You know those memoirs where you think: that person really needs to live a few more years or do something of real consequence before they even think of writing their life story? This fabulous memoir is the shining antithesis of such books; in fact it’s a book I’m billing as “the memoir that has everything”: a working-class childhood, Butlin’s, child abuse, West End theatre, Abba, sex, drugs, prejudice, travellers’ tales, EastEnders, activism and bravery, gay kissing, gay nightlife, gay pride, tabloid skulduggery, a shedload of committed politics, parties galore, more enjoyable gossip than you could shake a rainbow flag at and a cast of characters that takes in Mo Mowlam, Barbara Windsor, Elton John, David Hockney, Tony & Cherie Blair, Elizabeth Taylor and David Bowie to name but a very few.
Now 68, Michael Cashman, aka Baron Cashman of Limehouse tells his well-lived life story with great verve and fluency; from East End boy and child actor on the West End stage, to soap star, Stonewall founder, Member of the European Parliament and now of the House of Lords. This is a memoir with a beautiful, beating heart too: that is Cashman’s relationship with the love of his life Paul Cottingham, his partner and later husband of 31 years, who died from cancer in 2014. Alan Johnson loved it, Armistead Maupin adored it, and so did I.
Calamity: The Many Lives of Calamity Jane
"as Karen Jones sets out dismayingly early in her book, the only things that the real-life ‘Calamity Jane’ can with confidence be said to have in common with her legend is that she wore trousers, swore like a navvy and was pissed all the time..."
— The Spectator
His first-hand testimony is illuminating, bright and breezy, lightly scattered with exclamation marks, fairly relaxed about grammar. But it is not the heart of the book. That is to be found at either end of it, when, in the first 100 pages, he writes about his East End childhood through the eyes of his own young self, then again in the last 100 pages, when he tells of the illness and death of Paul from the point of view of an anguished onlooker. In both of these long sections, perhaps because he is at the mercy of events and not driving them, he allows himself a level of emotional recall that crystalises and distills experience into unforgettable images.