I can’t believe the sexism in Bridget Jones’s world, says Helen Fielding

Vanessa Thorpe

Bridget Jones’s creator Helen Fielding is now shocked by the sexism her character faced, the writer has revealed. Looking back 25 years, Fielding said she would not be able to write the story now. Watching the hit film of her first book recently with her children, she was “staggered”.

“The level of sexism that Bridget was dealing with, the hand on the bum in so many of the scenes,” made it “quite shocking for me to see how things have changed since then”, Fielding told Desert Island Discs’ host, Lauren Laverne, Fielding added that she was particularly struck by a scene in which Bridget’s fictional boss demands “a shot of the boobs”.

Seeing old attitudes that were “just part and parcel of her life” depicted on screen again was alarming, she said, although her heroine, played by Renee Zellweger on screen, is not a passive victim. “In the end she turned around and stuck it to them.”

Fielding, who co-wrote the screenplay for the film with the director Richard Curtis and writer Andrew Davies, said she remains grateful to Bridget Jones and is happy that young girls still enjoy the book, which was based on the popular comic newspaper columns Fielding wrote in the 1990s.

The writer also revealed that many of her past boyfriends and associates believe themselves to be the inspiration for rival male characters in the book, played on screen by Hugh Grant and Colin Firth.

“It is amazing the number of people that lay claim to being Daniel or Mark, including Keir Starmer,” said Fielding, who studied English at Oxford and grew up in West Yorkshire, the daughter of a mill manager. Starmer has recently said he knows nothing of the rumour that he was a prototype for Firth’s principled character, Mark Darcy.

Helen Fielding says Keir Starmer claims to have been the inspiration for one of Bridget Jones’s love interests. Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/Rex/Shutterstock

Its success, Fielding suspects, lay in the fact that “most comedy comes out of quite dark things. And it was hard then to be a single woman – and it still is I think.”

She was originally able to write it “so unselfconsciously”, she said, because she was not “thinking about how it would be received”.

Fielding told Laverne that feminist criticism of her “defeatist view of womanhood,” upsets her, but that her heroine is conflicted. “That Bridget ends with a happy and romantic ending … was a bit of a red herring because Bridget does not straightforwardly just want a man,” Fielding explained.

“Having said that, I did deliberately put the line in Bridget Jones ‘There is nothing so unattractive to a man as strident feminism’, in the knowledge that it might annoy some people.

“At the time, Bridget said being a feminist with a capital F was another thing that she felt she wasn’t very good at. What’s great now is that feminism has sort of lost its capital F.”