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Steve Lazarides was the art renegades strategist, photographer and minder. As his shots are published, he recalls the politics, parties and soaring price tags of Matey Boy

One Christmas, Steve Lazarides and Banksy decided to kill Santa. Reject false icons, read the slogan hastily spray painted across their shopfront, behind a highly festive effigy they had created of Father Christmas dangling from a noose. Dotted around were signs intended to lure passersby into their shop, in the hope that they would join in the party and buy some artworks. The signs, however, may have had the opposite effect. Santas Ghetto, read one. Stinking art piss, read another.

There were a few complaints about what we did to Santa, says Lazarides, once Banksys right-hand man. And about the noise. We didnt care. It was a group show we did every year, so artists could make a little dough and punters could pick up some affordable art for Christmas stockings.

Lazarides worked with Banksy for 11 rollercoaster years, initially documenting the artist at work back in 1997, then becoming his agent, strategist and even minder. The Christmas art shop had been rented from one of Sohos last porn barons but disaster struck. Liquid leaked through from the floor above, soaking an impromptu chandelier made of traffic cones. I went to investigate, says Lazarides. It was a toilet overflowing. The crowd at the party thought it was part of the show. It wasnt. It was literally stinking art piss.

Each armful of work would now be worth about half a million quid Steve Lazarides. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

The art he and Banksy sold at Santas Ghetto was certainly affordable back in the noughties but it could not be classified as such today. Lazarides recalls carrying armfuls of original Banksy prints to the shop, where theyd shift for 25. At todays rates, he says, I reckon each armful would be worth about half a million quid.

One work, called Bomb Middle England, depicted three elderly women playing bowls with balls that had lit fuses coming out of them. In 2007, Sothebys sold a version of this image for 102,000, at the time the most ever fetched for a Banksy. It has since been eclipsed, with the title now held by the 2009 painting Devolved Parliament, which went for 8.5m earlier this year.

While Lazarides is happily reminiscing about the Santas of Christmases past, Banksy is on the streets of Birmingham making art about the scandals of Christmas present in the form of his mural and video of two reindeer pulling, not Santa in his sleigh, but a homeless man called Ryan lying on a bench in the citys jewellery quarter.

How do you define greatest? says Lazarides. By money? No, by recognisability. And by that criterion, he is the greatest. Forget Warhol, forget everybody except Rembrandt and Van Gogh. Hes a genius. As proof, he cites Girl With Balloon, the painting that shredded itself moments after being sold for more than 1m at Sothebys last year. (Performance art of the highest order.) And then theres the union jack stab vest Banksy designed for Stormzys showstopping Glastonbury performance last summer.

Lazarides has now self-published a book of his photographs from the time he travelled the world tasked with making sure Banksy didnt get arrested or duffed up and didnt run out of spray paint. I had the time of my life, he says as he sits on the roof of his London office, talking about the man he calls Matey Boy. We were lawless and did just what we wanted. Matey Boy had a political agenda that you can see very clearly in everything he does, but I just had a fucking blast.

He met Banksy on an assignment for Sleaze Nation magazine, where Lazarides was a photographer. I was from Bristol like him and loved graffiti art it was for the dispossessed, those of us who didnt go to galleries or have private educations. So it was a meeting of minds from day one.

Toilet trouble Father Christmas makes an appearance at Santas Ghetto. Photograph: Steve Lazarides

How come you two were never arrested? The secret, he says, is hi-vis jackets and traffic cones. Nobody stops you if you have them. However, there was a morning in New Yorks Meatpacking District (before it was gentrified) when a few transgender sex workers took exception to Banksy painting a wall. Some of them misconstrued what he was writing as homophobic and called the cops. Thats about as close to getting arrested as we got.

He and Banksy had various scams to help them get away with things. Once I gave him a letter saying he had permission from a film producer to paint a wall. And I would be the film producer, armed with a burner phone. If I got a call, I was primed to say, Sorry mate, I meant him to do the other side of the street.

The book is called Banksy Captured and consists of Lazarides photographs of the art worlds favourite enigma at work, whittled down from his collection of 12,000. The books first edition of 5,000 copies sold out within days of publication, promoted through Lazarides website and Instagram. Orders were processed by his fulfilment division, meaning his mum and stepdad working in a Bristol warehouse. She got made redundant from the chip shop, so this gives her another career.

Ill never give him up Banksy at work. Photograph: Steve Lazarides

Now copies of the book are selling for up to 600 on eBay. A second edition is ready go and a follow-up volume will go on sale in the new year, this time featuring Banksys work in Los Angeles and beyond. I might even do a third, says Lazarides, if I can find where the files on my hard drive have gone.

Despite the title, Lazarides hasnt actually captured Banksy himself, not 100% anyway. While the book certainly gives readers unprecedented access to the artist, we only ever see him from the rear or with a large red dot covering his face. Still, it is lovely to see arts renegade-in-chief creating, for example, that urinating guard in his bearskin hat, not to mention the row of bib-wearing chimps. Laugh now, says the message on one bib, but one day well be in charge.

Banksy has given Lazarides the go-ahead to publish these intimate images. But that brings us to the big question: who is Banksy? Bristol artist Robin Gunningham, Massive Attacks Robert del Naja, Gorillaz founder Jamie Hewlett, a creative collective? Ill never give him up, says Lazarides. Itd be like telling a four-year-old Santa doesnt exist. If he did reveal himself, no one would believe him. Theyd be like, Course you are, mate, course you are.

All of which makes it somewhat surprising to hear that Lazarides and Banksy dont talk any more. Was there a falling out? Not really. Im bipolar and hes obsessive. Wed gone as far as we could together. There is, I think, still a great mutual respect between us, though. There are texts, emails. We dont talk because we dont need to.

Among the pictures in the book is a shot of Londons Hayward Gallery defaced with Banksys eloquent spray-painted comment: Boring. Lazarides says: That sums up how we felt about the art world. My theory is that one of the reasons why hes the worlds most famous artist is that he isnt making people feel stupid, unlike most current art. I never got into art theory, never did a degree. And I never liked being told what I liked. So much art is about that snobbery.

Even Banksy isnt really anticapitalist the artist at work, with his identity obscured. Photograph: Steve Lazarides

There are so many people working galleries who couldnt give a fuck about art, whore only in it for the money. I tested that theory recently in Hong Kong at a gallery I wont name. I said to the guy, Tell me about this painting. He said, Well, its worth $6m. Thats the art world.

In this, Lazarides is gamekeeper turned poacher. He opened his first gallery on Sohos Greek Street in 2004, later expanding his empire with two other galleries nearby. The aim, he says, was to ensure street artists he admired didnt get exploited by the art world. Know what happened to the kids who invented tagging in the 70s? They got bought up by the white-bread downtown art world and got fucked, turned into freak shows. I wanted to make sure it didnt happen again.

In this way, Lazarides turned Banksy into a bankable commodity for collectors and helped a whole new generation of street artists Invader, JR, Vhils, the Miaz Brothers to sell their work. Last year, he launched Lazinc in Mayfair with, reportedly, a seven-figure investment by Qatari billionaire Wissam Al Mana (the estranged husband of Janet Jackson).

How could street art be sold in Mayfair without losing its soul? When he was asked this last year, Lazarides denied that his artists sought to smash the system. Even Banksy isnt really anticapitalist, he said. This September, though, he quit Lazinc, citing art world snobbery and saying: I never wanted to sell fucking paintings. The only reason I did it was to promote a subculture that was being overlooked and is now gone.

Wheres it gone? Theres energy out there, says Lazarides. It just needs harnessing without snobbery and cynicism. Im 50 now and a boring old fart. But I want to be knocked on my ass by some 20-year-old genius. He thinks he can make that happen by getting out of Mayfair and working at it totally online, convinced that bricks-and-mortar commercial galleries have only five years left. Ive got no overheads. I can hit and run.

Hes selling prints of his photographs on his website, with prices starting at 450. Affordable art, like we did back in the day. I want to use this as a model for how to sell artists work. No third parties. Just me and the public. I can be an art world gangster again.

Banksy Captured is out now.

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US rapper accuses Jessica Chiha and her online retailer The Little Homie of knowingly infringing on his trademarks

An Australian woman says shell fight US rapper Jay-Zs copyright lawsuit because she thinks she should be able to use the Grammy winners name and lyrics to sell childrens books.

Jessica Chiha and her business The Little Homie are being sued in the federal court by the US billionaire, legally named Shawn Carter, who accuses them of knowingly infringing on his trademarks and misleading conduct.

We are unbelievably disappointed to find ourselves caught in a legal battle with someone whose music we love and adore, Chiha said in a statement on Thursday.

She said The Little Homie was created so parents could connect with their children through something they love during the transition to parenthood and her love of hip-hop and the artists I grew up listening to.

The online retailer raised $8,000 on Kickstarter to publish the AB to Jay-Z picture book, which refers to well-known rappers to teach the alphabet, and has since expanded to include a colouring book and clothing.

Other artists featured include the Notorious BIG, Pharrell Williams and Snoop Dogg.

