Caitlin Moran has a new book out — a funny and thoroughly enjoyable novel called How to Build A Girl, so in honour of that, here’s my interview with her from 2012, when we chatted in a limo on the way to The Late, Late Show. . .
Special type of woman
14 October 2012 by Nadine O’Regan
Caitlin Moran has a dress in her bag that she’s thinking of wearing when she appears on The Late Late Show later, but time is ticking away. It’s already 8pm. The limo is due to arrive shortly, and Moran is still clad in her everyday gear of denim shorts, opaque tights and a multi-coloured bomber jacket with yellow deer on the front.
Her hair is an Amy Winehouse-channelling barnet of black with a large daub of silver-blonde through it. Her eyeliner is in a cartoonish Cleopatra curve. It’s a cute, alternative look, but not very Late Late Show.
Her Irish publicists look anxiously at their watches. The queue at Eason on O’Connell Street, Dublin, where Moran has been doing a public appearance and book signing, is showing no signs of fading.
Partly that’s because of the enthusiasm of the 130-strong audience. Partly it’s because Moran devotes so much time to each fan. She signs personalised notes on the books, offers compliments, doles out advice and even clasps her hands around one fan’s boobs for a photograph – much to the laughing delight of the fan in question.
Later on the Late Late Show, the non-appearance of the dress – Moran zipped onto the show still clad in her denim shorts and bomber jacket “‘with a soup stain down the front” – will become a talking point on the programme itself.
Moran has been brought on beside glamourpuss and Playboy model Rosanna Davison, and presenter Ryan Tubridy (whether for showbiz schtick or not) can’t seem to let go of the fact that Moran has rocked up to the programme in the same outfit she might wear to Topshop of a Saturday.
In a way, though, Moran’s Doc Marten-clad appearance is part of the point. An award-winning feminist author and columnist, Moran has won the love and respect of millions of women, not just for being honest about her life, but for being hilariously funny with it.
In her 2011 book How To Be A Woman, she laments her cystitis, refuses to depilate, contemplates weight gain and talks in a down-to-earth tone about big subjects including feminism, childbirth and abortion – the last of which is movingly narrated through the prism of her own experience.
The audience on the shop floor today is largely composed of young women, many of whom stare at Moran with a mixture of awe and adoration.
“I hate to disagree with you on anything,” says one girl in a mortified tone, prefacing a question.
Moran does few interviews, but has endless time for her fans. As she says goodbye to the final autograph-hunter, she doesn’t mention the crumpled dress, but muses as to whether the deodorant she’s put in her hair to replace the dry shampoo she left at home in north London is working. Then up comes the limo and the four of us – Moran with her two Irish publicists – leap in.
If giving an interview to The Sunday Busines Post in the back of a car fazes Moran, she doesn’t show it. If anything, she’s more worried about how I’m going to cope.
“Can you see your notes?” she asks. “Do you want me to switch the light on?”
Her concern is touching, but it’s also proof positive that she’s more used to life on the other side of the microphone.
Moran, 37, has been a journalist since her mid-teens, writing for Melody Maker and graduating to her columnist post at the London Times at the tender age of 18. Although How To Be A Woman won numerous awards in Ireland and Britain, she was worried when she wrote it, fearing her honesty about her life and perspective could jeopardise her career in journalism. In the event, the book sold more than half a million copies.
Moran’s version of feminism for this young century – “I’m neither ‘pro-women’ nor ‘anti-men’. I’m just ‘Thumbs up for the six billion,”‘ she writes – has clearly struck a chord.
“The typical feminist that people have in their head is an angry woman in dungarees who hates men and doesn’t like sex,” Moran says. “And there are some feminists like that. But feminism isn’t a law or a science, it’s just the idea that men and women are equal. After that it’s for men and women to say what feminism is.
“When I was writing How To Be A Woman, I had my sister in mind. She’s 26, a single mother on benefits. She only reads gossip magazines. I thought if I can get her to read a book about feminism and agree at the end that she’s a feminist, then my work is done. It was the first book she’d ever read. She read it because she heard it was dirty and funny. At the end she rang me up and said, ‘Dude, I’m a feminist’. I was like, ‘Yay!”‘
One of eight children, Moran – who has Irish roots from her second generation Irish musician father – was brought up on a Wolverhampton council estate and didn’t attend secondary school. Money was always in short supply, but the library was free, and she made good use of it. She was just 13 when she won a writing competition. At 14, she wrote a novel, The Chronicles of Narmo.
