As the woman whose newspaper columns spawned the wildly successful Sex And The City franchise, there is little about relationships and sex that Candace Bushnell hasn’t encountered.
But ask her how the coronavirus will impact dating and the sexual landscape over the next few years and she’s momentarily stumped.
‘I don’t know,’ she admits. ‘I think it’s really going to depend on testing. I think people are going to get tests and get it figured out.
‘Sex and the City’ writer Candace Bushnell says she doesn’t know how COVID-19 will affect sex
‘If they tell people they can have sex, then I think everybody will go out and have sex… including me! Maybe,’ she adds, ‘I’ll do it with a cub.’
A cub, for the uninitiated, is a younger man who pursues older women and is a far cry from a ‘SAP’ (‘senior-age player’) – an older man of means whose attitude to women makes Hugh Hefner seem progressive.
Such is the lexicon of today’s dating world as laid out in Bushnell’s latest book, her semi-fictionalised memoir, Is There Still Sex In The City?
It was Bushnell’s classic depiction of the 1990s New York dating scene in her Sex And The City column which became the touchstone for women the world over. It spawned the book which produced the TV series starring Sarah Jessica Parker as Bushnell’s alter ego Carrie Bradshaw, which in turn led to two hit movies.
Therefore, if anyone is qualified to examine the dating terrain for today’s middle-aged women, it’s Bushnell.
Bushnell’s new book ‘Is There Still Sex in the City?’ discusses issues such as divorce and dating
Yet far from being merely a treatise on dating, her latest book also delves into the thornier issues of midlife, such as divorce, money worries and bereavement.
While she was writing the book, her father died and a close friend committed suicide. Midlife, as Bushnell surmises, can be a time of profound loss and disappointment. ‘You see a lot of women who play by the rules, do everything right and who don’t necessarily get the fairytale ending – whatever that is,’ she explains.
‘And it’s bewildering for them. In a way the book is about reinventing oneself yet again – something that people seem to have to keep doing.’
It was certainly the case for Bushnell herself. In 2011, her life appeared to be perfect. With three books under contract and working on the TV adaptation of her 2010 novel, The Carrie Diaries, she was also living in apparent bliss with her husband of nine years, Charles Askegard, a ballet dancer 11 years her junior.
Bushnell was married to ballet dancer Charles Askegard for ten years between 2002 and 2012
‘We had the great apartment, which I’d decorated and which was on the cover of Elle Decor magazine, and we had a renovated house in the country that had beautiful gardens. I look back and it was almost like I was trying to create the perfect backdrop for my marriage. But I guess there was something missing on the inside.’
The couple separated that year and divorced in 2012 when Bushnell was 53 – something she admits came as a shock ‘because I was not thinking about divorce at all’.
‘I’m not really supposed to talk about my marriage, but honestly what happened was that my husband fell in love with another woman [alleged to be ballerina, Georgina Pazcoguin].
‘She was a younger woman, and if a 23-year-old is after your 42-year-old husband and they work, travel and dance together, there are situations where you can’t compete. It’s just kind of the law of the jungle.’
She describes her then love rival as ‘very, very determined and beautiful’ but surely as Candace Bushnell, the successful, famous and exceedingly glamorous writer, she could more than hold her own?
The author described her husband running off with another woman as ‘the law of the jungle’
‘But that was probably part of the excitement, right?’ she says. ‘Stealing somebody out from under the poor, clueless, “famous” wife. There’s something to me that’s ultimately absurdly humorous about it.’
She adds that her ex-husband and the other woman remained together ‘for about another seven or eight years’.
‘They probably were in love, and if two people feel they’re in love, you can’t stand in the way. But after it happened, my dog died and I just felt: that’s it, I’m done. I’m leaving.’
Bushnell escaped New York for the rural life of her home state of Connecticut and returned to the city four years later to find out whether, as her book details, for a ‘middle-aged, single white woman driving a sensible SUV’ there was still sex in the city.
Her findings, together with those of a group of her friends, make for typically eye-popping reading. She tried the dating app Tinder as part of research for a magazine article, ‘and writing that piece was for me just shockingly sad,’ she admits. ‘There was such a lack of quality men.’
Bushnell’s book explores whether single middle-aged women can still find sex in the city
She dated Arnold, a frisky septuagenarian who declared when giving Bushnell a tour of his home, including his bedroom: ‘I’ve had a lot of great sex on that bed. And I hope to have a lot more in the future.’ ‘He was so sexist,’ she says, ‘I spent most of the time yelling at him.’
As for those younger men, was she ever tempted? ‘Oh yes, absolutely!’ she exclaims. ‘But the problem is, I can’t really turn my brain off. These young guys are great, but they’re in their early- or mid-20s, so there’s not that much to talk about. And to me, talking, really communicating intellectually with someone, is actually a big turn-on.
