Caitlin Moran interview
Alexi Duggins goes for a drink with the multi-award-winning columnist and feminist icon
My stomach can take no more. After three hours of talking to Caitlin Moran, my gag reflex jerks violently, my abdomen pulsates like something out of ‘Alien’ and I decorate a toilet with my gastric lining. The walls pirouette madly, the floor leaps up to smack me in the face and everything goes black. Interview over.
Three hours earlier, I’m waiting in Crouch End’s Railway Tavern in the hope of getting Moran pissed. After all, in a journalistic career that’s seen her move from 16-year-old rock critic for now defunct music weekly Melody Maker to triple British Press Award-winning Times columnist and interviewer, a large part of her success lies in her ability to break down the barrier during interviews, and turn them into nigh-on social occasions.
But with her semi-autobiographical polemic on twenty-first-century feminism, ‘How to Be a Woman’, going to number six in the US bestseller lists, a follow-up compendium of her columns – ‘Moranthology’ – released this week and her own council-estate-based C4 TV drama in the works, the column inches she generates are increasingly as much about her as they are by her.
She does promotional tours. She spends half her life giving phone interviews to Brazil. Nowadays, she has her own PR person, ferchrissakes. So, given how up-for-it she is on the other side of the mic, I imagined a deeply symbolic behavioural investigation that could last the whole evening.
This isn’t what happens. ‘Large!’ she fires, as the Railway Tavern barmaid asks me what size glass of white wine I’d like, thus concluding my investigation in about 30 seconds. ‘You’ve got menthol roll-ups? They’re the BEST KIND,’ she grins as we take a seat and she spies my tobacco pouch. She rummages in her bag and pulls out an electric cigarette. ‘Here, have a bang on this and we’ll go swapsies.’
From then on, answers are peppered with ‘get rolling another one’ or ‘right, more drink?’ as she leads us back and forth between the smoking area and bar. Empties mount up around us, and it quickly becomes obvious that Moran’s MO as an interviewer is less a shtick, more just her approach to life.
‘The first drinking advice I ever got was from Russell Senior of Pulp,’ she smiles. ‘He said: “The thing you’ve got to remember is that you keep on getting drunk an hour after you’ve had a drink, so you can still keep getting pissed if you just have a lemonade.” I’ve never taken that advice ever, but it’s a useful fact to know.’
Booze vanishes and she rattles off anecdotes about her various celeb interviews – a story about her and Tim Minchin drunkenly ruining a pub quiz by loudly singing ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ songs, a tale about nearly losing her virginity to Suede’s Brett Anderson (‘but I got embarrassed after I did a thunderous piss in his toilet and broke it’). Each is more outrageous than the next, until I’m left goggling at what a brilliantly bizarre life she’s led.
I put it to her that if, say, she was interviewed by a dodgy journalist – hem hem – she needn’t worry about them making up stories about her, as they’d struggle to fabricate anything as colourful as the truth. ‘I’d love it if you made stuff up about me!’ she laughs. ‘But what could you say? Maybe that I had sex with someone believable, yet unlikely from the mid-’90s. Although I did have sex with everyone who was kind of unlikely.’
What about a threesome with Keith Harris and Orville? ‘I did nearly have a threesome with Bob Carolgees and Spit the Dog!’ Graham Coxon? ‘He bit me on the arse .’ Erm, one of Radiohead? ‘I did once get so stoned at Colin Greenwood’s house that I burst into tears, ran out of the room and fell asleep in a bed full of thousands of dead wasps.’ I give up.
‘You need another drink!’ declares Moran, as I slurringly tell her that I am now really quite pissed. It’s two hours into what was supposed to be a one-hour interview, and whereas I am all over the place, Moran just seems to get quicker the more she drinks. She speaks almost exactly like she writes: her answers are paragraphs of eloquent chattiness which unfailingly end in a clever pay-off gag. They’re peppered with impeccable turns of phrase that meld intellectual terminology with absurd imagery. She is a banter machine.
And just as the badinage is getting into full swing she attacks me. ‘I will set fire to your passport!’ she yells, as she slams a fist into my shoulder. ‘I will drop it in a drain full of wee water!’ she cries, stinging my forearm with a follow-up slap. But as one of British journalism’s most revered practitioners yells: ‘Don’t think you’re ever leaving the country again!’and jerks her hand back to clout me for a third time, I manage to catch her and pin her arms to her sides.
The lesson here: do not pour scorn upon a drunk Caitlin Moran while she’s earnestly enthusing about the Olympic Opening Ceremony being ‘a pivotal moment in British history: just the most astonishing fuck-off, socialist, left-wing paradise’.
For Moran doesn't treat inequality lightly. Perhaps it's the result of a liberal, home-schooled upbringing on a Wolverhampton council estate. Or perhaps it’s the fact that as closing time approaches, conversation is beginning to take on a setting-the-world-to-rights fervour. But – after my agreement to watch the Opening Ceremony, and peace restored – for the last hour of the night, she passionately holds forth about the class implications of the expectation that creatives should give their work away free on the internet (‘It’s fannied away all the copyright legislation that lets you get paid for expressing yourself creatively – which means the working class can’t afford to do it anymore.’)
She rails against the ‘massively patriarchal’ anti-birth-control policy of the Republican party. (‘The idea that the moment of spunking is the start of human life absolutely negates the role of women in making a child.’) And she lambasts the male-centric porn industry for making it impossible to give girls a normal sex education. (‘I just know that the first time my daughters see fucking will probably be from some horrible boy with an iPhone on the bus going: “Ha ha! Look what you can shove up a girl’s bum!”. ’)
Points are emphasised with a flourish of her electronic fag and her voice is packed with righteous indignation as she complains about her ‘three hobby horses’: class discrimination, sexism and homophobia. She’s so in her element that it seems rude to interrupt. Not least because the best I can now manage is the occasional ‘Yesshhh’.
Then it all goes wrong. ‘I’m just going for a wee,’ Moran says. A couple of minutes later she’s plonking down two shot glasses of whisky on the table. I mumble something about not being sure it’s a good idea. ‘Don’t worry. I’ve drunk stronger men than you under the table,’ she says. We down the drinks, and suddenly my sweat glands explode. ‘I think I might call you a taxi,’ says Moran, hurriedly nipping off to the bar as a sheet of icy sweat pours down my ghost-white face. I stagger to the loo and… well, you know the rest.
Ten minutes later, I’m semi-conscious in a cab when my phone lights up. ‘Oh my God, dude!’ reads the message from my friend. ‘Caitlin Moran’s talking about you on Twitter.’ Through blurry vision, I read Moran tweeting Independent journalist Grace Dent: ‘I did an interview with a boy from Time Out and had to leave him with the barmaids to get a taxi. He did not know ’90s drinking.’
Drunkenly deciding that I cannot allow this inaccuracy, I utilise Twitter to inform Moran that she has distorted the truth: she failed to mention the vomit. ‘You did a sick? Awwww,’ shoots back the response. And then comes the galling bit. For while my pores leak like a lacerated paddling pool, while I am shivering, while I am lapsing in and out of consciousness, what is Moran doing? ‘I’m just putting in an order for kids’ trousers on Boden.’
Is Caitlin Moran a good sport when on the other side of the microphone? I’d say so. If anything, perhaps a little too good.
Caitlin Moran’s ‘Moranthology’ is published by Ebury Press on Thur Sept 13 at £18.99.