Will He Still be Standing?

To cross swords with Elton John is a risk few people will take.

But not Germaine Greer, the once dreaded feminist lioness, who has criticised him and David Furnish for listing a man as the mother on the birth certificates of their two sons.

She said the move was an example of how the concept of motherhood has been ‘deconstructed’ – before going on to criticise the process of IVF.

Sir Elton is listed as the father and Furnish as the mother on the documents for their sons Zachary, aged four, and Elijah, aged two. Both children were born to the same California-based surrogate mother – whom the couple said they loved ‘like a sister’ – and both share the same anonymous egg donor.

Germaine is the latest high-profile figure to voice disapproval of Sir Elton, aged sixty-eight, and Furnish, aged fifty-two.

Sir Elton was recently embroiled in a singeing row with Italian fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who called his IVF children ‘synthetic’.

The result of the confrontation was humiliation for the two Italians who were not up to the challenge that a furious Sir Elton decimated, but with Germaine a possible duel will not be that easy.

I should know. When my book Women was published, the Observer commissioned her to interview me before any other reviewers got started, pouring scorn on the whole undertaking and lighting the fuse to try to blast me and the book into oblivion.

She kicked off with a definition of vanity publishing and how it had become the preserve of writers unable to find a publisher. Then she described the book, although she only had a proof copy, and its lapis lazuli cover. She mentioned the number of women interviewed and how the book was being puffed in glossy magazines with a studio portrait of its author, whose ‘effrontery is balanced only by his charm, which many (men) find oleaginous. The day I went to interview him, I had a badly blistered mouth, four broken teeth and one leg hugely swollen and leaking from an insect bite. The dog-like gaze of the brown eyes gave no hint that I looked anything but adorable’.

The interview was hard-hitting, laden with sarcasm and not a little bitchiness, peppered with words like ‘bullshit’ and such observations as, ‘Attallah’s elephantine innocence surrounded him like a scented fog.’

Germaine was provocative at every turn as she tried to make me lose my composure and put up some platitudes that she could then shoot out of the air like clay pigeons.

In fact I enjoyed the encounter; I had the sense that she was somehow struggling within herself to cast aside her brashness in favour of a more sympathetic approach.

The chemistry between us turned out to be less conducive to hostility than expected and neither of us minded the cut and thrust of the exchange.

At the close of the interview she said: ‘It’s nice to think that rich women are working out a new dance in which the woman isn’t always travelling backwards, but that hasn’t altered the fact that most women are not even on the floor. To the women living in misery in this country, your book is a mockery.’

‘But the book itself isn’t against these women,’ I challenged her.

‘No. It is innocent of their very existence. In Australia we used to have a system where you bored a hole through a book and hung it on a string in the lavatory. You’d read a page, rip it off and wipe your behind on it. 1,200 double sheets for 15. Looked at that way, Women’s not such bad value.’

According to Greer, my reaction to this remark was to laugh disarmingly, ‘widening the brown eyes’.

‘OK, OK. But do you think the book’s a fiasco? Really?’

‘Yep. But you’ll probably get away with it.’

The idea of Germaine Greer using my book to wipe her behind gave me a measure of comfort. It is not every day that a book embodying the thoughts and aspirations of two hundred and eighty-nine women is used to cleanse the lower regions of the body of a feminist icon. I felt I was in good company.

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