The book reportedly came to Jay-Zs attention after controversy broke over accusations of cultural appropriation and racism in 2017 when a customer asked if the company was black-owned.

The back of the book includes the quote If youre having alphabet problems I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but my ABCs aint one.

Jay-Zs song famously opened with If youre having girl problems, I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but a bitch aint one.

To have someone like Jay-Z file legal proceedings is daunting beyond belief and hugely dispiriting, Chiha said.

We maintain we have done nothing wrong and intend to give it everything weve got for common sense and common good to prevail, to the extent we can fight the fight.

Its that persistence to keep trading that has landed the company in court.

Documents filed earlier this month by the rappers Australian legal counsel note Carter asked Chiha to stop in March 2018 and again in July this year.

Letters were sent between lawyers until September.

Unless restrained, the respondents threaten to and intend to and will continue to engage in the conduct referred to above, the statement of claim reads.

The lawyers said the retailer and director deliberately and knowingly attempted to trade off the reputation of the rapper, who is married to singer Beyonc.

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Complete with quills, country dancing and rag curls, a country hotel is wooing dedicated Janeites to visit their favourite fictional world

Jane Austen fans are a devoted bunch. True Janeites tend to travel widely to celebrate their favourite author, most often to Bath for the Jane Austen festival. But on the other side of the world sits Governors House, a picturesque, yellow Georgian-style mansion in Hyde Park, Vermont. The house, along with its owner Suzanne Boden, draws Janeites from all over the globe who come not only to celebrate their favourite author, but to live as a character in her world.

Boden had the idea to start hosting Austen weekends at her home 11 years ago. I was outside hanging tablecloths on the clothesline, she says, against the backdrop of Governors House, and I was listening to some music through the window, which happened to be Mozart. From the back of the house, you cant see anything thats modern because of the trees. And I thought: I could be Jane Austen! And someone else might want to come and be Austen, too.

Others did. For more than a decade, Boden, who also offers the occasional Downton Abbey experience, has been hosting in-character weekends where attendees who range in age from seven to 80 get the pleasure of living life through the eyes and words of Austen.

Its an escape, says Boden, who encourages guests to eschew modern technology and leave their phones behind. Its about going back in time. Its a chance to dress up. Most of all, its a chance to be with, and interact with, other Austen fans, who always have a lot to say. Its unusual if someone goes home without a long list of book recommendations or film recommendations from new friends. People come for all sorts of reasons: One woman clearly thought it was going to be like the movie Austenland and shed meet her husband here.

Although guests dont typically find partners at the rate Austens characters do, they do gain new skills: learning to write with a quill pen and fold paper the way the author did, before envelopes existed. They get English country dancing lessons and indulge in afternoon tea. No lunch is served, because, as Boden points out, lunch wasnt invented in Austens time (neither was afternoon tea, but an exception is made). Other weekend activities include sewing reticules (a small purse-like bag used in Austens time to carry gloves, a fan, and perhaps even love notes), horse-drawn carriage rides and archery.

A recent weekend dedicated to Emma at Governors House drew Janeites from as far away as Texas. On a Friday night, attendees nibbled lemon squares and sipped tea as they watched a short lecture titled Bared Bosoms and Padded Calves (on the fashions of Regency England).

Two women in Regency costume walking dogs through Bath during the citys annual Jane Austen festival. Photograph: Alamy

There are 79 regional groups in the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) across the US and Canada. When asked why so many Americans love Austen, Boden is incredulous. Everybody loves Jane Austen! She gets right to the heart of things, she says. On the surface, it looks like a little romance, but there are so many layers in her works, which have been translated into well, how many languages are there in the world? Although its very British, she doesnt mention anything going on politically so it could be set anywhere.

Over a breakfast of tea, blueberry muffins and baked eggs, guests discuss favourite books, adaptations, characters and their shared love for spotting inaccuracies in period films (I heard theres a shocking lack of hairpins in the new Little Women!). Everyone agrees that Henry from Mansfield Park was one of her best male creations, for being sweet, competent and witty. But he was never witty in a mean way, or at someone elses expense, says Lena Ruth Yasutake, a 36-year-old teacher from Connecticut. She runs a Regency clothing business called Cassandras Closet (a subtle nod to Austen) with her sister-in-law Anna, who has also joined the party: she had her hair in rag curlers yesterday night and has an Austenesque hairstyle ready for breakfast. Lenas her devotion to Austen has been hard-won: I pushed through my dyslexia to finish Emma because I loved the story so much. It was my gateway drug into Austen.

Everybody loves Jane Austen! … Women take a turn through the grounds of Governors House

The women here tend to come in groups: Vermont bookstore owner Kim Crady-Smith has brought her sister, her niece and a friend, who sit alongside three childhood friends from Dallas, all in their 70s. Ann, who urged her friends Charlene and Mary to join her, has attended other Austen weekends before, and, as a result, ended up joining the Dallas chapter of JASNA. The Dallas meetings arent as much fun as Bodens weekends, Ann says: After experiencing this, its hard to settle for less!

Janeites delight in Austens words and stories, but what most bonds the Americans is a bit more complex. Anglophilia is strong throughout the US; its presence is reflected in Americans appetite for British television and film, football, music and more. The enthusiasm for Austen reflects a wider desire to journey into a world that feels foreign and familiar all at once.

At the end of Bodens weekends, she gives guests a quiz over Sunday brunch. Throughout the weekend, she drops hints and breadcrumbs of information that are answers to Sundays quiz. What happens if you fail the quiz? Boden doesnt miss a beat: If you flunk, you get the greatest prize of all: you get to reread the novel.

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What difference does a decade or two make in the worlds of music, kids TV and poetry?

Grandmaster Flash, 61, hip-hop pioneer, and AJ Tracey, 25, MC

Grandmaster Flash born Joseph Saddler on New Years Day, 1958 is often credited as one of the pioneers of hip-hop, but his achievements are as much in the field of engineering as they are in music. It was Flash who invented the slipmat that allowed records to be manipulated by DJs; who used solder and Super Glue to give decks a separate headphone channel, so they could hear the record they were cueing up; and who invented the quick-mix theory, allowing small portions of tracks to be looped. Those innovations formed the basis of modern DJing.

Hip-hop has gone through many iterations since Flash debuted his skills on the wheels of steel (a phrase he popularised) at block parties in the Bronx. AJ Tracey, the London MC, tries to embody them all, combining grime, UK drill and trap in his music. An outspoken supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, he is one of the leading lights of the UK rap scene, registering a No 3 album and selling out two nights at Londons Alexandra Palace. The pair immediately hit it off and talk constantly during the photoshoot about love, their roots and Nandos, sometimes to the dismay of the Guardians photographer. How can you photograph us having a talk if were not talking! shouts Flash.

Grandmaster Flash So what would you do if it wasnt music?

AJ Tracey I dont want to say something incriminating! I was at university, so, hopefully, I would have got a job. I was doing criminology.

GF Criminology? So which side of the coin were you working?

AJT Ha, both sides. Studying their side, but doing my side. I love learning about history. I thought criminology would give me a bit of an insight into how cities work.

GF Did your parents want you to stay at college?

AJT My dad was born in the UK, but he actually got sent back to Trinidad for a while for misbehaving. He was impoverished and obviously black people had it hard it in the UK. He was a rapper, too, but my grandma told him, I want you to go to school and bring some money to the family because you should be grateful for the British education.

So when it was my turn, he said I should go to college. Any parent who cares about his son would say that, especially any parent from Trinidad. And when I told my gran that I wanted to do the music thing and leave uni, she rolled up her sleeves, got the spoon and just whacked it.

GF I used to get my ass whacked, too! My father was an avid collector of vinyl records. The rules of the household were: never to go in the closet where dads records were, and never to touch the stereo. But as soon as I heard his tools go over his shoulder, and the door slam, I would grab a chair, play music and dance around the living room. Whoever was home would say, Dad will take your head off if he sees this, and he would kick my ass, but in a way that made me know the records were really valuable, so Id do it again.

After a while, I had to start diagnosing the vinyl. My mother was a seamstress, so I took one of her needles and put the tip inside the black tunnel and felt a vibration. Im like, Holy moly the music lives in the black tunnels! Then it was on: me going in the closet, him beating my ass, me going in the closet. My dad was the brother of the 1948 featherweight champion of the world, so he had hands of stone.

AJT I can identify with that. My mother was a pirate radio DJ. Being a white Welsh woman spinning hip-hop was unheard of my dad obviously fell in love with that. She used to spin NWA. Shes got NWAs first vinyl, and she has two copies: one to spin and one thats sealed. She knew it was going to be crazy valuable. Thats the record I wasnt allowed to touch. But actually my mum was the one saying: Go for it, do music.

GF Oooh, thats interesting. It was mom saying go for it.

AJT What would you have done if not music?

GF I think I would have been an electronic technician, because I was always unscrewing the back of amps and seeing how the circuitry worked. Thats what my people wanted me to be. I actually had to stop hanging around people

AJT who were telling you that its not going to work out [in music]?

