The return of Bridget Jones

EXCLUSIVE

By Dominic Ponsford
 
Independent
editor Simon Kelner has launched a major salvo against The Guardian
ahead of its autumn Berliner relaunch by signing up Helen Fielding to
revive the column which made her millions – Bridget Jones’s Diary.

Kelner
is understood to be squaring up for a tough circulation fight with
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger in the coming months, with more big
signings in the pipeline.

Since The Independent first launched a
tabloid version in September 2003 it has made strong in-roads into The
Guardian’s historically rock-solid circulation – up from 221,369 to
262,124, while The Guardian has slipped back from 395,304 to 361,406.

Kelner
is keen to ensure that The Guardian’s full-colour relaunch on
£50million Berliner-size presses, expected at the end of September,
does not wipe out these gains. The return of Fielding, with her strong
appeal to female readers, is understood to be central to Kelner’s
anti-Berliner strategy.

It is now ten years since Bridget Jones,
the archetypal 30-something single girl about town, was born in the
pages of The Independent.

The weekly column was a cult success
but Fielding jumped ship when the Daily Telegraph offered to quadruple
her then modest Independent salary in 1997.

Kelner has lured her back with a lucrative contract believed to be well into six figures.

The deal is understood to be open-ended, which means Fielding could be with the Indy for some years to come.

The
1996 novel Bridget Jones’s Diary was a multi-million selling
international success and the character finally settled down with Mr
Darcy in the equally successful 1999 follow- up Bridget Jones: the Edge
of Reason.

Fielding, 47, has also left her singleton days behind
after moving to LA with The Simpsons scriptwriter Kevin Curran and
having a baby.

But from next Thursday, Jones will be back in The Independent along with many of the original cast of characters.

The
paper is planning a major radio and TV advertising campaign to
accompany the return of the weekly column. And the following Saturday
the paper is to give away a free paperback book containing the first 40
Bridget Jones columns as they originally appeared back in 1995.

Kelner
has known Fielding for 10 years, since he worked with her when he was
features editor of The Independent, and he is understood to have been
wooing her back for some months.

The final deal is believed to have been done last week at the Savoy Grill in London where the pair were spotted having lunch.

When
Fielding was enticed over to the Telegraph in 1997, then deputy editor
Sarah Sands said: “It was madness of The Independent to have let her
go. It was one of the main reasons for reading the paper.

“Her
column is one of those wonderful things that has caught on and become
the voice of her generation of women in the Nineties. It’s an absolute
seminal column.”

Fielding studied English at Oxford before starting her career as a trainee producer with the BBC.

She spent ten years making documentaries before becoming a newspaper feature writer in the early 1990s.

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