“Feminism, plastic surgery” – Rock Icon and the Times “exclusive” (Sky Arts, 8pm, this Sat)

last week I gave an interview to the Times set up by Sky Arts to talk about Rock Icon, our show with Brian Johnson of AC/DC out this Saturday at 8pm. I remember telling the PR that I wasn’t sure it was a great choice. The show explores heavy metal, our passion for it, why critics sneer at it and fans love it. Are heavy metal heads great readers of the Times? It’s not that known for a love of the dark stuff. More popular papers like the Sun, Mail, Express etc might be better. Plus, they’re behind a paywall.

But she was adamant and she’d agreed to an exclusive, saying they would concentrate on the show and touch on other stuff. So I went along with it.

We talked about the show – not as much as I would have wished – and moved on to questions about me. When this got a bit much I tried to steer it back to heavy metal and got something of an eye-roll. He asked about the plastic surgery row and I answered.

Today, the Times 2 tweeted this:

“Louise Mensch on feminism, plastic surgery and why she really moved to New York. Exclusive interview in tomorrow’s T2.”

You will note the glaring absence of the words “heavy” and “metal” there. Or of Brian Johnson, or of AC/DC.

The British press loves to accuse me of being publicity-seeking. This a prime example of the hypocrisy; I agree to an interview about a topic (metal) and another person (Brian Johnson) and the wonderful documentary we shot and it is printed as another navel-gazing pile of bollocks concentrating on my beauty treatments. Not by my wish.

There’s a basic trust that interview terms will be agreed to, especially if somebody (not me) has arranged and agreed an exclusive. They clearly ripped that up. So, social media allows me to at the very least print every single thing I told that journalist that could be of interest and to do it this afternoon/tonight.

And in case anyone thinks I’m being harsh, I had him on the phone just now “fact-checking” something and he confirmed the breaking of the interview terms – “I was told to profile you. We mention the documentary.”

Janice Turner of the Times (who has had many well-publicised run-ins with me) tweeted that I was being “spiteful” in writing this blog post. Really?

Well, I’ll tell you one thing; it makes a pleasant change for me to hear the press crying that they’ve been treated unfairly.

1. Rock Icon. I discussed Brian, his love of cars, how he drove me round the track at Sebring at a million miles an hour and how I was shaking with adrenaline when I got out. What a great guy he is and the success of AC/DC. How Black Ice took in $441 million dollars. What a rock chick I was and how, as a teenager/student, I actually queued up to dance in AC/DC’s “Thunderstuck” video.

Later on I told him that the first gig I went to was Run DMC and the Beastie Boys at the Brighton Center; that my mum wouldn’t let me go without a chaperone and wearing a long skirt. I got round this by wearing a short one under it and lacy patterned tights and scammed my way into general admission, fighting in to the front and screaming so loud Ad Rock took my picture. There were naked girls dancing in cages and a giant inflatable penis on the set.

2. Peter, rock, and Governor Schwarzenegger

I told him that Peter had managed AC/DC (at 26) and been asked to identify Bon Scott’s body when he was found dead in the street. Peter was there when Brian was hired to join the band. He managed them for the two albums “Highway to Hell” and “Back in Black” and was fired after that. So Peter and Brian hadn’t spoken for 30 years before this documentary. We got on SO WELL during filming that afterward he called and Brian and Brenda flew in for Peter’s surprise 60th birthday party that I threw for him. It was so great to have Brian there, he is such a sweetheart and from Peter’s first big band too.

I spoke of what a role model Gov. Schwarzenegger has always been to me, how much I admire his economically conservative, socially liberal centrist politics and the work of the Schwarzenegger institute – I wrote about the immigration conference he held there for the Sun – Schwarzeneger favours comprehensive immigration reform. I said that meeting the Governor had inspired me to up my workout schedule from 4x a week to daily and also to start lifting weights. That he wasn’t a big fan of kettlebells. That it was impossible to meet such a legendary man, still at the forefront of the fitness and weights revolution, and not yourself want to be better.

None of this was news to those who followed the unfashionista blog on Jux.