Photograph: Janette Beckman/Redferns/Getty Images

GF Exactly. In my teenage years, when I was trying to figure out the quick-mix theory, I had a crew. They would knock on the door and say, Can Joe come out and play? Id say, Ill be right there. After months and months, they realised I was never coming out. So all my friends left and my audience was my miniature doberman pinscher named Caesar.

Later, when we would play in the neighbourhood parks, my problem was there was no place to plug in, because if you asked a person in the nearest apartment, thats a lot of juice! By this time I had knowledge of electronics, so I worked out that the lamp-post turns on at dusk automatically. I had to break the lamp-post door, find the electronic timer, cut the head of the extension cord and wire it so the electricity was going all the time. These were the challenges.

AJT I wouldnt go to the park, but I would go to pirate radio stations to try and get the microphone. You almost have to fight your way in there. Its really a hood thing you need to be built tough, because you need to go in there with your people and say: Its my turn. Often it was 2am in Enfield not many listeners could hear me, but I could hear me.

GF Exactly! Its about that practice. For us it wasnt pirate radio, but we did deal with the cops. Early on, they would shut us down. But what would happen is that all the big-time drug dealers and hood rats and killers would come into the park and jam with us what we were doing just brought the best out of people. Drug dealers were going to the shop and buying 300 bottles of pop and 300 bags of crisps for the audience. And the cops would just sit around and be happy they had nothing to do.

AJT Man, I cant imagine British police saying its a good thing, but one day they will. UK rap is a baby compared with the US were still new to this. We need some more time for everyone to become accustomed to black culture.

GF Are you a perfectionist?

AJT Absolutely. Im my worst critic.

GF Me, too. Ill come off stage and people will be cheering one more tune, and all Ill be able to think about is 15 minutes into the set I fucked up a mix.

AJT Me too, bro. My tour manager will say it was a great show, but I wont be happy, because I know I fumbled. Theyll say no one noticed. But I notice.

GF So whats the biggest difference for us? The internet.

AJT That would be the defining thing. You were in the Bronx, and I was growing up in west London but with the internet were half a second away from everyone. I was recording music in a trap house, pressing a button and uploading it to SoundCloud which means its in peoples bedrooms, in white households in America, in Japan. Its much easier for me to sneak around the powers that be, and the gatekeepers, and get my sound out there. I still wanna rap about things that are close to home. You cant tell me I should speak on Trump or Brexit, just because its two big things that are happening. Thats not how it works. I will speak on Grenfell or the Labour party things that are close to home.

GF Right. Its got to be something that affects the artist, their family or their neighbourhood.

AJT I wouldnt say we had the same struggles, but theyre similar struggles. Our parents, being black and from black heritage, the struggles of being a perfectionist. I feel like thats within every artist the struggle that led you to excel, and that in turn leads you to want to give perfection.

Janet Ellis, 64, writer, actor and television presenter, and Will Lenney, 23, YouTube superstar

Lenney and Ellis: I think its important for the ideas to come from you. Photograph: Pl Hansen/The Guardian

In 1983, Janet Ellis was looking for a new challenge. Having previously only accepted acting roles, she initially felt offended when it was suggested she audition to be the new Blue Peter presenter; she was only persuaded after betting her agent 5 she wouldnt get the gig. She lost the bet, and became one of the shows best-loved hosts.

Her four-year stint was followed by regular BBC presenting jobs and occasional TV appearances with her daughter, the singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Her main focus is now fiction; her second novel, How It Was, was published in August.

Childrens television has changed a lot since Elliss day, not least in that little of it is watched on television. Half of children over eight say they prefer YouTube, and the majority of 12- to 15-year-olds say they regularly watch content made by vloggers. Will Lenney, better known as WillNE, is a 23-year-old YouTube superstar with more than 3 million subscribers. His posts are mostly first-person looks at internet culture: These Life Hacks Are Beyond Useless or Remaking The Worst Tik Toks I Could Find, for instance. Hes often joined by other popular YouTube personalities, although Lenney brings a sense of humour and self-deprecation to his vlogs. The channel began as a bedroom exploit in Whitley Bay in North Tyneside, but has now made Lenney rich enough to move to a flash London apartment, where his videos are recorded.

Today, Ellis and Lenneys 41-year age gap feels immaterial; they josh and banter as if they have just been announced as two brand new Blue Peter presenters, assuming boy-band poses and swapping stories of their most disastrous links (Lenney just rerecorded his, whereas Elliss went out on TV to millions).

Janet Ellis This is a question you must be endlessly asked: how do you become a YouTuber?

Will Lenney Theres no follow this first step, no path. You give it your all and hope for the best. I think thats probably one of the biggest similarities between our careers.

JE Yeah, I had no career plan. When I was little, I wanted to act, but when you go, I want to be an actress, people just go, Well, did you know, 75% of the people in the profession are out of work? And I have to say, I just went: Well, poor them.

WL Sod yous, yeah? I like that. The one thing Id say is that if you start out wanting to do YouTube as a job, youre finished from the get-go.

JE I get that. When people say, I want to be a presenter, I think: what do you want to talk about on camera? Why do you want to be there?

WL For me, it started as a hobby just making daft comedy videos maybe once or twice a year. I failed my A-levels spectacularly and had to retake them, but I used all the spare time I had to give the YouTube thing a really good go.

JE I got my provisional Equity card early and did loads of theatre, and then four episodes of Doctor Who. Along the way, I had Sophie and then went straight back to work. I did a kids series called Jigsaw just weeks after she was born.

WL That must have been hard.

JE I didnt know any different. I had her when I was 23, so the same age as you. I felt clever, you know: I can do all this and Ive got a kid. Also, in real life, if somebody says: Right, youre going to get up at six in the morning and go parachuting, Id say no. But presenter-me says, Oh yes! I suppose what makes a good presenter is allowing people to see that actually, you would rather be in bed, or that youre scared.

WL Totally especially on YouTube, when people will go, I got up, I ate breakfast, you know, I went to John Lewis. If you bring people into that, they feel like they know you as a mate.

JE I wanted to ask you about ideas, because the stuff Ive done, theres been an office full of people whose job it was to find something to do. On Blue Peter, 75% of it was viewer-suggested. Do you have people who suggest content?

WL I think its important for the ideas to come from you, because its your channel. But we get immediate feedback with analytics. You can see the number of people watching your channel over the last 60 minutes, then for each minute, how many times someone clicked on each video. When shows like Love Island are on, theres no point in uploading, because I can see the huge drop-off. No one is on YouTube at that time.

JE Yeah, we owned them: the audience had nowhere else to go. Not just the kids, but the parents, because everyone understands the words Blue Peter. Its been on now for 60 years. Even by the time I joined, it was 25 years old, and if parents went into the room and their kids were watching they would probably stay, for reasons of nostalgia. I have grandsons now, and theyre all fully YouTube conversant, but its not that thing of getting home from school and its there, and mum might come in and watch, too.

Do you like the fact that it enables young people to have this thing that has nothing to do with us?

WL Parents should always be aware of what someone is watching but yes, we specifically target who we think is our demographic. Having said that, I would never put something in my videos that I wouldnt say to my mum.

JE That is an excellent rule.

WL That usually helps me walk the line pretty well. I find it liberating. I quite enjoy the responsibility, or burden, of knowing the buck stops with me.

JE I left the BBC years ago, but you become a spokesperson for it. I have lost count of the number of times Ive been asked to defend childrens television, and you will be asked to defend YouTube.

WL Yeah, I get that quite a lot. YouTube is very strictly regulated now, whereas maybe it wasnt seven or eight years ago. There are dos and donts. Now, if you say certain jokes, YouTube are not going to put any adverts on your video. I just have to make the decision: is this worth the risk?

JE With live telly, people always assume that youre desperate to swear or do something wrong. But I wouldnt ever do that. I joined Blue Peter when I was 28, so I wasnt going to be living a nun-like existence, but the first responsibility was always it sounds so prissy to the viewer. I dont want to be the person they see falling over pissed and being horrible to waiters, or something. But this was way before Twitter, paparazzi; I suppose its harder now.

WL It can be very volatile. There was a big YouTube scandal in 2017 when a lot of advertisers pulled out over concerns about what their adverts appeared on. It had just become my full-time job. Id moved down to London, I was paying rent, and suddenly you go from getting paid, say, a pound for 1,000 views to 10 pence.

JE When the News Of The World published an expos of Richard Bacon, 22, taking cocaine, it was horrible. Hes still one of the best presenters they ever had, and he was immediately sacked and the then head of childrens programmes, Lorraine Heggessey, sat in front of a bowl of daffodils and did this sort of Queen-like speech before the programme went on air, you know: very disappointed in the behaviour. They dragged some of us out of retirement because they were suddenly one presenter down. So I went and did a few programmes. But it was ridiculous.

WL Thats a horrible existence that, innit? On the other hand Ive been doing these live shows and its been such a lovely experience and privilege just to speak to people on the street who enjoy what you do.

