Category Archives: Blog

The Sunday Times: Interview: LS Hilton: Filthier than Fifty Shades

Venice is the perfect place to meet Lisa Hilton. It is a city of contradictions, where visitors humbled by icons in St Mark’s Basilica then pop to the Gucci store to buy a handbag, or condoms from a vending machine in the street. It is also where Hilton’s latest novel, Domina, is set.

As a novelist, she appears similarly double-faceted. An established historian, who studied at Oxford University then in Florence and Paris, Lisa Hilton wrote books about formidable, if tantalising, women: Nancy Mitford, Françoise-Athénaïs — Louis XIV’s mistress — and Elizabeth I. Then, last year, she ditched dead queens and, as LS Hilton, penned a crime-smut art world thriller, Maestra, starring a nymphomaniac psychopath with a taste for sex clubs and a Prada shoe fetish.

Filthier than Fifty Shades — and, more shocking still, with a plot — Maestra sold to 43 countries, with Hollywood producer Amy Pascal acquiring the film rights. The sequel, Domina, released last week, is every page as murderous, shag-tastic and provocative.

“What really gets on my nerves”, says Hilton, twisting a blonde hair as she considers straddling the worlds of historical biography and erotica, is “the assumption you can’t do both”. She was infuriated by some “c*** in The New York Times who described me as a quondam historian who’d discovered her inner babe”.

If anything, her historian’s eye for accuracy has been a great help; she researched her first book by trying to suffocate herself with a sanitary towel (to check whether her protagonist, Judith Rashleigh, could kill someone with one) and attending a Parisian sex club: “and jolly surprising it was!”

For Domina, she travelled to Serbian art squats and asked three friends to act out a gay S&M murder scene, with her playing the corpse. “It’s a bit like writing a battle scene in a history book — you have to be really aware of where everyone is.”

In photographs, Hilton can seem cold: ice-blonde hair, Arctic blue eyes and Evian skin (she’s 42). She arrives for dinner with “Josh” — a gorgeous, well-spoken chap who appears quite a bit younger then her, wearing an elegantly cut suit and a giant shiny watch.

Hilton, meanwhile, is glamorously intimidating in spiky Saint Laurent stilettos and a strapless black Anna Valentine dress, cut low across her cleavage, accentuating her tightly toned arms and back (she runs daily and boxes). Still, a few glasses later, she’s giggling, swaying through cobbled streets with me at midnight, in her socks.

I think any frostiness might be shyness, although she is rather guarded. I ask if Josh is her other half. She demurs: “I wouldn’t call him that.”

The next morning, she is in soft navy cashmere and Topshop jeans. She is not a label-whore like Judith, who obsessively recounts every designer she wears. That, explains Hilton, is because her heroine is a “Tinder-generation girl” for whom “brand literacy” makes sense. It is also a nod to the great 1980s bonkbusters when Jackie Collins’s protagonists were defined by their shoulder pads. “When I was a teenager I didn’t even know how to pronounce Versace but I knew I wanted a Vesayse jacket,” she grins.

Now she is loaded, Hilton could have all the Versace she wants. She was a struggling single mother when Maestra landed a $1m advance in America.

Still, unlike her mercenary Judith, Hilton does not own a TV, car or flat. Her greatest extravagance was a sailing holiday in Croatia with her 11-year-old daughter Ottavia and “a really ridiculous Yves Saint Laurent dress”.

French journalists ask about the philosophy in her erotica, Italians discuss class, the British obsess on the sex. Hilton, who finds the term “mummy porn” patronising, doesn’t use euphemisms — “no washing machines on the spin cycle” — or shy away from the C word. Judith is also an occasional lesbian which, I discover, Hilton was herself. This is despite her three marriages: the first to a hot Frenchman she met at 19 on her gap year and married in a denim bikini on a beach; an American advertising executive a decade older than her whom she wed at 23; then the Italian composer Nicola Moro, with whom she had her daughter.

She is amazed anyone is shocked by her books. The scandalous thing, she considers, is that in literature “you can cut a woman up and stab her eyes” before you can show her orgasm.

