Caitlin Moran tells Stylist that if she ruled the country, there’d be long weekends, flat shoes and ponies for everyone…
Words: Delphine Chui
Photography: Mark Harrison
Sitting in Caitlin Moran’s garden in sunny north London, I’m listing her recent achievements, and it seems adding the hypothetical ‘Queen of the World’ is making her a little bit uneasy. “I’ve got this superstitious belief that if at any point I say to myself, ‘Look at everything you’ve achieved,’ that’s the day my career will start to decline,” she tells me.
Recently named the most popular British journalist on Twitter (she insists the only reason it isn’t Jon Snow is that she can post pictures of a half-naked Bruce Springsteen while he can’t), her feed will soon be used as an English A-level set text; her 2011 newspaper article, My Love Affair With Sherlock, was recently used as an exam comprehension text in Ireland; and she is on BBC Radio 4’s current Woman’s Hour Power List. And that’s just for starters…
Not so long ago, Caitlin was happy with her career as a music journalist-turnednational- newspaper-columnist, interviewing Lady Gaga one week and writing about cystitis the next.
Then everything changed in 2011, when she published modern feminist handbook How To Be A Woman. More than 400,000 copies and many awards later, Caitlin was hanging out with Benedict Cumberbatch and rumoured to be making movies with her US counterpart Lena Dunham (just a rumour, she insists). Caitlin is on top of the world.
Her career trajectory is still on the sharp incline today, as she embarks on a national tour to accompany the release of her debut novel, How To Build A Girl, the first of a trilogy. She’s also currently writing two films – an adaptation of How To Be A Woman and an action film about a transgender boy – alongside a Channel 4 sitcom with her sister. So, in fact, she probably works harder than the Queen.
Taking cue from Stylist’s very own back-page slot, Queen Of Everything, we ask Caitlin to hypothesise what the country would really be like under her sovereignty. “Well, yes. I am very powerful,” she smiles. Can’t say we disagree…
We ask Caitlin to share her views on what her subjects’ world would be like under her rule…
It’s very simple: in order to continue as a species, we need to have children. Looking after them is a problem for humanity, not just women and feminism. We clearly need paternity leave. Everyone going to a place of work doesn’t work, that’s where traffic jams and pollution come from and where our life/work balance gets completely f*cked. You get a third of the work done in an office as you would at home, so I’d make it so everybody could work from home.
And for people who need to be in an office environment because they would go crazy if they were on their own, all the churches that are being decommissioned would become community work centres, with loads of desks and a crèche downstairs so you could go there with your kids. You’d still be able to talk to people, your kids would be there and you’d be walking to work rather than commuting, so it would solve the obesity epidemic at the same time.
The class system
I’d never say one class is better than another, but we need to talk more about what makes the working classes brilliant – and I would add any minorities to that. Firstly, the concept of a minority is nuts. If you’re a woman, of colour, gay, trans, disabled or of any religion other than Christianity, you’re seen as a minority. But add all those people up and they’re the majority. The minority is actually straight white dudes.
The reason the Sixties were great is because it was the first time the working classes in this country were given access to an education. Then they started writing all these songs and plays and films and there were these actors with an energy and inventiveness completely different to the attitude of the middle classes. It doesn’t feel like that nowadays. The people with the interesting stories are not telling them. But we need to give people representation of what feels ‘normal’. A nine-year-old boy who realises he’s actually a girl? Now, there’s a story I want to see.
The education system
I would change the social status of teachers in an instant. They’re incredible and do the work of social workers and parents, as well as teachers. I would pay them three times the amount they’re paid now. As someone who was home educated, I respect teachers enormously.
And I’d have everything in the classroom. My dad was great at turning anything into a chance to explain something, like watching Hello, Dolly! and using it as a lesson about Hollywood and anti-Semitism. I wouldn’t ban anything. Everyone should bring things in and discuss the history of it.
My rules for social media are exactly like my rules for feminism: women are equal to men, everyone is equal to everybody, and don’t be a dick. The tone of the internet has become very peevish and cynical. There’s an interesting study that said when you’re online, your inhibitions and self-consciousness is lowered to exactly the same point as if you’d had two pints. Basically, the entire internet is a bit pissed and looking for a fight. So the key thing is don’t be a dick and remember you’re slightly pissed.