JE YouTube makes people scared, so you have to hold their hands and tell them its fine. My 10-year-old grandson has started talking into the camera completely unaffectedly, wandering around the house using entirely the wrong angle.

WL Youve got to start somewhere.

JE Well, he always starts with: Hey, guys.

WL Thats so sweet. Ten is young for it, but by the time hes 15, he could get bloody good. I havent even been doing it for five years. I hope he keeps doing it.

Alice Oswald, 53, Oxford professor of poetry, and Yrsa Daley-Ward, 30, Instagram poet

Daley-Ward and Oswald: Now I am happy to sit or walk, waiting for a poem. Photograph: Pl Hansen, Gareth Iwan Jones/The Guardian

Alice Oswald was elected Oxford professor of poetry in June this year, succeeding Simon Armitage and becoming the first woman in the role. It follows a string of prestigious poetry prizes, and acclaim from her contemporaries: Carol Ann Duffy hailed her the best UK poet now writing, bar none, while Jeanette Winterson said she was making a new kind of poetry, bringing the countryside, myth and nature to life.

Oswalds career has centred on traditional published collections and literary magazines; by contrast, Yrsa Daley-Ward self-published her debut collection, Bone, in 2014, but rose to prominence after publishing excerpts and new poems on Instagram (she has amassed more than 150,000 followers). These were initially interspersed with photos from her modelling career and videos of live performances. She bristles at the label Instagram poet, but the way she posts poetry, sometimes as a screengrab of her Apple Notes app, or scribbled down in a notebook, feels especially urgent. Modelling has mostly been replaced by acting, and shes currently appearing as Connie in World On Fire, Peter Bowkers new BBC drama about the second world war.

Daley-Ward, who was born in Chorley, Lancashire, and raised in part by strict Seventh-day Adventist grandparents, now lives in New York, from where she spoke on the phone to Alice, who was in her cottage in south Devon.

Alice Oswald I think its fascinating that poetry has found its way on to Instagram. I wonder whether it might then grow into a form where its not so autobiographical, and maybe the images are not personal that it might create a form thats more like Chinese poetry, which tends to be both visual and verbal at the same time.

Yrsa Daley-Ward You know, on social media, we cant hide from the fact that a lot of things are very self-centred. They just are. And if we think about things generationally, as well, people [of my generation] are almost obsessed with our journey, our feelings about this, our trauma. I dont think you have to be like that to do well on social media. I always hear this thing Instagram poet, but often people are using excerpts from much longer works.

Do you ever split poems up in that way? Do you see four or five lines from the larger body of work as standing alone, and maybe even meaning something else?

AO Yes. I like the notion that the poem is a very intense, airborne thing. One only captures a little bit of the poem you get in a book just a trace of some actual alive poem thats always elsewhere.

It does feel as if people are talking more about poetry now, and Im delighted by that. I was always frustrated that it only ever seemed to put people off when it was taught in schools. Its exciting that, suddenly, performance poetry and social media poetry have changed that.

YD-W I think theres been a huge surge. People are going into prisons and care units and facilitating the writing of poetry. Im from a very religious background, so I grew up on biblical text. Also, Im Jamaican and Nigerian, so I grew up on knowledge of the ancestors or oral storytelling, fables. When that meets this modern way of processing, understanding and speaking about things in a very simple and succinct way, you almost, as the writer, dont have to make it happen. Its already there.

AO For me, poetry is all about expressing the fact that I dont know whats going on. Does that have any resonance with you?

YD-W Im interested in what I do know and what I dont know. I think I found poetry because I wanted to talk about things that were in front of me. But I dont always understand a feeling before its on the page. So I think the genesis of it is still what I dont know. Then somewhere in that process, it becomes very personal.

AO When I was younger I used to suffer from that panic of, Oh Im never going to write again, this has gone. Now I am happy to sit or walk, waiting for a poem. Its not really up to me I just have to do the listening.

YD-W I know I want to be very serene, and not that intentional. Which is why I write in the morning because then everything still feels possible. I feel open and not too much has happened in the day to make me distracted.

AO I, too, love the early morning to get up before anyone else is awake, drink strong coffee. That does offer a kind of clarity that isnt always there in the rest of the day. But I do notice that, however much I try to say to myself that its a daily discipline, probably the more inventive poems emerge at times when things arent manageable.

YD-W Yeah, I agree I think because the mind has to go somewhere.

AO Thats exactly it. If you reach impossibility, then thats when the imagination kicks in, I think.

YD-W Theres a passion that comes during those times. Where you put your energies is particularly surprising and important.

AO Yes, I remember when I was 20 or so, and I decided to try writing so-called free verse. I remember feeling physical panic as I was doing it, which was exhilarating. But I think the things poetry summons up are quite terrifying.

YD-W Absolutely. But I think we can always rest in the knowledge that the work stands alone. When somebody is there with your book, youre not there in person. Its no longer about you.

AO Theres a difference between Alice and Alice Oswald, and I spend most of my time trying to escape Alice Oswald. I hate her. If she is anywhere near me when Im trying to write, thats a disaster. So I have good ways of getting rid of her. I find her entirely fictional and redundant. I like the thing you say somewhere: You know youre writing the truth when youre terrified.

YD-W I think that whenever you are nervous that youre revealing yourself, or that youre saying something you havent said before thats when youre striking something important.

If you would like a comment on this piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazines letters page in print, please email, including your name and address (not for publication).

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Kept in a private collection for more than a century, the 1813 letter to the authors sister Cassandra details her thoughts on dentists, fashion and daily life

Caps with large full bows of very narrow ribbon one over the right temple, perhaps, and another at the left ear were the height of fashion in 1813 at least according to Jane Austen, who informs her sister Cassandra of the latest trend in a rare letter that will be auctioned at Bonhams in New York next month.

Letters from Austen seldom come up for auction, because Cassandra and other members of the novelists family destroyed the majority of them in the 1840s. Of the estimated 3,000 missives written by Austen, only around 161 survive, of which around 95 are to Cassandra.

Austen to her sister Cassandra, from 16 September 1813. Photograph: Bonhams

The letter, dated 16 September 1813 and written shortly after the publication of Pride and Prejudice, runs to four pages. Dealing with everything from a trip to the dentist with her nieces to her mothers health (Austen is hopeful she is no longer in need of leeches), it is a gem, according to Kathryn Sutherland, an Austen scholar and trustee of Jane Austens House Museum.

Bonhams, which will auction the letter on 23 October, said it is full of lively detail, wit and charm, vividly echoing the world [Austen] deftly portrayed in her novels and written at the height of [her] literary powers.

The poor Girls & their Teeth! writes Austen at one point. Lizzys were filed & lamented over again & poor Marianne had two taken out after all … we heard each of the two sharp hasty screams. The dentist, she adds, must be a Lover of Teeth & Money & Mischief she would not have had him look at mine for a shilling a tooth & double it.

She also mentions a visit to a Mrs T. This is Fanny Tilson, the wife of Henry Austens business partner, James Tilson, who had given birth to at least 11 children by that point. Austen finds her as affectionate & pleasing as ever, but notes to her sister that from her appearance I suspect her to be in the family way. Poor Woman!

With just a few words, the novelist conjures up for her sister an image of her situation: We are now all four of us young Ladies sitting round the Circular Table in the inner room writing our Letters, while the two Brothers are having a comfortable coze in the room adjoining. This use of coze predates the words first recorded appearance in print in Austens own novel Mansfield Park, in 1814.

Austen also takes a deep dive into the world of headgear. My cap is come home, and I like it very much, she informs Cassandra. Fanny has one also; hers is white sarsenet and lace, of a different shape from mine, more fit for morning carriage wear, which is what it is intended for, and is in shape exceedingly like our own satin and lace of last winter; shaped around the face exactly like it, with pipes and more fulness, and a round crown inserted behind. My cap has a peak in front. Large full bows of very narrow ribbon (old twopenny) are the thing. One over the right temple, perhaps, and another at the left ear.

Bonhams believes the letter, which has been in a private collection since 1909, will fetch between 65,000 to 97,000 at auction. Sutherland said that because of specific domestic details within it, it would have by far the greatest resonance inside the collection held by Jane Austens House Museum in the cottage where Austen lived and wrote.

Earlier this year, the museum launched a crowdfunding campaign to help it raise the 35,000 it needed to buy a snippet of a letter written by Austen in 1814. More than 250 donors raised 10,000 in a public campaign in six weeks and it is on display at the museum.

Sutherland said it was particularly sad that publicly funded organisations like Jane Austens House Museum were unable to compete with international commercial buyers, because so few Austen letters are retained for public benefit in British institutions.

If the present owners had consulted privately with us of course we would have been happy to try to reach a mutually fair accommodation, but auction house prices do not sit well with what public institutions can in most cases afford to offer, she said.

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His iconic portraits of James Dean in a wintry New York won him fame. But it was his travels in the west coast that brought out his true genius, as he captured the cracks in the 60s counterculture

For many years California frightened me, Dennis Stock wrote in the preface to California Trip, first published in 1970. For a young man with traditional concerns for spiritual and aesthetic order, California seemed too unreal. I ran.