In contrast to the quivering Anastasia of Fifty Shades, Hilton’s Judith is sexually confident, which Hilton considers standard for modern young women: “It is completely normal for 20-year-old women to send sexually explicit videos of themselves . . .

“Women are completely down with the idea of meeting someone on Tinder and having a f*** . . . When I was at school, if a girl had come in with a Polaroid of herself in a bikini and gone around the boys saying, ‘Do you like this?’, it would have been psychotic behaviour — but effectively that’s what teenage girls do on Instagram.”

She rejects the charge that she encourages such sexualised behaviour: “I don’t think it’s fine — but it’s normal. Do I like it? No . . . But if one is trying to write something which is realistic then one ought to be responsive to what is in the culture.”

Available: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/filthier-than-fifty-shades-katie-glass-ls-hilton-c7njx785h

Image: GETTY

The Sunday Times: GOING TO EXTREMES: A NEW SELF-HELP BOOK THAT PROMISES TO DELIVER SUCCESS

In order to succeed, you have to be bold, badass — and not afraid to be you, says author and businesswoman Sarah Robb O’Hagan. Our serial sceptic is, briefly, won over.

I began reading Extreme You with extreme reservations. I’m deeply sceptical about books that promise to change my life, more so since I started dating a self-help junkie. If I once took a passing interest in reading #Girlboss and Lean In, now I’m faced with a man who brings home a new self-improvement manual every week. In the past six months he has gamely ricocheted between learning The Power of Now and The Power of No, how to Spartan Up!, take Extreme Ownership and discover The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying.

I would ignore this obsession, except somehow I always become a test bed for these books. Every time he starts a new one, the whole family (me and the dog) are expected to get on board with it. So each week we attempt to reinvent ourselves as tidier, more motivated and more organised. And each week our attempts are short-lived. The appealing, unusual thing about Extreme You is that while most self-help advises some ridiculous reinvention, this is a career guide that’s about becoming more like you.

In Extreme You (subtitle: Step Up. Stand Out. Kick Ass. Repeat), Sarah Robb O’Hagan suggests success won’t come by following some prescribed formula but by being bold, brave and (as she would say) ballsy enough to follow your unique path — to become an extreme version of yourself. Extremers, as she calls them, are “those who reach the summit of their potential by developing their unique mix of abilities in their own personal way”. She offers some compelling examples. Take Sam Kass, who combined his interests in food and politics to become a White House chef, working with the Obamas on food policy. Or Alli Webb, who turned her obsession with straightening her hair into Drybar, a multimillion-dollar blow-dry business.

O’Hagan, a New Zealander who followed the corporate American dream, also shows us her own life: steamrolling through executive positions with Virgin Atlantic, Gatorade and Nike, before finding her niche as CEO of boutique sports company Equinox, a role combining her attributes as an ambitious marketer and endurance athlete. She is certainly more relatable than your average guru. She’s a chatty, cheeky, sweary Kiwi, who talks about being “badass” in a style typical of the latest matey self-help books — see also Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass at Making Money and Sarah Knight’s The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*** — although you wonder how her manic enthusiasm would play out in a British office. Desiring to be “badass” is not classic water-cooler chat.

O’Hagan is also appealingly honest about her mistakes. She admits to the presentations she’s fluffed, the jobs she’s been “painfully, crushingly, embarrassingly” fired from, and the struggles of managing a business while getting zits. Best of all, she meets my hesitations about self-help head-on, confessing she’s “as far from perfection as you can get”. Finally, a mantra I can get on board with.

The idea that you can succeed by being an extreme version of yourself is obviously appealing to narcissistic millennials like me. We revere authenticity. We don’t aspire to be suits and want the freedom to be ourselves. O’Hagan’s suggestion that we find our vocation by following our interests chimes with my generation, obsessed with building start-ups and slashie-careers. It’s also exciting at a time when the job market is all doom and gloom, to be empowered to create opportunity. She advises us to Get out of Line, which means instead of queuing up for someone else to notice you, start capitalising on yourself.

