The best celebrity memoirs of 2015
From Tom Jones to the green grass of Old Trafford, via Sue Perkins’s diaristic mash-up and Steve Coogan’s entertaining confessional
Sunday 6 December 2015 10.00 GMT
eports of the death of the celebrity memoir are much exaggerated, if this year’s giant crop is anything to go by. The new trend? The hybrid memoir that is actually a manifesto, a diary, a collection of essays or even a long list of life tips. The best example of this genre is Spectacles by Sue Perkins (Michael Joseph). She takes the quirky route with transcripts of dialogue, short diary entries, a FAQs section and virtually every paragraph punctuated by the spectacles logo. It has a narrative but it doesn’t shove it in your face. She’s honest, real and a decent writer.
Particularly enjoyable is her characterisation of BBC1’s failed game show, Don’t Scare the Hare (for which she provided the voiceover), as a “cluster-fuck omniflop”. And how satisfying to read about just how long it took the producers of Bake Off to realise that “watching nice people make nice cakes is all you need”.
From the more classic autobiographies, it’s worth picking up Steve Coogan’s Easily Distracted (Century) for the 1970s pudding-bowl haircut pictures of him alone. This is a simple, readable confessional – “I was happy with Anna, but had endless flings”; “I went to a party, took two tabs and went bonkers” – interspersed with Coogan’s trademark caustic asides and loads of telly and performance insight. Coke, drink, Spitting Image, Alan Partridge... If you love Coogan, this delivers.
With large print and some beautiful vintage photographs (Elvis and Tom!), Tom Jones: Over the Top and Back (Michael Joseph) is – honestly – a magical journey from Pontypridd to Vegas. Meticulously researched and evocative of a whole era, this is an excellent piece of journalism. (Kudos to the biographer-ghostwriter Giles Smith, who is credited in the acknowledgements for “helping with the words”. Jones’s voice is perfectly captured here.)
For serious music fans? It has to be Elvis Costello’s Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink (Viking). Utterly definitive and clearly, painstakingly penned by Costello himself, who doesn’t want to miss a detail. Patti Smith’s M Train(Bloomsbury) is more novelistic and lyrical (“September was ending and already cold”), complete with a collection of pre-Instagram, personal black and white arty shots. She calls it “a roadmap to my life”. It’s classy, elegant and addictive.
Something completely different? Well, this reviewer is not the target audience for Leading by Alex Ferguson with Michael Moritz (Hodder & Stoughton). However, it’s a gripping enough business/motivational read, in the mould of Alastair Campbell’s Winners and How They Succeed (in which Ferguson was a case study): “Nobody should not look at football for lessons about the way to fire people”; “I have yet to encounter anyone who has achieved massive success without closing themselves off from the demands of others or forgoing pastimes.” The ideal read for football fans who love self-help books. (Is that a large demographic?)
A personal favourite? Dedicated to his Jack Russell, Misty, Brian Blessed’s memoir, Absolute Pandemonium (Macmillan), is exactly what you would expect only louder, taller, bigger and more so. By taller I mean both the tales and the general vibe. “Now, there was a live donkey in this particular pantomime, but because it wasn’t going to be present until the dress rehearsal, somebody had to shout ‘Eee-orr!’ every time it was mentioned in the script... When the first cue arrived, somebody duly shouted ‘Eee-orr!’, and, as they did, [Peter] O’Toole woke up with a jolt. He looked at me, crossed his eyes and said, ‘This is art, love!’” With walk-on parts for Katharine Hepburn, Patrick Stewart, Laurence Olivier, Oliver Reed and Harold Pinter, it’s the quintessential luvvie memoir, pleasingly bonkers and bloody entertaining.