Stock, a naturally sceptical New Yorker who had served in the US Navy before hustling his way into the ranks of the esteemed Magnum photo agency, had instinctively picked up on the edgy undercurrents of the late 1960s Californian hippy dream. As the idealism of that decade peaked and faded, California became what Stock called a head lab fomenting various radically alternative lifestyles fuelled by eastern mysticism, experiments in communal living, and all kinds of post-LSD mind expansion.

And, as the images in the newly reissued California Trip show, Stocks initial wary incomprehension soon turned to fascination. In time, he came to see California as the frontier for a new kind of society where technological and spiritual quests vibrate intermingling, often creating the ethereal.

Photograph: Dennis Stock/Magnum Photos

Almost 50 years later, and nine years after his death, California Trip now seems both prophetic and elegiac, Stocks free-flowing approach allowing the contradictions of the time to speak for themselves. There are images of sun-kissed, back-to-nature hippy couples and marching black militants, missile bases and utopian communes, endless Californian beaches and a towering stack of rusting cars in a scrap yard. In one photograph, a tousle-haired infant frolics next to a Hells Angels motorcycle gang member. To Californians, he wrote, this was all so ordinary as to be mundane.

With hindsight, it is clear that California Trip upends our received notion of Dennis Stock, who remains most famous for his intimately observed images of the young James Dean in the months before his death in September 1955. Stock befriended the young Dean after seeing an early screening of East of Edenand subsequently photographed him on the wintry streets of New York and on a trip back to his family home in Fairmount, Indiana. When the ensuing photo essay appeared in Life magazine, it helped cement Deans status as a new kind of film star: moody, intense and ill at ease with the Hollywood fame factory. In the immediate wake of Deans untimely death in a car crash, Stocks images attained an almost mythic aura that remains to this day, arguably overshadowing his other work.

The icon got in the way … Stocks shot of James Dean, New York, 1955. Photograph: Dennis Stock/Magnum Photos

Dennis was not always happy about the prominence of the James Dean photos, says Hanna Sawka, who directed the illuminating 2011 documentary, Beyond Iconic: Photographer Dennis Stock. He made some quite bitter comments about the pictures, that people werent seeing them as they should because the icon got in the way. Stocks widow, author Susan Richards, who describes him as the most confident person I ever met, recalls that the prominence of the Dean photographs maybe bugged him a little bit, but he also knew that the iconic stature of images enabled him to have the lifestyle he had.

Stock had joined Magnum in 1951 and, the following year, shot an extraordinarily candid series about Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia for Life magazine. Following the success of the Dean series, he began photographing jazz musicians, merging stark, monochrome portraits of the likes of Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong with often dramatic images of their performances.

In a style that was unadorned and intimate, he set about capturing the reality of the nomadic jazz life as well as its drama. In one evocative image, a struggling musician, Bill Crow, lugs a bass across a Manhattan street in what looks like the early hours of the morning. In another, he captures an ecstatic Earl Hines pounding on the piano in a smoky club, the sense of the musics joyous momentum palpable in a single stilled moment.

Against all this, the images in California Trip mark a dramatic departure, though one that had been taking shape in his work throughout the 1960s. The more free-flowing narrative style of Stocks Californian pictures was surely informed by his dalliance with the moving image, which began when he left Magnum in 1968 to focus on documentary film-making. It also speaks of a relentless creative curiosity and open-mindedness that, as Sawkas documentary shows, was not always immediately apparent in his everyday interactions with people.

In the film, as he teaches a photography class, his students often seem overawed by the sheer presence of a man whose opinions tend to be strongly held and forcefully articulated. He was quite a personality, says Sawka, laughing. Sometimes people were offended by him, but the gruffness masked a deep sensitivity and integrity.

Shadow play Playa Del Rey, LA, 1968. Photograph: Dennis Stock/Magnum Photos

Richards concurs: He took no prisoners. He could be harsh with people, including his friends and, the next moment, the gentlest, sweetest guy. If you didnt know him, he could appear arrogant. Richards, who was his fourth wife I met him when he was older and mellower and not travelling so much puts his combativeness down to a childhood in the Bronx that was marked by poverty and family dysfunction.

His mother was a helpless person, and his father was absent a lot because his job as a house painter required him to travel. [Stock] was raised in a family that moved in the night a lot because they could not pay the rent. He told me that, when he was just seven, he was working odd jobs to support his mother. That kind of experience leaves its mark and I think that, to a degree, he was ashamed of his childhood poverty.

It also made him resilient. He served his photographic apprenticeship with Gjon Mili, an Albanian-born pioneer in movement photography, who once brutally informed Stock he would never be a Life photographer. Dennis did not see that as a bad thing, says Richards. It rolled right off his back. He interpreted it as that he would never fit the mould that Life required which was fine by him.

For all his combativeness, Stock was essentially a liberal New Yorker who was instinctively drawn to the promise of the Californian counterculture of the late 1960s and early 70s. The most well-known image from CaliforniaTrip is also the most instinctive and intuitive. Shot from behind, his vibrant portrait of a young woman in a cotton dress dancing on stage at a rock festival in Venice Beach in 1968 exudes all the exuberant optimism of the time. This kid just marched up on stage and started dancing, he would later recall, comparing her to a contemporary ballerina and himself to his hero, Henri Cartier-Bresson.

The hippy dream … Novato, California, 1968. Photograph: Dennis Stock/Magnum Photos

California Trip, though, perhaps owes more to an American tradition of road photography that stretches back to Robert Frank, Walker Evans and beyond. Stocks east coast outsider gaze settles on the darkness of the California dream as well as the light: bikers, anti-war protesters, the disenfranchised as well as the visionary. In one arresting image, a black couple in a parade in Watts, Los Angeles, have created an ornate tableau in which they are chained to the Liberty Bell. An idyllic image of a hippy couple on horseback gives way to a portrait of Anton Szandor LaVey, the self-styled high priest of the Church of Satan, who poses theatrically in front of a pentagram and a human skull.

If there is a thread to be observed throughout my work, Stock later said, its that Im relatively affirmative, Im not inclined to make fools of people and I love beauty. As the reissued California Trip attests, he had an acute eye, too, for the shadows cast by the unforgiving Californian light, the darkness beyond the surface dazzle.

California Trip is out now, reissued by Anthology Editions.

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Taking heroin, being flashed by David Bowie, and punk-pop brilliance but in this long-awaited memoir the Blondie singer remains mysterious to the last

When Blondies singer, Debbie Harry, was crafting her image as a pop star in the mid-70s, she looked first to cinema. Her love of cartoon fantasy figures led her to Barbarella, as portrayed by Jane Fonda in the Roger Vadim film, though her biggest influence was Marilyn Monroe, who she recognised was playing a character, the proverbial dumb blonde with the little-girl voice and the big-girl body a woman playing a mans idea of a woman. As the only woman in an all-male band, Harry knew she had to make her mark. With her peroxide hair, thrift-store clothes and expression that sat somewhere between a pout and a sneer, she was a pin-up with a subversive streak: My Blondie character was an inflatable doll but with a dark, provocative, aggressive side. I was playing it up yet I was very serious.

In Face It, Harry, who is now 74, outlines the influences and events that led to her rise to fame. Written with the music writer Sylvie Simmons, the memoir is based on a series of lengthy interviews, which makes for a conversational style, though anyone looking for an excavation of the soul might be disappointed. Harry has rock n roll stories to burn but the memoir as a confessional isnt her style. For the most part, the Blondie character remains.

The music, which merged punk rock with pop sensibilities, is only part of the picture; having been awarded the title best-looking girl in her school yearbook, Harry knew the value of her attractiveness early on, and later created an industry around her image. It was she, for instance, who saw an upturned car on a New York street and, rather than moving on, declared it ideal for a photoshoot. Before designers were lining up to work with her, she would find a pillowcase and turn it into a stage outfit; later, years before Lady Gagas meat dress, she would step out in a gown made of razorblades. Harry was driven not by a quest for fame but for creativity. Ultimately for me, she notes, its the overwhelming need to have my entire life be an imaginative out-of-body experience.

We learn how, having been given up for adoption at three months old, Harry was raised by her adoptive parents in New Jersey. Before Blondie took off, she worked variously as a model, a secretary at the BBCs New York office, a waitress and a Playboy bunny, all the while trying to figure out her next move. When she first moved to New York, she wanted to be a painter but, after seeing the likes of Janis Joplin, the Velvet Underground and, later, the New York Dolls, she decided music was her calling. Harry joined and left various bands including the Stilettos, through which she met Chris Stein, who would become her principal collaborator as the guitarist in Blondie, her partner for the next 13 years and, after their split, one of her dearest friends.

Caustic and funny. Debbie Harry and Chris Stein in New York, 1980 Photograph: Allan Tannenbaum

Early on, Harry offers a vivid portrait of a seedy, bohemian scene in late-60s New York in which drugs were part of your social life, part of the creative process, chic and fun and really just there. No one thought about the consequences. Describing her first encounter with heroin with her then-boyfriend, she recalls: It was so delicious and delightful For those times when I wanted to blank out parts of my life or when I was dealing with some depression, there was nothing better than heroin. Nothing.

