Category Archives: Interviews

Zoella, The Plot Thickens: Sunday Times news feature


Pity the poor writer: a tragic loner hunched in a garret, dredging her soul for words few will bother to read. Is any novel worth the grief? Probably not, unless you are Zoe Sugg — aka Zoella — whose debut novel, Girl Online, became the fastest-selling book on record when it was published last week.

When Mary Shelley finished writing Frankenstein in 1818, so many publishing houses declined it that she resorted to begging a tiny outfit, Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mayor & Jones to print 500 copies. Booksellers bought about 25. Zoella owns more lipsticks than that.

James Joyce’s Dubliners was rejected 22 times before 379 copies were printed. Joyce bought 120 of them. Barely 500 copies of Moby-Dick sold in Britain before Herman Melville’s death.

Yet at a time when reading is supposed to have died for a generation of yoof with the attention span of a goldfish using txtspk, Zoella — who makes video blogs (vlogs) and is best known for reviewing mascaras on YouTube — has become a publishing triumph.

The 24-year-old, who posts YouTube videos known for their not-so-witty catchphrase “Hello, everybody!”, has outsold JK Rowling and Dan Brown. Girl Online shifted more than 78,000 copies last week in Britain. Upon hearing the news, the young writer tweeted: “Holy crap!!! WHAAAAAAAAAAT. This is insane.”

Who is this literary mastermind? How has a girl from Brighton who has previously been derided as “vain and inane”, “beige” and “human vanilla” become a modern literary sensation?

Has she, as some in the publishing world have suggested, become a record-breaking author without doing the hunched loner bit and actually writing the book?


In Girl Online’s acknowledgements, Zoe thanks “everyone at Penguin for helping me put together my first novel, especially Amy Alward [an editorial director at Puffin] and Siobhan Curham who were with me every step of the way”. Did Penguin offer Curham, a young-adult author, the same deal to ghostwrite Zoella’s book? “Penguin does not disclose author advances/ fees/salaries or contracts,” the publishing house said.



Esther McVey Interview: Sunday Times Style



Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for employment, is to me what Margaret Thatcher is to her: a politician whose politics I don’t like, but a woman whose career I admire. If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, then, before we met, I don’t think I would have even given her that.

To see McVey flicking her sleek blonde blow-dry on television is to suspect she is a former GMTV presenter (which she is) looking for something to do post-40. Watching her sashay into the office in a split-thigh Whistles dress, one wonders if she is more interested in her outfit than her job. And yet, having met her, I could kick myself for making such lazy assumptions, because she is bright, sharp, funny, inspiringly ambitious and focused on her job. Although she will probably hate me saying so, she has an air of the pussy-bowed one about her.


Totally Pointless. The Youtubers. Sunday Times Magazine feature


Alfie and Joe are messing around. They’ve taken a stack of tin cans, removed the labels, and now they’re daring each other to eat the unknown contents at random by picking numbers out of a bowl. Potential dishes include custard, tuna, mushrooms, raspberry pudding and cat food. According to the rules of the challenge, if they can’t brave eating it, they have to apply the contents to their face. They’ve got a grey, plastic bucket ready, just in case.

Alfie goes first, peeling open a can of pilchards that smells so bad Joe starts to gag. Joe is next, opening the cake can, which he eats so smugly he spills a splodge down his T-shirt. Next, Alfie gets tuna, and an ecstatic Joe does a little dance, pulling off his shirt. Joe gets custard, then fruit salad. He jumps around, tauntingly singing “meow, meow”, until Alfie opens the last can.

NO! It’s the cat food. “Urgh! It’s got jelly in it!” Alfie looks as though he’s going to be sick. Joe gets a Sainsbury’s carrier bag ready. Alfie bites, goes red-faced, tries to chew, but instead half-vomits the cat mush into the bag. “What am I doing with my life?” he squawks. Good question. Still, the eight-minute video has, at the time of writing, been watched 3.7m times.

