Rich, single and ready to party: is it Bridget Jones, her creator Helen Fielding - or a bit of both?
She’s back gadding about town, minus a husband, plus two young children — no, not Bridget Jones but her creator. We report on the return of Helen Fielding, her north London life and why Darcy had to die
Nooo — Darcy is dead,” was the cry of horror among Bridget Jones fans as its creator, Helen Fielding, released a few chapters of the third instalment of ditzy blonde fiftysomething diaries Mad About the Boy to the Sunday Times this week.
Then again, Bridget Jones was hardly in rude health. When the nation last saw her properly, at the end of The Edge of Reason, in 1999, she was in receipt of a marriage proposal from dashing human rights lawyer Mark Darcy.
Shortly afterwards, Fielding too was to succumb to a love affair with American comedy writer Kevin Curran, with whom she rapidly shacked up in LA. The victim was Bridget Jones. Something about the pools and pedicure culture cannot have suited her because, other than giving a brief return in a newspaper column, Fielding let her rest in a drawer.
Then Fielding’s romance with Curran died its own death in 2009, she moved back to London, and something in the air revived Jones. Was it a return to hanging out with her old gang again? Mariella Frostrup took her on a singletons (with children) holiday to Barbados not long after the break-up, Frostrup leaving her own husband at home for the jaunt. Fielding, who used to have a desk in film producer Richard Curtis’s offices in the 1990s, has been hanging out with him and his wife Emma Freud again, and asked his daughter Scarlett, to whom she is godmother, for advice on the new book. She’s moved into a Georgian house in north London, home to an intellectual circle including Vogue editor and friend Alexandra Shulman. The rough-and-tumble of imperfect London lives has filled her satirical pen with ink again.
Bridget Jones is living in an existence not too far from her creator’s. Fielding has a son, Dashiel, aged nine, and a daughter, Romy, seven, from her relationship with Curran. Bridget, living in Queen’s Park, has two of her own, nit-infested Billy and Mabel, just a shade younger than Fielding’s. She has replaced the Chardonnay with mojitos and is surrounded by her old friends again. Tom and Jude turn up drunkenly at her door, and the badboy Daniel Cleaver is still hanging around. Once the feckless lover, he is now the feckless godfather, finding an innovative way of combing the little girl’s hair with a fork. A parody of his younger self, he leaks sexual proposition at every passing woman. Even Bridget, once besotted, now yawns. And then there’s Roxster, the 29-year-old whom the cougar Bridget can’t quite ensnare.
Whether Fielding is seeing anyone at the moment is not known. But she has been spotted around town with some v v nice arm candy.
That’s not what was supposed to happen. Darcy was meant to take his new bride by the hand and walk her into the sunset across his Derbyshire estate. Mark and Bridget were expected to be happy together and all was looking good for Fielding too.
When we left her in around 2000 she was in Los Angeles for a promotional tour. It wasn’t a ball where she first saw Curran: it was in a hotel lobby. Fielding, who just a few years earlier had been a jobbing journalist, by then had two bestsellers under her belt, with 15 million copies sold and the first film on the way. As Austen might have said, a single woman in possession of a good literary fortune must have been in want of a husband. But the romance was not to last and Fielding returned home.
The first hint of Bridget’s resuscitation came at Damian Barr’s Literary Salon in Shoreditch House in 2011. Fielding, topping the bill, read nervously from a draft of a new book she was working on. It was to be the third in the Bridget Jones series, with Jones, still in her thirties, having a baby crisis. The final novel, however, has ditched that distancing in favour of bringing her right up to the present day, aged 51, pretending to be 35, and grappling with the chaos of motherhood — “Gaaah! Have got to pick up Mabel in 20 minutes,” she cries, echoing the howl of many a mother faced with the school run. Fielding admitted recently to a diarist that “even though I have spent a lot of time denying that Bridget was me, she was”.
There is a big material difference between them now. Both the original diaries and its sequel The Edge of Reason were turned into blockbuster films. Fielding has a base in Los Angeles for the children to visit their father during the holidays and one imagines a buoyant bank account.
Bridget meanwhile has yet to get her act together. The film script she is meant to be working on sits on a to-do list alongside yoga classes, promises of self-betterment and an order-to-self to get on Twitter.
At least age has brought her a little wisdom. “Sometimes, when we’re on the chair in the bathroom, and I catch sight of us in the mirror, I just can’t believe this is me, doing this with Roxster, at my age,” she notes. “But now it’s gone away I have burst like a bubble. Am I just using the whole thing to block existential despair about growing old …”
Fielding can at least look at the cast who starred in her two films and see that their lives haven’t followed the plot either.
Bridget Jones was played by Renée Zellweger, who had to fatten up to meet Bridget’s calorie intake. Her own marriage to singer Kenny Chesney broke up after only 128 days in 2005 and, svelte again, the actress is back on the casting couch of love.
Colin Firth, picked to play Mark Darcy as an echo of his original Pride and Prejudice Darcy, turned out to be a good ’un. The cheesy hero of Mamma Mia!, he went on to win an Oscar for the The King’s Speech and has a settled, wholesome marriage and two sons with his wife Livia — one can only imagine what catty comments Bridget would have made about her
Hugh Grant, who had begun to develop a Daniel Cleaver reputation, became a changed man not through love but via the phone-hacking scandal. He is now a zealous campaigner against press freedom and has also quietly had two children with his occasional partner Tinglan Hong.
Fielding, in her talk at Barr’s salon in 2011, had mentioned the possibility of a third film, but if it faithfully follows the book, one person won’t be happy — the written-out Firth. “I think the idea of Mark and Daniel and Bridget in the advanced stages of deterioration could be quite fun,” he had told the BBC. “We’re making a comedy, after all.”
Bridget Jones had originally been mapped on Jane Austen, in the primal fight beneath the ribboned bonnets for a husband, and Fielding for a time echoed in the new Derbyshire of LA. How Austen might have relished the chance to have her heroine not reliant on a man for social status but as an independently wealthy women, with two children and a potential bestseller on her hands: a modern woman for whom Darcy was expendable.