3. My move to New York

Boy, did that tweet get me seeing red “Why she REALLY moved to New York.” I told him the reason I moved was the reason in my resignation letter; not to “spend more time with the kids” as many self-professed feminists in the UK media mischaracterised it, but because my husband cannot move, 2015 would have been too late to uproot my children, and therefore it was move now or face a 13 year separation from my husband. I pointed out that was too much to bear and that I had taken pains to be specific in my resignation letter and statement that the PM had gone over the heads of the whips’ office to allow me to spend Thursdays as well as Fridays in the constituency. As I split custody therefore I was already seeing my children Thu-Sun; I was not seeing my husband, sometimes as little as two days a month.

4. Standing down from Parliament

I answered on how only a 13 year separation could have forced my hand on this, how I didn’t want to, how I often missed Parliament, and how it was already well known in Corby that I was not going to run for a second term long before I resigned. I had given an interview to my local paper who had run it as front page news that I was not to stand again anyway, and told the Chairman of my association. (In fact this was one time when I was a bit surprised the obsessives in the press didn’t pick up on a story when that local headline ran- I’ll dig out the link and post it).

Update: here: Note date – Oct ’11. http://www.northantstelegraph.co.uk/news/top-stories/mp-mensch-may-not-stand-again-1-3144538

5. Gay rights

I defended the system of conscience votes even though I support equal marriage; I praised David Cameron for introducing equal marriage; I pointed out Labour hadn’t done so. The interviewer tried to get me to condemn my former colleagues who voted their conscience; I would not do so. I said that many in my own association felt very strongly and were pretty angry with me telling them I would vote for equal marriage, and I passed their views up the chain to number ten. The journalist suggested it was a civil rights issue that should have been whipped. Although I DO believe equal marriage is a civil rights issue I pointed out there was a valid argument to be made that the legal rights are conferred by civil unions and that “marriage” carries religious connotations. I don’t believe this, but I recognise it as a valid argument on the other side. I said that many people were violently against civil unions when they came in and were now arguing FOR civil unions as the alternative to equal marriage. I quoted whoever it was that said “Telling gay people to be happy they’ve got civil unions is like telling Rosa Parks to be happy she’s on the bus.” I think it’s a direct parallel; sitting at the front of the bus, and equal nomenclature, are important.

5. David Cameron

He spent a bunch of time trying to get me to say that David Cameron was in trouble with the parliamentary party. The idea is risible and I said so. I pointed out that’s why new intake MPs organised a putsch on the ’22 (fed up with minority of dinosaurs, Tory Dennis Skinners, being the only ones quoted). Pointed out how easily Cameron had defeated Davis in the grassroots election.

6. Plastic surgery

Started out asking why I chose to discuss it on Newsnight, lots of discussion as to the fuss about nothing and why people are so interested in women’s beauty choices. Then he asked for specifics. At that point alarm bells ought to have rung, but I continue to be stupidly trusting that interview terms will be agreed to and that this would be a sideline in a story mostly about heavy metal. I guess there’s a large hypocrisy in spending ages talking with your subject about why the focus on this is shallow – then making it it your lead. But since the paper has clearly made this the lead in the story, and tweeted to that effect, I want to itemise exactly what I told him when he asked me for specifics:

that i had a procedure on the lower side of my face only, not a full facelift and under twlight sedation (so not a general anasthetic where you are intubated, I was breathing on my own); that I had selected NY to do it in rather than the UK because they are ahead in cosmetic surgery; that I had interviewed three doctors before finding a fit; that I wouldn’t name my surgeon because I hadn’t asked him. He repeatedly asked me about botox and filler. I refused to answer. He kept coming back to botox and filler “but that requires regular maintenance and you…” I said, no matter how often or in what way he put the question, I would not answer it. “Would you say you were quite vain then?” er no, still not answering the question. I pointed out that for those saying I was setting a “bad example” with my surgery, I hadn’t in fact talked about it, but it was written up anyway. There’s no example from one woman’s personal decision (that she doesn’t talk about)

7. My family

He pushed me on my children; their schooling; their names; custody arrangements with their father; why I had got divorced. I refused to answer every one of these questions and told him to move on. He asked for their names, I told him I had never once told any journalist their names. I would talk about the fact I have kids, and generalities like “2015 was considered too late to uproot them” but nothing specific; I’m a public figure, nobody else is.