So all I have to do to make my fortune is decide what an extreme version of me would be like. This turns out to be the hardest bit. O’Hagan suggests starting by Checking Yourself Out, exploring all your interests and how they might lead to a career. So I ask myself, what do I love? “The sound of your own voice,” my boyfriend suggests. Brilliant! I have wanted to start a podcast for ages, so I email a friend suggesting we do. But that’s just the start. As O’Hagan says, once you’re extreme, don’t stop. Even after some success you have to keep finding bigger goals. Put your balls on the line. Be More Extreme.

Available: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/a-new-self-help-book-that-promises-to-deliver-success-jc32xm03g

The Sunday Times: Table Talk: My Neighbours the Dumplings, Hackney, London

Imagine scoring a date with Nigella. A lady so incomparable, she doesn’t need a last name. An incorrigible sexpot, Mrs Beeton meets Barbarella. A Renaissance woman, knowledgeable about both Le Creuset and weed. A chef so insatiably smutty, she can thrust innuendo even into a segment on dairy. I can picture her winking to camera while fondling manchego and coquettishly cooing about “the saltiness of the cheese”.

Imagine that, despite not being a millionaire, you have convinced this Botticellian goddess to spend an hour sitting across a table from you. And then, imagine the panic: where the hell are you going to go?

Of course, you avoid Scott’s. Who is so unimaginative that they rehash the places someone went with their ex? In fact, I’d swerve anywhere Nigella has ever heard of. You need a little unhackneyed joint, somewhere novel yet unpretentious, where the food is good enough to impress someone who thinks nothing of whipping up a chocolate cake before lunch.

Clever Ronan Bennett, then, who recently bagged an evening with Nigella on what we are told was Definitely Not a Date, and took her to My Neighbours the Dumplings — or MNTD, as its trendy regulars probably say.

MNTD is in Clapton, part of east London beyond the pop circus of Shoreditch, edgy enough that on the walk over you can still enjoy the quivering thrill that someone might nick your phone. On a street outside, the air is electric blue with police lights and sweet puffs of smoke spiralling from gangs of boys in doorways.

A family-run restaurant, MNTD was started by a young couple — Kristian Leontiou and Becky Wharton — who live nearby. It mixes recipes that Wharton’s Chinese mum cooked with ideas from chefs they worked with. To call it pan-Asian sounds horrendously 1990s and way too showy for what just seems like a good excuse to serve Japanese sake with dim sum and other Chinese-, Vietnamese- and Korean-inspired dishes on a menu where the main theme is Asian comfort food.

You could be sarcastic about the hipster interior — and yes, there is exposed ducting, a lot of reclaimed wood and gold-brushed, distressed walls — but MNTD is still shabbily beautiful in a way that doesn’t feel shop-bought. Downstairs is a red-lit sake lounge with sofas, where you can wait for a table. It’s far too laid-back here to book.

The restaurant seems arranged to suggest a fantasy courtyard just off a backstreet in old Beijing, with a washing line of tiny kimonos strung overhead and coloured paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Long wooden tables are candlelit by huge old sake bottles, dripping wax. (Important date note: anyone would look good in this light.) On my table, in black marker someone has scrawled “JB 4 RS” into the grain. (Yes, I was disappointed that it wasn’t “RB 4 NL”, too.)

Hip-hop hums along with Nina Simone and it smells faintly of cabbage — but don’t let that put you off. Instead, be seduced by clouds puffing from the open kitchen, plumes of steam from wooden dumpling pallets.

Available: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/table-talk-my-neighbours-the-dumplings-hackney-london-wj59xzxzd

The Sunday Times: The Interview: Thandie Newton, actor

Thandie Newton perches on a stool, crosses her legs, tilts her head to one side and grins with playful precision at the camera. The photographer takes his first snap and a giant image of Thandie flashes up on a screen: almond eyes sparkling, golden skin luminescent, dimples pinched. Picture perfect. “We’re done!” the photographer jokes, turning to Thandie. “You’re great at this.” She arches an eyebrow. “Ten years,” she says.

