Pippa's Arse: who's deceiving who in the world of publishing

Theoretically, it's a book about how to give a party. But we all know how to give a party


PHWOAR! Isn't that what we are supposed to think when we see a pretty backside sashaying along the street: Phwoar? Unless we're the bloke in charge of spending money on behalf of Michael Joseph, a publisher, and the tush in question belongs to Pippa Middleton. In which case we pay her a reported £400,000. Which is, in these hard times, an awful lot for a book about an arse.

Theoretically, it's not a book about her arse at all. Theoretically, it's a book about how to give a party. But we all know how to give a party. It's easy, unless you're one of those people who are so busy being "successful" you pay companies to give parties on your behalf. Like the one Pippa's parents founded, which earned them enough to send their daughters to Marlborough and become posh enough for sister Kate to snag herself a prince.

No. Pippa's bum deal is not a book about how to blow up balloons and not eat so much jelly that you're sick on the vicar. It's a magical object, a talisman touched by arseness.

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At the princely wedding, it performed the greatest feat of gluteal upstaging in the whole history of buttocks.

It is a perfectly pleasant tush, if a little, shall we say taut. But its power to fascinate comes from an odd and very British mixture of snobbism and prudery. We can't quite believe that a posh girl can have actual, you know, private parts, or anything even hinting at nearby privities. That photograph of the late Princess Diana, the sun shining through her skirt. She was a Lady! And had legs! And we all know where legs lead! Think of Liz Hurley and That Dress. Hurley isn't posh but she speaks proper innit, and you could see her flanks! Move around a bit from the flanks, and where do you end up, eh? Eh?

Yet Pippa's Arse would be considered a paltry thing by our grandparents. A butt of scrawn, a pederastical sort of a rump, overly athletic and ungenerous. Not a sensual or childbearing behind.

Today we think we're right. That progress has finally led us to the perfection of buttockry. That Pippa's Arse is, perhaps, the Platonic patootie of which all others are imperfect copies.

But we're wrong. It's as much fashion as anything else. Women's bodies change, contrary to nature much of the time, in almost every age. Sometimes they had ribs removed to achieve the eighteen-inch waist. Sometimes they had bags put in, to achieve the GG bust. Conventional wisdom has it that this is something fashion - in other words, men - have inflicted on women, leading them to spend their lives in often agonised debate with food.

Not so. Or, rather, not only so, as Louise Foxcroft's latest book Calories and Corsets - published just in time for the post-Christmas ritual of self-mortification - reveals.

Men, too, have been in that same anguished discourse. Lord Byron's weight was constantly up and down. Coleridge had terrible problems in his giblets from eating too much. Samuel Johnson expanded like a balloon as he got older, and hated it. 'Liberty' Wilkes made light of his corpulence and ugliness, claiming that given 30 minutes with any woman he could talk away his appearance. And any teacher will tell you that eating disorders, over the last decade particularly, have made grim inroads into the lives of young men.

Foxcroft - whose writing recalls the late father of medical history, Roy Porter - tells what is essentially a grim and visceral tale with wit and sprezzatura. It's curious that for the 2,000 years covered in her book, we seem to have been ill at ease with our own bodies, one way or the other.

My own, premature, new year's resolutions are: (1) Pippa's Arse is none of my business, and (2) each morning I will stand in front of the looking-glass and say "Phwoar". And why not? I'm deceiving nobody but myself.

  • Calories & Corsets: A History of Dieting over 2000 Years by Louise Foxcroft, Profile Books. ISBN 978-1846684258

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is the author of Big Babies (about the silliness of the Baby Boomers), Lost Worlds (about things which have vanished) and, with Kathleen Burk, The Secret Life of Wine. He has also written computer games, taught Tragedy at Cambridge and is a regular broadcaster.