120 pounds, alcohol 2 drinks, cigarettes 0 (excellent), calls to editor 13 (deadline anxiety), calories 4,000.
6 p.m. Just returned from interview with Helen Fielding. She's the author of that hit British novel Bridget Jones's Diary, the journal of a neurotic Londoner who's so obsessed with losing weight and quitting smoking and drinking that she records her daily intake. So we're in Fielding's cluttered office on London's Portobello Road, and conversation turns to the gym. I admit I never go. She shoots dirty look and asks why I'm so slim. "Metabolism," I mutter, aware that's girl-talk equivalent of living off billion-dollar inheritance. She hisses: "Bitch from hell!" Then cracks up laughing.
Bridget Jones might have said it just so. But Helen Fielding wants to get one thing straight: She is not her loopy protagonist, a single, thirtysomething career woman who has become a household name in Britain. Despite her best intentions, Bridget winds up gaining weight, having a disastrous affair with her boss and puffing on cigarettes while analyzing the fallout with her girlfriends over multiple chardonnays. Fielding, on the other hand, is a single, 39-year-old Londoner who insists, "I don't drink, don't smoke and am a virgin...Yeah, right!"
Indeed, if the success of her comical Diary is any measure, there may be a bit of Bridget in more women than would care to admit it. Prior to its U.S. release in June, Fielding's second novel won the 1997 British Book of the Year Award and topped her country's bestseller list for six months. Meanwhile, Bridget Jones-isms—such as "Singleton" (her preferred term for spinster) and "Smug Marrieds" (for patronizing wedded friends who pry into her love life)—have seeped into the vernacular.
While the U.S. edition required a few tweaks (like converting stone to pounds and changing a "ladder" in Bridget's stocking to a "run"), Fielding is confident that Bridget's worries will need no transatlantic translation. "Women today are bombarded with so many messages, like we should have Naomi Campbell's body and Madeleine Albright's career," she says. "Here's someone saying, 'I can't be all these things!'—but trying anyway."
Fielding traces her own wit to the "understated humor" of Yorkshire, where she was raised, the second of four children of a mill manager, who died in a 1984 car crash, and a homemaker. "There was a lot of laughter in my family," says Fielding. She studied English at Oxford, where she also dated Richard Curtis, screenwriter of Four Weddings and a Funeral. After graduating in 1979, she worked for 10 years as a BBC-TV producer. Her first novel, a satire called Cause Celeb, was published in 1994.
The following year a London paper asked Fielding to write a column based on one of that novel's characters, and Bridget was born. The column soon attracted a book offer, and in 1996 Bridget Jones's Diary was published in Britain to gushing reviews. ("Any woman who has ever had a job, a relationship or, indeed, a mother will read it and roar," exclaimed a writer for The Times.)
Though some critics have assailed Bridget as a prefeminist throwback, Fielding responds that she wasn't creating a role model but just writing "about life."
A kind of life that is, in fact, not too far removed from her own. Though she has a steady beau (a European in his 30s who lives on the Continent; she won't give his name), Fielding lives in a one-bedroom apartment in London's trendy Not-ting Hill Gate neighborhood and, like Bridget, enjoys lively dining experiences with friends. "When I have lunch with Helen we always start with no cigarettes and no drinking," says Sarah Sands, a deputy editor at The Daily Telegraph. "And five minutes in, it all starts!"
With movie negotiations under way (Kate Winslet and Minnie Driver have been mentioned as potential Bridgets) and a sequel in the works, Fielding has less time these days for lunch. But success has had other rewards. "The 'Why aren't you married?' has stopped," she says with a wry grin. "And I'm really pleased about that."
Nina Biddle in London