THE PIERS AND PAULA THEORY
Dolly Alderton on remembering that familiar is better than fancy
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’