20110607

Intimate story of the Beauty and George Best

WHAT THEY HAVE SAID ABOUT....Babysitting George, by Celia Walden


Celia Walden, beautiful, privately-educated, the daughter of a Conservative MP and, since June last year, wife of television personality and former newspaper editor Piers Morgan, would seem the ideal journalistic fit for Daily Telegraph, for whom she is now a columnist.

Her Thursday scribblings offer a commentary, with a sometimes caustic edge, on life, or at least on life towards the upper end of the social spectrum.  It is a long way from the kind of work she was assigned as a young reporter on the staff of the Mail on Sunday in 2003.

Very different indeed, for example, from the job handed to her on a Sunday morning late in the July of that year, which involved dropping everything to fly to Malta, where her task would be to ‘babysit’ the paper’s star columnist, one George Best.

As a 26-year-old girl with, by her own confession, "little interest in footballers or alcoholics and still less curiosity for the travails of an alcoholic former footballer," she seemed decidedly ill-suited to be minder for Best, who had been writing about life with his new, transplanted liver only for temptation to get the better of him again, culminating in his decision to flee London for a life of sun and chardonnay in a Mediterranean hiding place.

But Walden’s editor, aware that there is no such thing, feared his columnist might easily share his intoxicated thoughts with a rival paper willing to ply him with drink, and decided that a pretty, young, female reporter was the right person to ensure that it didn’t happen.

Given Best’s reputation as a lothario, regardless of how much alcohol was in his system, it seemed an unusual choice but Walden's good looks naturally aroused Best’s curiosity and enabled his unlikely guardian to establish a platonic but nonetheless intimate relationship with the fallen footballer.

She has now turned her recollections of that relationship into a book, Babysitting George, published by Bloomsbury.  In the words of the publishers, it is a “tender and beautifully written account of a unique relationship between a young journalist and a dying star, (which) questions the cold, exploitative nature of tabloid journalism, the terrifying, all-consuming nature of addiction and the deeply humane, implausible friendships that can change one's life forever.”

Here’s how it has been received by a number of reviewers:

Walden compellingly records a hero’s decline and decline: “Celebrities, for us,” she says, “exist solely to entertain and be judged. By the end of that summer, the entertainment had stopped and the judgments had been made. And after the expectation of his death came its anticipation.”
The last time she sees him is in a cheap hotel, and his appearance is so apt, and so aptly described, that you have to read it for yourself. It encapsulates a celebrity’s relationship with his own fame, which is this book’s achievement throughout.
-- Tom Payne, Daily Telegraph. Read more…

Celia Walden's new George Best-related memoir, often seems to be asking the question: is there anything more unappealing than a muck-raking tabloid journalist? Happily, the answer lies within its pages. There is something worse: muck-raking tabloid journalism with pretensions towards something grander….It is undoubtedly a sad tale and one that is made all the more so by the spectacle of Best being dug up once again and marched about the place in his vomit-caked dressing gown, obediently coughing up one last exclusive.
-- Barney Ronay, The Guardian.  Read more…

Even though this is a story we know, a strand of the nation's soap opera that ran for decades, Walden tells it with heart and insight. The Best she shows us was smarter than she let on to her journo friends. She knew what they wanted to hear: that he was a lech, a maniac, drunk as a skunk. That's what she'd tell them. But the real Best, with his sly intelligence, shy charm, sudden coldness - that, she shows us, was a different man altogether.  She's kind to him. She brings him back to a life mercifully free of red-top cliches.
-- David Robinson, The Scotsman. Read more…

Buy Babysitting George from Amazon.

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