WHEN other newspapers started chasing up a story in the last Eye about inaccuracies, alleged plagiarisms and possible libels in Dame Vivienne Westwood’s new authorised biography, her publisher Picador issued a press statement: "We have not received any formal communication regarding the content of the book.”
They have now. Last week lawyers for Paul Gorman served a claim against Dame Viv, co-author Ian Kelly and Picador, alleging substantial plagiarism from Gorman’s book The Look: Adventures in Rock and Pop Fashion (2001). Meanwhile, John Lydon, the former Johnny Rotten, snorted at Westwood’s claim in the book that she came up with the idea and title for the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK single. “What a fucking liberty,” he told the Independent. “That’s audacity of the highest order. Go back to making frocks.”
Never mind the litigation, what about the bollocks? How did the book come to be published in such an error-strewn state? Thereby hangs a cautionary tale about publishers being more eager to get their big titles out on October’s “Super Thursday” than to have those titles properly edited.
Westwood and Kelly signed the deal last autumn (for an advance of more than £200,000) on the basis that much of the work had been done and they could deliver in April for October publication. This was a tight schedule, but publisher Paul Baggaley was too thrilled at nabbing Westwood to worry. She had walked out of previous deals, such as one involving fashion historian Jane Mulvagh and HarperCollins in the late 1990s. But this time she would deliver.
Bosh is together
April came and went. Kelly was clearly floundering. On 8 July, when the cover design was released to reassure the trade, he rashly tweeted: "I’d better finish writing it.” With a Sunday Times serialisation already booked, he had no choice but to bosh it together, with mistakes galore, miscredited photographs and an unchecked reference notes section.
Sales prospects weren’t helped by Westwood’s announcement in mid-September, at the time of the Scottish referendum, that she hated England; nor by her refusal to go on the lit-fest circuit (while memoirists such as Kevin Pietersen and Lydon did the rounds). Picador was panicked into grabbing whatever publicity it could by releasing the book to the trade nine days early, on 1 October.
Alas! The launch party at Mark’s club failed to attract the kind of celeb crowd Picador needed, and the rescue plan didn’t work. Vivienne Westwood sold 3,700 copies over the first three weeks of issue, whereas Lydon’s Anger Is an Energy sold 3,300 in its first week alone and – unlike the Westwood book – made the top 10 bestselling general hardbacks, alongside other Super Thursdayers such as Pietersen and Roy Keane.
Baggaley has some explaining to do, not least to Picador’s insurers, who will be asking why he paid a six-figure advance for a book which has been limping along at 1,000 copies a week and has already attracted at least one serious lawsuit. The first of several, it seems: the Malcolm McLaren estate is now consulting lawyers over the damage caused by Dame Viv’s claims to sole ownership of designs that were in fact produced by the McLaren/Westwood partnership.