(More to come)

8. Rupert Murdoch, the Leveson enquiry and hacking

I was asked about my column in the Sun and my support for the Murdochs during the phone hacking inquiry. I pointed out that after I left Parliament I had written for just about everybody except the Daily Mail and would happily have been commissioned by them had they asked. That after a few months of successful freelancing the Sun offered me a column and I was delighted to take it, but really, plenty of non-Murdoch papers were having me write for them, including the Telegraph and Guardian.

I had defended the Murdochs on the grounds that there was no evidence against them. They were far too high up the food chain. I said that my (I feel successful) rubbishing of the report and its “fit and proper person” line the day after it came out was one of my proudest moments in politics. That although that amendment was tabled in advance it was never discussed until the final voting meeting, and I was able to say that, against Jim Sheridan MP, live on Newsnight; that almost every world paper had rubbished the report because of clear Labour overreach. I felt it to be a political witch-hunt from opponents of the Murdochs (that is to say, not the hacking enquiry itself, but the focus on James and Rupert Murdoch rather than the employees responsible, arrested and charged etc). Many non- News Corp papers took this view from the Daily Mail to the Economist, and I felt vindicated in the aftermath of that very serious report that I felt was Lab-Lib hijacked. I spoke of my friendship with and respect for Tom Watson; he is a principled man but we take totally opposing views on this.

I also pointed out that things like commissions aren’t exactly decided by the owner of the parent company. This interview (the not-about-AC/DC one) and the Sunday Times Camilla Long interview with its exhaustive list of corrections/apology were both carried out by NewsCorp papers; there’s editorial independence.

9. Body image and feminism and my past anxiety disorder

We discussed unfashionista and my article on depression. I told him that fitness was my mission and easily as much of a focus as fashion. That the evidence on exercise for depression was overwhelming, including major depression. Had I ever been depressed? No. I’d had depressed moments but that’s not the same as clinical depression. However, when younger, around the aftermath of the CJD scare, I did develop a pervasive anxiety disorder including full blown panic attacks. I treated this with St Johns Wort which I took for two years. I was careful to say I didn’t recommend anybody self-treat and they should see a doctor. A female GP told me that adrenaline couldn’t kill me, and I accepted it and never had another panic attack. But I was still nervous. Running helped. He asked if I had therapy. I said no, I’ve been in some sessions, I no longer sneer at it but I don’t receive therapy. No time. Also, no need. Am happy.

I mentioned how annoyed I was with the Telegraph who asked to talk about my ADD diagnosis, I told the journalist it was no big deal, and they still printed it as “Louise Mensch talks of her struggle with Attention Deficit Disorder”. For God’s sake. This exaggerated hysteria is typical.

10. New York mothers and the school gates

This was part of pushing me to say where my children attend school; he asked me to condemn New York mothers as more snobby and engaged in birthday party wars. I wouldn’t.

11. My life in New York

Trying to get me to say it was very glamorous. It isn’t. I talked about Shake Shack and going out with friends as a couple. I talked about liking New York’s ambitious attitude, how condemned that is in the UK. I said that having more time to work out, being less stressed because I wake up with Peter, was one unambiguous advantage; I am with him now, we are all together so it’s much happier in that way, even though I miss my home in Northamptonshire.

12. Feminism /Misogyny/ Alastair Campbell

I touched on IPSA’s insane rules that price mothers out of parliament. They offer only a one bedroom flat allowance and were banning family staying with the MP. Apparently (he told me when calling to fact check) they now allow a small amount extra per child. If a mother is not provided with enough rent money to live in London with her family, she cannot stand for Parliament at all unless she is willing to abandon her children four days a week.

It is not about trying to save money but ensuring freedom to represent electors at the best price to the taxpayer; you cannot have a system like IPSA that locks out young mums (without means of their own) from being MPs.

