Interview: Hadley Freeman

Natalie Gil

The Guardian’s HADLEY FREEMAN tells us why America can’t let Romney win, why she rejected her first Guardian job offer, and how to dress for a supervision when you’ve written an abysmal essay.

After moving to London from New York as a child, Hadley Freeman attended boarding school in Cambridge and proceeded to The Other Place to read English, where she edited the student newspaper Cherwell.

She is able to seamlessly shift from writing about John Kerry to Kerry Katona, and her articles – from sharp commentary to her much admired Ask Hadley fashion column – are routinely the most-read on The Guardian’s website.

Hadley’s dual Anglo-American citizenship is manifest when we meet. A very British mix of frankness and humility charmingly complements her archetypally American self-assuredness – which has brought her to the Union to debate the US election. The Tab spoke to her about politics, print journalism and Primark.

Will Superstorm Sandy affect the election’s outcome and how has Obama handled it?

It might motivate apathetic and disillusioned Obama supporters to vote, because Romney was against the federal helping of states and very sceptical of climate change. Obama’s been there with those affected, not campaigning, whilst Romney is off in swing states thousands of miles away.

Would you have conducted Obama’s campaign any differently?

I’d have motivated him before the first debate because he really couldn’t be bothered with the politicking and fighting. Romney gained momentum, but Obama got it back.

If Romney wins the election, will you renounce your dual citizenship?

Oh god… knock on wood, but I really don’t think he’ll win. The idea of him and Paul Ryan in charge of America is so horrendous I can’t even bear to think about it.

How would you compare the political cultures of the UK and the USA? 

They’re like the weather: London’s isn’t extreme, whereas New York’s goes from hot to freezing. So in America the right wing is much farther to the right. I thought you’d never get away with that here, but they’re trying.

Nadine Dorries and Jeremy Hunt are using abortion and women’s bodies as political footballs. Hunt is such a moron – he ‘has a feeling’ that the abortion limit should be 12 weeks. I think he only said that so Cameron wouldn’t look as bad bringing it down to 20 weeks.

Do you think part of the problem is that there just aren’t enough women in politics?

It is better for women to be talking about their own issues, but they don’t automatically bring empathy. Sarah Palin played a big part in moving the Republicans rightwards, based on a fake morality.

If you were president for the day, what would you do?

I’d put in more stringent climate change policies; shore up Roe v. Wade; shut down a lot of the cable news networks because they’re so partisan and hysterical. And I’d ensure the survival of newspapers.

How much longer do you think The Guardian’s print edition has left?

A lot of daily papers probably won’t have print runs during the week within the next few years. I don’t see how we can survive if we don’t put up a pay wall, but that’s against The Guardian’s whole theory.

You’re part of a current wave of funny feminist journalists, along with the likes of Caitlin Moran. Do you think journalism has reached a tipping point for women, enabling them to be more outspoken?

Maybe. We all grew up in an age when Feminism had progressed to a certain point, so it never occurred to any of us that we shouldn’t be mouthy.

What was it like being an American at Oxford? And why did you decide to work for a British newspaper?

I moved to London at eleven so it wasn’t too weird. But on my first day some idiot boy asked me if I was related to Morgan Freeman! In my final year, The Guardian offered me a job but I didn’t want to be a journalist so I swanned off to Florence and pretended to be Lucy Honeychurch for a year. Then I planned to work at American Vogue, but the pay was too low to survive on. So I came back and said to The Guardian, “Hiiii…”

Cambridge student fashion consists predominantly of oversized knitwear and thick-rimmed glasses. Can geek chic work in Cambridge, or is it just geek?

Sure it can! That’s hipster with warmth – practical hipster! It’s better than the fashion at Oxford in the nineties. Everyone was wearing floral dresses and Doc Martens, or Carhartt combats – there was a lot of Carhartt – and everything was baggy.

Dressing for the library – dress up or down?

Down, otherwise you’ll spend the whole time hoping people are noticing you. If you’re making the effort to go to the library, just do the work.

One for the guys: you’ve got a job interview, worst-case scenario, do you wear your dad’s suit or go to Primark?

