Dolly Alderton read my review, was insulted by it, and now I’d like to explain
In a recent episode on the “Grazia Life Advice” podcast, Dolly Alderton made reference to an article that IMAGE writers Geraldine Carton and Laura George wrote which reviewed her book “Everything I know About Love”. Here, Geraldine provides a response.
In a recent podcast interview, author and writer Dolly Alderton opened up about her biggest fear; her insecurities over people thinking that her achievements to date were not based on her talent, but on people being inclined to “do the old girl a favour” and offer her professional opportunities purely because they thought she was a sweet person.
Her fear was easy to identify with; women are forever on the hunt for an explanation, a hidden reason why we might have experienced success, hoping to figure it out before anyone else has the opportunity to point it out to us. It’s a slightly darker version of the “banana peel” metaphor; if I make a joke about how I slipped on a banana peel before you do, then it’s my joke.
I nodded along as she spoke until all of a sudden my blood ran cold. Dolly started to describe the moment she read my review of her book – one that still makes her “feel sick just thinking about it” – and all because of one particular sentence that the review included; “Alderton must be a lovely person to have gotten so much PR support from so many quarters”.
The review she was referring to was one that my colleague and I co-wrote. They were our words, and I was shocked to hear that a comment so insignificant (in my mind, at least) could validate a fear that this incredible woman has had since the age of thirteen.
Horrified, I immediately went back to the review, written all those months ago… I needed to see if I really was as cruel as Dolly perceived. As I read and re-read the piece however, I couldn’t help but feel a bit defensive.
Yes, we ultimately said we weren’t mad on the book. We said it lacked any major revelations and that its contents were more suited to a weekly column. Then, a few scrolls down came the “Alderton must be a lovely person…” bit. Words which will forever cause me to wince now that I know the upset they caused.
Admittedly, the above would have made up for a pretty harsh review, had that been all we said. But it wasn’t all we said. When we deemed that the content of the book was more suited to a column, the insinuation was not that it should be thrown into a furnace. We just felt that it didn’t necessitate a 300-page book. What’s more, in the piece, Dolly’s many other achievements got a mention: how she is a “much-loved journalist for The Times”, and now has “a successful podcast named The High Low”. I even wrote the words “a comedic and literary genius”, for Pete’s sake! But did she comment on that? No. What Dolly took away from the review was a purely negative interpretation of how she got to where she is today.
But doesn’t this kind of reaction seem somewhat, familiar? How many times have you been in a position where you are doing well professionally, only to experience a certain niggling sensation; the expectation that someone is going to come and pull the rug out from under you and announce that there has been some sort of mistake. That you are not deserving of all that you have achieved? We all seem to have this same fear, expecting a sheepish Steve Harvey to appear at any moment and announce that it was actually Ms Phillipine, not you, who had won the pageant of life.
It appears that this Imposter Syndrome-type thinking has Dolly honing in on what was a not intended to be a hurtful comment, and disregarding the many talent-based compliments afforded through the rest of the article. Once again, it’s a behaviour that we can all identify with; you can receive reams of compliments about anything – your hair, your outfit, your talents – and all it takes is for one person to make a slightly-negative comment, and BAM. It overrides every positive word that you had heard up until that point, and anything that you would hear thereafter.
And what’s so bad about being a nice girl anyway (and by “nice”, we don’t mean meek and pleasantly opinionless; we mean kind, encouraging, fun and witty)? In a world where many men have roared their way to the top by stomping on anyone who lay in their path, where women often had to portray themselves as “ice queens” if they were to be taken seriously in their profession, isn’t it a refreshing revelation to know that now it’s “nice” people who are getting ahead now too?
Talent will only get a person so far, after that, it’s up to each individual to decide whether they get themselves over the line with charm and charisma, or fear and bullish behaviour. Think of how many celebrities would agree to get in a car and sing with James Corden if he was a jerk. The concept of going around for a drive and singing old songs is not necessarily genius in itself, but Corden’s personality; his enthusiasm; and the way in which he brings his famous passengers out of their shell is what makes it – unquestionably – the best thing ever.
Being nice and having good social skills is as much of a talent as anything else. There are enough terrible people out there to prove that “niceness” definitely doesn’t come naturally to everyone. What’s more, saying that someone’s lovely personality is such that it results in people going out of their way to support them, is by no means an insult.
Here’s hoping that whoever reads this article, be it Dolly Alderton or otherwise, recognises the universality of their Imposter Syndrome, and that they learn to appreciate “niceness” as much as they do all other talents.
The days of “nice guys always come last” are no more, and amen to that.