'Every Sex And The City fan account has 200,000 followers and I have 20,000 - what the f**k?' - Candace Bushnell
Candace Bushnell will never be as famous as her alter-ego, Carrie Bradshaw.
“I swear every Sex And The City fan account has at least 200,000 followers. I have 20,000. I’m like, what the f**k?” the author says.
It has been 21 years since Bushnell’s dating column in the New York Observer spawned one of the most adored franchises in modern memory.
Sex And The City comprises Bushnell’s best-selling book, an award-winning TV series and two films.
She has written eight books since, two of which were also adapted for TV, but Sex And The City remains her most feted accomplishment.
The last offering, Sex And The City 2, came out nearly a decade ago, but rumours of sequels still swirl, alleged feuds between cast-mates make headlines and, as Bushnell points out, those Instagram accounts are flourishing.
“I’ve seen Carrie Bradshaw in a beer commercial,” she says of her protagonist.
“The characters have stepped into another dimension, they’re not anchored to real life.”
However, real life was where it began. As a columnist, Bushnell turned flings and friendships into sparkling copy, using shrewd social commentary to confront the rigid sexual politics that defined Manhattan’s mid-1990s dating scene.
In that pre-Tinder era, men came and went in tribes – modellisers (only sleep with models), freaks (steal secondhand books) and f**k buddies (no explanation needed) – while women called the shots and wore expensive shoes.
The HBO programme, which ran from 1998 to 2004, was praised for its depiction of strong female characters, paving the way for the likes of Girls and Fleabag.
However, a lot has changed since Candace was running around Manhattan in her Manolos.
After finding fame and success through the show, she married professional dancer Charles Askegard, who was 10 years her junior.
The couple divorced in 2012 after a decade together, prompting Bushnell to move to her home state of Connecticut, doing little else other than riding horses, walking her dogs – poodles named Pepper and Prancer – and writing.
After four years, she became restless and decided it was time to give Manhattan – and sex – another go.
This is where her new memoir, Is There Still Sex In The City?, picks up, and is the reason she’s talking to me.
The sex itself might be more on the discrete side, but talk of Viagra (“the price men pay for youth”) and oral sex (“some women don’t like it”) is enough to conjure up an image of Bushnell and her girl gang getting candid at cocktail hour.
“I never really thought about my 50s that much,” says Bushnell, who’s now 60.
“Suddenly you’re not a demographic and you realise you’re kind of invisible. You don’t see many middle-aged women out there doing things.
“It’s like society is telling you to disappear, but this isn’t a group of women that’s going to disappear.”
Bushnell is confident. As we speak, she rattles off opinions with pace, often swearing, laughing and thinking aloud. “Sex And The City was bigger than Girls,” she says.
In Is There Still Sex In The City?, her voice is just as distinctive.
To the uninitiated, the frequent philosophical musings (“Have I just found a Tinder unicorn?”) might jar, but to any Sex And The City fan, reading them is like taking a bite from your favourite microwave meal, the one you thought they’d stopped selling.
Even when one of Carrie’s most ridiculed aphorisms, “I couldn’t help but wonder”, makes an appearance, you can’t help but wonder what you’ve been doing without Bushnell’s voice for all these years.
That’s not to say the memoir is infallible. In her 50s, she navigates the dating scene much like she did in her 30s, trading in tribes and archetypes, such as cubs – young men who romantically pursue older women.
“Are middle-aged women now catnip for younger men?” she asks with that teasing Carrie Bradshaw style.
The book reads at times like a myopic seduction manual for middle-aged women looking to manipulate men. It’s also aimed entirely at heterosexual women.
However, it wins you over for the same reasons Sex And The City did – through its unwavering celebration of female friendship.
“A couple of people disliked the book because they thought I was implying that women don’t need men,” Bushnell says. “But that’s kind of the point.”
She calls herself a feminist, but is the first to admit that her Sex And The City columns would be very different today.
“I think they would be all about #MeToo,” she says, recalling how Manhattan was once the “Wild West of #MeToo behaviour”, complete with “touching, grabbing and threats”.
However, like other women of her generation, Bushnell accepted it at the time.
“You didn’t have a choice,” she says. “We’re only realising how awful it was, because more people can share their stories and we hear how common they are. These are worldwide problems. It’s not one or two men behaving badly here and there.”
Did she listen to Sarah Jess-ica Parker talking on US radio last month about experiencing sexual misconduct on set as a child actor?
“No, I didn’t, but I’m sure that’s the tip of the iceberg. I suspect there are hundreds of child actors out there who have experienced that,” she says.
The TV series would look different today too, Bushnell says as we move on to discuss one of the biggest criticisms levelled at Sex And The City: its all-white central cast.
“Would people cast a show like that today? No, they wouldn’t,” she says.
Despite the criticisms and the fact the last film was panned by critics – Bushnell says the hum-our was overblown – fans still want more Sex And The City.
A third film was in the works, with the script rumoured to kill off Carrie’s husband, Mr Big, and follow her journey through grief and recovery.
However, the project was shelved for reasons that are still unclear, though it’s thought that a fallout between Kim Cattrall and Parker, who played Samantha Jones and Carrie Bradshaw, is to blame.
“I don’t know why people are so desperate for them to be pals. At the end of the day, it’s just a frickin’ job, and honestly, I don’t know of any feud,” she adds, describing both women as “so nice”.
Bushnell keeps in touch with Chris Noth, the actor who played Mr Big – the two live in the same building – but does Bushnell keep in touch with Parker?
“I never was in touch with her. She was married the entire time we were filming. Her life is really the opposite of Carrie Bradshaw’s,” says Bushnell, who got married at the age of 43.
“She’s always been with a guy and is very family-orientated. I see her at parties and she’s very nice, but we have different circles.”
Bushnell has a busy year ahead, and is developing a TV adaptation of Is There Still Sex In The City?
Her fortune is estimated to be around $40m (€35.8m). Why then does she write in one part of her memoir that she sometimes feels disappointed with her life?
“I think I should’ve done more. Why wasn’t I bigger? Why didn’t I have more confidence? I also think I should’ve fought harder to get what I want in terms of TV,” she says.
“I had a lot of opportunities to do a reality show and I said no. Being on TV is so big and important now, I should’ve done it.”
It’s not too late, surely?
“Oh, it’s fine. Instagram TV is the new TV anyway. I’m on Instagram all the time.”
via The Herald
Independent News Service