A similar matter-of-factness runs through her recollections of the man who approached her and Stein one night outside their front door and threatened them with a knife. When they said they didnt have any money, he insisted on accompanying them into their apartment. There he tied up Stein and Harry while he piled up their guitars and amps by the front door. He then untied Harry and raped her. I cant say that I felt a lot of fear, she recalls. Im very glad this happened pre-Aids or I might have freaked. In the end, the stolen guitars hurt me more than the rape.

Her account of the incident indicates the somewhat detached tone of this memoir. Whether reflecting on her fruitless search for her birth parents, or the New Jersey ex-boyfriend who stalked her and threatened her with a gun, or the close shave with a man who offered her a lift, and whom she believes to have been the serial killer Ted Bundy, Harry allows no room for shock, sadness or vulnerability. This is, of course, the authors prerogative and doesnt mean that the book is without depth or charm. She can be caustic and funny, and is drily unfazed by the antics of her mostly male peers. While on tour with Iggy Pop and David Bowie, the latter flashes his penis at Harry in the dressing room as if I were the official cock checker or something. Noting Bowies generously proportioned appendage, she is moved to wonder why Iggy didnt let me have a closer look at his dick.

As her star rises in the late 1970s, towering cultural figures drift in and out of her orbit, among them Miles Davis, Patti Smith, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol. While playing a series of shows in LA, she and Stein are invited to meet Phil Spector at his mansion. He greets them with a Colt 45 in one hand and a bottle of Manischewitz [kosher wine] in the other. Elsewhere, there are forays into film she played a neglected wife in Marcus Reicherts Union City, and Velma Von Tussle in John Waterss Hairspray. She and Stein were keen to re-make the 1965 film Alphaville, and even bought the rights from its director Jean-Luc Godard for a thousand dollars. Only later did they learn that they werent his to sell.

By the early 1980s, band relations were fraught. A last-minute tour cancellation because of Steins ill health (he was later diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disease) was the final straw and Blondie fell apart. Shortly afterwards, they discovered they had accrued two years worth of unpaid taxes, prompting Harry to lose her house, her car and even some of her clothes. Swallowing her fury, and having nursed Stein back to health, she got back to work.

Inevitably, Harrys tales of her solo ventures and Blondies eventual reunion lack the atmosphere and excitement of the early years, and its with more than a little awkwardness that she shoehorns in details of her current day-to-day life to spice things up. Could my routines reveal further insight into what makes me tick? she asks, treating us to her morning schedule of letting the dogs out and making coffee, to which the answer is: no.

But when not resorting to padding, Face It makes for an engaging and occasionally surprising read. Its a shame that Harry passes up the chance to dig deeper into her experiences of objectification and the nature of fame, but more disappointing is that we learn so little about her interior life, and how she really thinks and feels. Perhaps thats to be expected from a notoriously private star with such an acute understanding of image. Rather than expose her inner workings to the world, Harry has determined to stay mysterious to the last.

Face It by Debbie Harry is published by HarperCollins (RRP 20) To order a copy go to or call 020-3176 3837. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99.

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The charismatic star of hit TV show Queer Eye had a troubled and chaotic early life. Here, for the first time, he talks about his journey back from the brink and his life with the virus

The words smoky lavender appear twice in Over the Top, a memoir by Jonathan Van Ness, the most fabulous of the so-called Fab Five on Queer Eye, the hyperventilating makeover show in which he stars. The first time it is used to describe the skin colour of a gun-toting meth addict he encounters during a stint as a sex worker in Tucson. The second to describe the colour of the thigh-high boots worn by the hair stylist at a salon he lands at in Los Angeles in 2008. He is 19. Later, Jane Fonda, a customer, tells Van Ness his hair makes him look like Jesus.

Between these two smoky lavenders is a gulf that separates two versions of Van Ness: the garrulous, sassy, resident groomer of Queer Eye and the emotionally bruised, risk-taking addict. As he warns readers midway through the book, Buckle up, buttercup, because I can go from comedy to tragedy in three seconds flat.

Van Ness and I are in a Cadillac sedan, driving past the tangled, rusting architecture of Philadelphias suburbs. Travelling like this is normal for him on Queer Eye, he gets to roam the country waving his wand and transforming lives. The show, which was brought out of cold storage last year after an 11-year hiatus, has been a surprising success. America, it seems, is hungry for its uplifting brand of magic. A lot of that comes down to Van Ness, the shows foremost cheerleader for Queer Eyes stated mission of turning red (Republican) states pink, one makeover at a time. Its Van Ness who brings the energy to the party, Yass queeninghis way through each episode, scattering memes and neologisms wherever he goes, and generally helping people connect to their feelings, often by tapping into his own. Tears are never far below the surface. Resistance is futile. Everyone loves him.

Looking sharp: the Fab Five from the first series of Queer Eye. Photograph: Gavin Bond/Netflix

Van Ness has a hectic, energetic style and a voice that soars high and then higher. In the car he talks quickly, words tumbling out of his mouth in a way that can leave you trailing far behind. When I ask if any of his encounters on Queer Eye have changed him, he answers: The act of showing up for your family and being able to live in the world I think is heroic. Theres like 15 bajillion eggs in the ovaries and who even knows how many, like, little spermies are in there, so the fact we got to be born and be living this long is kind of like a mathematical who-knew. This is, I think, a roundabout way of saying we all deserve to be acknowledged. But things are way more fun when Van Ness says them.

For our meeting, Id taken the train from New York to Philadelphia, where Van Ness was filming an episode of the show, with vague plans to walk to the Liberty Bell. But hed just received a 24-hour reprieve from work and, shortly before arriving, his publicist suggested I drive back to New York with him. Sitting in the back of a car with someone youve never met can be awkward, and I was conflicted. But Van Ness disarms with charm. A pop culture magpie, he slides from subject to subject and dares you to keep up. How he finds time to watch so much, know so much, work so much, is a conundrum. Lately, he has learned to meditate as a way to manage his stress. On Sundays I sometimes dont work, he says.

We are on Route 95 somewhere outside of Philadelphia and, as we navigate the traffic, we admire his latest manicure, each nail painted to represent a different cast member of the 1996 comedy the First Wives Club, a touchstone for Van Ness.

On Sundays I sometimes dont work: Jonathan Van Ness. Photograph: Danielle Levitt/The Observer

This is Goldie Hawn getting her lips done, he says, lifting a finger for inspection. We talk about cats he has four, including Liza Meownelli and we watch an old video that surfaced late last year on the Jimmy Kimmel Show. In it the 11-year old Van Ness performs an interpretative dance to Jewels Pieces of You his entry in the school talent show. For the number, he wore a kabuki mask positioned on the back of his head and a baggy black T-shirt emblazoned with a question mark. The piece, inspired by an ice-skating routine, culminates in a triple-axel-style pirouette that is so wholehearted, so gutsy and so precious that its heartbreaking. At the time, his mother gently suggested he might want to reconsider. The other kids, she said, might not let him live it down. But when had they ever?

What Van Ness knew early on was that the world of women was more interesting to him than the world of men. He recalls at the age of four telling his fathers friend that he wanted to be a cabana girl or a cosmetologist when he grew up. As an adult, he would gravitate to the term gender queer to express his place in the world, but that wasnt an option in childhood. A particularly painful story conjures his fathers war on his gender exploration. I remember very clearly my dad finding me in an evening gown with my two cousins, he says. He tore me out of the dress, holding me in the air so that I was perpendicular to the ground. I was terrified.

But there were pockets of joy, too. Joining the junior varsity cheerleading squad at high school at 14 was an epiphany he felt at home immediately. When I make the faux pas of forgetting who starred in Bring It On, the cult 1999 cheerleading movie, Van Ness gasps. I could almost throw you out of the back of this car for asking such a preposterous question, he says. So, youre telling me you came to this interview not having seen Bring It On? What were you doing?

In season four of Queer Eye, viewers saw Van Ness return to his high school in Quincy to makeover his arts teacher, Cathy Dooley, a beloved figure who stood out for not making him feel different or unusual. The cameras show Van Ness performing with the cheerleading squad as students clap and whoop. Its a moving spectacle that implies a circle has been closed. Everyone loves queer people now, even in Quincy.

But what we see on screen is not the whole truth. A few weeks before the Fab Five arrived, the school had asked parents to sign permission slips for their children to be on camera, prompting protests from a local pastor. He sent a letter to the newspaper that blasted the normalisation of LGBTQ culture, and said we should not be rolling out the welcome mats at a public school, Van Ness says. It was just a really nasty letter. Nor was it just any old pastor. This was someone who was like a family friend, someone Id known for a very long time. He looks glum. I dont think weve come as far as I wished and hoped that we had.

