These days, the most gripping pages of any biography are the acknowledgments. Once it was a sober list in which the names of the learned authorities who lent their wisdom and advice were dutifully trotted out in alphabetical order; now the author provides the reader with the sort of tearful acceptance speech they might make at the podium of a major award ceremony. After thanking everyone, from the primary school teacher who ‘believed in me from the start’ to the staff at the British Library café ‘for always being there’, we get an inventory of all the people the author has ever loved, and whose love for him or her (usually her) has given them the courage to be themselves. I call this form of acknowledgement the ‘Gwyneth Paltrow’, in honour of the endless speech Paltrow made on receiving her Oscar for Shakespeare in Love, which culminated in her notorious meltdown as she sobbed her way through thanking each and every member of her wonderful family.
The refreshing alternative to the Gwyneth-acknowledgement is the ‘Tracey Emin’, in which the author lists everyone they slept with during the writing of their book (Emin appliquéd to the inside of a tent the names of ‘Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995’). Tracey-acknowledgements always make good reading,