Babysitting George – Celia Walden (Bloomsbury 2011)
I’d heard about Babysitting George when it was the book of the week on Radio 4 (Yes I was in between applying my Fixodent and emptying my bed pan before you ask) and although wasn’t immediately taken by it, after reading a few reviews I decided in the immortal words of Cheryl Kerl on X-Factor that it might be ‘reet up my street’. Having picked it up from the Library I became instantly aware of the dust jacket containing two helpings of over-egged, clichéd, sentimental drivel courtesy of the master of the art, Tony Parsons (Tony Parshole as Viz like to refer to him). This was not a good sign for me.
For those that are unaware the book is the account of journalist Celia Walden’s first ‘big job’, to find George Best and keep him away from the press. It is a real life account of events that start in 2003 when having had a ‘big bust up’ with then wife Alex, George becomes headline news (again) and all the papers want the scoop. George Best at the time is writing a column for Walden’s paper so they want to try and keep all the exclusives for themselves. Having been forced into one and others lives through the circumstances they carve out a relationship of sorts and the book guides us through the period of time they are forced to spend together.
In terms of learning anything new that I didn’t already about George Best from the tabloid press, like a trailer at the cinema that betrays the feature by telling you all you need to know about a film, the inside sleeve ‘blurb’ presents all the main ‘surprises’ that you are about to discover. The book itself instead of taking the form of an emotional personal journal comes across to me as a bland diary of conversation and I’m left wandering how much was left out of the altercations and events rather than how much I’m actually being told. The book claims to ‘question the exploitative nature of tabloid journalism, fame and addiction’. I must have missed that bit.
There are admittedly some interesting versions of events that do present an alternative insight in to some part of how the press functions and how ‘celebrities’ function alongside that, but it’s nothing new. If you’re interested in the kind of salacious gossip the tabloids have spoon fed us about George Best then this does in part offer a ‘different’ angle on it. I read it all and I have to say that I don’t always finish a book if I am not engrossed in it on some level. I didn’t find it emotional, this coming from someone who still fights back tears when Kevin is re-united with his mum in Home Alone.
What the book made me aware of more than anything and what I will take away from having read it, was George Best’s absolute unwavering love of a drink. It was the love of his life. He died, knowing what he was doing (if this book is to be believed) doing what he enjoyed more than anything, drinking. In some ways you could envy that.
N.B. A word of warning to the ill-informed ‘die hards’ who take offence at the term ‘Man U’. It is used in speech in this book at least twice. Now we don’t want any repeat scenes like when Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses, so the best advice is to steer clear. Actually, I’m completely forgetting that it’s highly likely you can’t read. By the way, while we’re here … Do you spend all televised games foaming at the mouth because the channels choose to abbreviate us to ‘Man U’ in the score box (or whatever that thing in the top corner is called)?