FAMOUS FACES TELL ALL
Lincolnshire-based lorry mechanic/motorcycle racer/TV presenter Guy Martin (37) is doing well with his fourth memoir, We Need to Weaken the Mixture! (Virgin Books, £20).
As he says in his introduction: “We’ve sold a fair few of the previous books, so someone must like them.”
Amid a good deal about motors, races and crashes, Martin introduces us again to his inner chimp, Brian, having learnt from a popular sports psychologist that there are “three parts of the brain: chimp, human and computer”.
Sometimes he has trouble keeping Brian in his box, he admits.
Last October, Martin and his wife had a baby daughter, Dot. “I stayed up the top end during the birth. The doctors ended up cutting her out of the sunroof. I didn’t really want to see any of that,” he says.
Having a child has made him think, though.
He says of Dot’s birth: “I’ll be honest and say it wasn’t on my urgent todo list, but it’s made me realise as the job’s evolved that now I can see I’ve got things to pass on from my short time on Earth.
“She is someone to leave my lathe and milling machine to.”
Michelle Obama has much to pass on too in her memoir Becoming (Viking, £25), which is comfortably heading the best-seller lists.
No buyer will be disappointed. This is an amazingly frank and intimate book, appealingly conversational in tone, revealing a great deal about her whole life, not just being First Lady.
She’s remarkably candid about how different she and former US president Barack Obama are, and the distance between them.
Not the least of the many winning disclosures is her complete lack of natural interest in politics, much as that will disappoint those hoping she will one day stand for office.
“I’d never been one who’d choose to spend Saturday at a political rally,” Michele writes.
When her husband Barack considered standing for the Illinois senate, her thinking was, “I didn’t much appreciate politicians and therefore didn’t relish the idea of my husband becoming one.”
Extraordinary that she should say this, given her position.
But private faces in public places are wiser and nicer than public faces in private places, as Auden said.
My Thoughts Exactly by Lily Allen (Blink, £20) is pretty innovative too: no filter here either. Allen outflanks anything the tabloids might have to say about her by giving it all to us in her own voice, from her sex life to the death of her baby boy, and from being traumatised by a stalker to having a breakdown — there’s no holding back.
In the second of her two chapters on sex, for example, she says that on a 2014 tour, she hired prostitutes.
Over-sharing? She has two daughters who may one day read this, but it sets a new standard in star disclosure. Will others follow?
Two best-selling memoirs from stars of Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins are jacketed so identically — the men giving their best version of the 1,000-yard stare — one has to hope they are the product of matey collusion, not just lame conformity.
Ant Middleton’s First Man In: Leading from the Front (HarperCollins, £20) tells his story of progressing through 9 Para, the Royal Marines and the Special Boat Service, to trouble in civilian life (a 26-month prison sentence for beating up a policeman) and recovering though TV fame, including an adventurous re-enactment of the 4,000-mile voyage of Captain Bligh, all punchily presented as a self-help book on leadership.
Each chapter ends with a box of lessons to learn: “Don’t let anyone else define who you are”, “always have a plan”, “make friends with your demons” and so forth.
It’s effectively packaged and highly readable even if the final summary, that “the ultimate leadership lesson, the holy truth that powers them all”, is predictable: “positivity”.
Battle Scars: A Story of War and All That
Follows by Jason Fox with Matt Allen (Bantam, £20) has a remarkably similar story to tell, of service with the Royal Marines and the SBS, followed by burnout and struggles with PTSD, relieved by a thoughtful therapist, and then finding success in TV, starting with another epic open-boat voyage, setting a world record for crossing the Atlantic east to west unsupported.
But the writing throughout is much closer up, more tangled and confessional, including contributions from Fox’s therapist and a fellow PTSD sufferer, Jamie Sanderson.
Together Fox and Sanderson have founded the Rock2Recovery clinics that offer a programme of help — stop, talk, act, refocus — for those similarly affected, mentally and psychologically. Battle Scars is itself a brave contribution.
Step by Step: The Life in My Journeys by Simon Reeve (Hodder, £20) is also selling well primarily because the author is a TV face, having presented some 20odd travel documentaries beginning with Meet the Stans in 2003 and, most recently, Mediterranean with Simon Reeve.
Much of the book snappily recounts these journeys, as promised, beginning with the time he nearly died of malar- iain Gabon (“I’ve never felt the same since”).
But even more remarkable is the story of how, after a tough upbringing in Acton (“I was 13 when I started carrying a knife”), he managed to get himself into journalism in the first place and went on to write the first book warning about the threat posed by Osama bin Laden, The New Jackals of 1998, which hardly anyone read until 2001.
Becoming the Super vet: Listening to the Animals by Noel Fitzpatrick (Trapeze, £20) is altogether a more conventional transfer of celebrity (“as heart-warming and life-affirming as the TV show with which he made his name”, the jacket proclaims). Put it another way: Fitzpatrick’s surgery may be clinically precise but his writing is an appalling splurge.
Failing to save a lamb when he was just 10 set him on his path. “Thank you the Lamb With No Name for allowing me a glimpse of the brightest star in heaven… On that fateful night that defined the course of my entire life, you taught me to have humility as well as the highest possible aspirations.”
He reveals that he invented himself as a superhero, Vetman, who could “fly off and save the broken animals”. Sadly, his veterinary exploits have impeded his romantic relationships. “So, for example, while I have been fixing a dog, a girl I loved has been in bed with someone else.
“That’s a bitter pill to swallow — and yet I can see it from her point of view. Why should she put up with always being second best to a dog or a cat in a crisis? She also has needs, dreams, hopes and aspirations…” She does? There’s always something you can learn from a memoir, isn’t there?