About Helen Fielding
Helen studied English at Oxford and was part of the Oxford revue at the 1978 Edinburgh Festival. In 1979 Helen started work at the BBC on a news magazine and subsequently worked as a journalist and columnist on several national newspapers. Helen Fielding’s key work Bridget Jones’s Diary originally began as a piece in the columns, published anonymously, in The Independent. The columns illustrated life of a singleton Londoner that instantly became popular among the readers which led to the publication of her books. The witty and ingenious take on a single woman’s life and the problems that surround her, appealed to the audience. The novel became a worldwide bestseller in record time when published in paperback in 1997. It is marked as a milestone in the newly introduced Chick Lit genre.
Helen’s subsequent books, and films of her books, have all received great acclaim and success. Moreover, Helen Fielding was awarded British Book of the Year and Evening Standard Award Best Screenplay.
At heart Bridget Jones is about the gap between how we all feel we’re expected to be and how we actually are. Because I originally started writing Bridget’s diary anonymously, as a column in a newspaper, it freed me up to be much more honest than I would otherwise have been, about how one girl felt about trying to navigate life and her identity in the media age. If I’d known, then, that so many people were going to read the diaries, I’d never have dared write them. But the fact that it became so popular did open my eyes to a huge global issue – especially for women. Bridget is a product of the media age where women especially are inundated with images of how we are supposed to look, and multiple roles that we feel we are supposed to be brilliant at. I think Bridget communicates with women in the same way I observe women communicating with each other. We don’t arrive for a glass of wine with our friends and immediately say “Oh, oh look at me; I’m so thin, beautiful and successful.” We share our insecurities, flaws and things that have gone wrong, process them, laugh about them and support each other. Bridget, without realising it herself, stands for the important human qualities: warmth, kindness, emotional honesty, resilience, the strength to admit to being vulnerable, flawed and therefore human, and the ability to laugh at yourself and your misfortunes, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going.
I love the fact that these qualities are celebrated through Bridget and that they are seen as more important than a fashionably large handbag and a bottom like two billiard balls.
Writing a screenplay is a very different job from writing a novel. A screenplay is much shorter and tighter, and has to move along more efficiently. Things that are explained at length in a novel are shown very quickly, visually, in a movie. I much prefer writing novels, but it was very important for me to stay involved with the movies in order to keep Bridget’s character, and the meaning of the stories true.
It is easy to get Bridget’s character wrong – if you lose her kindness and resilience, then she begins to seem self-obsessed, if you lose the irony and layers of meaning then the whole things seems like a simple romantic comedy – the search for a man. If you don’t want her to seem self-pitying and sad, you have to keep the humour and sense of fun. So it’s vital that I stay on the case and speak up to keep Bridget on track.
I come from the Industrial North of England where humour is fundamental to the culture – it’s a way of going straight to the heart of things and debunking any pretentiousness or nonsense. I always remember a performance of Swan Lake at Leeds Variety Theatre where they had a rather-overly fancy fake swan full of dancers which got stuck half way across the stage and someone shouted out in a thick Yorkshire accent, “What’s up w’it duck, then?”
What often seems like the lightest joke or laugh is really a way of making sense of life, and getting back on track. In the same way a completed Bridget book looks very light and frothy, but it’s like a little duck on the water, underneath the legs are busily working away. I think humour is one of the loveliest ways of navigating life – it brings people together, celebrates our joint humanity, avoids tedious uncomfortable discussions, and it’s happy and fun.
I think it’s very hard for young people to navigate a world where social media has exploded: much harder than when I first wrote Bridget. It’s more important than ever to emphasise the importance of human qualities, rather than how many likes you get on Instagram, how your friends are presenting their very best day on their best vacation, or how everyone looks in their prettiest, thinnest, photo shopped picture. I’m really happy that there seems to be a large audience for Bridget even amongst young teens: it means they understand what it is that really makes us like and respect our friends and ourselves. I think, professionally, things do get easier for women, step by step, but big obstacles to equality remain, even at the top end of the business. These are often very subtle, and things you only half understand, so it’s important to share experiences and build confidence.
I don’t know if I’m a role model – my goddaughter says her friends are studying me as a Post-Feminist at university – which has naturally gone to my head. I always want to be one of those writers who gets up at 6 am to a lightly boiled egg, writes for 3 hours at a white table with a single orchid on it, then prances off to play tennis. But I’m much more chaotic than that, and as riddled with insecurities and muddle as everyone else. So if they see a fairly normal, messy, human woman who has done well by writing about a normal human woman who’s good to her friends and knows the importance of humour in life, then I’ll be happy.
An experienced media personality and creator of Bridget Jones, Helen shares her experiences of becoming one of the world’s most read authors. With humour she approaches many human angles of communication and her motto is “keep it real” as well as “rather human than perfect”.
A charismatic and charming personality, Helen loves being on the platform. She is a true professional and always well prepared. She prefers short presentations followed by lengthy interaction with her audience. Humour is her trademark.