THE PIERS AND PAULA THE­ORY

Dolly Alder­ton on re­mem­ber­ing that fa­mil­iar is bet­ter than fancy

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I re­cently in­ter­viewed the broad­caster, Red Nose Day di­rec­tor and script edi­tor Emma Freud. At one point, she de­scribed what it was like to go to the Os­cars when Four Wed­dings And A Fu­neral, writ­ten and di­rected by her part­ner, Richard Cur­tis, was nom­i­nated for Best Pic­ture and Best Screen­play. She talks about how ex­cit­ing it was, how glam­orous it was – how, for Richard (who had been writ­ing since he was a teenager), it was ‘the ab­so­lute pin­na­cle’ of his ca­reer. Then she told me about an epiphany they had when they re­turned to their ho­tel room. ‘I asked, “What did you think?” and he said, “It was good. I mean, it wasn’t as good as when we go and have sup­per with Piers and Paula.”’ (Piers and Paula be­ing a cou­ple they have been friends with since school.) ‘Laugh­ing about the same things we’ve laughed about for a decade and eat­ing the same slightly dis­gust­ing risotto and teas­ing Paula about how dis­gust­ing it was and drink­ing a bot­tle of wine and just fool­ing around is so much more fun than go­ing to the Os­cars. It was a real mo­ment of go­ing: “Okay, we need to ree­val­u­ate an aw­ful lot of things right now, be­cause this is the real stuff of life.”’

The ‘Piers and Paula The­ory’, as it is now known be­tween me and my friends, is know­ing that, as much as the shiny new­ness of glitzy par­ties and glam­orous strangers can be fun, it will never feel as joy­ful, up­lift­ing or as restora­tive as spend­ing time with the peo­ple that you know and love – usu­ally in the places that you know and love, too.

It’s a sim­ple truth, and yet one that’s so easy to lose sight of. We live in a cul­ture that is ob­sessed with at­tain­ment and achieve­ment – whether it’s win­ning a new boyfriend on Love Is­land, a record deal on The X Fac­tor or us­ing so­cial me­dia as a vir­tual glass cab­i­net for your tro­phies and rosettes. I do not ex­clude my­self from this – time and time again I’ve been guilty of pur­su­ing the false idols of new clothes or hot hol­i­days or flats with high ceil­ings or cool par­ties, think­ing that deep, all-en­com­pass­ing ful­fil­ment might be hid­den in­side.

It is a sen­ti­ment echoed by Emma Thomp­son on Desert Is­land Discs, when she said that she re­alised early on in her ca­reer that she could be a fa­mous per­son ‘liv­ing in an­other way’. She said that when she won her first Os­car, she was asked to move out to LA to start her own pro­duc­tion com­pany. ‘But then who would I know, where would all my friends be?’ she asked. ‘I have this habit of con­ti­nu­ity and the con­tin­uum of life, know­ing peo­ple for a long, long time, brings me great plea­sure.’ We so of­ten dwell on the ex­cite­ment of fu­ture goals that we for­get the bliss­ful an­chor of our his­tory.

My Piers and Paula – the thing I know brings me hap­pi­ness above all else – are my close friends, par­tic­u­larly the ones I have grown up with, who I know as if they were my cho­sen spe­cial­ist sub­jects on Mas­ter­mind. It’s chips by Cam­den’s canal over Cham­pagne by the Seine. Danc­ing to the same Pulp songs at the north Lon­don pub that I love over the most ex­trav­a­gant party at the coolest venue in the world. It’s wak­ing up in my bed sur­rounded by my favourite pa­per­backs and pho­tos of my fam­ily over wak­ing up in a five-star ho­tel in a far­away land. Since in­ter­view­ing Emma, I’ve been re­minded to trea­sure th­ese things; be grate­ful for the glo­ri­ous rou­tine of the well-worn in­stead of chas­ing an empty prom­ise of sub­lime nov­elty.

Find your Piers and Paula. Hold them close. Give them time and thought and re­spect and love. Don’t take them for granted. Pri­ori­tise them and cel­e­brate them.

Re­mem­ber: they’re the stuff of life.

‘We set goals but for­get the bliss­ful an­chor of our his­tory’

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