‘Plus, these young guys all want to have this wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am sex, but I don’t want that. I want to spend an hour over it and then, if it’s good, I’ll probably want to do it again another day.’
She sighs. ‘Maybe I’m being too picky but, you know, I’m 61. I’m old enough to be their grandmother.’
Her book did ultimately have a happy ending when she took up with millionaire property developer, Jim Coleman, 58. He had initially been introduced to her by actor Chris Noth (Sex And The City’s Mr Big) and she dedicated her book to Coleman, referring to him as MNB (My New Boyfriend).
Bushnell was recently seeing millionaire Jim Coleman (left) but the relationship came to an end
But, as she reveals, their almost three-year relationship is over.
‘Now we’re just friends,’ she says, ‘but we talk on the phone every day. He travels a lot and I was travelling a lot, and if you don’t see each other for six weeks it’s hard to keep a relationship going.’
At the moment, Bushnell is on her own during lockdown at home in Sag Harbor in the Hamptons.
‘I have really good friends out here,’ she says, ‘but nobody’s seeing anybody. People drop things off on the porch and leave. So, like with everybody else, the isolation thing is pretty wearing.’
One of the most surprising things to emerge is that Bushnell, the woman whose name had become synonymous with sex and dating, had a five-year period of celibacy after her separation.
‘And I was like, how could that even happen?’ she admits. ‘But as you get older, maybe your hormones change and sex is not top of mind. It was top of mind for many years when I was younger. When I was 20, I didn’t go five days without sex.’
Bushnell confessed to going five years without sex after her marriage to Askegard ended
She had moved to New York in the 1970s as an 18-year-old and was, she admits, ‘every parent’s worst nightmare’. She frequented the legendary Studio 54 nightclub, moved in with Gordon Parks, director of the cult movie Shaft (he was 64 to her 18), and later dated publisher Ron Galotti, the man who inspired Mr Big, the great love of Carrie Bradshaw’s life.
Meanwhile, she pursued her writing career. While working for the New York Observer in the 1990s, she started looking into rumours already circulating about Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire paedophile and friend of Prince Andrew.
After a call from Epstein’s lawyer warning her not to investigate further, she backed off. She was also acquainted with Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood mogul now convicted of rape.
‘Somebody I knew had an affair with him and was crazy about him,’ says Bushnell. ‘And I suppose that was initially what was so shocking about the whole thing.
Bushnell also knows of women who had affairs with convicted rapist Jeffrey Epstein (above)
‘There were some women who thought he was bizarrely attractive because of the power he had. But there are certain powerful people where you can just see they’re not a good person and you just don’t want to be involved with them.
‘I got pretty good at recognising those kinds of characters and staying away.’
Indeed, Bushnell’s recent novel, Rules For Being A Girl, was inspired by the #MeToo movement.
She also got good at recognising new dating phenomena, from ‘modelisers’ (men who only sleep with models) to ‘toxic bachelors’, all of whom she introduced to an eager public through Sex And The City.
Even now, almost 25 years since the book’s release, the public appetite for Carrie and her friends Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda has barely waned. The two movies made over £560 million at the box office and, while a third film had been in the works, the project was abruptly cancelled three years ago.
Many surmised that the bad blood between Sarah Jessica Parker and co-star Kim Cattrall, who played Samantha, was to blame. Indeed, when Cattrall’s brother Chris died two years ago, she posted an Instagram message to SJP which read: ‘I don’t need your love or support at this tragic time.’
The ‘Sex and the City’ book and flims are still popular even 25 years since the novel’s release
But Bushnell refuses to be drawn on their reported feud. ‘I don’t know anything about that really, but honestly I think when somebody passes away, it’s very difficult. The only thing I can say is they’re both really nice people.’
Though she’s friendly with all the SATC women, she maintains: ‘The whole time the show was shooting, Sarah was married and starting a family, Kim was married and Cynthia Nixon [Miranda] had a kid, so we had different circles.’
Bushnell herself never had children and she says she’s never regretted it.
‘I was engaged a couple of times, in my 20s and again when I was 31. I look back and think if I had married that guy, I probably would have had kids and a very different life. But when I was engaged, I just felt like I was going to suffocate. I felt like I’m drowning, I can’t do this life.’
Instead, Bushnell created a fabulous life of her own. Plans are already under way to turn Is There Still Sex In The City? into a TV series. She is writing three novellas about how fame and success affects people and is working on a possible one-woman show.
As for finding the next Mr Big, she hasn’t given up hope. ‘Listen, I would be very happy to find a guy my age, reasonably successful who was once hot.’ She lets out a huge laugh. ‘A bit like me.’
Is There Still Sex In The City? by Candace Bushnell (Abacus, £8.99) is out on Thursday.