The Autobiography by Marie Helvin
My favourite part of the film Four Weddings and a Funeral is when Andie MacDowell’s character catalogues all her lovers, one by one, with a short description of each. Hugh Grant’s character listens with an air of bemusement, followed by awe, then dismay. Finally, he runs his fingers through his hair and sighs. “I don’t know what the f*** I’ve been doing with my time,” he says.
Reading Marie Helvin’s memoir, I began to get the same feeling. David Bailey, Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty: she seems to have met just about anybody you have ever heard of in the 1970s and 1980s, and gone to bed with them. Her first sexual stirring, aged 10, was on Marlon Brando’s knee.
Helvin was one of the first supermodels. After an idyllic childhood in Hawaii, where she walked to school barefoot and skived off lessons to ride the surf, she was approached by a model scout on a visit to Japan. The product of an American father and Japanese mother, Helvin hit the big time in London with Bailey. After brief resistance (she didn’t want to become “just another name on his infamously long list of conquests”), she married him when she was 19, “an adoring child bride”.
For a model, marrying the hottest photographer in Europe is hitting the jackpot. Helvin acknowledges this by telling us she needed Bailey. But rather startlingly, she adds: “If I can be bold enough to say it, he needed me.”
Bailey is the highlight of the book, and practically all the best lines are his, along with much of the humour (which is otherwise scarce). He is fantastically unPC and deliciously wicked. When the film Shampoo comes out, he declares: “Thank God all the assholes are going to want to be hairdressers now, not photographers.” He sleeps around constantly. “Of course he slept around,” Helvin writes. “He was David Bailey.” But if Helvin ever tries to discuss her emotions with him, he snaps: “ Please don’t be one of those awful American women who is constantly whining, ‘We need to talk about our feelings!’ ”
In fact, if Bailey had been involved in editing this book, it might have been a better one. Instinct tells me he would have cut lines such as: “Something deep within me felt that being with Eric wasn’t going to bring me nearer to enlightenment.” The Eric is, of course, Eric Clapton. Who did you expect: Eric Morecambe?
But Bailey doesn’t get it all his own way. There is one rather amusing moment when Helvin, having had her own fling with the “gorgeous, dark” Tom Selleck, tells us how her sleep-talking habit gets her into trouble back home with Bailey. “I was roused in the middle of the night by Bailey growling, ‘Who’s Tom, Marie? Who’s this f***ing Tom character you keep talking about?’ I played for time by pretending to yawn. ‘Oh, you know,’ I said, before giving an alibi that even now astounds me with its cheek: ‘Tom Thumb.’ ”
Nobody in Helvin’s book is remotely normal or unglamorous. She lives in a rarefied world inhabited by Sting and Trudie, Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall (her best friend), Mark Shand, Salman Rushdie and the improbably named Carmen Dell’Orifice. At times, the name-dropping can get a bit tiresome. Even in adversity (she lost money on the stock markets after 9/11 and had to move to Chelsea, poor love), she ends up house-sitting for Rushdie, where she tells us she “devoured his library”. Sounds rather indigestible.
When she writes about her childhood and her family, particularly the death of her younger sister, Helvin is interesting, almost likeable. However, the publisher knows that this won’t sell books. So if the life and (many) loves of a top model are what interest you, then you will like The Autobiography. You can sit back and be transported into a world where everyone is irresistible, especially Marie.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. Helena is also working on a thriller called Thin Ice that will be published in spring 2021 as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and in paperback in April 2018.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019