I didn’t know Primark made stuff for men! It depends on your dad – my dad’s suits would be a disaster. If Jarvis Cocker’s your dad then you’re fine.

You’ve written an abysmal essay – what do you wear at the supervision to distract from it?

I’d look as awful as possible so the tutor would feel bad for me. Like I’d had a terrible nervous breakdown.

What’s your favourite fancy dress outfit?

You know that story in the news about the old woman who painted over the church fresco? This Halloween, I was the fresco Jesus. But when in doubt go Ghostbuster.

Tell us about your second book, ‘Be Awesome: Modern life for modern ladies’, due in April 2013. 

It’s a guide to life directed at myself at 23. How to be an un-annoying vegetarian; how to talk about eating disorders without mentioning Kate Moss; how to be a twenty-first century feminist; how to cheer up your single friend without lying or patronising them. All the important stuff!

  • Bro

    Some cool stories in here.

  • is it just me or

    does 'i'd shut down a lot of news cable networks' seem a bit odd?

    • Fox

      scares me and her alike

    • Thoughtful

      No – they poison the political debate in the USA and are frequently wildly inaccurate. Who benefits from "news" that's not true?

      • More thoughtful

        Very few networks (if any) are completely impartial, and most of them are biased to the left (albeit more subtly than Fox is to the right). In any case, the contempt for free speech that this suggestion betrays is rather alarming.

        • Think harder

          Your argument is nonsensical: "It's impossible to be perfectly impartial, so any degree of partisanship should be allowed"? Entirely illogical. Now, I see no merit in networks which are biased to the point of consistent factual inaccuracy being allowed to mislead the public by describing their programmes as factual "news". If you think otherwise, make your case.

          As for "contempt for free speech", presumably you don't support defamation laws, or laws against false advertising? After all, they're restrictions on free speech too – of exactly the same nature as banning the promotion of a news network on which facts are routinely distorted (cf… ) as "impartial news".

          • I thunk hard

            That's not my argument. My argument is that if you're to be consistent in enforcing network neutrality, then practically all existing networks ought to be shut down, rather than just Fox News (which I suspect is the main target of those proposing this). Subtle bias is, if anything, more pernicious than overt partisanship.

            Defamation laws and laws against false advertising are entirely different from 'banning the promotion of a news network on which facts are routinely distorted'. The former allow organisations and individuals to be held to account for actual wrongdoing, the latter pre-emptively punishes a network for anticipated wrongdoing, thereby hindering its freedom of speech, truthful or not, on the basis of what (presumably) some government body decides is impartial or not (how well that's worked with the BBC!). The equivalent of libel laws would be fining networks for distorting the facts whenever they do so.

            As it happens, I'm ambivalent about libel/false advertising laws anyway. There's a principled case to be made for doing away with them altogether (after all, people are in general free to tell untruths), and it's clear that, practically speaking, libel laws as they exist mainly benefit the rich and powerful. But that's another issue.

  • umm

    "shut down a lot of the cable news networks because they’re so partisan and hysterical."

    So 'partisan' means daring to criticize your precious Obama..

    You say Romney would be horrendous but Obama has been as bad as Bush. In fact he's been worse when it comes to civil liberties and there's still high unemployment.

    • Feminist o clock.

      So you honestly think Romney would be better? Someone who wants to BAN ABORTION?!?

      • Highwayman

        I kind of see where you are coming from, but I don't think there are many issues that are so black and white that they do not need to form part of a debate, and I'm not sure abortion is one of them.

      • umm

        You actually believe Romney would ban abortion?

      • Half past Feminism

        Why are people disliking that comment? Is it in support of banning abortion? If so those 'dislikes' are the most concerning thing on this whole page. Feminist o'clocks comment may have been slightly obvious but definitely not unreasonable. As a tempered version of that, I would like to ask if people 'disliked' the comment because Romney was not trying to ban abortion? If so, someone should tell Feminist o'clock.

  • "sure up"?

  • Tab

    Hadley if you are reading this please marry me I love you. For reals.

  • Typo?

    "shore up".

  • J.W.


  • I am now