Sunday, January 11, 2009

Despair Here: Peaches Geldof condescends to an interview

Rachel Cooke approaches her meeting with Peaches Geldof with an open mind, hoping to make some sort of connection.

Unfortunately, that attitude can't last forever:

Silly me. It seems that I am the one who is going to get the career advice. To sum up: the work that I do is pretty rubbish. Most interviews are just so... boring. Then again, I mustn't feel too bad. It could be worse. I could be on a tabloid.

'Don't get me wrong,' says Peaches, consolingly. 'Broadsheets can be scathing. But I have respect for broadsheet journalists because they haven't succumbed to degrading themselves, to writing pidgin English with all these terrible colloquialisms, the phrasing of which is just, like, embarrassing.'

Peaches has just published a magazine to which her main contribution is an interview with Viviene Westwood. I say "interview", it's more a transcription of a non-meeting of minds. But - given Peaches' new role as a keeper of the qualities of the English language, it's perhaps worth reproducing the cliche-soused opening of that piece. This, apparently, is English as, like, what it should be done:
Though known worldwide for acts of infamy in the seventies with then-sidekick Malcolm Mclaren, with whom she spearheaded what would become the Punk movement with her Kings Road shop SEX and anarchist spoutings, and nowadays as a political activist, it’s fashion that has kept Westwood at the forefront of public consciousness for decades. 
And Westwood knows fashion. It’s evident as she steps out of her Battersea office for our interview, clad in some sort of shiny, all-black bin bag dress that hugs her deceptively youthful frame, teetering precariously on skyscraper heels, her jumble of safety-pin necklaces and oversized golden chains jangling with every step, and that famous mass of hair the colour of Spanish oranges standing out starkly against the gloomy but suitably apocalyptic backdrop of south London sky. Westwood is one of the few fashion designers that start trends, that begin movements within the prudish confines of the fashion world, a desginer who constantly pushes the boundaries of what is accessible and acceptable, whose pieces are collected not as garments but as works of art, from her tartan drainpipe trousers of the punk heyday, to her French resistance themed nautical sailors coat of her last London collection. But what is it that makes this formidable fashion maven tick? And what in the world is her pet yak up to these days? I got to find out…

Yeah, come back when you can write like that, Rachel Cooke.

Peaches explains to Rachel why tabloid journalists aren't actually proper journalists, like her:
'Yes. Because I don't count tabloid journalists as journalists. Everyone has a choice. The photographer who hasn't made any money photographing his passion, like wildlife, let's say he makes these amazing jungle scenes. So then he resorts to being a paparazzi. I don't respect that. He should persevere. He should do different jobs, but keep his passion until he can say: this is me. A lot of paparazzi wanted to be real photographers but they failed, and they did that instead, and it's not right; it's stalking.'

The 'why not keep doing what you want until it happens' line is the simplistic arrogance that can only come with a rich benefactor; never having had to do a day's real work in her life, or worry about converting 'amazing jungle scenes' into money with which to buy children's shoes or mortgage repayments, it must seem so simple to Peaches. Still, it's nice that she acknowledges that you are allowed to do "other jobs" - though, presumably, not other jobs which use the equipment you already own and the skills you already have.

It doesn't seem to have occurred, either, that many paparazzi are doing the job they dreamed of; that for many the rich rewards of scooping the flotsam of the familiar are the attraction, and that they'd no more want to be shooting amazing jungle scenes for a pittance than Peaches would want a double shift behind the counter of a KFC.

Naturally, Peaches can't understand that the interest in her comes not from anything she does, but from her position in the celebrity world, and that if all the paparazzi went off to Brazil to take pictures of lizards, she'd simply cease to exist.

She doesn't see it at all:
'The other day, I was doing Nylon TV: it's microphone journalism on the red carpet. It was a fashion event. Heather Graham was there. She'd recently had a bit of scandal with her love life, and they were all asking her these really personal questions and you could see her retreating into herself. It was horrible to watch, like bear-baiting. So when she came to me, I just started asking her these bizarre questions, like what her favourite cheese was. Weird stuff. Questions about wildlife. Afterwards, she came over to me and said: "thank you so much". I only did that because I have been in that situation. It's so fucking patronising asking the same questions as everyone else.'

But Peaches, what do you think the point of a red carpet session is, exactly? It's a way of parading the famous in front of celebrity photographers and videographers. If you're really so against the paparazzi, why are taking part in an event that exists solely to feed them?

Oh, and questions about cheese: how radical and cutting-edge you are, using interview techniques from Smash Hits circa 1983.

And let's not forget she happily chats away to Heat - which, like Peaches herself, would vanish without those long lens shots of celebrities:
'I spoke to Heat because it's the only celebrity magazine with a sense of humour,' she says. 'Unlike Closer, which is...' Her publicist, sitting on the next table, tells her not to slag off Closer. 'Oh, I can't speak about Closer. So like Now, then, or Star.' Her publicist tells her that she really shouldn't slag off any of them.

Ah, yes: the publicist. Funnily enough, while one of the central tenets of Disappear Here is that it won't take material pushed from the PR industry, Peaches seems quite happy to have the PR industry pushing the magazine. Presumably when she has had her editors' hat on, she scorns the approaches from the professional publicity teams because their job is to get newspapers and magazines to write about any old rubbish; then she takes off her editor's hat and gets her PR team to persuade newspapers and magazines to write about Disappear Here. It's not clear if a single coherent thought has ever successfully made it through Geldof's head from one side to the other.

Cooke asks Geldof about the advantages her name gives her, and if it's entirely fair:
'Yeah, I feel terrible a lot of the time. Especially with my fashion line [she has designed a range for PPQ]. People say: "We went to St Martins [school of fashion] and now she gets a fashion line." I would love to help all these St Martins people, but I can't. So I would rather reap the benefits I have been given.'

Every one for themselves. And, to be fair, it would take someone with the resilience of a latter-day Saint Francis to turn down lucrative opportunities just because you know you're being used as a name to attract interest rather than for any inherent talent you might have. Besides, Geldof might reflect that aside from a couple of pieces in Disappear Here, most of the stuff is written by someone who actually can form a coherent sentence or two, so she could argue she's using her fame to create some sort of trickle-down economy.

What's lacking, though, is any sense of self-awareness, and any sense of connection with the world and people in it. By world, I mean the one that most of us sit in, rather than her world, which is upholstered. She thinks she knows:
"I married an unknown person. I've always dated unknown people. All my friends have shitty jobs, or go to university and eat beans out of a can. I don't mind paying three pounds to get in [to a gig]"

She thinks she knows. But "not minding paying three pounds to get in to a gig" is the audit line. She thinks paying a few quid - rather than getting in on the guest list - is a sign of how connected she is. It's not, Peaches. The world out here - the world in which people "eat beans out a can" to keep from starving - is one where you have to scrape together that three quid, from slummy down the back of the sofa and selling back your books. Not where you waft by and ask the door guy if he's got change for a fifty.

[Clair at the Urban Woo has a post on Peaches' approach to magazine publishing inspired by the same interview]