Dolly Alderton: "You just have to believe it's all going to happen for you"

·7-min read
Photo credit: Neil Cameron
Photo credit: Neil Cameron

Six years ago, Dolly Alderton and I were sitting on the back of a barge, smoking. We were both at a bad party that was only getting worse – made infinitely more awkward by the fact the boat was moving and the only means of escape was jumping into the Thames. I was at a career crossroads and she – if you can believe it – felt similarly lost.

"You just have to believe that it’s all going to happen for you," I remember her telling me.

"Someone will definitely publish your memoir," I nodded.

As we all know, someone did. Alderton's memoir, Everything I Know About Love, published in 2018, became nothing short of a phenomenon. It remains a bestselling, cultural talisman for women in their late twenties and early thirties. This month, Everything I Know About Love is being released again, in a new incarnation; as an eight-part drama on BBC One.

Though Alderton cut her teeth in TV, working on the scripted reality show Made in Chelsea (brilliantly parodied in her drama as 'Heirs and Graces') this is her first outing as an executive producer and solo scriptwriter – adapting her own material no less. The result is a tour de force of wit and warmth.

“Ah you don’t have to say that,” she laughs.

“No,” I reply. “But if the show was bad I would just say; hey, you made a show!”

“True.”

The fact is, Everything I Know About Love is actually a revelation. Not only has Alderton more than proven her TV writing chops, she has produced something many may not be entirely prepared for. This is not a verbatim memoir-to-TV adaptation, but a heavily fictionalised creation that merely borrows its framework from Alderton’s book. It owes more to shows like Girls or even Catastrophe – smart, funny, sharply observed writing which foregrounds female narratives.

Photo credit: courtesy
Photo credit: courtesy

“There are lines that were said in real life and the main relationships are reworked relationships from real life. But a lot of it is imagined,” Alderton stresses. She has made moves to distance herself from the genre of memoir ever since releasing the book that made her name, and reveals less of herself on social media than ever before. In 2020, she told the BBC: "I just don't want to write about my personal life any more, I have neither the inclination nor the strength to do that." Instead, she seems more interested in flexing her considerable creative muscles (her first novel, Ghosts, was released in 2020). “That’s not to say there haven’t been a few weird moments,” she continues. “I went through the wardrobe in the costume department, and I saw four dresses from Topshop from 2012 that I had in my own wardrobe. That was quite trippy.”

If writing the memoir was soul-bearing, writing the TV adaptation appears to have been a lot of fun. “It was also quite liberating, how heavily fictionalised it was, so it didn't feel as raw as it did when I first wrote it. Plus, I'm so far away from that. I'm now in my mid-thirties and I was writing [Everything I Know About Love] when I was still in my twenties.”

The show is a love letter to being in your twenties, with all the knotty, messy contradictions and absurdities of that specific time in life – from romanticised “bad” boyfriends to the waning dynamics of friendships. “I think I personally feel very lucky that I'm writing about that period with a good few years away from it, because it gives you a sense of clarity of the reality of the situation, rather than maybe the romance of it,” she says. “What I had to be wary of, was the desire to write these girls as much more self-aware than they would have been at 24 years old. I had to lean in to their hypocrisy and their mistakes and their embarrassing moments.”

She discusses the show’s initial central romance; a misguided attraction between our protagonist Maggie (a star-making performance from Emma Appleton) and a guitarist she meets on a train, called Street. It’s a relationship anyone in their mid-thirties would run a mile from, but the script shrewdly allows us to relate to rather than judge Maggie’s naivety. “That was such an interesting one to work on,” she says. “But whenever I write a male character, I realised what I'm really doing is trying to understand them. I did that in Ghosts too. I think I basically still find men a complete mystery.”

Photo credit: courtesy
Photo credit: courtesy

What Alderton has famously never found a mystery, is female friendship, something for which she become something of a poster girl. The show retains the memoir's fidelity to luxuriating in every nuance of female connection. “With Maggie, she performs for men, but she is truly herself with her friends,” she explains. “That’s why all the women in this show are in love with her and vice versa. I think we're becoming more interested in this idea of a sort of 'village' of romance; and a love that forms you, and that sustains you, and that nourishes you forever, and that it's probably not just one person. It's probably not just a romantic partner.”

For example, she tells me it was her own best friend who convinced her to try and stop smoking. When it happened, she realised she had always assumed she would stop for her future husband. It reset her conception of who our “significant others” really are.

“We still have this white horse idea – that this romantic partner will rescue us,” she observes.

“Are you done waiting for the future Mr Alderton to do that?” I ask.

“I think so yes. Though that’s quite a horny sentence isn’t it? The future Mr Alderton...”

But for now, Alderton has her BBC show to premiere, her successful agony aunt column in Sunday Times Style to think on, and her next novel to write. I wish I could go back and tell that woman six years ago, sitting on the barge, what she told me – It’s all going to happen for you.


Dolly Alderton’s ultimate career advice

1/ Be efficient and polite

"It's so boring and so obvious. But I've seen first-hand how willing people are to hire someone who is organised and really, really nice."

2/ Be patient

"Really remember that everything takes much more time than you think it's going to take. Don’t be driven by terror of the clock ticking and don't be in a rush, because (hopefully) your career is very long…"

3/ Don't put yourself in financial jeopardy

"I'm always very dubious of people who tell you to put yourself in a place of financial precariousness because it might inspire you to work harder on your dream career. I think that, particularly if it's a creative thing that you want to pursue, the number one thing that stands in the way of creativity is fear. If you don't know how you're going to live, and pay your bills, you're not going to be in a place where you feel confident and safe enough to make good work and be your best self. Don’t be ashamed of having a day job and working on something else in the evenings in the weekends."

4/ Find people you trust

"Have someone you trust in your workplace or, if you're working as a freelancer, make sure you have friends you really trust, who can cast your eye over work and give advice. Collegiate working is so important."

5/ Give back

"If and when you do get to a point where your career ambitions are becoming a reality and you have a degree of success and you have learned things and you are in a place of good fortune, then dedicate a fraction of your time to giving back – whether that’s mentoring or helping in some way. I think it is so important."

Everything I Know About Love premieres on BBC One and BBC iplayer on 7 June.


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