I touched on the hypocrisy of feminists who had written that I quit to spend more time with my children without reading what I said in my resignation letter; I had the best boss in the world in terms of caring for small children, David Cameron, who quietly and without fanfare ensured I could work in the constituency in my half of the week. I was to be separated from Peter, since I would never leave my children and he couldn’t move, for 13 years til my youngest was 18. That and only that was why I had to move to NY when I did.

If there was a way I could have remained an MP and commuted from New York I would have preferred to have done that, but it was not to be. It was as I said in my resignation letter. I meant every word of that letter.

I also touched on the blog as driving towards a new type of pro-men feminism, something I will expand on in future posts. I talked about online misogyny and Alastair Campbell’s tweet to me that Rupert Murdoch should “sort it out” that I should get my tits out on page 3; that Campbell used to work in Number 10; and how had this become acceptable political discourse?

13. Fashion

Here I womanfully tried (as I had done periodically) to steer the topic back to rock music, talking about black leather jackets and boots and the rock chick look and why we dress as we do.

14. Wine O’ Clock /Nigel Kennedy

We discussed my wine o’ clock blog (not yet imported here from Jux). It felt like he was trying to me say I had a drinking problem. I pointed out that one glass of wine a night doesn’t constitute that and in my case, I never drank when I had the kids the next day; but my argument was not that this equals a drinking problem but rather than even a modest amount of wine ruins your sleep and energy if regular. I was not a teetotaler now, I drink when we’re at dinner with friends or I’m celebrating; but it’s the regular nature of wine o’clock that is harmful. He asked about the Nigel Kennedy story and I said I wasn’t discussing it more than I had already. 

15. Me

He asked why the press was so fascinated by me. I asked him to tell me why. Indeed I have no idea why. He asked if I was thick skinned. I pointed out I was a politician.

Interview terms

Finally, lots of Times journos crying at me on Twitter that if I wanted an interview on the show, I should have only talked about the show. The interview terms were, the piece would concentrate on the show and I would agree to talk about other stuff too – which I certainly did, for my part of the bargain. I spoke to him for two hours, giving him a wide range to pick from, and the trust is there that the paper would honour the terms, concentrate on the show and then select from the other stuff what they wanted to add in.

It was instantly clear from their tweet they chose not to do that. Hence this blog. It seems a lot better than a fruitless complaint, or expecting a paper to stick to what they agreed to do. I don’t believe the Times tomorrow will have anything more interesting than the ground I have covered here today, but if I think of anything else, I’ll add it so you can read it here for free.

25 thoughts on ““Feminism, plastic surgery” – Rock Icon and the Times “exclusive” (Sky Arts, 8pm, this Sat)”

  1. Well done in standing up for yourself . To break their word as to what they would lead with from your interview means you owe them nothing. I am very happy to read your truthful version of what was said and will definitely not give The Times any further custom. Ridiculous the way they think they can say whatever they want and get away with it. I hope and pray other people in the public eye will use all platforms available to them to rectify the distorted version of themselves that these journalists present to their readers. You are doing the right thing and I’m sure many will be inspired to follow your lead.

  2. Thank you Anita. I was sorry I had to do it. Their mistake was tweeting in advance that they’d make this piece about plastic surgery, giving me this opportunity. And if I had refused to answer questions I’ve no doubt Janice Turner would have accused me of being “coy”. Still, I can remember their other journalists’ Twitter advice to refuse to answer any questions except what you want to concentrate on if you want interview terms honoured. Sorry way to go, IMO.

  3. I don’t know if HE was devious. He said “I was told to profile you.” The paper themselves may have been the ones breaking the terms and telling him he should just write a long profile of me. I did however say to him at the time that the interview was agreed to about the show. He said he would come back to it, but he didn’t. I tried to steer it back to Brian, but he wasn’t interested. So there it is. I will have to write interviews rather than give them, I suppose.

