By Chet Yarbrough
By: Lynn Barber
Narrated by: Alison Larkin
A Curious Career is about the art of being nosy. Lynn Barber is more than a legend in her own mind. She is a clever British journalist and author that graduated from Oxford, went to work for Bob Guccione at “Penthouse”, and later created a career in journalism. With a keen sense of what titillates the general public, Barber honed interview skills that elicit the best and worst of famous people of the late 20th and early 21st century.
The youthful voice of Alison Larkin recalls a young energetic Lynn Barber that interviews personalities that range from the weird Salvador Dali to the athletic Rafael Nadal. Along the way, Barber explains how a quality interview is created. Barber notes that using a tape recorder sets a stage for her craft; not with intent to make one nervous but to emphasize the beginning of a serious and professional interview. Barber always tapes her interviews to be sure accurate quotes are used in her articles. Barber explains the interview itself is her least favorite part of the process because of time constraint, and the difficulty of eliciting information that makes an article interesting to read.
Preparation is a key to a good interview. Questions are created in advance, based on background investigation of the person to be interviewed. A favorite follow-up question for Barber is “why” because it elicits more personal and real information. Barber focuses on details because they personalize her articles. Details range from what a person is wearing to the way they talk. Good background information leads to questions about what a person “did not” say in a previous public article. Barber focuses her questions on those un-revealed pieces of an interviewee’s life.
Barber explains that Dali was interviewed when she worked for Penthouse. She enjoyed the interview because of Dali’s uninhibited personality and unsolicited comments; i.e. comments ranging from masturbation as a sexual preference to signing blank pieces of paper, with Dali’s explanation that he is printing money. The blank pieces of paper become doodled pictures by others who would sell them as Dali originals.
When Rafael Nadal is nearing number one on the tennis circuit, Barber interviews him with questions that infer he is gay. Nadal is in his mid-twenties at the time of the interview. Barber’s background investigation shows that Nadal announced he has a girlfriend in his native county. However, with follow-up questions, Barber finds the girlfriend rarely comes to his matches. Nadal only occasionally visits his girl’s home when not playing tennis. This is proof of nothing but there is an underlying inference in Barber’s article. One might conclude this is one of the reasons people hate interviews that are publicly reported. Many might say who cares if Nadal is or is not gay, but after writing the article, Barber receives death threats and becomes a minor league twitterverse’ superstar.
There are a number of similar anecdotes in Barber’s memoir. On one hand, it is easy to see why there is a battle between the press and the famous; on the other hand, what Barber reveals is what the public is often most interested in knowing. A more palatable anecdote is Barber’s interview of Jimmy Savile with questions about his lascivious treatment of young girls, before it is known by the general public. (In 2011, Sir James Wilson Vincent Savile dies in disgrace.) A Curious Career is a primer for aspiring journalists; particularly for those who use the interview process to reveal the truth of what is important.