We must keep our libraries open, especially in a rainy country where there are only two places to be: your house or the shopping centre. And if your house is unhappy or you don’t have enough money, libraries are places where you’re valued for being intelligent and curious.
The argument for closing them, other than needing to save money, is that there are declining amounts of people who use them, but we need more public spaces. Just add a coffee shop, which would help subsidise it, and more tables so people who want to work from home could go and work there and what a f*cking clever, sexy, amazing thing that would be.
My children are very firm about this. They think the working week should be four days and the weekend should be three days. That seems fair enough to me because you wouldn’t have that craziness of trying to cram everything into the weekend. You should be able to float that extra third weekend day around. One of the great things about being home-schooled was that we would only do things on weekdays, so everywhere we went was empty. The first time my husband and I went somewhere on the weekend, I was like, “It’s so cramped! No wonder everyone is so uptight!”
I would pour a trillion pounds worth of my country’s resources into making more interesting flat shoes for women. I’m not against high-heels at all – if you can wear them, that’s f*cking amazing – but I’ve only seen about five people in my life who could walk, run or dance in really high-heeled shoes.
All leaders must be able to answer journalists’ most abstract questions under fire. We gave Caitlin two minutes to answer as many of ours as possible…
What two things should you never mix?
I know from personal experience that if you try to mix Baileys with lager, it makes a very bad drink. My sister and I once tried to invent that.
What colour is Tuesday?
Oh, yellow, obviously. Not a bright yellow, a slightly orangey yellow. Wednesday is green.
How big is your TV?
F*cking mahoosive! And it’s 3D as well. That’s the best thing about being a TV critic, I got sent it for free and that was the point where my kids finally really respected me and said, “Mum, your job’s awesome!”
Do you think ironing is a waste of time?
Yes! I don’t possess an iron. When clothes are slightly damp, just hang them on a coat hanger. Also, when you’re in a shop, always grab clothes and squeeze them. If they crease, just walk away – don’t buy yourself that problem.
Is it OK to recline your seat on an aeroplane?
Tricky one, this. I would only do it if the person behind had reclined their seat. Airlines need to make it so the person in the last row is a recliner, in order to encourage the forward sweeping motion across the plane.
Which member of the royal family would be your palace best friend?
I always loved the Duchess of York; she was a huge role model to me when I was growing up. She was this ginger, common (compared to them) girl who managed to marry her way into the royal family. And then I heard she has a ritual that whenever she cuts into a cake, she screams. I’ve now adopted that myself because it just makes having a cake so much more exciting. Harry looks like a laugh but everybody says Harry, don’t they?
Who’s the most evil person, real or fictional, on television?
Well, the most evil thing I’ve seen is the box blight that killed the entire box hedging in Monty Don’s garden on Gardeners’ World. Monty planted those box hedges 15 years ago and he had to uproot more than 15 miles of these hedges and set fire to them. It was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen.
What would you save if your house was on fire?
Laptop: that’s my entire life there. It’s got all my photographs and work on it and it’s got Twitter on it. The first thing I’d need to do is Tweet: “OMG! My house is on fire! Can someone call the fire brigade?” [laughs].
What’s your favourite book?
The one that’s been most useful to me probably is Revolution In The Head by Ian MacDonald, in which he describes every song The Beatles recorded. The writing is so beautiful and the stories are so amazing that when I was in labour with both my daughters, I read it between contractions to soothe me. And when you’re using a book in place of an epidural, you know it’s a really good book.
What’s the last thing that made you end up in a black hole on the internet?
Either the works of Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Joan Didion, or googling ‘sleeved dresses blue size 12’ which is an ongoing quest that’s been going for about five years now.
Chocolate or cheese?
Beer or wine?
If you could do one thing to Boris Johnson, what would it be?
Try and convince him to use his powers for good instead of evil.
What’s your favourite swear word?
What’s your favourite Disney film?
Currently, Frozen – my kids really love it. Although, the animated version of Robin Hood from 1973 is underrated and very funny.
What’s your favourite Tube line?
The orange one [East London Line] because it shoots you into East London and makes it look like New York.
What’s the last text you sent?
A friend of mine asked if they could shoot a film in our house so I replied, “Yeah, alright!”
How do you feel about George Clooney’s engagement?