  4. A short note. I am not a “devious git” and neither are my Times colleagues, who I am proud to have worked with for many years. I was asked to profile Louise Mensch pegged on to a documentary she was presenting. Contrary to what Louise Mensch writes I was given no pre-conditions before I sat down to the interview (my exchanges with her PR are limited to where I am to meet her and at what time), although I have never with The Times accepted such “pre-conditions” as they don’t accord to my idea of what journalism is about – free enquiry and questioning. Louise Mensch sat down for one hour and forty five minutes and answered the questions I put to her. She was not being coerced into speaking, far from it. If she didn’t want to answer my questions, why did she? Why not terminate the interview? One other thing: isn’t it a bit odd to criticise an interview before it’s been published and you’ve read it? I note the snide reference to me *fact-checking* something. If the journalist gets something wrong he or she is criticised and here I seem to be being chided for ensuring something is accurate – and for a piece the subject has not read yet. For the record, I enjoyed meeting her. Perhaps the issue here is one of communication between herself and her PR and what kinds of interviews she agrees to do.

  5. Excellent stuff Louise, good for you, there are people out here who do like you and enjoy your blogging, and do not judge your personal decision. Just a very quick anecdote about my brush with the press: when I was 17, nearly 40 years ago, In Rome, i was interviewed by a journalist from a very popular women’s magazine, because I was one of the first Italian punks. I answered all her questions politely, posed for photos and behaved impeccably (because in spite of my punk attire I was a good bourgeoise girl!).

    The article came out and iPhone of the things it said was that I had SPAT at the photographer! I was really incensed as the article had so misrepresented me, so I managed to track the journalist’s telephone number down, I called her and remonstrated. She was sort of apologetic but said that they had written about the spitting, even if untrue, because “it was what people expected to read about punks”!

    ‘Nuff said!

  6. Tim,

    No, there was no confusion at all. Here’s the email from PR when asked by me to check with the paper this wasn’t
    going to be a general profile. There is no confusion:

    “I’ve spoken with the deputy editor of T2 – she says the feature will
    focus on the documentary, it won’t just be a tagline, but inevitably
    they will want to touch on your move to New York.”

    Either your deputy editor kept these terms from you, or you ignored them. The
    former seems more likely, but I answered all questions willingly and exhaustively, as
    my agreed part in the rest of the interview, because the
    paper agreed to focus on the documentary – and I trusted their word was
    good.

    This comment should also be a refutation to Hugo Rifkind who says his paper never agrees to terms. Again, bollocks.

  7. At my age nothing seems black and white like it used to, and with age politics and media seem to blur as well as grey over. I always enjoy reading about you Louise. you are your own person and should be respected for that and I like how you, along with others, can put the record straight using your own media such as this. I read Teeman’s article and ended up feeling quite sorry for him, as at the end of the day, it appears so much fuss is drummed up over the tiniest of things but maybe this is what motivates Teeman to write such churlish articles.

    Best wishes from the wilds of Norfolk in the UK. When Miss Smith loses her seat at the next election, it might be the time to consider a return to politics in a fine city.

  8. I had this set to record already, but boy am I looking forwards to it now. So pleased you stood up to the morons at The Telegraph. I just wish I had half your balls to stand up to a few things in my life. From one 39 year old mum and heavy metal fan to another, thank you. I think I have taken a bit of your gumption from this posting.

  9. Louise, well done for replying in this manner. As it goes I think you come across as intelligent, lucid and interesting, I respect and indeed applaud your reasoning behind your decision to move to NY, as much as I think you are a big loss to British politics. Best wishes. Tim

  10. There is a third option though, isn’t there? That your PR made things up. I’m not saying they did, I have no knowledge, but it is an option, no?

  11. Hi Louise

    We would love to plug ‘Rock Icon’ and hear about your passion for heavy metal. We would assign a writer who feels the same to talk to you (we have a few at PP HQ). In fact, one of our team used to organise the Kerrang! Awards. Plus, you could edit your own copy or upload direct if you prefer.

    Best wishes

    Anita@pressparty.com

  12. Louise, we’ve clashed before on Twitter (I “raise intersectional bollocks to an art form”, as you put it – a description I honestly adore!), but I think from reading your account here that the Times has treated you pretty abominably. As for the repeated questions about plastic surgery – FFS, who thinks this stuff matters?! It’s your body and you can do what you like to it; it’s really not the press’s business at all. I also admire your steadfast refusal to bring your children into the public eye.

