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Julie Burchill

Julie Burchill (born 3 July 1959 in Frenchay, Bristol) is an English writer, renowned for her invective and often contentious prose for a number of publications over the last thirty years. Beginning as a writer for the New Musical Express at the age of 17, she has written for newspapers such as The Sunday Times and The Guardian. Despite her prominence, she has her detractors. For Michael Bywater Burchill's "insights were, and remain, negligible, on the level of a toddler having a tantrum".

According to Will Self though, "Burchill's great talent as a journalist is to beautifully articulate the inarticulate sentiments and prejudices of her readers".

Life and career

Early years

Julie Burchill was born in Bristol, England to working class parents. She did not attend university, but a teacher at her secondary school apparently told her parents that if she got a job in the local biscuit factory - like others from her school - it would be like putting a pheasant in a fish tank.

She started her career, aged 17, as a writer at the New Musical Express (NME) after responding, co-incidentally with her husband-to-be Tony Parsons, to an advert in that paper seeking "hip young gunslingers" to write about the then emerging punk movement. Burchill was briefly married to Parsons but now frequently attacks him; she claims to have got through the "sexual side" of their marriage "by pretending that my husband was my friend Peter York". After Parsons, Burchill married Cosmo Landesman, the son of Fran and Jay Landesman. Each marriage produced one son, both of whom lived with their fathers after the separations.

In her few years at the NME she was assigned the punk beat and notably wrote review of the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks album on its release in 1977. Around this time she was briefly a member of the Socialist Workers' Party after meeting the journalist Paul Foot. She left her position at the NME aged 20, saying that writing about music should be a young person's game. She then started freelancing to be able to write about other subjects, although she has never completely given up writing about pop music.

1980s

Her main employers after the New Musical Express were The Face and The Sunday Times where she wrote about politics, pop, fashion and society, and was their film critic from 1984-86. She now admits making up film reviews and "skived" from screenings. One of her most controversial opinions from her early freelance career concerned the Falklands War in 1982. The left generally condemned it as an imperialist war , but Burchill, in common with Christopher Hitchens, argued that the military dictatorship of General Galtieri represented a greater evil. She confounded the left again, and won many admirers on the right, by writing articles favourable to Margaret Thatcher. Her unfashionable sympathy for Thatcher helped in gaining a column for The Mail on Sunday, where in 1987 she went against the paper's usual political line by urging its readers to vote Labour. Though she claims to like the MoS, she said of journalists on the Daily Mail in 2008: "Everybody knows that hacks are the biggest bunch of adulterers, the most misbehaving profession in the world - and you have people writing for the Daily Mail writing as though they are vicars ... moralising on single mothers and whatnot."

Netherless, Burchill has always claimed she has never renounced the Communist beliefs of her youth. She is a consistent defender of the old Soviet Union. Burchill champions the working-class against the middle-class in most cases, and has been particularly vocal in defending the chavs.

Into the 1990s

In the 1980s and early 1990s, before her move to Brighton, Burchill was depicted and saw herself as being the "Queen of the Groucho". A user of coke at the time and since, sharing in the activity in the company of Will Self among others, she was totally positive about her use in The Guardian when defending actor Danniella Westbrook for the loss of her septum through her own cocaine use. Deborah Orr in The Independent was scathing of Burchill for the article: "She does not identify herself as a cocaine addict, so she has no pity for Ms Westbrook." A letter in The Independent in June 2000 from the head waitress at the Groucho Club at the time, Deborah Bosley, caused a minor stir. Responding to an article by Yvonne Roberts, Bosley, by then the partner of Richard Ingrams, a long standing critic of Burchill, alleged that Burchill was merely "a fat bird in a blue mac sitting in the corner" when esconced at the Groucho. Her novel Ambition (1989) though was a bestseller.

In 1991, Burchill, Landesman and Toby Young established a short-lived magazine Modern Review through which she met Charlotte Raven, with whom she had a much publicised affair. Burchill "was only a lesbian for about six weeks in 1995" she claimed in an interview with Lynn Barber in 2004, or "my very enjoyable six months of lesbianism" in a 2000 article. Launched under the slogan "Low culture for high brows", the magazine lasted until 1995, when the Burchill and her colleagues fell out. It was briefly revived by Burchill, with Raven editing, in 1997.

Burchill is perhaps best known in America for the "Fax wars" or "Battle of the Bitches" in 1993 with author Camille Paglia.

