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Dear Me: More Letters to my Sixteen-Year-Old Self,
With a fortune estimated at £530m, the distinction of having been voted Britain’s “most inspirational and admired female role model” for businesswomen and a happy family life, you would be forgiven for assuming that JK Rowling has little to regret. Yet the creator of Harry Potter still grimaces as she recalls the red dungarees, ear piercing and ill-placed adoration of bass players of her youth. Rowling is among more than 70 personalities who have candidly revealed how and why being 16 was not always sweet. “Bright red baggy dungarees from Miss Selfridge will be a bad idea even in 1983,” writes the bestselling author in a letter she wishes she could have received 30 years ago. Warning of a “dangerous” age, she tells her 16-year-old self: “White blonde hair, while a fantastic look on Debbie Harry, will not work on you. Don’t have your ears pierced by a hippie at a music festival. That was one nasty infection. Avoid bass players. All of them.” A rare photograph of Rowling as an awkward-looking teenager accompanies the letter for a new anthology of retrospective advice, and hints at the feelings of “insecurity and self-loathing” that racked her youth.
While Dannii Minogue, the pop star and former X Factor judge, warns herself that “bobby socks are not cool and will never be back in fashion”, Gillian Anderson, the X-Files actress appearing in the BBC’s Christmas adaptation of Great Expectations, discloses an unhealthy teenage preoccupation with her body.“You are completely and utterly self-obsessed,” she complains. “If you spent a quarter of your time thinking about others instead of how much you hate your thighs your level of contentment would expand exponentially.” She adds: “PS: Follow your dreams, not your boyfriends.”
Hugh Jackman may have won legions of female fans for his roles in films including X-Men, but he was not always lucky in love. In the book he writes: “There will be a time when you get over Penny dumping you at the bus stop. In fact you’ll see her in a couple of years and wonder why you cried every time you heard the Lionel Richie song Penny Lover.“Oh, and the patch of zits on your forehead will also go but probably not as quickly as you hope. PS: buy shares on Google when they’re invented.”
The twice-divorced actor James Belushi, who was jailed for petty crime at the age of 16, counsels that women “can be very beautiful — very fun — but you don’t have to marry every one you sleep with. It gets costly”.
She won fame appearing in The X-Files, but as a teen Gillian Anderson hated her figure (HO) He adds that, while the teenager hates himself now, “things will look better from the balcony of the Hotel du Cap in Antibes during your first European movie premiere”.
The rock star Alice Cooper, whose stage show features guillotines, electric chairs and fake blood, suggests a tamer approach for his teenage self, advising: “Trashy girls are exciting for about five minutes. Keep your eye out for a really good lookin’ church girl. Then you’ll have the best of both worlds.” He adds: “I think coffee might really catch on, maybe call it Star something.”
Rowling, who tells herself to keep an eye out for a Ford Anglia-driving friend who inspired the flying car in Harry Potter, said nearly all the letters had highlighted “how vulnerable and dangerous an age 16 is, for all the fun and freedom it is supposed to entail”. She added: “Attempting to isolate those life lessons I could pass back to the girl I used to be was truly illuminating.
“It made me look at my 17-year-old daughter and remember, in a more powerful way than ever before, just how raw and vivid life is for her, in a way that it has been only intermittently for me as an adult. I would not go back to 16 for anything you could give me, and yet I still recognise that she has something I have lost along the way — something I had to lose to stay sane.”
The actor William Shatner’s advice is to live in the moment. “Enjoy those feelings of inadequacy, succumb to the terror of your hormonal disorder, live in your youth, because it passes too quickly. Enjoy the music of your life because when the bands stop playing that’s it.”
Actors Alan Cumming and Kathleen Turner tell themselves to ignore those who say their dreams are absurd, while the author Stephen King warns that he is “a junkie waiting to happen” and to eschew recreational drugs to avoid 10 years of life becoming “a dark eclipse”.
Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair magazine, offers more practical advice, including the need to carry a handkerchief: “a bandage, napkin, something to wipe away tears during a break-up, to cover your mouth during a fire . . . and when all else fails a surrender flag”.
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