EL James: "People are obsessed with my sex life"
Fifty Shades of Grey author EL James, 49, on her teenage sons, advice for finding a man, and why celebrity scares her
Even at 16 I was quite successful with boys, actually. Hmm… yes, I had boyfriends. I don’t think I was especially attractive – I was a bit of a hippie with my beads, desert boots and Indian dresses – but there were boys hanging around, shall we say.
I don’t think I was an angsty teen. At the time I might have thought I was, but looking back I think I was just an anxious teenager, who’s turned into an equally anxious adult. I definitely thought of myself as overweight, but really I wasn’t. I’d say to my younger self, for God’s sake, don’t worry about your weight now, you can worry about it later.
If I went back and told my teenage self what was in store for her she’d be completely freaked out. She’s been writing stories since primary school, so if I told her she would actually get published, she’d be very proud. But if I gave her a hint of the scale of the success she’d be giddy and scared. And to be honest, that’s how I feel now.
I’d tell my 16-year-old self – value your privacy. Going through the process since Fifty Shades began to take off, I’ve realised I don’t want celebrity. I’m not interested in doing lots of interviews, going on TV – any of that. People make assumptions about you based on nothing. It’s frightening. I want to be able to go on the Tube and listen to my iPod and no one knows who I am. I’ve had a very successful career in TV, which I really enjoyed, so to have all this suddenly happen to me in my middle age has been a huge bonus, but I almost feel it’s happening to somebody else. Meanwhile, I come home at night and do the laundry and chat to my children and that’s the real part of my life. All the other stuff is kind of unreal.
If I’d known how successful the books would be, I might go back and tell myself – don’t talk to anyone in the media about them. Ever. I try very hard when dealing with the media to just be myself. But I’ve become a lot more guarded lately because so many things get taken out of context. People are obsessed with my sex life, which is completely bizarre – it’s a work of fiction.
My sons just take the piss out of me all the time. As teenage sons do with their mother. But they’ve been very cool about it all, so supportive. They’re also faintly embarrassed, of course. I know they haven’t read the books. They’re not that keen on reading at all. My father died in 2002 but my mum’s read the books a couple of times and she loves them. She’s very proud of me.
I believe my readers are mostly interested in the love story. That’s the overwhelming response. The press seem to navel-gaze about the sex but what the readers want is the love story. Women love to read a passionate love story and that’s fundamentally what it is. I’ve had loads of letters from male readers too – one great one from a guy who’s 71, and he said, ‘Thank you so much for reminding me what it’s like to fall in love’. That is so sweet.
Advice to my younger self about men: find one that makes you laugh. Above everything else. A sense of humour can get you through so many things. And you need a man who lets you breathe.
I always wanted to be a mother. There’s a whole other story there which I won’t go into, but it wasn’t easy for us to have children and when we finally did… I do not take my children for granted. The birth of my first son, it was so incredible, such a gift, having a little tiny baby. I was just beside myself with happiness.
In 1979, the year EL James turns 16... The first ever Sony Walkman goes on sale in Japan... The annual rate of inflation in the United Kingdom reaches 17 per cent... McDonald’s introduces the Happy Meal... Saint Lucia becomes independent from the United Kingdom...