Julie Burchill (57), one of the most famous journalists in Britain, describes herself as a militant leftist. During her long roller coaster of a career as a strident, attention-getting columnist, she’s bounced from the Sunday Times to the Mail on Sunday to The Guardian to The Times and back to The Guardian before then settling in at The Independent. (These days she appears frequently in the pages of the conservative weekly The Spectator.) Her departures from many of these papers were acrimonious in the extreme; she’s publicly slammed her employers and once or twice has publicly admitted that the work she did for them was lazy, tossed-off crap.
Not only does she constantly outrage centrists and right-wingers; she also routinely incenses her fellow men and women of the left – standing up, for example, for Margaret Thatcher, for the Falklands War, for the invasion of Iraq, for Israel, and for Brexit. She has more than her share of prejudices and has been frank about them, insulting such groups as Irish people and transsexuals in sensational fashion. She’s converted to Christianity and then left it and pondered a conversion to Judaism; she’s claimed to have become a lesbian and then quit that after six months; she had one son apiece with each of her first two husbands (she’s now on spouse #3), and eventually abandoned not only the husbands but also the sons, the second of whom, tragically, committed suicide last year.
Many critics have suggested that Burchill’s chatty, heavily self-referential columns – which are often so packed with English slang and English pop-cultural references as to leave an American reader baffled – generate more heat than light and amount to a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing. She’s admitted that she moved “from enfant terrible to grande dame without ever being a proper grown-up.” She’s obviously a pretty irresponsible human being, and she’s definitely an attention-seeking egomaniac; and, as she explained in her column for September 5, she was also, once upon a time, a useful idiot.
When she was 12, she wrote, she was a “daddy’s girl, eager to elicit some emotion from my loving but reserved father.” The only thing that really worked, it turned out, was idolizing Stalin as much as he did. A “gentle giant…who literally wouldn’t have hurt a fly,” Burchill’s old man, a distillery worker, was indeed a useful idiot who spent “much of his leisure time acting as the chief cheerleader of a man who was responsible for the deaths of about 20 million people.” To avoid being “bought by the bourgeoisie,” he turned down every promotion offered him, and at the end of his life counted it a victory “that he had not made any advancement up the class ladder.”
But Julie Burchill didn’t just pretend to be a Stalinist when she was in her father’s company. No, she took it with her when she went to London to become a journalist. More tomorrow.