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Julie Burchill (born 3 July 1959, Frenchaymarker, Bristolmarker) is an Englishmarker writer and columnist known as a "firebrand journalist specialising in OTT polemics" 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. She is a self-declared "militant feminist". She has several times been involved in legal action resulting from her work. She is also an author and novelist, her 1989 novel Ambition being a bestseller, and her 2004 novel Sugar Rush being adapted for television.

Personal life

Julie Burchill was born in Bristolmarker, Englandmarker to working class parents. "Her father was a Communist union activist who worked in a distillery. Her mother had a job in a cardboard box factory." She did not attend university, leaving the A-levels she had started a few weeks earlier to begin writing for the New Musical Express (NME).

Burchill was briefly married to Tony Parsons (whom she met at NME), moving in with him in 1981, at age 18. She left three years later, leaving behind a son, and subsequently there has been "a steady stream of vitriol in both directions"; she claims to have got through the "sexual side" of their marriage "by pretending that my husband was my friend Peter York". Her relationships, particularly with Parsons, have featured regularly in her work; Parsons later wrote that "It's like having a stalker. I don't understand her fascination with someone whom she split up with 15 years ago."

After Parsons, Burchill married Cosmo Landesman, the son of Fran and Jay Landesman, with whom she also had a son. The sons from her marriages with Parsons and Landesman lived with their fathers after the separations. After splitting from Landesman in 1992, 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. She has written about her lesbian relationships, and declared that "I would never describe myself as 'heterosexual', 'straight' or anything else. Especially not 'bisexual' (it sounds like a sort of communal vehicle missing a mudguard). I like 'spontaneous' as a sexual description." However in 2009 she said that she was only attracted to girls in their 20s, and since she was now in her mid-40s, "I really don't want to be an old perv. So best leave it."

Burchill has spoken repeatedly and frankly of her relationship with drugs, writing that she had "put enough toot up my admittedly sizeable snout to stun the entire Colombianmarker armed forces". She declared that "As one who suffered from chronic shyness and a low boredom threshold ... I simply can't imagine that I could have ever had any kind of social life without [cocaine], let alone have reigned as Queen of the Groucho Clubmarker for a good part of the '80s and '90s."

In 1999, Burchill 'found God', and became a Lutheran and later a "self-confessed Christian Zionist". She has also toyed with Catholicism. In June 2007,she announced that she would undertake a theology degree, although she subsequently decided to do voluntary work instead as a way to learn more about Christianity. She has volunteered in a local RNIB home. In June 2009 The Jewish Chronicle reported the latest developments in Burchill's religious journey, that she had become a Friend of Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue and was considering again a conversion to Judaism. Reported as having attended Shabbat services for a month, and learning Hebrew, Burchill now describing herself s an "ex-christian", pointed out that she had been pondering on her conversion since the age of 25. Burchill said that "At a time of rising and increasingly vicious anti-semitism from both left and right, becoming Jewish especially appeals to me. ... Added to the fact that I admire Israel so much, it does seem to make sense – assuming of course that the Jews will have me."

She has lived in Brighton and Hovemarker since 1995 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, of which she has given away £300,000, citing Andrew Carnegie: "A man who dies rich, dies shamed."

Journalism career

Early years

She started her career, aged 17, as a writer at the New Musical Express (NME) after responding, coincidentally 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. She won the job by sending in a "eulogy" of Patti Smith's Horses. She later wrote that at the time she only liked black music, and "When I actually heard a punk record, I thought, ‘Oh my Lord! This is not music, this is just shouting'." Fortunately for her, as she later said, "Punk was over in two years. That was the only damn good thing about it."

In her few years at the NME she was assigned the punk beat and notably wrote a 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 at the age of 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 to making up film reviews and "skived" from screenings, while her ex-husband, Cosmo Landesman, has admitted attending screenings on her behalf.

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 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."

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 Grouchomarker". 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 actress 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), however, 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 Burchill and her colleagues fell out. It was briefly revived by Burchill, with Raven editing, in 1997.

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". In 2002 she narrowly escaped prosecution for incitement to racial hatred, "following a Guardian column where she described Ireland as being synonymous with child molestation, Nazi-sympathising, and the oppression of women."

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, doubling her previous salary at the Guardian. 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, "he incited Arabs to fight British troops in Iraq". Galloway threatened legal action which was averted when she apologised and The Times paid damages.

In 2006 The Times dropped her Saturday column, and arranged a more flexible arrangement with Burchill writing for the daily paper. Later it emerged during a Guardian interview, published on 4 August 2008, that eventually 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 later 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."