There is no better time to meet Thandie Newton. At 44 she is a woman in full possession of herself. The powerful sum of myriad experiences. Of not actually 10, but 28 years in the industry (she landed her first film role at only 16). If she can nail a cover shot in one take, it is not just because she is stunning, but also because she is that rare, exciting thing: somebody who knows exactly who she is.

Right now she has hit a purple patch in her career. Her acclaimed performance in HBO’s Westworld, in which she appears alongside Anthony Hopkins and Evan Rachel Wood, playing a badass robot saloon madam named Maeve, earned her a Golden Globe nomination. Set in a dystopian, futuristic, Wild West-themed holiday resort, it is a sophisticated piece of television that grapples with existential ideas about morality, artificial intelligence and subjugation, while being addictive, sexy and action-filled.

Next, Newton has been cast in the Star Wars spin-off movie about Han Solo, which is due out next year. She has also bagged the guest lead role in series 4 of Line of Duty, which begins on BBC1 next Sunday. This is her first big role in a British TV production, despite being one of our most famous acting exports.

If today Newton gives the impression that what she does is easy, that itself is down to great acting. For a long time she walked with a limp no one could see — at least, that is the metaphor her husband of 19 years, the screenwriter Ol Parker, uses to describe the way she hid her demons, showing the world only what it wanted to see: an exquisitely beautiful, Cambridge-educated Hollywood actress. But recently Newton has started letting her troubles show, speaking out about the sexual abuse and discrimination that have dogged her life and career. She has described her “traumatic” relationship at 16 with John Duigan, a film director 23 years her senior.

The six-year affair began when Newton travelled to Australia to audition for a role in her first film, Flirting. “In retrospect, although it [the relationship] was legal because I was 16, I was coerced,” she has said, adding that she “wasn’t in control of the situation”. She has also revealed how, in another audition, a different director told her to touch herself while he filmed up her skirt, then, years later, a drunk producer related how he had been shown the footage at parties. On other occasions, a co-star groped her and a producer blankly told her to remove her top for ratings. “Every woman has experienced [sexism] in the workplace at some time,” she says sanguinely. “Every woman has had to deal with some kind of inappropriate behaviour.”

On top of the sexism, Newton also had to deal with being offered limited roles — particularly in the UK — because of her mixed heritage. “I love being here, but I can’t work, because I can’t do Downton Abbey, can’t be in Victoria, can’t be in Call the Midwife — well, I could, but I don’t want to play someone who’s being racially abused. I’m not interested in that, don’t want to do it … there just seems to be a desire for stuff about the royal family, stuff from the past, which is understandable, but it just makes it slim pickings for people of colour.” She adds: “I’m talented at what I do, but I’ve had to struggle against racism and sexism. But I’m glad of it, in a way, that I survived and overcame.”

We meet in a restaurant in Soho, central London. She bumps down onto a banquette, starts eagerly ripping apart a bread roll, and — up close — it’s impossible to believe she is 44. She has a line-free face and a teenage-fresh glow. Perhaps her make-up’s just really good.

Her father, Nick, is British. Her mother, Nyasha, is a princess from the Shona tribe in Zimbabwe who had “no shoes until she was, like, 10”. They met at a hospital in Zambia, where Nick was a lab technician and Nyasha was a healthcare worker. Newton was born in London, then spent time in Zambia, before moving back to England — this time to Penzance — when she was three. In Cornwall she was unusual. On her first day at a Catholic school, a nun told her mother: “We’re very excited, we’ve never had one before.” She was later banned from a school photograph for wearing cornrows. But if she was made to feel too black for Cornwall, she was also too pale for Africa, where people have accused her of being white.

She speaks with a clipped accent that suggests something posher than her middle-class upbringing. It sounds great when she swears, which she does a lot. Like when she tells me about her teenage daughter, Ripley, who went to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for the fourth time recently, and spotted Boris Johnson in the theatre. She went over to say: “Hello, Mr Johnson, my name is Ripley Parker and I just wanted to tell you you’re a c***. I hope you enjoy the show.” Newton cackles, “I’m so proud of her.” Although she adds: “It’s my new year’s resolution not to use that word in a derogatory manner.”

