Bridget Harrison opened up about her dating life for all the world to see in a column for the New York Post. Now the Brit-born Harrison has gone one step further and published her memoirs, Tabloid Love, in which she details what went on behind the scenes. Feisty, funny and honest, Harrison details life on the dating circuit as if she were the readers’ best friend.
Now back in London, steadily dating an old friend, and working on a new newspaper project, Harrison took some time to answer the PopGurls 20 Questions.
1. For all the would-be newspaper reporters out there – what about the job is the most difficult?
News reporters are daily reacting to unpredictable and constantly changing events. Your job is to approach people who are often having the worst day of their lives, or are in extreme situations, and to get them to say interesting and informative things about what is happening to them. From the survivor of a horrific car crash, a mother who has just lost a child, a pensioner who has won the lottery, you have to approach each person with confidence and win them over. The key is to have an understanding of people, to be direct and up front with them to gain their trust, and never take “no” or “no comment” for an answer. The other key is to never give up and to leave no corner unturned, or avenue unexplored, whatever the story you are covering.
2. When you decided to make journalism your career, were there things about the real-world experience that weren’t what you thought they’d be?
The real word experience was far more unpredictable and in some cases distressing than I imagined. I also didn’t realize how quickly I would become hardened to real-life situations. When on a story you have to become ruthless. It’s all about getting the “money quotes,” and the people involved in some ways become dehumanized. For that day and that story they become a means to an end. The clever – and brutal – thing is not to let them realize that.
3. As a news reporter, you’ve been in situations that perhaps weren’t the safest for you, personally. As a dating columnist, what’s the sketchiest situation in which you found yourself?
I’ve ended up more drunk than I should be, wildly making out with guys in their apartments before thinking ‘actually I don’t want to have sex, I rather feel like going home.’ If any of these guys had turned nasty I would have been in danger of date rape, but I think news reporting teaches you to get a read on situations – and people – quite quickly. You learn to live on your sixth sense about the situations you are getting in to.
4. What piece of fan mail (or hate mail) did you receive during the course of your dating column that will always stay with you?
One of my favorites was from a guy who emailed to say ‘you are so shallow you would drown in a puddle’ which he followed by ‘I shall be in the Mercury Lounge at 8:30 pm on Wednesday, why don’t we meet for a drink.’ Getting fan mail was the best bit of my job – it made me feel very connected to real peoples’ experiences and taught me never to get too indulgent when re-telling my own stories.
5. What’s the most common piece of dating advice people come to you for?
It’s always ‘when should I call this guy?’ or ‘how do I play things in the early stages of a relationship?’ I tell women to play ridiculously hard to get, but also to have good manners, to avoid endless emailing and texting and to pick up the phone if they want to make an arrangement. I hate the concept of game playing but the truth is, men will always come running if you act like you’re so busy they’ll be lucky to get a slice of your exciting time.
6. Describe the difference between writing for a daily newspaper and writing a novel. Do you call upon different sets of skills? Did you find yourself racing to the end of your memoir as if you were under a shotgun deadline?
Having newspaper experience certainly helped me write my memoir. They always say the most important thing about writing is keeping going. Once you stop and start worrying about every tiny sentence or description, or get self-conscious, you get hellish writer’s block and you don’t get anywhere. The same goes for writing news stories. On a daily deadline the first thing you learn is that you have to get something down on paper at speed – and you can worry about finessing it later. The difference between the two is mainly about the length and keeping a narrative going over 120 thousand words rather than 500! But my three mottos in writing are a)to try to say complicated things simply, not to write simple things in a complicated way; b) to write how I would speak and c)to not hide things from the reader. The moment you lose your honesty you lose the good will of the reader who, after all, is taking time out of his or her precious life to read your stuff.
7. Tabloid Love is a memoir that’s been classified in many reviews as Chick Lit. Do you think that classification had an impact – positive or negative – on book sales?
I’m very happy with being called Chick Lit, it’s a hugely popular area of publishing and although tons of men have loved my book too, it is about a woman’s experience so it is Chick Lit. I do however think the genre has been given a bad name by publishers throwing out books which are lame imitations of more successful ones, which aren’t nearly as well written or well observed. You can’t beat a great Chick Lit, but there are some terrible ones out there too.
8. Were all the real-life dates and friends who turned up in the book aware they would be part of it? Were any of your relationships put in an uncomfortable situation when you decided to write this book?
It is tough telling your friends and past loves they’re going to turn up in a book and obviously most were slightly concerned about the outcome. Each time, I sent them the bits they were in to read and promised I would change anything they really hated. But in general I tried to make sure the joke was on me and although some very private moments in my life ended up in the book, I made sure none would cause humiliation for those involved. Some had bits about them changed so that even if they knew who they were, the rest of the world would not. I was also lucky that most were very excited I was writing a book and generously wanted me to do well, rather than worrying about their own parts in the memoir. I think if the book had been panned rather than getting some fantastic reviews, it might have been tougher.
