Lynn Barber

Lynn Barber is a former Sunday Times journalist and author of An Education and A Curious Career.

The ordeal of sitting for my father Lucian Freud

The frontispiece of this book is Lucian Freud’s portrait of his daughter Rose naked on a bed. Rose says that when her father asked her to sit, which she had long hoped he would do, she naturally assumed he would want her naked, but asked him not to paint her hairy legs. He, in turn,

Frank Field: 1942-2024

Frank Field, the former Labour minister and crossbench peer, died today aged 81. Below is an interview he did with Lynn Barber in 2018. Frank Field was given a standing ovation when he won The Spectator’s Parliamentarian of the Year award two weeks ago. Normally there’s polite applause, but he is the hero of the

What we owe to the self-taught genius Carl Linnaeus

Carl Linnaeus and Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon were both taxonomists, born in the same year (1707), but apart from that they had little in common and never met. Buffon was French, Linnaeus Swedish. Buffon was suave, elegant, tall and handsome (Voltaire said he had ‘the body of an athlete and the soul of a

How Britain prepared for Armageddon from the 1950s onwards

Julie McDowall ‘first encountered Armageddon’ in September 1984 when she was only three. Her father was watching a BBC Two drama called Threads about a nuclear attack on Sheffield, but instead of putting her to bed (which he obviously should have done) he let her watch it too. She saw ‘milk bottles melt in the

Will Keir Starmer ever learn to loosen up?

Tom Baldwin declares at the outset: ‘It’s only fair to warn those hoping to find these pages spattered with blood that they will be disappointed.’ Fair enough. This is not an authorised biography, but it is a friendly one, written with Keir Starmer’s co-operation. Baldwin briefly worked as Labour’s communications director, and then was asked

Nothing satisfies Madonna for very long

In 1994, Norman Mailer called Madonna ‘our greatest living female artist’. She was huge in those days. I remember teenagers like my daughters constantly asking ‘What would Madonna do?’ But my grandchildren haven’t even heard of her. She seems to have faded faster than most. Why? Perhaps it’s because, as often claimed, she’s the ‘queen

The horrors of the ‘Upskirt Decade’

The subject that Sarah Ditum addresses in Toxic is why the early part of this century was ‘such a monstrous time to be famous and female. It’s about how the concept of privacy came undone and why that was a catastrophe for women’. The concept of privacy was actually undone by a judge in Tulsa,

Joan Didion deserves better 

This book is an example of a regrettable new trend – the solipsistic biography. I mean lives of famous people written by unfamous people (usually women) who want to tell you a LOT about themselves. This one is about the writer Joan Didion by an academic called Evelyn McDonnell who never met Didion but believes

‘I have uncancelled myself’: David Starkey interviewed

David Starkey’s commentary on the Queen’s funeral on GB News was generally agreed to be the best of all the TV coverage, and now he is covering the coronation, and has made a three-part documentary about it for GB News called The Crown. Of course he knows the history, going back to King Edgar’s coronation

All talk and no trousers: is Oxford really to blame for Brexit?

Attacks on British elitism usually talk about Oxbridge, but Simon Kuper argues that it is specifically Oxford that is the problem, which has provided 11 (out of 15) prime ministers since the war. So what’s the explanation? Kuper thinks it’s all the fault of the Oxford Union, which fosters chaps who are clever at debating

The life of Elizabeth Taylor was non-stop drama 

What is so startling about Elizabeth Taylor’s life story is how quickly everything happened. She was an MGM star at 12, a wife at l8, a widow at 26 and a grandmother at 38. Aged 16, she was playing Robert Taylor’s wife in Conspirator while still doing school lessons every day. ‘How can I concentrate,’

The troubled life of Paul Newman

Paul Newman explains at the beginning how this book came about: ‘I want to leave some kind of record that sets things straight and pokes holes in the mythology that’s sprung up around me… Because what exists on the record has no bearing at all on the truth.’ Fair enough – but how come the

Jarvis Cocker measures out his life in attic junk

If you were hoping for an autobiography this isn’t it. Jarvis Cocker calls it ‘an inventory’ and insists: ‘This is not a life story. It’s a loft story.’ But anyway it’s as quirky and engaging as you would expect from Cocker and also the most beautifully produced book I’ve seen in years, designed by Julian

Sheila Hancock takes pride in her irascibility

This book begins with Sheila Hancock wondering why she is being offered a damehood. I must say I slightly wondered too, but it seems that most actresses become dames if they live long enough: vide Joan Collins, Penelope Keith, Joanna Lumley etc. And Hancock, as well as acting and making brilliant appearances on Radio 4’s

Is Anna Wintour human?

Apparently Anna Wintour wants to be seen as human, and Amy Odell’s biography goes some way to helping her achieve that aim. Nearly all the photographs show her smiling, looking friendly, even girlish. And the text quite often mentions her crying. On 9 November 2016 she cried in front of her entire staff because Hillary

The party’s finally over for Nigel Farage

Nigel Farage was never even an MP, but Michael Crick argues convincingly that he is one of the top five most significant politicians of the past half century. Without him we might still be in the EU. All political careers supposedly end in failure, but maybe his didn’t. As with Boris Johnson (whom he resembles

How Shane MacGowan became Ireland’s prodigal son

I once stood on a Dublin street with Shane MacGowan and watched little old ladies who can’t ever have been Pogues fans blessing him as they passed by: ‘God love you, Shane!’ On his 60th birthday, in 2017, Michael D. Higgins, the President, presented him with a lifetime achievement award, while Nick Cave, Bono, Johnny