She and Parker have three children: daughters Ripley, 16, and Nico, 12, and a son, Booker, 3.

For all the swearing, what shines through is how bright she is. After her appearance in Flirting, she put Hollywood on hold to finish school before going up to Cambridge to read anthropology. Today our lunchtime conversational topics range from Ted talks (she gave her own in 2011 about the myths of identity) to environmentalism and Beyoncé’s album Lemonade — “Oh my God, I loved [the song] Formation. She’s in the vaginal zone!” She casually mentions that for one of her next roles — in Xavier Dolan’s The Death and Life of John F Donavan — she’s learning to speak Czech.

Available: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-interview-thandie-newton-actor-2pr3v0lgf

Image: SIMON EMMETT FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE, STYLING BY ERIN WALSH @ THE WALL GROUP, HAIR BY RIO SREDHARAN. WITH SPECIAL THANKS TO THE SOHO HOTEL LONDON, FIRMDALEHOTELS.COM

The Sunday Times: Books: The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

Nothing is off limits in this searing account of love, loss and a life collapsing.

When an author you admire tells you that her life has imploded, that her baby has died, that her partner has left her and she must sell their house, and that at times she is so bereft she collapses in sorrow, you must read on. By chapter three of The Rules Do Not Apply I was ordering copies for every woman I love.

I knew Ariel Levy before as the strident pop feminist who chronicled raunch culture in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs (2005). Documenting young girls in Playboy clothing with Brazilian waxes branded as “empowering”, she observed how red-light-district sexuality was becoming mainstream.

That book marked Levy as a fun Germaine Greer who specialised in exploring gender and modern sexuality for the New Yorker magazine. The Rules Do Not Apply, however, shatters any preconceptions one might have of her. I read it in one breath until the early hours, reminded why some writing makes you feel you are no longer alone.

It details Levy’s life before and since her first book. She grew up bookish yet bolshie in a liberal Jewish family in New York. Her father encouraged her make-believe (always about knights and pirates rather than “playing house”) and her mother insisted that she never be dependent on a man.

Levy was consumed by establishing herself as “the kind of woman I wanted to become: one who is free to do whatever she chooses”. By 22, she was living in an East Village walk-up “with a roommate and roaches” and pitching her first story to New York magazine. It was about a nightclub for obese women.

Levy found freedom easily — on nights out in New York, at parties, waking up with men and women, in drinking and more drinking, and most of all in journalism: “Writing was the solution to every problem.” Her stories were adventures: interviewing revolutionary 1970s lesbians, the “Van Dykes”, and flying to South Africa in search of Caster Semenya, the runner required by the international athletic authorities to undergo a sex-verification test.

At 28, Levy fell madly in love with Lucy. They wed in Virginia — “on the wet grass with the sunflowers strung to the fence posts” — and made the vow that “I promise to make life a party”. For Levy, marriage did not mean resigning her hedonism. She did not even think it should mean being a “wife”, and she was indifferent to motherhood: “To become a mother, I feared, was to relinquish your status as the protagonist in your own life.”

Still, eventually pregnancy (“the wildest possible trip”) called. With Lucy, Levy decided to become a mother and was inseminated by a male friend. In doing so, she assembled “the kind of life I’d imagined I was due” (financially stable, with a home, a marriage, a son). “I had managed to solve the Jane Austen problems that women have been confronting for centuries … in an entirely unconventional way.” Then, within a month, it was all gone.

Levy’s honesty and grief are dazzling as she describes how her life collapses. No subject is off limits: infidelity, suicide, alcoholism. Unpicking the seams of her disintegrating life, she describes her “smutty daydream” of an affair with an ex-girlfriend who has had a sex change to become a man. This sociopathic incubus, as needy as he is manipulative, hacks Levy’s email to send Lucy cruel details of their affair: when they went to Ikea, when they had sex. Lucy crumbles into alcoholism, becoming so desperate that she tries to take her own life.

