My relationship with my best friend of more than 20 years is affectionate and close. Yet it’s also underpinned by jealousy, envy and, sometimes, fierce rivalry.
Usually we laugh it off, calling ourselves something cute, like ‘the best of frenemies’. But, crucially, these supposedly toxic traits have been very beneficial – for us both.
In fact, I’d go further. I believe the rivalries and jealousies between us have played a big part in making me who I am today – and are certainly the reason for any professional success I’ve enjoyed.
My friend, Celia Walden, and I are not uncommon in having such ambivalent feelings about their girlfriends. Our professional and personal milestones – career successes, house moves and holiday plans – have inevitably been judged against each other’s.
Today, in my mid-40s, I’m a novelist, with a string of detective stories about the Mitford sisters under my belt.
Celia has written the odd novel when she’s not busy being a newspaper columnist and being married to Piers Morgan.
There’s a synchronicity between us both now – but it wasn’t always that way.
Jessica Fellowes (left) and Celia Walden, who are both authors and long-time friends
We met as journalists in our late 20s. Whenever she secured a pay rise, I’d book a meeting to do the same. When she signed up with the most important literary agent in town, I made sure I was taken on by their biggest rival.
In our personal lives, we spur each other on. By a bizarre coincidence, we both got engaged on the same night, and then took a perverse pleasure in outdoing the other with how little we could spend on the supposed big tickets of a wedding. My bridal dress cost £120, hers cost £20 less.
We both became stepmothers at the same time, and mothers within a year of each other. We’ve never holidayed together but we’ll go shopping for bikinis, with me doing my utmost to fit into one the same size as hers.
When I was lucky enough to be invited to St Tropez last summer, a resort she has been to many times, I asked her for her favourite restaurants – then took great delight in sending photos of me and the family having fun at ‘her’ place.
CELIA and I have been pitted against each other from the moment we met. Being a couple of years younger than me, she had been hired as my replacement at The Mail on Sunday.
I returned to the paper a year later, and still remember the glee with which an old colleague told me about the girl who had filled my place. ‘She’s tall, blonde and very beautiful,’ he said, watching closely for a furious reaction. ‘Clever, too. A great writer.’
Perhaps that was where the seeds of our rivalry were sown – but also our friendship. We irritated colleagues by becoming besties.
In our personal lives, we spur each other on. By a bizarre coincidence, we both got engaged on the same night, and then took a perverse pleasure in outdoing the other with how little we could spend on the supposed big tickets of a wedding writes Jessica Fellowes
I returned to the paper to work with Celia on a new gossip column. We were given equal billing as girls-about-town and had a hoot at all the best parties in London.
We lived off free champagne and canapés, smoked endless Marlboro Lights, swapped clothes and covered for each other when one of us snuck off for a quick hangover recovery nap in the loos.
Years later, when we both went on the hunt for new jobs, we found ourselves in competition again. I discovered that Celia had been interviewed for a role I had applied for: deputy editor of Country Life magazine. I felt betrayed she hadn’t told me. She knew I had been interviewed, and that I wanted the job.
Perhaps it was the knowledge that she was hot on my heels that spurred me on. In the end, it was I who got it.
To this day, we remain in healthy competition with each other.
She was the first tall girl I’d met who embraced her height and, in doing so, made me feel good about my own. We’d never fancied the same type of men, so we’d been great wing-women to each other. Her confidence is something I bask in when I’m out with her.
But when she published her first novel, I remember feeling sick with envy that I hadn’t managed to write one myself. I delayed phoning her with my congratulations. But now I’ve written seven. It’s almost as if it’s been a race.
The complexities of female friendships form the backbone of Fellowes’s new novel, The Best Frien
The complexities of female friendships form the backbone of my new novel, The Best Friend. It lays bare the lifelong friendship between two women, which is filled with manipulation, toxicity and jealousy, as well as enduring love.
I drew on many of my most difficult experiences with friends from my teenage years onwards, but key elements of mine and Celia’s relationship are in there, too.
Celia’s latest thriller, Payday, also explores female rivalry – to the point that the jealousies between five women turn murderous.
We’ve spent long sessions dissecting friendships that have been less than healthy.
While I was at school, I was badly hurt by a group of girls when they dropped me for no apparent reason. It’s not an unusual situation – but my mother was very ill at the time, and it was hard to bear.
Celia and I also talked about all those small put-downs that schoolgirls and young women often use against each other. I remember one friend passing me a pair of trousers in the changing room. ‘They’re too big for me,’ she said. ‘They’ll fit you.’ It was an off-hand comment that contributed to an uncomfortable relationship with my own body.
Whatever our rivalries, Celia and I are never spiteful to each other.
Even though at times I have been hurt by Celia’s comments – and she by some of mine – the feeling has been fleeting and spurred me on to up my game, for which I am eternally grateful.
Celia’s beauty, energy, her determination and zest for exercise have all inspired me to push myself further – where I might have disappeared into a comfortable, elasticated-waist life in the country. She’s like my very own bootcamp personal trainer-for-life.
When we meet, we make more of an effort for each other than we ever would for our husbands. We dress up as though we’re going on a date. We get our hair and nails done.
I want to show Celia that I can still be stylish, she wants me to tell her that she’s pretty.
We both have enormous respect and admiration for each other, and we work hard to warrant each other’s friendship, something that we each feel has been bestowed upon us. We don’t take the honour lightly.
Celia and I still wind each other up, of course. Like a sort of fun flirt, teasing each other about other women we met and how they might become our friends instead.
‘She’s really very funny,’ we’ll say of a potential rival. ‘I think I might meet her for a martini next week…’ The other will gasp with outrage.
But sometimes, and especially when I scroll through pictures of Celia with other women on Instagram, I really am jealous. Because I want that all for myself.
Jessica Fellowes’s latest novel, The Best Friend, is published in paperback by Sphere on Thursday.
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