In February 2006, she announced plans for a year's sabbatical from journalism, planning, among other things, to study theology. She had previously, in 1999, 'found God', and become a Lutheran. In June 2007, she announced that she would not be returning to journalism, but instead concentrate on writing books and TV scripts and finally undertake a theology degree. However she has since returned to writing for The Guardian newspaper.

Besides writing occasional pieces for The Guardian, she has recently become a columnist for the new, centre-right/neoconservative politics and culture magazine, Standpoint. She describes herself as being in "cheerful semi-retirement", partly because of waning ambition.

Books and television

Burchill is an author and novelist, her 1989 novel Ambition being a bestseller. Her 2004 lesbian-themed novel for teenagers Sugar Rush was produced by Shine Limited and aired on Channel 4. Lenora Crichlow's portrayal of the central character Maria Sweet inspired the 2007 sequel Sweet. 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.

Less successfully, 2001's Burchill on Beckham, a short book about Burchill's views of David Beckham's life, career, and relationship with Victoria Beckham, attracted"some of the worst notices since Jeffrey Archer's heyday. 'Burchill is to football writing what Jimmy Hill is to feminist polemics,' carped one reviewer, not unfairly." The book fits in with Burchill's theme of praising the working class; Burchill presents Beckham as "an anti-laddish symbol of old working-class values - he reminds her of those proud men of her childhood, 'paragons of generosity, industry and chastity'."

Burchill's book co-written book with Chas Newkey-Burden Not in My Name: A Compendium of Modern Hypocrisy appeared in August 2008. The book is dedicated "to Arik and Bibi" (Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu); the Jewish Chronicle wrote that "this book does not merely stand up for Israel, it jumps up and down, cheers and waves its arms."

Views and reputation

Burchill is known for her contentious prose - in her own words, "the writing equivalent of screaming and throwing things" - and strong opinions: for her novel Sugar Rush her publicist described her "Britain's most famous and controversial journalist". One of her most consistent themes is her championing of the working-class (which she still identifies with, despite now being a successful journalist) against the middle-class in most cases, and has been particularly vocal in defending chavs. According to Will Self, "Burchill's great talent as a journalist is to beautifully articulate the inarticulate sentiments and prejudices of her readers". Equally, for Michael Bywater, Burchill's "insights were, and remain, negligible, on the level of a toddler having a tantrum". As John Arlidge put it in The Observer,

Burchill has frequently drawn on her personal life for her writing, but conversely her personal life has been a subject of public comment, particularly during the late eighties and early nineties, when she was the self-declared "Queen of the Groucho Club", and "everything about her - her marriages, her debauchery, her children - seemed to be news." In 1999 the Daily Mail ran a two-page spread with the headline "Is Julie Burchill the worst mother in Britain?", "savaging her for leaving her two sons to be raised by their fathers." In 2002 her life was the subject of a one-woman West Endmarker play, Julie Burchill is Away, by Tim Fountain, with Burchill played by her friend Jackie Clune.

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.

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". On the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's assassination in 2005 she told the Guardian "I don't remember where I was but I was really pleased he was dead, as he was a wife-beater, gay-basher, anti-Semite and all-round bully-boy."

Burchill has on occasions expressed concern for animal welfare. She is a supporter of the Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land.

Burchill has always claimed she has never renounced the Communist beliefs of her youth. She is a consistent defender of the old Soviet Unionmarker.

She has strong views on Israelmarker (in 2008 the Jewish Chronicle described her as "Israel's staunchest supporter in the UK media"; she has two Israeli flags in her home), declaring in 2005, after Ariel Sharon's withdrawal of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Stripmarker, that "Israel is the only country I would fucking die for. He's the enemy of the Jews. Chucking his own people off the Gaza; to me that's disgusting."

She was one of the few media figures in Britain to wholeheartedly support Operation Iraqi Freedom. Writing in The Guardian in 2003, she said: “I am in favour of a smaller war now rather than a far worse war later” and she condemned “the sheer befuddled babyishness of the pro-Saddam apologists”. She admitted the war was partly about oil but explained: “The fact is that this war is about freedom, justice - and oil. It's called multitasking. Get used to it!” She also claimed that because Britain and the United States sold the Iraqi dictator weapons, “it is our responsibility to redress our greed and ignorance by doing the lion's share in getting rid of him”. She also expressed her admiration for United States Republican politician Condoleezza Rice, whom she described as “the coolest, cleverest, most powerful black woman since Cleopatra VII”.

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)
  • Sweet' 2007
  • 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


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