PW: In writing How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, how did it feel to relive your traumatic experiences at Vanity Fair?
TY: Since I felt I had spent five years in New York and achieved less than nothing, it felt good to be able to get a book out of the experience. When I was writing it, I felt I hadn't completely wasted my time for five years.
PW: Do you feel the book is particularly timely now?
TY: Yes, judging from the success of American Son and Bias. People have become fed up with the media's self-importance and pomposity, and I think they'll enjoy a scurrilous, irreverent insider's account of what it's like to work at a magazine like Vanity Fair.
PW: What positive memories do you have of your time at Vanity Fair?
TY: One thing really impressed me—the writers who work there took factual accuracy very seriously. I was very impressed by the research department, which was responsible for fact checking. That's where the most educated, intelligent people work. On Fleet Street, journalists don't have the same regard for factual accuracy, and this seemed to me one way American journalism is better than British journalism.
PW: Do you think that your alcoholism, described in the book, could have been avoided if you hadn't suffered the pressures of New York publishing?
TY: No. I probably would have ended up an alcoholic even if I had remained unemployed in London. I would never have stopped drinking if I hadn't come to New York. When the British go to America, whether they work in media or finance, they get completely infected by the self-improvement ethic. They join gyms, stop drinking, start eating healthily. You think when you first arrive that your cynical British attitude will withstand the puritanical political correctness, but in fact it infects you within six months.
PW: You describe your lack of tact during celebrity interviews, such as when you asked Nathan Lane if he was gay. Do you take a different approach now?
TY: So far nothing's gone spectacularly wrong, as it did with Lane. I was so hopelessly ill-equipped to interview celebrities at Vanity Fair. Not that I wasn't willing to play by the rules; I didn't know what the rules were. I felt like a boorish country hick at the Palace of Versailles. There were a thousand little etiquette rules I had no clue about.
PW: Was it difficult to write honestly about Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter?
TY: He's such a strong personality, with so many comic character traits, that he was an easy character to put down on the page. I didn't worry that if I wrote candidly about him I would be excommunicated, because I'd been excommunicated already. My worry was that if I said anything nice, people would think I was sucking up to him, trying to preserve my link with the magazine. By the end, I thought, I should just put down exactly the way I feel.
PW: You write about people who would literally kill to gain admittance to an Oscar party. Why do you think they want this so desperately?
TY: To be invited to an A-list party is recognition that you're a person of some importance. People who aren't invited want to get into these events, because they feel stardust will rub off on them simply by virtue of being there.
PW: You talk of people, such as Carter, who reinvented themselves. Do you think that's mandatory to rise to the top in journalism?
TY: I think it definitely helps. It's almost as if you've got to dream up a colorful character and cast yourself in that role.