Hello, 2021! Here is my first book review of 2021 and it’s a brilliant one and a new firm favourite. It’s Let’s Do It: The Authorised Biography of Victoria Wood by Jasper Rees.
I’m a big fan of Victoria Wood – I remember watching dinnerladies as a child and being completely lost in her characters and dialogue. And over Christmas, with a lot of Victoria Wood content on BBC Two, I’ve fallen in love all over again. I got this book as a present for my father for Christmas but I just knew I wanted to read it so I ordered myself a copy and straight away I couldn’t put it down. Here is a synopsis…
In her passport Victoria Wood listed her occupation as ‘entertainer’ – and in stand-up and sketches, songs and sitcom, musicals and dramas, she became the greatest entertainer of the age. Those things that might have held her back – her lonely childhood, her crippling shyness and above all the disadvantage of being a woman in a male-run industry – she turned to her advantage to make extraordinary comedy about ordinary people living ordinary lives in ordinary bodies. She wasn’t fond of the term, but Victoria Wood truly was a national treasure – and her loss is still keenly felt.
Victoria had plenty of stories still to tell when she died in 2016, and one of those was her own autobiography.
‘I will do it one day,’ she told the author and journalist Jasper Rees. ‘It would be about my childhood, about my first few years in showbusiness, which were really interesting and would make a really nice story.’
That sadly never came to pass, so Victoria’s estate has asked Jasper Rees, who interviewed her more than anyone else, to tell her extraordinary story in full. He has been granted complete and exclusive access to Victoria’s rich archive of personal and professional material, and has conducted over 200 interviews with her family, friends and colleagues – among them Victoria’s children, her sisters, her ex-husband Geoffrey Durham, Julie Walters, Celia Imrie, Dawn French, Anne Reid, Imelda Staunton and many more.
What emerges is a portrait of a true pioneer who spoke to her audience like no one before or since.
I loved reading this biography – just like Victoria herself, it was full of heart, warmth and humour. Her voice is all throughout the book and it doesn’t stop to the very end. For me, a lot of biographies focus a lot on the detail and while that’s good at times, this biography is more about the person, the pioneer, the icon, the woman who has crafted a brilliant legacy.
As a writer, writers like Alan Bennett and Victoria Wood really inspired me (and still do, of course). I love the way she crafted her characters, her dialogue and it was a thrill to read about how she wrote and created her sketches, her songs, her musicals, but for me, I loved the chapter on the creation of dinnerladies. I also enjoyed reading more about her childhood, her family, the start of her career. It’s just a brilliant read all the way throughout. I loved the interviews with the people she worked with – from Julie Walters, Anne Reid, Celia Imrie, and more. I also loved reading her letters that she sent to her friends about what she was working on at that very moment. It’s like a warm hug of a book.
It’s a wonderful, layered portrait of a true icon and you can’t help but get emotional at the end but what a legacy she left behind to this very day. I loved this quote from the book from Victoria herself:
“I feel like the luckiest person in the world to be able to do this job, to be able to live this life and just work a job with other people who want to be there. And not just write, but to able to sell what I write and be on television with what I do. I mean God, I couldn’t ask for more and I don’t. I don’t ask for more.”
Again, this is a wonderful biography of a true icon and I just know I will turn back to it again and again. I’m so pleased this was my first read of the year and it’s a high bar to follow. I’ve started watching dinnerladies again on Netflix, watching every clip of her I can find online and listening to Barry and Freda again and again. Let’s do it!
Have you read Let’s Do It? Are you a Victoria Wood fan? Let me know in the comments! Happy New Year, too!