People have to be aware of how the ecosystem of the media is changing. I can’t see how any working-class kid would be able to become a full-time journalist now, because there just aren’t jobs available. You would just be told to go away and blog instead. And then, that horrible thing of, “It should be a privilege to have people read your stuff for free.” Well, no. That’s like when people [ask me], “Wouldn’t you rather work for the Guardian so 86 million people can read your work?” [The Times famously instituted a paywall in 2010.] But what’s the point of having 86 million people read my stuff who don’t care about me enough to pay me to write and pay my mortgage? That’s like having someone say they really, really love you and then stand by while you’re drowning. If you love me, you have to pay me or I can’t afford to do this anymore. I’m very much in favor of the press charging for what it does. I despair of newspapers that think they can give their content away for free online, because they can’t. The statistics already prove that they can’t.
You’ve interviewed a lot of icons—Keith Richards, Paul McCartney. How do you keep from getting starstruck?
I’ve been through every possible way you could react to a famous person. In the beginning, I would tell them loads of personal anecdotes about myself in hopes they’d go, “I like you! I wanna be your friend! I’m gonna tell you about my suicide attempt that I never told anyone before!” That never happened. Then I went through a phase of trying to have sex with people I was interviewing—I didn’t really come up with any good interviews there, but I got some great anecdotes. Then I went through a phase of being really icy and cold. It took 18 years of being around famous people before I stopped being a dick around them.
The other thing is, the first 20 questions you think to ask someone famous? They will have been asked that already. I’ve done so many interviews promoting How to Be a Woman, and I literally have not been asked more than 15 questions in the last two years. So the best way to honor your hero if you go and interview them is by coming up with very intelligent questions that they haven’t been asked before. Give them a chance to talk about something else. And usually whatever your editor asks you to talk about—don’t do that. They’ll go, “Talk about the marriages and the drugs bust and the most famous album and at least two famous outrageous things that they did, those are all the quotes that we want.” Well, that’s what everybody will have talked to them about, so that will be a bit of balls, really. So you ask them something completely different instead and you end up talking about politics with Lady Gaga at 4 in the morning in a sex club in Berlin and you’re kind of like, “This is what I want, yes.”
That Lady Gaga piece appears in the book. How did you keep tabs on the story over the course of an all-nighter?
A proper journalist, I guess, would’ve pretended to be drinking all night but would’ve been pouring their gin and tonics into a plant pot, but I regret to say I’m not a proper journalist—I got completely fucking hammered! So I just ended up dancing with Gaga, trod on her cloak a few times, smoked some fags, ended up in the bathroom with her What I always try to explain to the people I’m interviewing is, I don’t want an exclusive. I don’t want them to break down and tell me something enormous. My horror is I would get something out of someone and it’s worldwide news the next day. I just want to report what it’s like to be around them, and I only ever interview people I like as well.
Humor is your trademark, but in this collection you also do serious, insightful, and heartbreaking. Is it hard to change gears between these voices?