There are all kinds of gossip – inane and boring but harmless; inquisitive and intrusive; salacious, garnished with schadenfreude; and the snide and nasty. Then there is gossip about well-known people – stars and celebrities (Hartnell makes a valid distinction between the two) – the sort of information most people are interested in and which keeps the number of women’s magazines at a surprisingly high level.
Hartnell occupies a special place in the New Zealand media. There has not been another like him. He is a star/celebrity in his own right here, and is well known in the UK and US as well. His columns had flair. He knew the people the public wanted to know things about. He wrote well. And, perhaps most importantly, there was always an absence of malice. Hartnell was never cruel. He never “outed” people.
Hartnell grew up gay in 1950/60s New Zealand, with all the bullying and trauma that entailed. But he had determination and ambition. He went to London, where he became a sought-after makeup artist, and then to the US, where he rubbed shoulders with the stars and began his entertaining writing about them.
His column series, I’m not one to gossip, but …, remains the best of its kind. This memoir shows why. Packed with photos of the glitterati (and of himself with many of them), this is a thoroughly diverting book – interesting and entertaining.