currently a regular contributor to The Spectator.

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Julie Burchill (Photo credit: Spokeo)

What were you like at school?

Quite bright and very badly behaved. So no change!

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

A ballerina till the age of 13 – I was VERY good – when I shot up to 5’6 and grew huge tits overnight. Then I wanted to be a writer. I live in hope!

What advice would you give to your teenage self?

You’re going to have MORE FUN than you can believe, you miserable little bitch. Smile – it’s GOING TO HAPPEN!

What are your best and worst qualities?

Best – generosity/fun to be with – worst, too many to mention.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

In my adult life, I’ve only ever been a writer – from the age of 17 – but I sold perfume in a chemist on King’s Cross Station for a few months when I was a 15-year-old runaway. I love scent, so that was almost as good as writing for a living.

Who were your pop culture heroes growing up?

Marc Bolan, David Bowie – the usual sexually flexible subjects for a pubescent perve of my generation.

What do you consider to be the single greatest piece of television ever?

The World At War.

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Monty Python: is it funny?

When you’re too young to vote, it’s hysterical.

What was the last film that you watched?

‘Love And Mercy’, the brilliant Brian Wilson biopic.

What film could you watch every day?

‘Imitation Of Life’.

What’s your favourite film soundtrack?

‘Midnight Cowboy’.

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Which four actors would you like to see in a film together and which genre?

Mika Tan, John Garfield, Gregory Peck, Jake Gyllenhall and Sidney Poitier in a sex-com.

Which film, book or album last disappointed you the most?

Anything by Martin Amis.

Which record would you recommend to a friend?

‘The Isley Brothers Greatest Hits’.

Which record wouldn’t you let out of your sight?

I’m not possessive!

Which book would you save if your house was on fire?

The Gorse Trilogy by Patrick Hamilton.

What’s your definition of what makes something cult?

Something which makes even virgins feel really cool when they listen to/watch/read it.

What are you reading at present?

Hebrew textbooks – I’ve been learning for more than five years and am still shockingly bad at it. It’s my dream to be understood speaking Hebrew in my beloved Israel.

When did you first decide that you wanted to be a writer?

When my tits put me out of the ballet racket.

What do you think of contemporary female columnists such as Caitlin Moran or Laurie Penny?

Caitlin is wonderful – everything I might have been and was too lazy to achieve. I don’t really think of Laurie Penny as a writer – more as a pamphlet with PMT.

Which writers, musicians or singers have inspired you over the years?

I don’t think I’ve ever been inspired by anyone, though I’ve been a fan many times.

What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?

“Write about what you don’t know” – Me.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?

The Artful Dodger.

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Cover for the reissue of 1989’s ‘Ambition’.

Do you think it’s true that you should never meet your heroes?

The people I’ve admired who I’ve met have all been really cool, but I invariably have made an utter ass-hat out of myself, over-excited by their presence.

What would you like to be your epitaph?

‘She tipped big, and loved it!’

What are your thoughts on the TV adaptation of your novel ‘Sugar Rush’?

Genius! MUCH better than the book, and the book was bloody good.

How did you end up writing for the Mail On Sunday in the ‘80s? And did you enjoy it?

I absolutely loved it. Total freedom, massive money – I was mad to flounce off to the broadsheets, but I was young and pretentious.

What do you think of your novel ‘Ambition’, looking back now?

It’s just SO RUDE! But I was in my 20s when I wrote it, so I don’t find it embarrassing. There’s something about old people (I’m 57) writing smut that’s a bit sad.

What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?

Every true writer will say the same – pressing SEND.

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A scene from Channel 4’s ‘Sugar Rush’ (2005)

What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career so far – and why?

The ‘Sugar Rush’ TV series – I didn’t write it, but far better writers than me took it away and made it brilliant AND it won an Emmy. None of the slog, but all of the glory! And then last year I worked for (not with – for) Banksy on his Dismaland project – going there on the opening night was one of my top ten nights EVER. He’s so brilliant.

You’ve recently been writing for The Spectator, what’s it like? 

It’s a great magazine – the best ever – and if you don’t need to make a living from writing, it’s the best one to write for. (Snarky Lady Bracknell voice.)

Do you have any upcoming projects? How can our readers discover more about you and you work?

I’m 57, have been writing for a living since I was 17, and am lucky enough that I can do it when I want now, and not worry about having to grab any old hack-work that comes along. But I would ADORE it if your readers bought my last book ‘Unchosen: Memoirs Of A Philo-Semite’, which they can find on Amazon.

Thank you for taking time to talk to us, Julie.


❉  ‘Unchosen’ by Julie Burchill is available from Amazon, priced £4.99 on Kindle.

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