If you’ve ever racked your brains trying to decide who would make the perfect guest at the dinner party of your dreams, save yourself the bother and simply invite Polly Devlin around for tea. A natural storyteller, she had Ryan Tubridy and his listeners enthralled with tales of Princess Margaret doing the dishes, Orson Welles making her cry and John Lennon sitting down to play her a new composition called ‘Imagine’ on a white piano at Tittenhurst Park… and that’s not even the half of it.
Polly is a writer, broadcaster, conservationist, professor and raconteur – among countless other things. In theory she joined Ryan to discuss her new book, a collection of personal essays called Writing Home. The publication was barely mentioned, yet every exchange gave a hint of the colour, depth and irrepressible charm readers are likely to encounter in its pages.
From modest beginnings in rural Co. Tyrone, Polly entered a writing competition and landed her first ever job at Vogue Magazine. She soon became features editor, a calling card that meant she got to meet just about anyone she wanted to.
“Bob Dylan was my absolute hero. I was very put out when I spent the day with him to find out that he hadn’t written all his songs for me. The fact that he’d never met me was neither here nor there.”
Interviewing subjects who were a little on the difficult side, often resulted in a better story. This was certainly the case with Barbra Streisand, who Polly spent four days and nights with on assignment for Vogue.
“She kept saying she had a bad cold, she had a bad temper, that’s the truth of it. She ignored me. But the truth is that when you’re ignored or when you’re dissed, you often get quite a good interview… people telling you how beautiful and good they are, aren’t necessarily good to write about.”
Time and again during their chat, Polly’s nonchalant candour caused Ryan to chuckle. When referencing Diana Vreeland, her editor at Vogue, Polly casually remarked:
“…mad as a box of badgers… one of the greatest editors of the 20th century, but ran Vogue into the ground in America with her fantasy that didn’t sell stuff to people in New Jersey… they didn’t see themselves wrapped in 30 yards of fake fur.”
Writing Home by Polly Devlin is out now, published by Pimpernel Press.
You can listen to Ryan and Polly’s conversation in full on The Ryan Tubridy Show here.
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