Most horrifying of all, Levy describes how, at five months pregnant, she loses her son, giving birth to him alone in a hotel room in Mongolia (where she is working on a story), yanking out her own umbilical chord, then watching him turn purple in her hands as she lies in a lake of blood. Rushed to hospital, he is pronounced dead. For Levy there is no happy ending, just the dark truth that “the 10 or 20 minutes I was somebody’s mother were black magic. There is nothing I would trade them for. There is no place I would rather have seen.”

Available: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/books-the-rules-do-not-apply-by-ariel-levy-5q8bj7bw0 

Image: DAVID KLAGSBRUN

The Sunday Times: Books: Everywoman: One Woman’s Truth About Speaking the Truth by Jess Phillips

Forthright opinions from the MP who Julie Burchill thinks should be Labour’s next leader

As with all the most interesting people, Jess Phillips is like Marmite. You could characterise her in one of two ways: as the brilliantly outspoken women’s advocate and Labour MP, memorably applauded in the House of Commons, nine months after entering parliament in 2015, for a moving speech in which she listed 120 women killed that year by men. Or, as a gobby Brummie so blinkered by feminism that she famously laughed at the idea of International Men’s Day. Whatever you make of her, now that Julie Burchill has tipped her to be Labour’s next leader what Phillips has to say seems increasingly interesting.

Everywoman is her first book. Part memoir, part feminist manifesto, it feels like Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman and, in the same frustrating way, never really commits to either genre. As a feminist battle cry, Everywoman comes across pessimistic and flawed. It is six years since Moran’s book came out, and Everywoman isn’t keen to acknowledge the way the world has changed for women, and feminism, since then.

It opens with Harriet Harman telling Phillips: “You will never be popular.” The unpopularity of feminists is one of the main themes. This is hard to swallow in an age where feminism is so fashionable that it features on catwalks and bestsellers lists. Feminism’s new popularity is surely why six publishers competed to offer Phillips £25,000 for this book. Glaringly, too, although written after Theresa May took power, there is little celebration of what it means for women to have a female prime minister.

At times, Phillips becomes obsessed by blaming sexism for everything. She claims people are rude to her in a bid to silence women’s voices, although she doesn’t explain if that is what she was doing when she told Diane Abbott to “f*** off”. Most irritating, she projects this victim complex onto other women. In a rare mention of May, waking up in No 10, Phillips writes: “The first thing she has to think about is not about Russia bombing Aleppo… She thinks, what am I going to wear in order to face these challenges and avoid comments about my appearance.” This is a ridiculous assertion about a woman who delivered her Brexit plan in a tartan Vivienne Westwood suit.

Phillips’s manifesto works best when it deals directly with politics, unpicking parliamentary processes to explain how the House limits women’s opportunities to speak, pointing out legislative flaws in paternity leave. Insightful on a human level, the book also explores Phillips’s work at Women’s Aid to suggest why women stay in violent relationships.

Available: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/books-everywoman-one-womans-truth-about-speaking-the-truth-by-jess-phillips-c2hvjj3t6

Image: REX

The Sunday Times: The posh smut pedlar fights porn with a feather

The former Erotic Review boss despairs of the generation reared on online sex and its cold, heartless imagery. She explains why a little titillation is far more satisfying.

Like a posh Hugh Hefner, Rowan Pelling has spent most of her life selling sex. She was 29 when she became “editrix” of the Erotic Review, a journal that styled its upmarket filth as “intellectual eroticism” or — as she put it — “Penthouse for people who actually live in one”, leaving when the real Penthouse bought the magazine in 2004.

Now 49, Pelling is surprised to find herself peddling smut again with a new publication, The Amorist, which will be launched in April. Pelling’s return to the coalface of erotica comes out of sheer frustration and disillusionment over how the sexual landscape has changed in the 20 years since the Erotic Review began.

Those days were more innocent times. Pelling recalls packing two reporters off to an orgy in Hemel Hempstead — “It was like the cheese and wine party from hell: dull conversation, dreadful canapés and you couldn’t leave before you shagged the hostess” — and debating with her art director whether the magazine should feature pubic hair.

