Monday, 2 November 2009

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People by Toby Young

In 1995, journalist and co-founder of The Modern Review Toby Young left London for New York and a job at Vanity Fair. Somehow he lasted two years before his litany of bad behaviour, terrible work and general hopelessness finally got him the push.

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People is an amusing account of Young’s time in New York where he seemed to do his level best to annoy as many people as possible, seeming without trying. Perhaps part of the problem was that his alcohol intake appeared only to be matched by his penchant for cocaine, with disastrous results. I could quote whole chunks of the book verbatim for the purposes of 120 Units, but I’ve picked on one episode in particular when Young is sent back to London to do a photoshoot with New British Artist Damien Hirst.

Hirst turns up, with friends Keith Allen and Alex James in tow: 11am on 7 December I rendezvoused at the Groucho Club with the photographer and we went upstairs in search of ‘The Boulevardiers’, as the three subjects had been dubbed... We found them in the billiard room nursing terrible hangovers. The bar of the Groucho hadn’t opened yet so I was immediately dispatched to buy a bottle of vodka. It was the first of many that they would consume over the course of the day.

After New York, even Young is surprised at the state his subjects are in:

I was quite shocked by just how unkempt ‘The Boulevardiers’ were... Even at 11a.m. they were bleary eyed and unshaven...They smelt as if they’d spent the night on the floor of the Coach and Horses, rolling around in dog ends... A better name for the three of them would have been ‘The Toxic Avengers’.

Needless to say, as the vodka flows and several grams of toot disappear up various nostrils, the shoot descends into chaos. Finally, the trio refuse to sign the release for the photos. Young reads them the riot act which, to his surprise, works. Well it seems that way at first:

In the end, Hirst relented and motioned for me to hand him one of the release forms. He scrawled what I took to be his signature and then handed it back. I thanked him profusely and then read what he’d written: ‘Suck my big dick’.

Words of warning to the rest of us: never work with children, animals or artists...

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