It's celebrity biography time! But are they any good?

by Mark Broatch / 01 January, 2018

There are more egos than you can shake a stick at in celeb bio season! Mark Broatch wades in so you don't have to.

“I like it here. There are no men, and no other boys. I don’t seem to be very good at being a boy and I’m afraid of men. One man in particular.” No surprises for guessing who. If you’ve seen any of Robert Webb’s comedy, much of it done with David Mitchell in Peep Show and elsewhere, you’ll recognise straight away the voice in How Not To Be a Boy (Canongate $32.99): awkward-confident, clever-clever, a bit chippy. But this isn’t your usual sleb Christmas knock-off. It’s insightful, humane and funny, and reveals (ta-da!) the bookish, unboyish working-class boy beneath the quite-posh star.

Also funny and sad, though in a slightly less caffeinated fashion, is Matt Lucas’s Little Me: My Life from A-Z (Canongate $32.99). Instead of a standard memoir, Little Britain’s shorter, rounder, gayer half gives us the alphabet in chapters – B for Baldy! G for Gay, J for Jewish, P for Prosopagnosia, T for the TARDIS, and so on. When he finally tells his mother he’s gay, she blames herself. No, he tells her, then says, “She did smother me, though. She is, after all, a Jewish mother. She wouldn’t be doing her job without a bit of smothering.” Includes an ungrateful celebrity’s guide to being famous.

Speaking of famous, Anna Kendrick is the star of the Pitch Perfect films, according to the cover of Scrappy Little Nobody (Simon & Schuster $34.95). The gazillion fans of that trilogy – for the record, I much prefer her non-singing, insecure hard-ass in Up In the Air – will learn about her relentless ambition as a child actor in theatre, her family, her tiny stature and the grins and groans of being quite a famous film person. She’s likeable, a bit square, and, um, she doesn’t actually have that much to report. She says she left a lot out (because: career). I suspect a far more revealing book is coming in a decade or two.

Some will know him as a heavy-metal god, others won’t have a clue (guilty). Bruce Dickinson is, it says here, the lead singer of Iron Maiden, which has sold more than 90 million albums and played over 2000 shows in 63 countries. Which sounds like a real job. Dickinson (also pilot, actor, fencer) had two novels published, so the words in What Does This Button Do? (HarperCollins, $36.99) make sense. “No births, marriages or divorces of me or anybody else”, though, or much actual dirty grunge, but plenty on boarding school, gigs and flying. Might actually be enjoyed by non-fans.

When the wife of British footballer Rio Ferdinand (England and Manchester United) died from breast cancer, he was lost, not just heartbroken. He had no clue how to raise or console his three kids. “If there had been any way to stick to my guns and help my kids to grieve without exposing my own emotions, I would have taken it.” Still, he made a doco for the BBC on grief, and agreed to this memoir, which was (quickly) ghost-written by journalist Decca Aitkenhead. Thinking Out Loud (Hodder & Stoughton, $37.99) won’t win any awards for writing, but it might make you cry.

Richard Branson’s Losing My Virginity sold oodles of copies, so why not revisit the old surfie-haired, goateed billionaire-ness one more time? Finding My Virginity (Ebury Publishing, $39.99), nearly two decades on, reads like a bon-vivant businessman giving a career-tallying speech (“honoured”, “mirrors my vision”, “my active, creative lifestyle”), with no opportunity to display his adventurous side or name-drop untaken. “I was in the bath when Nelson Mandela rang.” He’s fun on Donald Trump, though, and the appendix of 75 close shaves shows luck has really been on his side.

Not many musicians can get away with two volumes of memoir, but Jimmy Barnes may be a bona-fide sex, drugs and rock and roll exception. Working Class Man (HarperCollins, $49.99) picks up where last year’s Working Class Boy left off, with the subject aged 17, “in the back of that truck with my newfound family, Cold Chisel, as I ran from my past”. The Scottish immigrant family, the drinking, the violence, the divorce. This one starts grimly, in Auckland, five years ago. But things do get better, of course, or this would be a biography rather than autobiography. Lots of photos, and a few family surprises.

Anna Faris used to be married to Chris Pratt, fellow film star. But in the course of her writing (with Rachel Bertsche) Unqualified (HQ, $39.99), they split up. Trouble was, he’d agreed to write the foreword. Awkward. Though not really, because they still lurve each other. Anna – rhymes with Donna, somehow – tells us about being a child actor and a ragingly successful romantic-advice podcaster. While there’s a bit of filler, she’s honest, and funny, about her relationships, good and bad, her films, her boob job, being a mother, and meeting Chris (while still being in her first marriage).

This article was first published in the December 16, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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