Smile please: posing for a selfie with a fan at 2019 MTV Video Music Awards in New Jersey. Photograph: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Leaving small town America in order to be fully himself, only to find being fully himself is what brings him back to small town America, is an irony not lost on Van Ness. Its a little bit Gift of the Magi, he says. But he also knows Quincy is his secret weapon because even the most Republican-ass Trump supporter is someone I have grown up next door to. Or even grown up with. Three years ago, he had to work hard to convince his father not to vote for Trump. I cussed my dad out 300 of the days of 2016, he says. Our relationship literally was on thin ice over that election. In the end, Van Ness Senior voted for Gary Johnson, the nominee for the Libertarian party. I was really proud of him for it, he says.

When the originalQueer Eye premiered on the Bravo channel in 2003, it was a more straightforward makeover show inspired by advice columns in Esquire magazine. Where it was radical was in the casting of five confident, unapologetic gay men to dish advice to hapless straight men. But people rarely cried and there was little talk of self-care. I was just trying to get guys out of pleated khakis and to get them to cut off their mullets, says Carson Cressley, who starred in the original. I dont think any of us thought the show had any sort of idea about making a political statement. The 2018 reboot, on Netflix, repackaged the Fab Five as social missionaries spreading the gospel of love around America. A masterstroke was to take the guys out of New York, where the original show had been located, and into the heartland states that voted for Donald Trump in 2016. In a fractured society, the show would open minds by showing that our similarities were greater than our differences. Or, as another of the Fab Five, Karamo Brown, said in the opening episode of season one: Weve all got to come together in a way we can understand each other.

There have been four seasons of Queer Eye since its debut in February 2018 and a new one will drop early next year. The shows hosts have not wasted time, assiduously attending to their brand while they still enjoy the spotlight. Three have published books this year and this month its the turn of Van Ness. His memoir, Over the Top, could have been a ghostwriters gift, packed with his witticisms and mantras for self-care. Instead its a lightning bolt devastating and stirring, powered by years of anguish and humiliation. Does he worry how fans will react to his own revelations? Im scared, he admits. But Im ready to pull the Band Aid off.

I dont think weve come as far as I wished and hoped that we had: Jonathan Van Ness. Photograph: Danielle Levitt/The Observer

For Van Ness, Over the Top is about charting his own path through adolescence towards the triumph that is Queer Eye, but its also about owning and thereby defusing two of the most traumatic chapters in his life. The first occurred when he was four, when an older boy molested him in a closet. Van Ness tells his parents but its written off as experimentation and swiftly passed over. That single act of abuse casts a long, pernicious shadow over the book as we witness the ways in which Van Ness acts out his confusion and pain, from taking crystal meth, to sustained binges in sex clubs that satisfy his need to be wanted. He joins a 12-step programme for sex addiction, but relapses.

In the midst of all that, his stepfather, Steve, is diagnosed with bladder cancer, and told he has 11 months to live. His death, when it comes, knocks Van Ness back into the unhealthy behaviour hes been working to quit.

Everything that happened to me that summer will always be painful to think about, he says. It was like saying goodbye to so much of what I wanted.

Shortly after the funeral, his former boyfriend tracked him down at a bathhouse in St Louis and Van Nesss fall to rock bottom seems complete. Almost. When he gets sick, collapsing at the hair salon he is working at one afternoon, he already knows what a doctor will tell him a day later: he is HIV positive.

Van Ness writes about these bombshells with a quiet tenacity that skirts melodrama. He wonders if his reckless behaviour was a self-fulfilling prophecy, the consequence of all the fear ingrained in him at such a young age. He wants other people not to have to go through the same thing.

It occurred to me: what if everything Ive ever been through was preparing me for this moment to be strong enough to share this, and to share it on my own terms, he says. Part of that for me is to process whats happened, but the bigger part is that I wanted to do something to move the conversation forward in a meaningful way around HIV/Aids, and what it is to live with HIV, and to humanise and normalise a lot of the things I talk about. He blinks, then adds, Im talking slow because Im trying not to cry.

I wanted to do something to move the conversation forward in a meaningful way: Jonathan Van Ness on his HIV activism. Photograph: Danielle Levitt/The Observer

We are nearing New York, and the canyons of Manhattan fill the hazy skyline. Growing up, Van Ness used to fantasise he would help other people like himself. I always felt that was part of my purpose, he says. But I thought it would be a really chic juice studio with great baked goods, maybe a dance and yoga studio. He didnt think the way hed help people was simply by being himself on a global TV show or by penning a generous and frank memoir.

At a certain point, Van Ness picked himself up and decided he didnt want to throw away his life. It really took some time to figure out how to put my life together, he says. But medical advances mean the virus is now undetectable in his blood. He remembers the day he was given his HIV diagnosis, asking the doctor if he could still live to be 75. She was, like, I will keep you alive long enough to die of a heart attack or cancer like everyone else, and then she laughed uncontrollably.

Is he making time for relationships? Van Ness shakes his head. In the past, Ive had relationships with people who I was almost using to validate myself and my existence, and thats not been a great plan for me, he says. So, this is a season of me falling in love with myself all the way.

In some ways, he thinks that testing positive for HIV has been his liberation. In the past year, he has taken up ice-skating and thrown himself into gymnastics. And, of course, there is an election to fight. I absolutely do not think Id have been as socially aware or conscious or want to make as much of a difference, he says. It gave me a reason to really fight.

I want to humanise a lot of the difficult things I talk about: Jonathan Van Ness. Photograph: Danielle Levitt/The Observer

You know those plants that are always trying to find the light?
Extract from Over the Top by Jonathan Van Ness

Picture me in the seventh grade: a chubby, slightly snaggletoothed kid with a voluminous mop of frizzy curly hair. Id be cycling through several of my cutest looks, usually monochromatic jumpers with severe Doc Martens boots, just to go to the mall. It felt entirely possible that a talent scout would be there, in the nations smallest capital of Springfield, Illinois Id practice ice-skating routines in my living room, trying to be like the Olympians I idolised, imagining how triumphant Id be when I finally seized that gold medal. The years of fantasising about reaching stratospheric fame through a local mall discovery had long since faded by 2017. Id settled for much more attainable goals. I became a hairdresser, working in both LA and New York. Id stumbled, very grate- fully, into a side hustle in the form of a web series called Gay of Thrones. That spring I would move to Atlanta to shoot a dream project with four new friends. We had beaten out the collective gay world for these five coveted positions, and we all knew it was a monumental opportunity. Like Maya Angelou taught me, I was hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst, so that nothing could catch me off guard. I was just happy that I had completed my mission of escaping cornfield-small-town-only- gay-person infamy and was now free to live an authentic queer life in a gorgeous big city with a Trader Joes and nobody thinking twice about my leggings.

A year later in February, Queer Eye had just come out, and I was on my way to a meeting. To my shock I arrived early, so I went to grab a coffee, and as I was walking in, this lady with the most gorgeous ex- pertly done microbraids and giant glasses stopped me and bellowed, Honey, this faggotry you are serving is giving me everything!

At first, I was confused. Did she just call me a fag? But the smile on her face and her extreme proximity seemed to suggest a loving and enamoured person. Im now doubly confused, Im running ahead of schedule, and strangers are stopping me. Mind you, its still 8.15am, my eyes still subtly perma-stoned from last nights edible, and I hadnt even had my coffee yet! So I said, Thanks, queen, and continued on my way.

But then two steps later, two other girls stopped me. They said they were living for the show and asked if they could take selfies. Of course I said, Yes, sweets! and that caused a few more girls from outside the shop to come in for what was quickly becoming an impromptu meet-and-greet. My original encounter from the store got in line for her pic next, then be- came the photographer for the rest of the meet-and-greet. After thanking all my new friends, I left the coffee shop to head back with no coffee because I forgot. Well, that was fun. How much am I thriving right now? I thought.

Crossing the street to go to my meeting, a very nice man stopped me and began playing twenty questions with me about my life, about the show, about everything. I obliged, because Im eternally a people pleaser, and I didnt want him to feel bad, but at that point my early arrival turned into being fully actually late to the meeting. When I was filming Queer Eye in secrecy with the boys in Atlanta in 2017, sometimes producers, or people who were familiar with the shows revival, would ask me, Are you ready for your life to change? I always said, OMG, yes! But this morning, something shifted. People knew who I was, everywhere I went.

There was a girl who stopped me on the corner of Twenty- Third and Park not long after the show came out. We made eye contact for a split second and it was like an invisible Jackie Chan punched her in the stomach. She doubled over. She took a dramatic step back. Oh my God, she yelled. Oh my God! Oh my God! I was so worried about her that I stopped right there and pulled her onto the curb. We sat for a while until she pulled herself together.

When people had asked me whether I was ready for my life to change, I dont think I really understood what they meant. It wasnt just that strangers would know who I was. It was this other thing that started to happen to me: when I looked in their eyes, sometimes, there was a little voice in my head wondering,Would you still be so excited to meet me if you really knew who I was? If you knew all the things Id done? If you could see all my parts?

