You can tell it’s getting close to Christmas from the glossy tell-alls piling up in the shops. Out of the current top ten hardback non-fiction chart no fewer than six titles are celebrity memoirs.
Getting well groomed, expensively dressed actor and singer types to turn up at the annual staff barbecue is a nice bonus for publishers, but the real reason these books exist is that folks like Cheryl Cole have the kinds of fanbases mere fiction authors can only dream of.
Consider: 12 million people watch The X-Factor. So if just ten percent stumble into a shop and accidentally buy Tulisa’s new book... kerching!
Be warned though. Sleb books (as I shall now irritate you by calling them) come in two broad categories. There is highly rare but prized “great story involving a Sleb”. Remember Richard Hammond from Top Gear writing about the crash that nearly killed him? Corking stuff. Sold a shed-load. But the follow up in which he mused about stunt biker Eval Kneival....er... didn’t.
Which brings us to the common or garden “Sleb in search of a story, any story”.
Take Miranda Hart for instance. If you love her BBC1 comedy series, ahem, Miranda, and many apparently do, then I guess you might well get a kick from Is It Just Me? in which said famously tall person discusses life themes with her 18 year old self. (Yup. She really does.)
Literary types might suspect the well-educated Ms Hart (she went to boarding school and played Lacrosse) is channelling not just the classic dialogues of Plato and Aristotle, but also Tristram Shandy, the celebrated 18th century meta-novel which spends most of its time worrying about how to begin. She even addresses us as My Dear Reader Chum or MDRC for short. But ol’ Shandy just wasn’t as “hilaire”, a term that crops up a lot, as ol’ Miranda.
A lot of Hart’s comedy is based on embarrassment, but the embarrassment that oozed from these pages was that of an otherwise talented performer and writer who had a highly lucrative contract to deliver a book when she had very little to put in it.
Perhaps Miranda is too young, at 37, to have a proper biography or a memoir in her. But then there’s Tulisa, who has just published Honest at the grand old age of 24. And it’s packed with... stuff. No Lacrosse jolly sticks here: Tulisa grew up in gritty North West London, lost her virginity at 14, and was a pop star about five minutes later. She likes to “get up to mischief”, a phrase she actually uses, and the detail, as you would expect, is fairly intense: “Chapter Five: After my success in Bugsy Malone at primary school, I was determined that I would become a recording artist.” Gasp.
High points include going to a strip club with her non-boyfriend record producer (“Of course, the press were all over it”) and how she never slept with Mark Wright from The Only Way is Essex (“Why is it that I can’t be friendly, or even a bit of a flirt with a guy without everyone presuming I banged him?”)
Saturday night TV fans will note that Tulisa is up against Strictly Come Dancing’s Bruno Tonioli, not only as judges on rival shows but on the bookstand, which brings me to one of the few genuinely good reasons to buy Sleb books: embarrassing pictures of the subject’s youth.
Bruno’s pics are particularly hilaire: as a toddler he was clearly rescued from the Italian version of The Addams Family and as a teenager from the Italian version of The Breakfast Club. You’ve never seen so much hair and teeth. Or man nipple. But the actual content? How can I break it to you darling? You write like a moose... doing a tango... wearing a swimsuit... on its head. Pass the sickbag.