    For the record, I am pretty disturbed by your comments about exercise and depression; I’d ask you to listen to the knowledgeable and concerned people who have critiqued those comments rather than dismiss them. And given that every depressed person is unable to avoid advice to exercise in order to get better, were your comments reaaaally necessary?

    We’ll never agree on everything. Not even music (I prefer metal to hard rock). But I’ll always defend you against sexist vectors of attack, as it appears were used by the journo in your account above.

  13. I was sad to see you leave parliament as I thought you were one of the more able politicians around and good lord we need them. Your work on the parliamentary enquiry into press standards particularly so. It annoyed me the reference to ADD and depression (a sufferer of clinical depression myself) it is still hinted at being a thing to be ashamed of or to hide. Personally I think they are conditions often symptomatic of the sharpest minds.
    Keep up the good work

  14. Well done Louise. I don’t share your politics, but after reading the article in The Times and then coming to your blog post here I have to admit I admire you for the way you’ve handled this and the rest of the misogynistic crap that gets thrown at you. I’ll keep an eye out for the documentary now, sounds great R

  15. Thank you so much wheely, that was really nice to read this morning. And thank you Sam, Tim (Hodgson) and everybody. I appreciated it.

    It was good to see the journalist responding here – whether he has any answer now the interview terms have been quoted to him, I very much doubt, but we’ll see.

    David, I don’t think anybody would suggest she made up a conversation with the deputy editor out of whole cloth, not even Tim the journalist, but let’s see if he does.

    Jonanamary, great to see you here! Look forward to debating with you in more than 140 and on a platform that lets you leave comments easily enough! I actually have a blog in mind for you a bit down the road where we can have at it (along the intersectional bollocks line you’ll be pleased to hear).

    I don’t think the journalist was sexist – trivial maybe – rather I think there were clear terms for this i/v, which I have quoted at him after him denying they existed, and the paper (having agreed terms) breached them. And therefore, it is a feminist act to scupper their “exclusive” overnight so nobody needs to buy the paper if interested. It felt pretty good to be able to do that yesterday night. Complaining after the fact is worse than useless. To quote Def Leppard, “Action Not Words”

  16. Reading the email, it doesn’t seem like “terms” but rather a response from the paper to a PR’s question. It does read as if the actual interview was rather different from what they said it would be, especially considering the phrase “but inevitably they will want to touch on your move to New York”, but it doesn’t say they won’t ask questions about anything, simply that they will focus more on the documentary. However, reading further between the lines, it may be the PR at fault for giving an erroneous impression of their conversation (not unknown) to get their client to give an interview and secure publicity.

    Would be good to hear from the Times journalists, but from the passage above, the PR email is not “terms”!

  17. Ha, I’d be interested in hearing more about this blog you’re planning… I think…!!!

    If asking prominent women endless questions about their appearance isn’t sexism, then what is?! It’s reducing women’s newsworthiness to their appearance, yet again.

  18. Did you ever think that maybe you’re a more interesting read than Brian Johnson? I like AC/DC as much as the next person -well maybe not that much- but I’d rather read about a successful woman who has taken risks in life than a male rock star. Don’t get me wrong, I love rock music and there are a few male rock stars I find fascinating, but let’s face it, not all of them are. I don’t mean to suggest your documentary is boring – but if it ends with the subject talking about you – well, that tells us something about its subject, doesn’t it?

    It seems that successful women who don’t follow the conventional path get the tag “controversial” or “publicity seeking.” Maybe you are those things – so what? How dare you do what men have done for centuries! Yes, you are contradictory – so what? To me, it shows you’re accessing different sides of yourself or that you’re complicated or that you’re open to evolving. I’m guessing those are the very qualities that have gotten you far in both your personal and professional life. Good for you!

    I have a very thin skin so I would hate the criticism that is part of a public life but I admire that you’re out there – even though our politics are truly diametrically opposed. Final thought; I understand you were disappointed the profile didn’t turn out as expected but I thought it was complimentary.

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