Interview with Helen Fielding: ‘It’s amazing to me that Bridget Jones is still in discussion’
“It’s extraordinary to me that Bridget Jones, whom I started to write casually as an anonymous newspaper column to make ends meet, is still being discussed 25 years later,” says Helen Fielding, author of the four Novels by Bridget Jones.
Twenty years after the cinematic release of Bridget Jones’ Diary, the attraction of one of modern literature’s most unlikely heroines seems to have barely waned: such is the universality of Bridget’s story. Oddly, there is buzz about a new movie, but how will she fare in a more socially conscious time?
When Hugh Grant, Colin Firth and RenÃ©e Zellweger roamed Leicester Square as a youth for the film’s world premiere in 2001, their smiles beamed from a pre-9/11, before me too, before the age of social media.
But a more modern release saw the light in 2016 with Bridget Jones’ Baby, who gleaned good reviews, demonstrating the character’s relatability fifteen years after the initial film.
âWhen I was writing the Mad About the Boy novel, I always envisioned it as a movie,â says Helen, translating the fourth novel for the screen.
There are no confirmed details yet on the production, or who will return to the series, although Bridget actor Renee Zelwegger hinted she would like.
Reflecting on her bestselling 2013 novel, Helen thinks that “there are movie sets, more in the tradition of old school British romantic comedy.”
Still, the author believes that the past year has left âa lot of uncertaintyâ about what kind of movies audiences want to watch. âI feel like a lot of people are looking for escape, romance and comedy,â she says of how the pandemic has left us in need of a light fix.
In Mad About The Boy, there is the potential for generous portions of all three. Now Bridget is in her fifties and widowed with a young child. Helen seems excited about portraying older women on screen like she did in the book.
âThere are still terrible depictions of single older women in sitcoms and movies,â she says.
She recalls a script from Mad About The Boy that reflects her commitment to better portray older female characters. âIt was especially nice writing a scene where Bridget finds herself among these people at a party with her gorgeous younger boyfriend, who ends up ripping his shirt and diving into a pool to save a drowning dog.
“‘Goodness! Is this your nephew? To which Bridget replies,” No, that would be a very strange relationship. “”
Born in Morley, West Yorkshire in 1958, Helen went on to study English Literature at the University of Oxford alongside Richard Curtis, Mr. Bean, Vicar Of Dibley and Four Weddings writer, with whom she briefly dated .
After graduating in 1979, Helen worked as a journalist, including for The Independent, where she conceived the idea for Bridget Jones, writing under the pseudonym in a column for the newspaper in 1995. Bridget’s first novel, Bridget Jones’ Diary, was published in 1996.
Now 63, these are experiences straight out of Helen’s life. âMy real experience with the women around me is that they stay pretty much the same,â she realizes. âAlways find the same funny things – and always sexual. I think it takes a big adjustment. “
Too often, she says, women are “presented as sad or irrelevant or boring or delusional and non-sexually viable.”
“And on this last front, there is an outrageous imbalance with straight men,” she adds.
And for today’s thirties? âWhen I first wrote Bridget, the fictional portrayal of a single girl in her thirties didn’t catch up with reality,â says Helen.
âThings are looking better on this front now,â she said, but there is still a long way to go.
What about gender equality in the workplace these days? “Honestly – I think it’s better but everything is still hidden.”
Helen recently picked up Bridget for a few lockdown columns published in The Times, in which she wrote that Bridget’s colleague Mr. Fitzherbert would lose his job “without a doubt” after eyeing Bridget’s breasts so openly. But have behaviors really changed so fundamentally?
âThese things run deep,â Helen says of systemic prejudice against women. “Change takes a long time and we must remain vigilant.”
And the plaguesocial media, which permeates our lives in a much broader sense than the workplace? Did this make women more lonely than Bridget was in the 1990s or 2000s?
âNo, not alone,â Helen believes. “Paranoid perhaps, insecure, filled with FOMO, obsessed with presentation, burdened with expectation, paralyzed with insufficiency … but not alone.”
Helen recently deleted her own social media accounts. âYou just have to live life without commenting on it,â she says – but there’s a saving grace that comes from social media: She thinks memes have kept a lot of us sane at the same time. over the past year.
âThey bonded through shared human fragility, struggle or desperation and humor,â she says of the shareable joke images posted online. “This is real humanity and support.”
âOne of my favorites is the clip of the mother that gushes about how wonderful it is to have the kids and then when a voice says, ‘Mom! She shouts: “Fuck you!”
These days, when not sharing memes with her friends on WhatsApp, Helen is helping Covid efforts in hospitals. âI have become a total bored with immunology,â she says.
She admits to having “a huge crush on Anthony Fauci,” but stops before saying if she’s with anyone herself.
âI think the fact that I originally wrote Bridget under a pseudonym and anonymously because I wouldn’t want people to think she was me keeps me going to say that I never drink and that I am a virgin, âshe jokes.
âI would never continue to produce them just for fun. It would be too scary.
It feels like comedy is an essential part of Helen’s vision – inside and outside of her fictional world. During our interview, she inserts gags everywhere.
She places a lot of emphasis on the value of her comedic writing, including persuading Hugh Grant to return to the show.
âWrite something really funny,â she quipped, hinting at potential future novels.
How about more Bridget literature?
âI would never continue to produce them just for fun. It would be too scary. It should be because I just started writing something that became Bridget anyway and because I had something that I really wanted to say.
Considering Helen’s surprise at Bridget’s continued success over the years, has she given much thought to the character’s legacy? What could become of Bridget in, say, 100 years? Would she want a remake?
How could she, when Bridget Jones’s diary itself was inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice? Colin Firth’s character of Mark Darcy is borrowed directly from the novel.
“It’ll be like stealing the plot from Pride and Prejudice to write Bridget Jones’ diary,” she jokes.
âI was like, ‘I don’t think Jane Austen would care. And anyway, she’s dead. ”