Cailtin Moran and me – The Times interviews its star columnist
CAITLIN Moran is the British Press Awards Critic of the Year, Columnist of The Year and Interviewer of the Year. But to prove that Moran is the Times star, the paper gets Valerie Grove to interview the “gobby teenager” she discovered. The Daily Mirror waited until its columnist Sue Carroll had died before giving her a front-page story. Calltin Moran is in rude health
Valerie Grove writes:
I am awash with pride. Caitlin Moran is my protégée, my discovery. I presented her with her first award for writing, in October 1988.
She was a podgy little girl of 13, with a clear-eyed and candid gaze, and her name was Catherine, not Caitlin, but everyone called her Tatty. She’d come from Wolverhampton with her rock-musician dad because she’d won £250 of book tokens in a Dillons young readers’ contest, for an essay on Why I Like Books. It was the first time she had been to London, the first time she’d been on a train.
Dillons… Cailtin Moran has been around for a while. Talent does not out overnight:
She already had a distinctive, hectic style. “Basenji! Slartibartfast! Mint Julep, Jolly Super, Hoopy, Necrotelecommunicom, Wonka Vite and Vitawonk,” her essay began, making the judges (I was one) sit up. So unlike the other entries with their pious declarations of “I have always loved reading”. Tatty had retitled her essay: “Starting me reading — who dunnit?” The answer was Mrs Boden at Springdale Junior School. “She was the infant teacher who introduced me to the world of pixies, enchanted princesses and Jip the Big Black Rat. Eureka! I could read!”
Intriguingly, under “name of school” she had written: “I am educated at home by my mum.” It transpired that she had waved secondary school goodbye after just three weeks, and now spent her days with her parents and five siblings — the seventh and eighth Morans were yet to be born — in their three-bedroom council house. One child slept in the dining room, one under the stairs. Mrs Margaret Moran, who deserves some prize herself, expected her children to walk to the library every day; what they read was their choice. Tatty’s was anything from Ballet Shoes to The Naked Lunch.
We’re not told about Caitlin Moran’s siblings and how the home school worked for them. (Perhaps the Daily Mail will dig into that angle.)
But being interviewed for The Sunday Times that day, she tells me, made her realise that there was a human being behind the newsprint, and convinced her that “writing’s for me”.
Who was Cailtin Moran’s inspiration?
Maureen Lipman. Lipman, she says, was her true role model: “She wrote about her lovely, crazy media life in North London, with two children, and interesting people dropping in,” she says now. “Nobody ever dropped into our house. Maureen’s was the life I wanted. And now I’ve got it! And Dr Who walks past my door!” [David Tennant lives near by, as do Peter Capaldi, Simon Pegg and Dan Stevens.]
One other thing: she smokes. You don’t have to smoke to write well, but it can help. Grove then swoons:
She was still a gobby kid with a generally “sod that” attitude, but she had transformed into “Caitlin”, a doe-eyed beauty with tumbling hair twisted into a topknot secured with two pencils.
Grove then takes a few tiny bits from Moran’s book and places them in isolation to show how good the writer is. This only makes the writer look like she’s writing catchphrases for a knowing and unfunny sit-com:
“A bra is the lingerie equivalent of tomato ketchup.” Court shoes are “totally Thatcher”; parenthood is “a military campaign”. She believes that women must take over the world, the patriarchy being knackered; but what hampers us is idiotic habits — amassing caches of shoes too painful to wear, or being tyrannised into buying “this season’s must-have coat”. “Men are not thinking of their winter coats. Boys are just getting on with stuff.”
Grove then tells us:
At 18 she gave up fronting Naked Cityon Channel 4 because being recognised was “horrible”. “A writer needs to observe what’s going on. If you’re famous, you change a room when you walk into it. You are the subject of conversation.”
Although it you’re a successful writer, the people will want you to cover them. Your words become an endorsement.
But having quit the TV show she ballooned in weight into an unrecognisable size 24 in order to be left alone, until one night she “practically suffocated with fat, had a panic attack, kicked the weed, bought a mountain bike and got fanatical about swimming in Olympic-size pools”. Marriage and two children stopped the “weird dreamtime reaction to having been famous at 18”. Confidence regained, she was “ready to engage”.
That day, she told an upholstery firm that she would tweet about them if they didn’t deliver her sofa lickety-split. They did.
Being recognised ain’t all bad.
As she told once told the Independent:
‘I’m seeing the editor of a Sunday newspaper this afternoon. I know she’ll offer me mega-bucks to do an opinion column, but I don’t want that. I don’t like opinion journalism. Anyway, how can you have 52 opinions a year? I’d like to do some interviews. How much do you get paid?
Price on application…