Sure, theres a part of me thats endlessly positive. But its just one part. Its a beautiful part, a strong part, and an important part, but its not all of it. There are other parts I want to show, parts that are a little bit scarier to get into. Like the nagging, insecure part of me that worries my positivity is faker than the hair that covers the chalkboard scalp of Donald Trump. Or the part of me thats had sex with a ton of peoplea lot of whom I wish I hadnt. What about my irritated part, which isnt the easiest to deal with if my people-pleasing part has been working overtime. My binge-eating part, my part that just wants to be left alone, or my part that could make you pray for me to catch permanent laryngitis because I cant stop telling you about the Romanovs, or my cats, or the irony of the GOP that wants low taxes and even lower federal government regulation, unless it comes to regulation of peoples pregnancies, marijuana, or the fundamentally racist state and federal prison systems. Because when you have this much personality, theres a fear lurking just below the surface: If you knew all of me, you wouldnt love me anymore. You would no longer want me as your new best friend.

Over the Top by Jonathan Van Ness is published by Simon & Schuster at 20. Order a copy for 17.60 at

Produced by Stephanie Porto; styling by Alison Brooks; styling assistant Emily Payne; grooming by Brenna Drury for Exclusive Artists using MAC Cosmetics and Oribe Haircare. Jonathan wears a skirt and sweatshirt by The Row; sweater by Dries Van Noten Skirt; boots by Chanel; cat shoes by Maison Margiela; skirt by Rip n Dip and socks by Paul Smith

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While the two-part re-adaptation of Stephen Kings supernatural hit may be reaching a wider audience, the 1990 miniseries remains the scarier alternative

Nobody really trusts clowns, do they? I dont know if its the makeup, hiding their real faces; if its the sense of enforced fun, this idea that youve got to be laughing, that the laughter should never end; or maybe its just that we dont like anything that tricks us, repeatedly, and makes us keep coming back for more. Clowns are fools who enjoy making others look foolish, after all. Nothing more distrustful than that.

But did we always find them absolutely terrifying? Or is that terror because of something Stephen King has done to our collective unconscious? I read It when I was 13 or so. And what scared me from the book wasnt even really Pennywise the Dancing Clown; it was the giant spider, it was the assorted universal monsters It took the form of, it was Henry Bowers the bully.

After all, the clown was a form that It took in order to lure kids to it, to get them close. It was unsettling but theoretically harmless as much as King knew that readers would be scared of them, he also knew that we were fascinated, amused, entertained. What better way to get a kid to a sewer than the promise of a balloon? What better way to mask screams than giggles of laughter? I didnt like Pennywise, but it didnt keep me up at night.

And then I saw the 1990 television adaptation. Heres how I remember the experience: its hours and hours long, this massive, sprawling thing, bridging the story of the Losers Club meeting It when theyre children, and then returning to defeat it as adults. Hours and hours of horror, of Pennywise tormenting the Losers Club. There was the giant spider, sure, and Henry Bowers terrible shock-white hair; and there were abuses and losses of innocence and personal demons, but most of all there was Pennywise. Tim Currys performance, seemingly designed to be simultaneously repulsive and alluring lets not pretend there isnt some of that Rocky Horror showmanship there, a suggestion you want to see more of where Pennywise will take its routines was unbearably unsettling.

After it got its hooks into you, the flakiness didnt matter. The script didnt matter. What mattered was Pennywise, somehow the second most terrifying thing I could think of. (For what its worth, the first was the twins from Kubricks The Shining.) It wasnt even those Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera teeth, or the way that his head reared back to show those teeth in all their terrible glory. It was his eyes: with their curiously pathetic puppy-dog quality to them, these unerringly human bits of the person behind the mask.

I forced my sister to watch it with me, of course. She was four years younger than I was, coerced into being some sort of co-pilot on my teenage horror adventures: somebody physically there with me so that I could act like I wasnt scared, but in whom I could see the effects of the horror itself. (I realise now, writing this, that my behaviour sounds a little like that of a nascent serial killer, torturing animals just to see what happens.) Im not sure that she truly understood It, and I dont know if shes ever subsequently read the book. But I do know that for her, and for many people around the world, Pennywise has become the reason that clowns are scary.

To this day, its Pennywise that people turn to if you ask them to picture a scary clown. Far more people than ever read the book have seen pictures of Currys Pennywise, or have watched clips, or remember their siblings forcing them to watch it with them. The TV miniseries is the very definition of a cult hit: not a massive success at the time, but something thats outlasted almost any other adaptation of Kings work (aside from the aforementioned Kubrick adaptation). And thats because of Pennywise.

Photograph: Allstar/Lorimar Television

The performance transcended the medium, lets be honest. While I think not many would say that its Currys finest moment (because thats clearly Wadsworth the Butler in Clue), it could be argued that its his role with the largest impact on nostalgic pop culture even above Rocky Horror. Still, to this day, people dress as his Pennywise for Halloween parties; his jovial form has become the shorthand for Scary Clown in generic fancy dress shop costume rentals. And when the 2017 movie of It was announced, it was the casting of Pennywise that people concentrated on; because, how do you follow Curry? How do you reinvent something that, over time, became so iconic?

The answer is, you dont. You change it. In Bill Skarsgrds performance, you get a very different sort of clown: less terrible old-timey Brooklyn accent, more unnervingly juddery Victoriana ghoul. Scary to kids coming to It for the first time now; perhaps less so to those of us reared on Currys vamping.

Watching the It miniseries now, its somewhat shocking to me: how short it actually is, running only 20 minutes longer in total than It: Chapter 2; how horrifyingly 1980s some of the costumes/music/performances are; how clunky some of the writing is, and how soapy many of the performances are. But perhaps Im ill-equipped to judge. Because I still love it. I love the sense of camp it has, and I love the terrible moments where Pennywise tells jokes that I didnt understand when I was a teenager, and arent funny to me now. I even sort of love the crap effects: the shot where Pennywise appears in the moon is genuinely atrocious, and the less said about the spider the better.

But most of all, I love Currys Pennywise. I love how innocuous he is, at first. How unsettling his performance is: when hes being jolly in luring Georgie to the sewer, theres something of the serial killer to him, rather than the immortal creature from the deadlights. This sense of him understanding how to get his prey, how to make them come to him; how to break them down without resorting to modern horror jump scares, but by using their own neuroses and fears. In the novel, King used Pennywise as the last in a line of classic horror story creatures, and in Currys performance, that came to life: hes terrifying in a way that feels absolutely original, and absolutely earned.

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No cause of death has been announced for songwriter and poet known for his projects Silver Jews and Purple Mountains, and his wry, witty lyrics

David Berman, who was regarded as one of the most poetic voices in US indie rock, has died aged 52. His record label, Drag City, confirmed the news, but hasnt confirmed the cause of death.

Berman was best known for his project Silver Jews, and his wry lyrics. The band formed in 1989 in New Jersey, when Berman was living and working with Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich, who would go on to form the successful band Pavement. Malkmus has paid tribute to Berman, writing on Twitter: His death is fucking dark depression is crippling he was a one of a kinder [sic] the songs he wrote were his main passion esp at the end. Hope death equals peace cuz he could sure use it.

Though not reaching the same level of success as Pavement, Silver Jews became a cult group in the US indie rock scene. Berman long refused to tour, but changed his mind for fifth album Tanglewood Numbers (2005), and toured with the band which included his then wife Cassie Berman until their dissolution in 2009. He also published a book of poetry, Actual Air (1999), and another of cartoons, The Portable February (2009).

One of the reasons Berman gave for breaking up the band was the work of his father, lobbyist Richard Berman, known in Washington political circles as Dr Evil for his advocacy work on behalf of industries including tobacco and fossil fuels. Previously I thought, through songs and poems and drawings, I could find and build a refuge away from his world, Berman wrote shortly after the end of Silver Jews. But there is the matter of Justice There needs to be something more. Ill see what that might be. He began developing a TV show based on his father, and said he was in discussions with HBO to make it, but it was never filmed.

Berman disappeared from the public eye for a decade, but returned this year with a new project, Purple Mountains, featuring him backed by the folk-rock band Woods. The album was hugely acclaimed, with a five-star Guardian review describing it as having likely the best lyric sheet of the year. He was due to begin a US tour with the group this week.

He fought mental health and substance misuse issues. In 2005, he described a long, suitcase-battering journey of sub-aqueous intoxication when he used crack cocaine, alcohol and painkillers; he said he took every drug in every way from 15 on.

Drag City paid tribute to him, writing: A great friend and one of the most inspiring individuals weve ever known is gone. Nastanovich wrote: I was amazed by David as a person, a humorist and a writer.

Other musicians have paid tribute. Berman collaborated with the Australian group the Avalanches for their 2016 album Wildflower they wrote on Instagram that he provided much guidance, solace and humor reflecting on our shared struggles and described his work as sublime. US indie-rock band the Mountain Goats wrote: Of, loosely, my generation of songwriters, the best of us. This loss is devastating, while Kurt Vile wrote: Davids music always hit on a basic human gut level just in the power of his lyrics and voice alone … in a way no other modern artist of my generation has been able to. The Nationals Aaron Dessner called Berman a massive talent and a huge influence on us.

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