Julie Burchill Interview
Julie Burchill is one of journalisms anti-heroines. At the age of 17 she packed up her pencil case, stuck a safety pin in her ear and hitched a train to the NME offices for a job interview. In those days the magazine was bunch of 30 year old’s who saw teenagers as, “mythical creatures”, so she’d answered their advert for a “hip young gunslinger” with a hand-written letter on paper torn from a rough book, splattered with ink. She perched on Nick Logan’s desk in her grubby School Uniform, prattling away about punk. The job was hers before she even opened her mouth.
Thirty years later she has become renowned for dumping verbal sewage on Celebrities, supporting cocaine users and writing teenage fiction – most famously Brighton’s lesbian romp, Sugar Rush. We had a chocolate martini with her in a posh London Hotel, where she kindly offered a small red bottle of ‘quick energy’ when we complained of feeling tired.
Oh wow, what is that?
It’s legal, it’s fine don’t worry. I have some diet pills in my bag as well if you want one. I like your hair.
Thanks. Diet pills? What do you think of the Alli pills?
Oh I think that’s disgusting. I just have these ones for the energy.
Burchill is the teenager who never grew up, flicking her hair and giggling in a voice that she stole from Suri Cruise. As she fiddles with a medical boot that is helping to repair her ailing foot, Platform pulls out our Dictaphone. “Oh god, are you going to record this? I hate my voice”, she moans. We mumble that we quite like it, “Yeah I think I quite like it now, I just say I don’t because it sounds boastful to say I love the sound of my own voice.”
Burchill grew up in Bristol and has described visits back to School as being akin to Nelson Mandela returning to Robben Island. So it’s no surprise that she was aching to leave for the Big Smoke from the age of 12: “I was walking around Bristol in a permanent state of outrage that I was being treated like a child”.
A self confessed “naughty girl”, she became thoroughly depressed when all the bad kids left at the age of 16 to get jobs in the local biscuit factory: “I was looking at doing my A-levels with a bunch of girls I had spent the past five years tormenting. They were going to get their revenge on me because all my protectors had left.”
A fan of soul music, Burchill was never going to rip her fishnets and strap on a corset for anything other than a one-way ticket out of Bristol. NME was that ticket, “I went from being a provincial virgin in a classroom doing double maths, to sitting on The Clash’s lap doing speed through a fifty pound note”.
She was a music journalist for two years, stumbling through a whirlwind of adventures as she wet-nursed the nation through the punk music she loathed, “I used to have to go to the gigs in the evening and completely hated the music. Afterwards I’d go home, take off all my horrible punk clothes, and dance around the room to my disco records”. During her NME stint she was relegated to the back of the office, flicking through America’s National Enquirer to find funny stories she could re-write. This wasn’t because of her lack of ability, but her habit of drugging interviewees.
“I was really shy so they used to give me amphetamine sulphate. I realised it made me talk a lot, so when they sent me to interview Country Joe McDonald I poured speed into his tea when he wasn’t looking. Unfortunately his PR girl saw me and reported me to the Editor. What made it all worse was that about eight of Joe’s closest friends died from drug overdoses. I was not flavour of the month”. At the age of 19 she decided she was too old for the bubblegum game, “The pop press is good, but if you stay in there too long it begins to wear you down. There was this saying about Thin Lizzy – when you’re on the road with them for the third time you have to quit. You’re done”.
Gripping the table slightly after the speed-in-the-tea story (and eyeing the red bottle suspiciously), we quizzed Ms. Burchill on Music, Come Dine With Me, and her most troubling interview.
So did you always want to be a writer?
Yes. But I was from an extremely working class blue-collar background. My cousin wanted to be an air stewardess and was laughed at for having ideas above her station; it was like that back then. If you went to the Careers officer and said you wanted to be a writer they’d say, “haven’t you ever thought about working in a shop?” But I was a little madam, and had this idea of where I was destined to be – a posh hotel like this really. I wasn’t particularly interested in being a music writer but I knew a job like that wouldn’t come up very often. I thought I could start there and then get into writing about the things I was really interested in.
When did the Julie Burchill we know and love emerge?
I was a very shy little girl, so to be put head first into this environment I had to have a front. If you look at pictures of me then I looked the moodiest nastiest person in the world, but it was a mask. I still became that nasty person but that wasn’t me to start with.
How did you find being a teenage girl in a world of Punks?
I had to go to shows to cover bands, and everyone would be trying to feel my tits and stuff because I was 17. The number of times I was mistaken for a teenage groupie. A softer person than me would have been offended, but I wasn’t. I guess I didn’t really mind being abused. It’s a strange thing, and a great attribute to have as a journalist, but I actually thrive from abuse. I get a mild sexual thrill from it. A mild one…I know that sounds completely freaky.
Is it the attention you like?
I have always been a contrarian. One of my earliest memories is my mum pulling me out the room when I was 5 and smacking me round the head saying, “Don’t talk to Auntie Coleen like that ever again” because I’d said her hat looked rubbish or something. If it is a choice between pleasing someone or upsetting them, I will upset. I have a low moral threshold and have never minded someone being upset with me.