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Memoirs of a Rock Chick
Paula Yates: The Autobiography - Paula Yates
Member Name: CarolineR-D
Paula Yates: The Autobiography - Paula Yates
Date: 17/07/12, updated on 17/07/12 (150 review reads)
Advantages: Amusing, poignant
Disadvantages: Some doubts about how reliable it is
I have always had a fondness for Paula because she's very much of my generation. What is special about this book is that it captures Paula when she is still at her best, warm and witty, making me laugh out loud with her stories, before her life began to spiral out of control.
Paula's account of her childhood is one of the most fascinating parts of the book for me. Any book that starts with the line, "My father had a very big organ" is clearly not going to describe the most orthodox upbringing. I was intrigued and amused by the anecdotes about Jess Yates (the man Paula always assumed, incorrectly, to be her natural father) and his beloved Wurlitzer organ, and her bizarre mother, Heller Toren, a glamorous ex Bluebell Girl with an IQ of 160 but an apparent inability to remember to do the laundry. It is perhaps not surprising that Paula turned out somewhat eccentric with this kind of shambolic start in life. In the hands of another writer, this might have been disturbing stuff, but Paula even manages to make manic depression sound unnervingly funny. Tales of her father's obsessive trips to local auctioneers to buy plaster busts of Pitt the Elder just appealed to my sense of humour somehow!
Some of the detail is so bizarre that it does stretch credibility a little. I did find it hard to believe that Paula could really get to the age of five before she was potty trained and be anorexic by the time she was eight. However, if it is true, it goes a long way to explain her desperate desire to settle down and have a normal, happy family life, which apparently led to many futile attempts to get Bob Geldof to swear undying love to her, before he gave in. (They ended up spending 18 years of their life together.) Paula's descriptions of being ignored as a child and "being dragged by one leg down the corridor to my room by yet another German nanny" may have caused her to lavish attention on her own children, to the extent that some critics claim they were spoilt little brats. There was clearly a lot of vulnerability hidden behind the ultra-hip, confident persona she presented to the world.
Paula comes across as a mass of contradictions. She speaks of her teenage years as a Majorcan hippy, frankly describing her early experiments with boys and drugs. Although on the one hand she comes across as a wild child, in other ways she presents as a sensible, 'butter wouldn't melt in her mouth' type. She had passed a large amount of O levels by the age of 12. Her devotion to her children is apparent, but one can only wonder why she ended up leading the sordid, out-of-control life that would ultimately take her away from them.
I enjoyed reading the descriptions of the punk scene of the late 1970s and the book certainly recreated the throbbing, heaving London clubs of the era, which was interesting to me as someone who is old enough to remember punk taking off and the shockwaves that came with it. Some of Paula's tales make it sound decidedly less edgy and more laughable than it no doubt intended to be.
I liked reading the accounts of Paula's relationship with Bob Geldof. In the light of what was to happen subsequently, i.e. Bob adopting the daughter of Paula and Michael Hutchence and bringing her up as his own, it is moving to read of the bond they shared. What comes across from the book is how both Bob and Paula had unusual and difficult childhoods. Bob was brought up by his two sisters after his mother died when he was small. They each had a chance to build something secure together that they had never experienced in their own childhoods and each had a strong need to create order out of chaos. In Bob's case this seems to have manifested itself in a quite controlling personality. In Paula, it comes across in a love of domestic routine - even cleaning. In this book Paula speaks charitably about Bob, although she was later to descend into vitriol, blaming him for Hutchence's death. It is clear that they did have something special for a long time.
There is a lovely, romantic description of Paula feeling lonely and neglected, deciding on a whim to fly to Paris where the Boomtown Rats were playing in concert. She arrived on a freezing cold night when it had started to snow and was wearing a blue lace ball gown. She says of Bob - "he saw me in the snow looking particularly pathetic - but glamorously pathetic - and smiled. Then he finally let himself fall in love." When I read this I felt so sad that things couldn't have stayed that way.
The Tube was compulsory viewing for any self-respecting teenager in the 1980s and the chapters dealing with the show brought back lots of memories of the bands and pop stars of the era, with much of the focus being on what went wrong on the show - and a lot of things did go wrong! From a striking Durham miner shouting into the microphones and the episode where Paula did an entire show with her dress tucked into her knickers, there is plenty here to raise a giggle. Reggie Kray's fan mail to Paula makes interesting reading, as do accounts of Paula's crazy antics with co-presenter Jools Holland. In almost prophetic style, Paula also tells us of her first meeting with Michael Hutchence when INXS were on the show - "so heartbreakingly beautiful it made me feel quite feeble."
Live Aid is one of the defining things of my generation and it was interesting to read Paula's 'behind the scenes' guide. Her obvious pride in Bob shines through. However, she also refers to the stress it put upon their relationship due to the long separations, which is not something I had ever thought about before. It can't have been easy for the couple, especially when you consider the Internet-less days of the 1980s, when long distance communications would have been problematic.
I know that this book received very bad reviews when it was first published. Even Paula's own mother condemned it as fantasy, insisting that Paula had been a privileged child, adored by her parents. Jools Holland, in his fond tribute to Paula on the back cover of the book, ends by saying - "I hope you enjoy reading this excellent book that my dear friend has written. Please bear in mind much of it is likely to be barefaced lies." Paula herself was to tell the press that her autobiography was purely a money-making venture. So perhaps you do need to take it with a pinch of salt.
However, I still found it an enjoyable read. I am not usually interested in celebrity gossip but because this was full of anecdotes about pop stars from the 1980s, I found it more entertaining. I also found Paula's self-deprecating style refreshing in contrast to some of the more arrogant showbiz stars of today. It's surprisingly touching too, particularly in the light of what has happened since. Don't expect anything too deep, however. It is more chatty in a Loose Woman kind of way. Whether or not you can believe every word, there is no denying Paula's heart was in the right place, even though she made some regrettable choices during her life. The enigmatic nature of this woman will always intrigue me and this book certainly keeps her unique spirit alive.
Summary: Insight into the life of an 80s rock chick
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