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  1. Diary
19 June 2024

The pain of writing a very personal memoir

Also this week: All change at the Evening Standard, and Rishi Sunak’s karaoke song.

By Dylan Jones

In London there is a phone theft epidemic, and just two weeks ago two colleagues were mugged not far from our office. It happened to me not so long ago too, and I can’t believe I was dim enough to fall for it. As I was sitting outside a pub near Hyde Park a man walked by brandishing a sign asking for money. As my friends and I read the sign (large, with small type) he swiped my phone off the table, although I only realised afterwards. He was a professional opportunist, and I was stupid. It won’t happen again – to me, at least.

Missing some spice

The biggest political story of the moment is not the election – the longest, drawn-out fait accompli since Man City’s tedious (and still contentious) fourth consecutive Premiership title – but rather an affair. In Westminster it’s all anyone can talk about, and yet none of us can write a thing. Why? Because there is no proof, that’s why, just a swirl of gossip.

I’m not alone in thinking that this is one of the most boring run-ups to a general election in memory. While there are many who chirrup that this is a blessing after the chaotic interludes of the Boris and Liz show, it’s still soporific. Last week in conference, one of my team said her biggest preoccupation is wondering how she is going to cope with listening to Keir Starmer’s adenoidal voice for the next five years. I have to say I agree with her, although a juicy illicit political bunk-up would certainly add some pep to the next three weeks.

Cameras at the ready

I’ve always thought Rishi Sunak looks a bit like Prince. Tiny, perfectly formed, with a larger-than-expected head. Apparently, his karaoke song of choice is “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice, as he says he can do the rap, although this is something that I would think precisely no one wants to see. Sunak is proving to be as prone to gaffes as Boris Johnson was, although the electorate is no longer as forgiving as it was when Johnson was in power. I’ve seen politicians do many silly things, but probably the oddest was a few years ago at one of my Christmas parties when Neil Hamilton allowed someone to shave his chest hair, while his wife Christine stood on a table playing air guitar to “Maggie May”. Expect Sunak to do something similar by 4 July.

Invaluable advice

I never intended to write a memoir. I thought it would be self-centred and self-aggrandising, and I figured I was self-centred and self-aggrandising enough already, thank you very much. But my agent, Gordon, was adamant that it was the right thing to do, and so I did it. When I finished I showed it to five people (Gordon, my editor Andreas, my wife and my two daughters) and they all said the same thing: you need to make it more personal. I thought I had been personal, but apparently not enough. So, I did what I was told – again, not something I appreciated – and their suggestions made it a much, much better book.

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At the same time I was writing These Foolish Things I was also helping a friend, who isn’t a writer, write his own memoir. My simple advice to him was that the person we say goodbye to at the end of the book needs to be a completely different person from the one we are introduced to at the beginning. As I was relaying this rather prosaic advice, it gave me cause to think about my own book, which again caused me to go deeper. Sometimes quite painfully.

At the behest of my wife, I’ve even written about being raped at the age of 17, something I rarely dwell on, and also something I have successfully kept in a box for decades. My therapist, who must be bored of listening to me after so many years, is one of the most matter-of-fact people I have ever met. She is very counterintuitive: “If you can successfully put your problems in boxes without them escaping, then you should do it more often,” she said to me once. “How many? As many as you like.”

The end of an era

A few weeks ago, we announced that at the end of the summer the Evening Standard is going to stop producing a daily paper, allowing us to supercharge our brilliant website. There were some lovely, if rather sentimental pieces in various places lamenting this change, many of them in papers that will no doubt be following our lead in the next few years. When technology becomes so dominant that it changes consumer (and in our case commuter) patterns, you can only move in one direction: forward. If you don’t follow the market, then the market looks elsewhere. But, of course, the worse thing about change is saying goodbye to people. Always is.

Dylan Jones is the editor-in-chief of the Evening Standard and the author of “These Foolish Things” (Constable)

[See also: My first days in charge of the Evening Standard prompt a return to office habits]

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This article appears in the 19 Jun 2024 issue of the New Statesman, How to Fix a Nation