She also recounts the time an old gentleman took her to the Savoy Grill to propose that she become his mistress. “I said: but if I extended that service to you, how would I compensate the other readers?”

By some accounts, a normal working day at the original Erotic Review office could include the new girl being lashed with a cat-o’-nine-tails. When they weren’t throwing bikini parties or posing for nude photoshoots, the female staff clopped around in the unofficial uniform of stockings and suspenders.

The Erotic Review was launched in 1995, just as the internet was born. Now we can’t move for free porn, celebrity sex tapes and pictures of Kim Kardashian’s bottom. But rather than feeling that such modern sexual freedom has liberated us, Pelling believes that, for young people especially, something has died. As she says: “I’ve met young adults who’ve tried everything —ménages-à-trois, same-sex clinches and open relationships — except falling in love.”

In a recent article she raged against pornographers colonising the web with “pernicious material”, the “incoming tide of free porn” and “a generation of males . . . growing up believing women should be fully depilated, fake-breasted and open to any sexual practice, however outré”. Today she seems more relaxed.

We meet at the Academy Club, a crumbling corner of old literary Soho, which suits Pelling’s posh, bohemian-bluestocking vibe. She is wasp-waisted in Vivienne Westwood under a yellow librarian’s cardigan. A diamanté brooch flashes on her coat. (I assume they aren’t real diamonds, as Pelling has joked she is the only person not to have made money out of a lifetime in sex.)

For the pervy old buffers who read the Erotic Review, the attraction of the glossy-haired Pelling is clear. She has classic filthy posh girl appeal, talking innocently in plummy tones about anal sex. She recalls naively starting at the magazine and “whole expressions being new to me. Like ‘vanilla’. What do you mean I’m vanilla?”

Despite her objections to modern porn, she’s hardly Mary Whitehouse. In fact, she seems very liberal. She isn’t appalled by sexting but doesn’t find it a turn-on: “Some of my friends have reams of those pictures on their phones. I feel lucky I’ve never had one.” She’s not against prostitution: “If people want to make money selling sex, that’s fine. Feminism isn’t telling other women what to do.”

She wasn’t thrilled by Christian Grey, the protagonist in EL James’s bonkbuster Fifty Shades of Grey, but was far more offended by his control-freak tendencies than the fact that he indulged in extreme bondage. She knows that for some women, making their own porn can be liberating. She certainly didn’t fight to end The Sun’s page 3: “I felt there were bigger battles than girls in bikinis.”

Yet Pelling, now married with two children, thinks that modern pornography has crossed a line, describing some as “unspeakably violent and degrading”, and that it can be too easily found online. She was horrified when her eight-year-old son stumbled on X-rated material, despite the parental controls. And she worries that pornography “has a cultural effect if that’s the way most young people are learning about sex, especially men. As a mother, common sense tells me that I do not want this to be the first and main influence that my children have.

“I’m not someone who is horrified by anything outside the missionary position. I think between two adults anything that ticks their boxes is fine, but it’s just when things become a real pressure. You think: golly, I would not have wanted to be faced, aged 18, with someone thinking that what is normal is for me to have my hair totally shaved off.”

But Pelling believes that pornography’s worst crime is making sex “boring and normal”.

She tells me: “I have no interest in pornography. I only look at it when I have to professionally.” (What an excuse.) So she objects not on censorship but on taste grounds. “It could be better. Pornography bores me. I’m amazed by how little it turns me on. It doesn’t fulfil any of my complex desires about sex, which is about the imagination. In the same way you might want to read a great literary novel because it takes you on a greater flight of fancy than a James Patterson thriller.

“I’m not angry about most pornography. I want an alternative. You counter bad writing, bad architecture or bad pornography with artistically interesting stuff. After all the filth, many long for something more romantic and elegant.” That is what The Amorist will offer.

Available: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-posh-smut-pedlar-fights-porn-with-a-feather-2ln07r5l9

Image: FRANCESCO GUIDICINI