Now married with two children, her formative experiences might have been more impecunious than those of most broadsheet journalists (a profession notoriously dominated by the middle class), but it’s had the effect of making her a tough candidate, not easily intimidated.
The Late Late Show producers have manifestly put Rosanna Davison and Moran on the same panel for sparring purposes – Davison has just appeared naked on the cover of Playboy in Germany. But Moran and Davison are too smart to fall into the trap. In minutes, they’re exchanging jackets and bonding over the horrors of leg-waxing. Watching their best-friends-forever, kiss-kiss performance, you can almost hear the producer shouting into Tubridy’s earpiece to tell him to find a way for the two to fight.
Nonetheless, while Moran is incredibly nice to Davison, that doesn’t change her beliefs on nude tabloid and magazine modelling.
“It’s very noticeable that even though we live in a very sexualised society, in pop videos, we only see the same body over and over again,” she says. “If page three showed different kinds of women every time, if it wasn’t always perky 16-year-olds, and it was genuinely showing you a huge variety of women, and on the facing page it was showing you a huge variety of men, that would be an interesting thing.
“When my 11-year-old daughter sees [those pictures] and she’s just starting to grow breasts herself, suddenly the thing growing on her body is a thing that is news that will be in a paper, that people will evaluate. That’s weird. It’s a bit creepy, isn’t it? Being a girl is difficult; you feel so vulnerable. You rarely see 16-year-old girls in the media, and you either see them with GCSE results or with their tits out on Page Three.”
Some would argue that it’s not the place of people in middle-class professions to argue about choices women – who might be coming from difficult backgrounds – make in order to pay their rent money. Others say that the likes of Jordan could be seen as feminist icons: women who have – by dint of their looks and smarts – turned themselves into all-conquering, multimedia brands. Moran disagrees.
“If a load of girls got together a brilliant cooperative, you might have more of a chance of seeing this as female emancipation, but they’re going into an office run by men, being looked at by men, and it’ll make other women feel uncomfortable,” she says. “Don’t make your body a weapon against other women.”
It’s a complicated issue, and one that has hotted up in recent times with the advent of social networking, which has given women a profound ability to add their voices and presence to the debate.
“Twitter works for minorities,” Moran nods. “With Twitter, one voice speaks up and suddenly you can find five thousand people like you, all backing you up. You never need to be that lone pioneer any more.
“As soon as you put that idea out there, people will coalesce around it like grit in an oyster. The most powerful people now are those with ideas.”
Moran herself is one of those leaders- she has over 300,000 followers on Twitter, and counting. While most of them will be waiting on her How To Be A Woman follow-up memoir proper, her new journalism anthology Moranthology offers a fantastic, chuckle-full stop-gap in the meantime.
In it, she interviews Lady Gaga in the toilets of a sex club, accidentally offends Paul McCartney and even has David Cameron pointedly snub her at a party – this was after she wrote that he “resembles a camp gammon robot – a C-3PO made of ham”.
Moran also leaps with aplomb from ghostbusters to failed nicknames, Benedict Cumberbatch to Boris Johnson. In the limo, she’s no less vivid, tumbling through anecdotes – from her love of Jedward to her amusement at Keith Richard – in a colourfully ranty dash. At times, she’s almost alarmingly extrovert: she puts on different voices and whoops if the mood takes her – you’d wonder how she’s not exhausted – but the overall effect is overwhelmingly warm and positive.
One of Moran’s celebrity heroes is Lady Gaga, a woman who has spoken out for minorities. “Lady Gaga provides a space where it’s okay to do and say things,” Moran says. “Her whole thing is the freaks. When you go to a Gaga gig, she says ‘You feel like the freaks. Well, tonight the freaks are out there, and you are normal.’
“And this will be in a room full of lesbians dressed up like boys, and boys dressed as girls, and fat people, and Goths, and people who look like David Bowie. And all you need for those people is just space where you can feel normal.”
In her own inimitable way, Moran is following Lady Gaga’s example. Earlier in the evening, a well-dressed woman approaches her with a young girl. “Here’s my daughter, Amy,” she says, thrusting a very timid girl in front of Moran. “She wishes she has your balls.” Moran laughs and spends a few minutes talking to Amy and encouraging her. Amy and her mother leave the exchange with their eyes shining.
Moran loves meeting people. Whether she’s dining with celebrities or doling out advice to shy young women, she feels she has the perfect occupation.
“This job is the biggest joyride,” she says, as she clambers out of the limo to face a bank of photographers outside RTE. “It gives you access to the world.”
Moranthology by Caitlin Moran is published by Ebury Press and retails at €14.99