If you haven’t heard of Alfie Deyes, then you are old. Simple. His core fans are aged 13 to 17. He has assumed a position in modern youth culture previously held by members of boy bands and young Hollywood heart-throbs. Except, unlike them, he can’t sing or act. Unlike them, too, most parents don’t have a clue who he is; probably because we live in an era where kids don’t watch TV in the living room, but sit in their bedrooms on their iPads. And so they found Alfie, an unthreateningly good-looking 21-year-old from Brighton, who posts silly videos on YouTube, and he has become a celebrity to them.



Make Mine A Becks. David Beckham Interview. Sunday Times Style.


And then he kissed me. His bristles were tickly sharp on my cheek, his body warm. He smelt amazing: a rich woody musk. And I thought: “I have reached the zenith of my career, and life. I have been kissed by David Beckham.”

Go on, admit it, you’ve thought about it. Even sensible, adult woman not normally smitten by idiotic celebrity crushes fancy David Beckham. Even women who don’t fall for people just because they look good in pants, who have no interest in football or Hello! magazine. Even heterosexual men. David, Beckham, Becks, Goldenballs (as Victoria infamously calls him) has got cross-gender, cross-sexuality, cross-country sex appeal. I think he might be our greatest British export; he’s certainly done better than Piers Morgan. Did I want to fly to Scotland and meet him? Of course I did.









Edinburgh is miserable, all lashing rain and blackened Georgian buildings, like someone’s taken Bath and submerged it in smog. We head to The Kitchin, a restaurant recommended by Gordon Ramsay, who was up here last night with Victoria (she flew up separately — they always travel apart when not with the children, presumably for security reasons).

This weekend we are celebrating Beckham’s new whisky: Haig Club. He has never promoted a spirit before. For more than 20 years alcohol brands begged and, I assume, offered top dollar, but he couldn’t (or felt he couldn’t) because he was a professional sportsman. Now he’s retired, he’s free to get drunk.

We hover, drinking cocktails made from Haig Club, with a nervous pre-date energy, waiting for him to arrive. Suddenly, a man with something in his ear appears and restaurant staff start stalking the door, like dogs waiting for their owner to come home. David Beckham is here. He shakes hands with everyone. “Hi, I’m David,” he says.









Jesus H, he is good-looking. Perfect proportions, square shoulders, not quite as tall as I had imagined. Teeth white (but not Hollywood perfect), hair slicked back (a bit too far at the temples), grinning cheekily so his eyes crease at the edges; smiling like a man who knows that you know he knows you fancy him. Less moody than on billboards, if a little older. But then he is almost 40 now.

He’s exceptionally dapper, of course — he’s David Beckham, the man who single-sarongedly invented metrosexuality, who made it acceptable for men to care about hair. “They said it was casual tonight, but it’s a Michelin-starred restaurant and Tom’s cooking for us especially, so I had to wear a jacket and tie,” he laughs. And I think, “Oh, isn’t he charming?” The other men are wearing open-collar shirts.


Dynamo – Now That’s Magic. (Sunday Times Magazine feature)



Londoners Stunned As Magician Walks On Water



A gaggle of tourists near Big Ben starts pointing. Small groups form on Westminster Bridge as passersby stop to see what’s causing the commotion. Before long, the crowd has thickened so much that people are hustling to find a space; they spill into the road from the pavement, their hands clasped over their mouths, their eyes cartoonishly bulging.

Frantically, they all start snapping away on their camera-phones, desperate for photographic proof of what they are seeing: a boy in the Thames, in the water, wearing a red jacket. But he is not drowning; instead he’s walking on the waves. The crowd calls out to him. Some capture the moment on video, so they can upload it to YouTube later. One of the clips is captioned “God in Disguise”.

Magic is an emotion; it’s the feeling you get when you witness something you can’t explain. That’s what the magician Dynamo thinks. “Like when your first child is born, or you score a goal,” he burrs in his soft Yorkshire accent. Or the feeling you get at that point in the day when the sun’s turned everything golden, and you see a boy, arms outstretched, walking on sparkling water. Magic, thinks Dynamo, is not a science, it is an art. A tool he uses to evoke a feeling.

