What it was like to party in Candace’s real-life Sex and the City gang

Helen Kirwan-Taylor
·5-min read
Helen Kirwan-Taylor (L) was friends with Candace Bushnell in the 80s - Telegraph/HBO
Helen Kirwan-Taylor (L) was friends with Candace Bushnell in the 80s - Telegraph/HBO

In between all the bad news comes a chink of light. The revival to Sex and the City, called And Just Like That, has been announced by HBO Max. Those of us who knew Candace Bushnell – the real Carrie Bradshaw – when she was penning the original SATC columns are very curious to see how life panned out for Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte. As for Samantha, well unlike many, I really don’t mind about Kim Cattrall bowing out – I always think the character was made up for effect.

I remember the first time I met Candace. It was a sultry summer Friday night on Fisher’s Island, New York. My new British boyfriend (soon to be fiancé) had brought me to meet three friends (two of whom were British bankers) who had rented a large weekend beach house.

Candace Bushnell, author of Sex and the City and the real life Carrie Bradshaw - Ken Schles/Getty
Candace Bushnell, author of Sex and the City and the real life Carrie Bradshaw - Ken Schles/Getty

The first voice I heard was Morgan Entrekin’s, an American publisher and close friend of Candace’s whose Southern twang was discernible three floors up. Out on the wooden porch, clutching an Old Fashioned cocktail in her hand, was Candace. She was tiny and very pretty. I remember being intimidated by the slinky Fifties style floaty cocktail dress she wore (famously with nothing underneath). This kooky-glam style of ‘Carrie’ was what Sarah Jessica-Parker, who played her, became famous for. To my eyes then, it was so cool and grown-up.

In the late Eighties New York had a kind of social fluidity that is lost today. Europeans mixed with Americans; artists with bankers; no one cared what your politics or profession was as long as you were interesting and interested in having a good time. “The idea of yuppiness and stratification defined by what you do didn’t exist then,” remembers my husband Charles, a British banker who was then working on Wall Street. We were part of a high rolling crowd who moved en masse from downtown bars such as Automatic Slim’s to restaurants such as Indochine and Raoul’s, inevitably ending up at Nells where Nell Campbell of Rocky Horror Show fame greeted us by name.

This was pre-Sex and the City days when Candace was a struggling journalist taking hospitality where she could find it (she makes no secret of this). One of her closest male friends describes how she and other struggling artists survived: “We had a policy that everyone knew about, called three dates. We (the higher earning men) happily picked up the dinner bill three times but after that the women were expected to give back. Women could have just one date or pay their own way. It was entirely willing,” he says.

Many of the cooler, more creative women I met had no discernible way of keeping up with the bankers and publishing professionals or the trust fund kids who went out every night. Many of them had a Mr Big in the background – someone who enjoyed the glamour they brought with them.

The female characters in SATC have often come under attack for being trivial, but their real life counterparts were trailblazers. When I graduated university in 1983, the world was our oyster. My best friend became a doctor and an MBA, now leading American health care policy. My two female flatmates were bankers earning $250k a year. In fact, they subsidised my rent in exchange for introducing them to good-looking men (they were far too busy with their careers for that). I was then working for ABC Television’s Good America, run by a woman.

I was surprised that Candace didn’t end up marrying one of the highly eligible men around (like Carrie did in the end of SATC), but perhaps she didn’t want the life we ended up with. We partied hard (she always outdid us) but then we all started settling down. About half of the group, including me and my husband, moved to London. One got into politics; another took over his family’s publishing firm. Most of the crowd – girls included – went on to work for banks and hedge funds. We had children, some of us moved to the country, a few divorced, others developed issues with drink and other substances I am sure.

The original Sex and the City – the reboot, And Just Like That, is due to begin production in the spring - WENN
The original Sex and the City – the reboot, And Just Like That, is due to begin production in the spring - WENN

I lost track of Candace but heard she married and divorced the dancer Charles Askegard who subsequently left her for a younger model. She is 62 now and moved to rural Connecticut for a while, where I assume some of the sequel will take place as most New Yorkers eventually flee the city.

She has written honestly about being single and childless. I think she will have observed how friends often grow apart when they marry and have children and then come back into each other’s lives when there are big changes such as divorce or illness – or when children flee the nest. I certainly have rekindled many friendships from that period now that I have more time to.

Candace enjoyed the fame she so desired at just about the time the rest of us had moved on from partying to popping out babies. She portrayed domestic life as a form of dropping out, so I fully expect her to revel in a new coming together. I suspect there will be themes of disappointment and loneliness in And Just Like That but also much of the humour and high jinx that the fiftysomething and beyond chapter can bring too.

Read more: Dating in your 50s? I have some stories for you, Sarah Jessica Parker