9. Have readers been surprised that your love life didn’t wrap up nice and tidy at the end of Tabloid Love?
Lots of readers have written to me wanting to know what happens next. But the point was to write a book that was real and so it didn’t have a schmaltzy – she meets a guy at the end so it’s alright – ending. Real life isn’t like that, but the uplifting bit is knowing that if you have a good attitude it doesn’t matter whether you are single or married, or whatever. It’s your relationship with yourself that is key.
10. Which other Bridget are you most fond of being compared to? Have the Sex in the City comparisons gotten old yet?
Sex and the City and Bridget Jones’s Diary are both brilliant pieces of writing and I will always be absolutely flattered by the comparison. But my book is different – it is a memoir, not fiction, and it’s for a different generation of women. So hopefully it will be judged on its own merits too.
11. Your book release party ended up in Gawker. How does this seemingly glitzy paparazzi-stalking existence stack up to the existence you hoped to grow into when you were younger?
My book release party probably looked a lot more glamorous than it was, it was mainly full of old friends from the Post and of course my mum and dad! I think in reality my life is as down to earth as it always has been. You can be a star in New York for a night, but to me it’s about normal people reading and liking my book, because that’s what I am!
12. New York Post “insiders” have popped up in articles about your novel, claiming your editor ex-boyfriend wasn’t pleased with his portrayal in Tabloid Love. Are these so-called “insiders” for real, in your experience? Or are they tabloid inventions designed to stir things up?
It’s definitely a bit of both. As I said earlier, it is hard telling past loves that you plan to put private moments between the two of you in a book. Of course both my exes featured in Tabloid Love had reservations and truth be told, if they’d had the choice they would probably have opted not to be in a book. But they’ve both been incredibly generous about Tabloid Love, they’ve wished me well and have been glad for me that I’ve had the privilege and opportunity to write a book – which many people don’t have.
13. Any news on Tabloid Love being optioned for TV or the big screen?
None as yet. It is being looked at in LA, but I didn’t write the book to cash in on a movie deal. I wanted to write a truthful account of life as single 30-something woman in the modern day. Truly, I’d rather normal people who buy the book in book shops or on Amazon love it than a bunch of movie executives in LA. But of course if someone did option it I wouldn’t complain!
14. You’ve recently started dating a longtime friend. Have you found the transition from one relationship path to another daunting at all?
Not in this case, as we hadn’t seen much of each other as I was in New York and he was in London.
15. Do you think that your new relationship benefits from not being part of the life you shared with readers in the New York Post?
Yes. There is no doubt that putting a relationship in a column puts extreme pressure on it. To write a good column you have to be absolutely truthful. It’s very hard to be loyal to readers and your privacy at the same time. I don’t recommend trying to do both.
16. Singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb moved from LA to NYC to find her own Mr. Right – and film a reality show for E! If you find yourself single again, would you ever consider exploring the dating culture in cities outside of New York?
Now having spent a lot of time in London recently, I find the dating situation fascinating. Brits are a lot less direct than New Yorkers. You could spend all night sipping tea at a guy’s house wondering if he’s going to make a move. But I’m happy to retire and let someone else explore that!
17. Speaking of reality shows, you were featured occasionally in WE’s Single in the City during the first season. Did you learn anything about dating from the experience?
I learned that to be good on camera you have to be self- effacing and genuine. They are also great qualities to display on a date.
18. Tell us about the project you’re working on now.
I’m currently in London helping the launch of a free new newspaper for News Corp called thelondonpaper which will be distributed on the streets of London in the afternoon. I’m deputy editor and it’s a fantastic opportunity to craft a paper that really relates to Londoners’ lives. Having worked at the Post I’ve been very well trained to relate to all aspects of life in a big city – so it’s great to be able put all that experience into a newspaper for London. And yes, there will be lots of dating in there!
19. Are there journalists whose careers you’d like to emulate?
I think the best journalists are those who can write incredible, moving color stories from war zones and crisis situations across the world – reminding us that that behind every news headline there are real people in real situations. The more sensationalist and “A.D.D.” TV news becomes, the more important it is that these great writers redress the balance. Alas I don’t think I’m up to it myself!
20. Do you buy the prediction that the Internet will kill the newspaper as we know it?
No. I think no matter how much instant news people get over the web, they still enjoy mulling over a newspaper, be it on the subway, over the breakfast table or curled up with a hangover at the weekend. I do think more and more newspapers will go free – in Spain now there are five free newspapers, and the phenomenon is sweeping across Europe and taking hold in the US. New York already had Metro and AM New York. There will always be room for great newsprint writing, as long as writers and editors stay in touch with subjects that are relevant to readers’ lives.