There are three reasons why you are likely to have heard of the illusionist. The first is his epic, miraculous stunts. In 2012, a year after he walked on water in London, he strolled vertically down the side of the art deco headquarters of the Los Angeles Times, as pedestrians gawped up at him. In 2013 he circled London hanging off the top of a 15ft-high double-decker bus, with just his outstretched right arm holding him up. This September, he floated 1,016ft in the sky over the Shard, Europe’s tallest skyscraper.

The second reason you might know him is because he has a huge celebrity following: Lindsay Lohan, Samuel L Jackson, Chris Martin, Will Smith and Pharrell Williams are among his fans. He’s performed for Rihanna, levitated Matt Lucas, and Cristiano Ronaldo flew him to Madrid to perform at his birthday party. And the third reason is that he has set himself apart from the traditional magician. Dynamo is a street illusionist who looks like a normal kid in a hoodie rather than a pantomime warlock in a tux and top hat. He uses rappers and DJs in his act and performs his tricks in shopping centres and council estates, while body-popping to beats.

With 2.2m Twitter devotees and 4.1m Facebook fans, he is now the most followed magician in the world. His Bafta-nominated television series, Magician Impossible, airs in 187 countries to an audience of 250m. It’s a fly-on-the-wall documentary of sorts, which follows him as he wows celebrities and performs illusions for kids in the street, leaving them gasping with astonishment.




Dynamo is late for our interview, lost. He’s been driving his Mercedes G Wagon aimlessly around south London, so by the time he arrives he’s 40 minutes behind schedule. Which somehow allays my fears that he’ll be a telepathic super-genius who’ll be able to read my mind and predict all my questions.

He is tiny, much smaller than I expected. A slight, boyish figure (although he is 31), with dark scruffy hair, a pallid face and dark circles under intense turquoise eyes. He is wearing a hoodie, as is his way, although it’s a look he insists isn’t contrived. He just “couldn’t afford to get a nice fancy suit” when he started out. “We lived in Bradford and I didn’t have much money.” Now he’s loaded, he still wears a tracksuit — even if this one is by Dior. “Now I’ve got a bit of money, I’ve been trying to build up a wardrobe,” he shrugs shyly. “To be honest, when you grow up as a kid on an estate all you aspire to is owning a pair of sick trainers.”

Dynamo was seven when he saw his first magic trick. His great-grandad (who he called “Grandad”) showed him two matchboxes: one containing red matches, the other green. He got Dynamo — then still plain old Steven Frayne — to mix up the matches so the boxes each contained both colours. Then his grandfather snapped his fingers, magically, and when Steven opened the boxes the colours had separated themselves again. “I still don’t know how he did it,” says Dynamo, grinning. Somehow, I doubt that.




Premiere Of Universal Pictures' "This Is 40" - Arrivals

What makes Lena Dunham so exceptional, her USP, is how very normal she is. She isn’t a freakily beautiful screen siren. She has no X Factor sob story. Although she grew up in a New York loft apartment with artist parents (her mother is the photographer Laurie Simmons, her father the painter Carroll Dunham), “it wasn’t like people were smoking weed and having love-ins in my living room”. Her childhood was “pretty conservative”.

Now she is a plain, chubby, 28-year-old living in Brooklyn with her rescue dog, Lamby, and a steady boyfriend. Yet in an age that glamorises tortured beauties, she has taken her unexceptional body and prosaic twentysomething struggles and created a television series that feels like the first true reflection of young women’s lives. The appeal of Girls — production is under way on the fourth season — is its brutal realism and raw truthfulness. Which is why the show, written, directed and produced by Dunham, has been nominated for 12 Emmy awards and won two Golden Globes.

Off-screen, Dunham appears equally unaffected. She is papped rocking up to work with bad hair, in baggy sweaters and cut-off shorts. She refuses to slim down, instead posting pictures of herself eating pizza on Instagram. And now here she is in her home town — new hairdo, sooty-eyed, wearing all-white — trying not to dump mixed-berry smoothie and huevos rancheros on herself. “I was really excited about my outfit, but now I’m thinking about what a bad idea it is, because I’m eating both purple and red.”

