News, Culture & Society

Choose a broken heart, choose pilates, choose… Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting at 60 

His gritty novels have shaken up the literary world, attracted a cult following and earned him an A-list celebrity lifestyle. 

Yet Irvine Welsh, best-selling author of Trainspotting and another sequel due this week, admits he finds himself unexpectedly at a crossroads – particularly in his love life.

The Color Toner Experts

One year on from the break-up of his 15-year marriage, he is still going through a grieving process.

Back in his home town of Edinburgh, the author, who these days is based in Miami, Florida, where he keeps an apartment, admits with a smile: ‘I’m trying to avoid relationships for now. You’ve got to give yourself time to get over someone and sort yourself out.’

NEW CHAPTER: Irvine Welsh is back in the market for love after his 15-year marriage to American Beth Quinn ended in April last year

He should know more than most. Last August, he confessed during an interview with comedian John Bishop at the Edinburgh International Festival that he had a new girlfriend, fellow author Sarah Pinborough.

Joking references were made about how much he liked her but her dog, Ted, was not a fan of him.

Today, Welsh says he’s single again, Ted having had the last laugh.

‘He’s a beautiful dog but there was only going to be one winner,’ he grins. ‘Let’s just say, I liked him a lot more than he liked me.’

On a more serious note, however, Welsh says, a new relationship was too much, too soon after the end of his marriage to American Beth Quinn. ‘I’d just come out of a big, long relationship with Beth and, two months later, Sarah and I were together.

Welsh talked of his relationship with Sarah Pinborough, which he said was wrecked by her dog

Welsh talked of his relationship with Sarah Pinborough, which he said was wrecked by her dog

‘It was a bit too soon. The good thing about it is we weren’t together long enough to p**s each other off, so we managed to stay good friends.’

But he added: ‘I’ve learned my lesson. Sarah is such a fantastic woman and I was just hard work for her. When you come out of a relationship, you are not in shape for anything else, and she was incredibly kind and affectionate and lovely but I wasn’t in a place where I could give her anything more.’

Welsh met Beth, 23 years his junior, when he was giving a talk to a creative writing workshop in her home city of Chicago. The couple married in 2005 in Dublin, where he was based at that time, before moving to live in the Windy City to be closer to her family.

Ted, pictured, was blamed for the relationship breakdown between Welsh and the author Sarah Pinborough 

Ted, pictured, was blamed for the relationship breakdown between Welsh and the author Sarah Pinborough 

The marriage ended in April last year and Welsh moved permanently to his holiday home in Miami’s South Beach.

Clearly the break-up has affected him profoundly and he says: ‘It’s like a grieving process. There’s a kind of trauma in it and there’s also a liberation in it as well, so there’s all those things. I was focussing on the liberation side without focussing on the trauma.

‘I realised that with Sarah I was in denial about being in rebound. So I think if you are not fully present in what you’re in, it’s very hard for the other person.’

But in vibrant Miami, it is very difficult to ‘fly solo’, he says enigmatically, adding: ‘It’s not easy but, for now, I’m trying to keep all that at arm’s length and not get involved in relationships.’

Whilst his love life might be in a state of flux, however, his friends list reads something like a Who’s Who of the film and TV industry, as well as the arts and, of course, the housing schemes where he grew up and which feature so prominently in his books.

Irvine Welsh (second from the left) is pictured with Trainspotting director Danny Boyle (centre) and Ewan McGregor, who starred as Mark Renton

Irvine Welsh (second from the left) is pictured with Trainspotting director Danny Boyle (centre) and Ewan McGregor, who starred as Mark Renton

Welsh's debut novel became a hit movie in the nineties and was hailed as a hard-hitting landmark for British cinema 

Welsh’s debut novel became a hit movie in the nineties and was hailed as a hard-hitting landmark for British cinema 

He talks animatedly about the strong bonds he maintains with ‘his pals” around the world, from Los Angeles to Barcelona, New York and London, who frequently give him the run of their homes while he is on his travels. Notably, one in particular, includes Megan Markle’s ex-husband film producer Trevor Engelson.

Their friendship predates the Royal romance but it is clear the international interest in the impending wedding nuptials has caused some consternation in the Engelson home in the Hollywood hills.

Welsh suddenly pulls a comical face that says: “Well, no one saw THAT coming”, but adds diplomatically: ‘It’s been quite interesting lately to say the least.

‘He lets me stay at his home all the time when I’m in LA. I stay at the homes of buddies quite a lot while they’re away on business – not so much couch surfing, as guest suite surfing, you might say.

‘Anyway, the paparazzi were waiting outside Trevor’s door recently when I came out. They said: ‘You’re not Trevor Engelson, you’re Irvine Welsh. I said ‘Well, yes, but you can take my picture if you want!’

It was Welsh’s phenomenally successful debut novel in 1993, which charts the exploits of a group of friends, boozers and heroin users in Muirhouse and Leith in Edinburgh, and Danny Boyle’s subsequent blockbuster movies, Trainspotting and Trainspotting 2, which set him up for life and have given him a lifestyle many would envy.

When first published, Trainspotting was like nothing else in mainstream print at that time and provoked moral outrage throughout the literary world because of its brutal and vivid depiction of life on a crime-ridden Edinburgh council estate, not to mention the obscenity-littered language.

Ironically, in an era where such a style is now commonplace, it was this last ‘sin’ that meant the book was rejected for the Booker Prize shortlist that year because two judges had deemed it too offensive.

He has gone on to produce other best-sellers, such as Porno, Skagboys and Filth, but none have had the same level of impact as Trainspotting, which at one point did at least earn one accolade – for being ‘the most shoplifted book in Britain’.

