Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead

Shopping, Seduction and Mr. Selfridge is a popular book written by Lindy Woodhead that is now a popular ITV series watched by over 8 million viewers.  This article will help you get to know Lindy Woodhead better.  She’s hard at work on another book called midnight Mother which is about Kate Meyrick.

Lindy Woodhead

Lindy Woodhead was “a little in love” with Harry Gordon Selfridge when writing Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge but he also frustrated her enormously. Now she wants him to go away so that she can complete her next book. Patricia McLoughlin talked to her in the Oxford Street store that Harry built

With a popular paperback, a TV programme with an eight and a half million weekly audience and going into a second series next year, and now a dvd box set in the shops, Harry Selfridge has certainly acquired longevity and all thanks to social historian and writer, Lindy Woodhead.

She looks at the sun streaming into the store’s smart Corner restaurant and remarks how Harry loved light, how he transformed the dark and functional process of shopping into a bright and entertaining experience.

Woodhead is clearly an accomplished writer, with a penchant for historical research. But why Harry?

“There’s no doubt that the initial spark was this building,” she says.  “Growing up in London I loved it, particularly looking in the windows when I was a little kid.”

Research for her earlier book War Paint: Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden – Their Lives, Their Times, Their Rivalry, and also for her forthcoming book which she began before the one which inspired the ITV series, saw her inevitably happen across Harry Selfridge too.

“I wondered why we knew so little about him and wanted to bring someone so important in the world of consumerism back to life.”

There are some interesting parallels, like Harry Selfridge Lindy Woodhead decided to change direction at 50, and as for her eponymous hero, consumerism was also Lindy’s world until, in the year 2000, she left it to write books.  Her public relations agency WPR, which she ran with husband Colin, handled international fashion, fine jewellery and retail clients like Yves St Laurent, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Karl Lagerfeld and Garrard & Co.  She was the first woman on the Board of Harvey Nichols.

And like Harry she is something of a showman, very much a driving force, comfortable standing in front of a crowd to entertain and promote her book. As a girl she wanted to be an actress. She smiles at my Pitman’s shorthand note of our conversation.

“When I left school my mother was horrified that I wanted to act, worried that I wouldn’t earn a living.  She sent me to secretarial school to learn shorthand and typing. “

The training did no harm, she worked in journalism, film and fashion publicity as well as establishing her PR agency.  She has two adult sons and nods when I ask whether Harry’s relationship with his own mother was pivotal in his success.

“Oh yes, the relationship with his mother was enormously important.  She was his rock.  She didn’t push him but he aspired to look after her.  Her husband had left her, nobody knows why but as a writer I envisage that he had a nervous breakdown and went downhill until he was killed by a train.

“As her only surviving son of three boys, Harry was driven to be successful to look after his mother.  She was quite a force and very clever.  She always told him never to fear failure because there was always something else he could do and do it better.”

Does Lindy identify with Harry’s promotional talent? “Yes, he was a consummate and skilled publicist.  He was masterful at public relations.  He was a real showman and always so beautifully dressed.”

Lindy, one has to notice, is immaculately attired. “I do mind people going to the theatre in jeans, to a drinks party and not making an effort. I will be going home shortly to change for a book signing this afternoon and I will be wearing a silk jacket.”

So does she, like Harry, love luxury? “Not luxury, no.  I prefer to use the word comfort when it comes to my homes.  I want people to be comfortable but I do like good taste.”

She has a home in London and one in Gascony, Le Nauton, a beautifully restored old farmhouse, complete with swimming pool, which she rents out to “discerning holidaymakers”. A look online confirms that it is not overblown luxury which is her style but a seeming effortless elegance. It was here, away from distractions, that she wrote two books.

Her next Midnight Mother is about Kate Meyrick, a notorious London illegal nightclub owner of the 1920s. It too is likely to be made into a TV series.  She has enjoyed ITV’s about Harry Selfridge, saying that the family and the butler are authentic characters, while all the others are fictional.  Harry was certainly a serial womaniser.

“He was a risk taker, in business, gambling and it was the same with women. He never fretted about being found out, he liked the chase and once he won them he dumped them.  Why?  He seemed to have a deep seated insecurity and there were no happy endings for Harry Gordon Selfridge.  All the same you’ve got to love the guy!”

He is a spectre, still walking the Selfridges shop floor.  And what would he think of the store today? “He would think he had walked into his dreams,” says Lindy. But now she would like him to kindly walk away and leave her alone to write of other lives.

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Do you watch the ITV series about Mr. Selfridge? What do you think of it? Will you be checking out Lindy Woodhead’s upcoming book, “Midnight Mother?” I like the idea of turning popular novels into television programs, how about you? Is there a book you’ve recently read that you would like to see acted out on ITV?