2000s

For five years until 2003 Burchill wrote a weekly column in The Guardian. Appointed in 1998 by Orr, while editor of the Guardian Weekend supplement, Burchill's career was in trouble; she had been sacked by the revived Punch magazine. Burchill frequently thanks Orr for rescuing her. One of the pieces she wrote for The Guardian was in reaction to the murder of BBC TV presenter Jill Dando in 1999. She compared the shock of Dando's murder to finding a "tarantula in a punnet full of strawberries".

Burchill left The Guardian acrimoniously, saying in an interview that they had offered her a sofa in lieu of a pay rise. She claims to have left the newspaper in protest at what she saw as its "vile anti-Semitism".

She moved to The Times, who were more willing to meet her demands. Shortly after starting her weekly column, she referred to George Galloway, but appeared to confuse him with former MP Ron Brown, reporting the misdeeds of Brown as those of Galloway. Galloway threatened legal action which was averted when she apologised and The Times paid damages.

Having previously converted to Christianity as a Lutheran in 1999, she announced in February 2006 plans for a year's sabbatical from journalism, during which she planned, among other things, to study theology. The Times dropped her Saturday column, and had arranged a more flexible arrangement where Burchill writes for the daily paper. In June 2007 she announced that she would not be returning to journalism, but will instead concentrate on writing books and TV scripts and finally undertake a theology degree. It emerged during a Guardian interview, published on 4 August 2008, that in fact she "was given the jolly old heave ho" by The Times, and paid off for the last year of her three year contract, still receiving the £300,000 she would have earned if she had been obliged to provide copy. She has since returned to writing for The Guardian newspaper.

Burchill has made frequent attacks on various celebrity figures, which have attracted criticism for their cruelty, though her supporters note the self-deprecating aspects of her persona. Asked by Will Self in a 1999 interview if she was solipsistic, she responded with the comment: "I don't know - I didn't go to university". She described her columns for her abbreviated Times contract, which ended abruptly in 2007, thus: "I was totally taking the piss. I didn't spend much time on them and they were such arrant crap." Burchill has also on occasions expressed concern for animal welfare. She is a supporter of the Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land.

In 2003, Burchill was ranked number 85 in Channel 4's poll of 100 Worst Britons. The poll was inspired by the BBC series 100 Greatest Britons, though it was less serious in nature. The aim was to discover the "100 worst Britons we love to hate". The poll specified that the nominees had to be British, alive and not currently in prison or pending trial.

Her 2004 lesbian-themed novel for teenagers Sugar Rush was produced by Shine Limited and aired on Channel 4. She has made television documentaries about the death of her father from asbestosis in 2002 (BBC Four) and heat magazine broadcast on Sky One in 2006.

As well as continuing with her studies, she is working on three books and two documentaries, and has contributed an introduction to the novel A Year in the Life of TheManWhoFellAsleep by Greg Stekelman.

Burchill's book co-written book with Chas Newkey-Burden Not in My Name: A Compendium of Modern Hypocrisy appeared in August 2008.

Moreover, besides writing occasional pieces for The Guardian, she has recently become a columnist for the new, centre-right/neoconservative politics and culture magazine, Standpoint.

Burchill in Brighton in the 2000s

She has lived in Brighton and Hove since 1993 and a book on her adopted home town titled Made In Brighton (Virgin Books) was published in April 2007. Her house in Hove was sold (and demolished for redevelopment as high-density flats) around 2005 for £1.5 million, in part the reason why she was able to announce her retirement from journalism.

After splitting from Landesman, she subsequently married again, to her former lover Charlotte Raven's brother Daniel Raven, about 13 years her junior. She wrote of the joys of having a "toyboy" in her Times "Weekend Review" column. Fellow NME journalist/author Paul Wellings wrote about their friendship in his book I'm A Journalist...Get Me Out Of Here.

Bibliography

  • The Boy Looked at Johnny co-written with Tony Parsons, 1978
  • Love It or Shove It, 1985
  • Girls on Film, 1986
  • Damaged Gods: Cults and Heroes Reappraised, 1987
  • Ambition, 1989
  • Sex and Sensibility, 1992
  • No Exit, 1993
  • Married Alive, 1998
  • I Knew I Was Right, 1998, an autobiography
  • Diana, 1999
  • The Guardian Columns 1998-2000, 2000
  • On Beckham, 2002
  • Sugar Rush, 2004 (adapted for television in 2005)
  • Made in Brighton, 2007 co-written with her husband Daniel Raven
  • Not In My Name: A compendium of modern hypocrisy, 2008 co-written with Chas Newkey-Burden

References

External links

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