Baffled. My understanding was that we would wed. And that really quite hurt. Obviously I’ve dodged a bullet there because if he really is going to marry any f*cking stunningly beautiful human rights lawyer, we were never going to work.
Who would play you in a story of your life?
Dustin Hoffman, because I think the problems of being a woman in the modern world are mainly those of drag. We basically have to assemble being a woman and, in Tootsie, Dustin does all of that so brilliantly and shows how odd it is to do all these women things you’re supposed to do. He may be nearly 80 and a man but, you know, he’s won those Oscars, he’s a f*cking great actor and if he can’t play the fat 16-year-old me, then he’s not the actor I thought he was.
And who would play your husband?
I would sack Dustin Hoffman immediately, play myself and have someone I really want to get off with as my husband, such as the young Orson Welles or Ben Whishaw.
A queen must be decisive. We asked Caitlin to answer these questions with yes or no. She ignored that bit. Fair enough…
Should Scotland be independent?
Loads of people I really respect and admire think the union should stay together, and I can see all the arguments for it, but the rock’n’roll, rebellious part of me says let them do it! Don’t stand in the way of a revolution. Let that experiment play out and see what happens. Besides, if it does turn into a brilliant socialist utopia, I’ll be up there like a f*cking shot.
Did Angelina Jolie deserve her honorary damehood?
Yeah, and a whole load more! Angelina is one of the best things in the world right now. I can’t think of anybody else with that level of fame and scrutiny who has played it so brilliantly. She’s banging Brad Pitt, looking after all these kids, getting involved in all these humanitarian things, had a double mastectomy and talked about it openly to start a conversation. And her past is really badass and she’s clearly a little bit nuts, but she’s grown into this f*cking awesome woman. I love her; I would make her my king.
Should children’s criminal records be wiped clean at 18?
Children should not be charged and tried as adults. Whenever you see a case where some kid has murdered another kid, clearly they’ve had a very bad childhood. It’s like punishing them twice. They’ve suffered awful abuse and are then punished for not being able to cope with it.
Would you go on the inaugural tourist flight into space?
I wouldn’t go up, but I would want to be manning the live CCTV footage of that and make sure it’s being pumped out to earth because that’s going to be the best episode of Big Brother ever. Celebrities in space! If I had time, I would write the movie because the guest list is off its tits: Brad, Angelina, Jay-Z, Justin Bieber and the Duchess of York’s kids.
Every monarch has an official portrait. In the spirit of the selfie era, we asked Caitlin to pen her own. She drew a cat…
“This cat is meant to look like Slash from Guns N’ Roses who has, over the years, come to represent me. I know I would have a stripy tail if I was a cat. I’ve had these white streaks for about 10 years now. I sprayed them in one Halloween and woke up the next morning like, ‘This looks awesome! I’m going to keep this.’ When I turn 50, I’ll flip reverse it and dye it all grey apart from one white lock. It’s good to have a hair plan for old age.
In the spirit of feminist encouragement, I have to say I really like my face. My nose is beaky and it’s not the nose anybody would ask for in plastic surgery but I like it. I get it from my dad. When I was a teenager, I used to dream I’d be smashed up in a car crash and be rebuilt by plastic surgeons with a completely beautiful face, like Judy Garland’s. It’s that ‘fake it till you make it’ thing where I started to say, ‘I’m going to pretend I like myself and see how that works out,’ and I’ve been pretending for so long it’s actually true now.
Oddly, I feel more insecure if I’ve made an effort, which is the opposite of how you’re supposed to feel as a woman. If you try to do the beautiful hair, dress and make-up, then you’re competing with women who have stylists and world-class make-up artists, so I’d rather take myself out of that race. I can win the ‘being slightly overweight, dishevelled and backcombed with make-up I’ve put on with my fingers’ race instead.
I’ve been huge and tiny, and, brilliantly, my husband never seems to notice. He really likes my eyebrows and that’s great because my eyebrows will never put on or lose weight. I’m 39 and this is when you’re supposed to start sh*tting yourself about getting older but it’s the opposite for me. I like watching the lines form slowly. I’m not going to get a facelift or Botox and with the money I save, I’m going to buy myself a f*cking pony!”
How To Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran (Ebury Press, £14.99) is available now