Today, sipping on a large glass of Australian chardonnay in a bustling city centre pub, a few miles from the mean streets where he grew up, he says he is ‘at peace’ with the decision to exclude him.

STAR SPOTTING: Welsh had his eyes lasered when he mistook pal Iggy Pop, left, for wrestler Hulk Hogan, right

‘I was told it was the language. I think a lot of the objections to it were that some people don’t like rage expressed in that threatening way. But I think, intrinsically, most people know racism, homophobia and sexism is a form of bullying and there’s something about it that isn’t right.

‘I think you can show a character being as misogynistic or as racist as you like as long as you show the consequences for that behaviour on other people and for them as well. I had a friend who was just leaving prison at the time it was published and claimed Trainspotting changed his life and got him into writing. He’s now a professor.’

Welsh adds: ‘I’ve never really been that concerned about definitions. Fundamentally it’s all about story telling for me and where it ends up in the spectrum, in terms of genre versus literature, or highbrow versus lowbrow, or art versus commerce and entertainment, doesn’t bother me.

‘I’m not conscious of trying to hit a certain spot. I think you can place every book and every screenplay that I’ve ever done all along that continuum or other. There’s no real sweet spot for me on it. I just fire into it.’

His next book will be set in Las Vegas and is inspired by America’s growing debate over its gun culture, in particular last year’s atrocity in the city, when a gunman opened fire on thousands of concert-goers from the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel.

Before that, however, he has just embarked on a UK-wide book tour to promote his latest novel, Dead Men’s Trousers, which charts the final escapades of his Trainspotting characters, 25 years on from the original.

The author's latest effort is set in 2016, when Mark Renton has become a jet-setting manager for international DJs

The author’s latest effort is set in 2016, when Mark Renton has become a jet-setting manager for international DJs

Speculation abounds that it could form the basis for a third movie but Welsh has coyly played that down by saying he doubts the team behind the two hit films would have the ‘collective bottle’ to attempt another sequel.

In Dead Men’s Trousers, one of his famous characters – either Renton, Spud, Begbie or Sick Boy – is killed off.

Set in 2016, against the backdrop of Welsh’s favourite football team’s triumph in the Scottish Cup, when Hibs beat Rangers, and the lead-up to the Brexit referendum vote, it features Renton, now a jet-setting manager of international DJs, and the psychopathic Begbie, perhaps implausibly reinvented as a successful artist. Meanwhile, Spud and Sick Boy turn to organ harvesting to earn extra cash, with predictably hilarious results.

Welsh says the characters are unlikely to ever appear all together again in any future novels but he may, like ‘tools in a tool bag’, pull one or two out for other stories.

He says simply: ‘Your job is to tell the story and you look to see what’s in the tool bag.’

Trainspotting writer Irvine Welsh revealed that he has become friends with Meghan Markle's ex-husband

Trainspotting writer Irvine Welsh revealed that he has become friends with Meghan Markle’s ex-husband

The world he inhabits now is light years away from the one inhabited by his characters but he does still like to dip his toe in and out.

He says: ‘It’s funny because when I’m back home in Edinburgh my friends are builders and taxi drivers, drug dealers and football thugs and all that, whereas in London, I’ve got a few pals like that as well but most of them are teachers, social workers, local government officers, writers, journalists. It’s a completely different social milieu.

‘In Miami, it’s different again. It’s not like I’m hanging out on the beach with supermodels all day, but the weather’s great and I go out on my balcony and look at the view and think “This is it, I’ve cracked it”.

‘Maybe it’s the Scot in me, the self-flagellation Calvinistic thing. But then I think, no, I’m kind of hiding here and I’ve got to get back to reality. So, whilst I don’t think I could come back to the UK to live full-time, it’s great when I do. Everyone’s pleased to see me, but it’s nice not to overstay your welcome anywhere and so I move around.’

Later this year, he turns 60, a watershed he is trying hard to ignore. Not only has he taken up Pilates, which he practices with his friends in Miami, but he has resumed a previous love of DJ-ing in his spare time, even taking over the decks at a beach party off Ocean Drive last week.

‘It’s much easier now carrying around a USB stick instead of a case of records,’ he says enthusiastically. ‘But you really need to know your songs and that’s the difficult thing for me because I’m writing so much of the time to really get immersed in it. I’m getting asked to do one or two gigs though, so it’s fun.’

Failing eyesight also led to him seeking laser surgery to correct his vision, a memory which casually leads to another quick-fire round of effortless name-dropping.

He says: ‘I realised I needed my eyes tested when I see a guy I think is my friend Iggy Pop in Miami. I ran up and grabbed him, shouting “Iggy!”.

‘It was actually Hulk Hogan, who fortunately saw the funny side of it. I know Iggy really well and he’s half the width. I told him that story afterwards and he cracked up.’

At the clinic in north Miami where he finally opted for the treatment, professional wrestler Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson was in the waiting room, ahead of him in the queue.

He recalls: ‘This big guy was sitting next to me quite nervously and he asked me if I knew what happened during the procedure.

‘I suddenly realised it was Dwayne Johnson and he was going in before me. I said: “Well Dwayne, if you run out and your eyes are bleeding, I’ll know to get out of here quick.” He just laughed and went in. When he eventually did come out, he looked at me and shouted: ‘Nothing to it buddy! Piece of cake! You’ll love it!’

‘He was right, within minutes of coming out I could read every licence plate. It was amazing. The clinic now have signed pictures of me and The Rock up on their wall.’

Here, however, Welsh, who will close the Aye, Write! literary festival in Glasgow tonight (Sun) with a reading from his new novel and appear at the Rio Cinema in London’s Dalston this Wednesday (28 March), is enjoying the relative anonymity that comes with being back home.

Like his famous Choose Life catchphrase from Trainspotting, it’s clear he is doing just that.



Comments are closed.