‘Feel’, the biography of Robbie Williams by Chris Heath, has just been published. In researching and writing ‘Feel’, Heath spent nearly two years working with Robbie Williams.
But, is this a biography? I have to admit to being confused. Looking through newswires and sites, I noticed that some refer to the book as a biography and others as an autobiography.
So I decided to look at the Amazon site and I found:
Feel: Robbie Williams ~ Chris Heath — (Hardcover – September 1, 2004)
Robbie Williams ~ Robbie Williams, Chris Heath — (Paperback – June 2, 2005).
Leaving to one side intuition, the logical conclusion is that there are two books – one is a hardback biography by Chris Heath, and the other is a paperback autobiography written by Robbie Williams in association with Chris Heath.
Those with more energy than me, might investigate further or perhaps just ring the publishers for clarification (who knows I might try this myself), but, whatever, it does raise critical questions about the respective values of biographies and autobiographies.
If I was writing an autobiography, even though I can be annoyingly self-deprecating at times, I can assure you that the book would put me in a positive light. Similarly, if my brother was to write a biography of me then I think and certainly hope that I’d come out well from that too. And I’d also think that if I had an authorised biography where the writer had access to my diaries and papers that the book would not be too damning.
On that last point I might be wrong:
In an article in The Guardian (31 August 2002), JDF Jones poses this question: “What is he[the biographer] to do if he discovers that it [the truth]is anathema to the family that commissioned him?”. Jones continues: “Is he to abandon the book – the thought occured to me more than once – since he certainly cannot suppress or delete the facts he had unearthed?”
His biography of Laurens van der Post was authorised by the subject’s family. Jones says: “… but on publication was described by some as that unusual creature a ‘hostile’ authorised biography. Some of Laurens’s family and friends were understandably distressed …”
Perhaps the safest way to remembered fondly when one dies is to take the lead from Michael De-la-Noy. On 13th August, 2002 The Independent published an obituary of Michael De-la-Noy. The most interesting thing about it was that the man wrote it himself! It was the first time they had published an ‘auto-obituary’.
To get back to the point, it goes almost without saying that both biographies and autobiographies have value. The crucial aspect for the reader is to know what angle the author is coming from. That’s why I would like to be a bit clearer about ‘Feel’. Who the heck wrote it?