Gatecrasher: How I helped the Rich Become Famous and Ruin the World by Ben Widdicombe
Have you heard about….?
It’s true. You learned it from your best friend’s husband’s boss’s wife at a neighborhood get-together last month and it was confirmed last weekend. You don’t like to spread stories but, well, actually you do because who doesn’t love a little gossip in their life? Who doesn’t crave knowing the skinny about the fat cats? You, nah, you love it, and in Gatecrasher by Ben Widdicombe, you’ll get an eyeful.
The very idea of living in New York City was exciting.
When Ben Widdicombe and his “handsome and naughty boyfriend Horacio” told their friends they were moving from Australia to the Big Apple, most were supportive. One, a conman who insinuated that he was of aristocratic descent, even offered them a flat in The Dakota which, of course, never materialized.
This perhaps should have been a good indication of what was to come for Widdicombe.
A few minor pays-the-bills jobs and several different apartments later, after exploring their new hometown, getting their bearings, and enjoying the thrill of celeb-spotting, Widdicombe and his boyfriend accidentally moved into a building across the street from the founder of Hintmag.com, one of the internet’s first online-only fashion mags.
“… by watching and listening,” Widdicombe says, “I picked up a few things,” which led him and Horatio to suggest a fashion-industry gossip column for the e-zine. They called it “Chic Happens.”
That was fun while it lasted, and it pointed Widdicombe in the direction of what became a career in society-watching, storytelling, and dirt-dishing. It also gave him a front row seat in an ultimate cultural shift.
Back in the mid-to-late ’90s, many of this country’s celebrities were “‘high-net-worth individuals'” in the process of “becoming embraced as a sub-culture,” he says. When the new millennium arrived, wealth began to be perceived not as something one was born into or worked hard to get, but as a “bold lifestyle choice” which could be enhanced by outrageous behavior and plenty of publicity. And ultimately, says Widdicombe, this shift in celebrity attitude got us where we are, politically…
Between deliciously dishy tales and cleverly analogous turns of word, Gatecrasher is 100% delightful to read. Separate from the fun, it’s also informative.
From its first page, there’s very little holding-back in this book, which is gleefully wonderful; even when author and New York Times columnist Ben Widdicombe can’t name names, he offers precise-enough hints that most readers will know to whom he’s referring. In that, we’re whispered-to here, but not pandered-to; pleasantly scandalized but not insulted.
Even better, unlike so many memoirs of this ilk, the life of a gossip columnist isn’t presented as all diamonds-and-champagne: Widdicombe also writes of the frustrations of the industry, the everything-faux realities, and the let-down of clearly seeing both.
You shake your head at the latest in tabloid TV. You sigh at Washington politics. You scan the tabs at the supermarket check-out line, and so this is a book for you. Indeed, Gatecrasher may be the summer’s most fun book you’ve heard about.
Gatecrasher: How I helped the Rich Become Famous and Ruin the World by Ben Widdicombe, c.2020, Simon & Schuster, $27.00, 305 pages