We’re talking because she has now applied her unaffected honesty to a book, Not That Kind of Girl. Part memoir, part millennial guide to life, in the vein of Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, it’s as funny, filthy and open as the TV show that made her a household name. The book is tell-all, and then some: losing her virginity — “less like a stab wound and more like a headache”; shopping “high off my ass on legal prescription drugs in Hamburg airport”; crash dieting — counting raspberries and drinking laxative tea until she ends up in ER; the boys she has been used by and dumped by; her OCD and teenage estrangement. Then there was the “girl crush” on a pale, waiflike English playwright, Nellie, with whom she gets wildly drunk in London and breathlessly bonds over writing (agreeing it’s a tool to find clarity in a world full of shit). They hold faces “panting like we’re in a snowstorm”, clasp hands and touch faces. “I didn’t think she’d kiss me, but I didn’t think she wouldn’t either” is as close as she comes to a lesbian tryst. Later, when her sister, Grace, comes out to her, she admits she’s devastated not to have realised.

There’s the confession that she has a “full, dissociative meltdown” in the season finale of Girls that resulted in a brutish relationship with a handyman on set. And details of the painful endometriosis that may have left her infertile, although she’s desperate for children. One of the most distressing descriptions in the book — and the hardest for her to write — is of the time she was raped (even if she avoids calling it that). “It’s specific, it’s vulnerable, it involves a real person. It brings back a lot of pain and fear for me.” In the book she describes the assault: “A pale, flaccid penis coming towards my face and the feeling of air and lips in places I didn’t know were exposed.”

How can she manage such brutal honesty? “I need to share these experiences or I will explode with loneliness, and I want to feel connected.” It’s no surprise that she has been in therapy since she was seven, nor that her favourite reading matter is “confessional books by women” — Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Wurtzel, Norah Ephron and Diana Athill to name a few.

Still, she does have her limits. “I try to put things out in the world that, even if they’re painful, I can still walk down the street and feel I have some essential part of myself hidden away.”

Full interview here:


Cam and get it


How do you make a living without getting out of bed? Katie Glass meets the webcam girls and boys providing a personalised peep show for the digital era

West Drayton is not a town that speaks of seduction. Its Barratt Homes, with white picket fences and white Audis parked outside, don’t promise erotica or even romance. But then I don’t suppose it matters where you are in real life, when what you’re selling is virtual sex. “You’re almost here,” giggles Rebecca More, when I call from the train station, near her west London home. “Hold on a minute. Let me just put some clothes on.” The neighbours have no idea what she does, she laughs, looking up from under fake lashes, as she opens the door to her flat. Her long blonde extensions fall over an Iron Maiden T-shirt, hastily pulled over her top half. On the bottom half, she’s wearing stockings and suspenders.

Rebecca, who’s 34, is a webcam girl. For the uninitiated this means she performs a kind of digital-era peepshow, which clients pay to watch via the net. Before she started she was escorting, although that was “a lot more effort” and sometimes earned her less money. “Sometimes you can’t be bothered to meet people. Sometimes you don’t want to shave your legs,” she says. With her new job, however, “sometimes I won’t even have a shower. I’ll chuck make-up on and you can still look pretty good on webcam and make a quick bit of money. I like being at home and having all my stuff. There’s a lot of housewives that do it — it fits in great with the kids.” But the best bit, she says, is that when she’s performing on the webcam she doesn’t actually have to have sex.

The concept of webcamming isn’t new. It’s been around since the birth of the internet, but thanks to increased bandwidths that have made streaming shows quicker, its popularity is soaring. For camgirls like Rebecca, better and cheaper technology has made filming easier too. It can now be done by anyone on a laptop or iPhone.

At a time when free online content is eroding the paid-for pornography industry, webcamming offers something unique: viewer interaction — the chance to pay someone to perform a personalised sexual service. On webcam sites, clients can pay to click on their dream girl, then direct her to stage a live sex show (ranging from a gentle erotic dance in full underwear to explicit sexual acts).

Internet traffic numbers bear out camming’s popularity. According to, which measures internet traffic, LiveJasmin (one of the most popular webcam sites) got 24m unique US visitors in March. Alexa (another internet traffic monitor) ranks it as the internet’s 110th most popular site, and camming site is the 173rd favourite internet site among British users.

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