Candace Bushnell walks into the Carlyle Hotel in New York, an uptown vision in a pink cashmere dress and Dolce & Gabbana coat.
On her feet are a pair of divine Manolo Blahnik slingbacks and, frankly, anything less would have been a disappointment.
She sits down, crosses her fabulous legs and orders a cappuccino.
‘I feel like celebrating,’ she says. ‘Last night I didn’t forget a single line.’
At the age of 62, Candace has taken the bold step of starring as a version of herself in a one-woman show which has just opened off-Broadway and comes to London next year.
The hit show’s back, older and wiser – like its creator Candace Bushnell, 62, pictured. In a riotous interview she describes single life, how porn’s wrecked romance – and why she decided to have an abortion
Is There Still Sex In The City? is adapted from her memoir of the same name and traces her life from well-to-do Connecticut childhood to her cosmo-drinking, party girl heyday, then through her marriage, divorce, the menopause and beyond.
It is funny, poignant and inspiring, all of it delivered by Candace standing atop various pairs of five-inch heels on a stage set furnished with her own pink satin sofa from her Upper East Side apartment, her own carpet and even her own poodles, Pepper and Prancer, who bound on at the end.
If the message here is that her dogs have made her happier than any man ever did, it is one she delivers without rancour or regret.
‘Actually, being a writer has meant more to me than any man could, unfortunately that is true. Writing is the one thing I have that I can totally rely on,’ she says. ‘One of the reasons why a lot of relationships did not work out for me was a lack of respect from the man towards my work. Totally. And I just I can’t do that.
‘Out in the world, women get a lack of respect, but in the home I need a cheerleader. And a lot of guys are not that because there can only be one star in a relationship. And it’s going to be them.’
Bushnell broke out in the mid 1990s as a sex and relationship columnist for The New York Observer. Back then, she didn’t want her parents to be embarrassed by her frank scrutiny of modern sexual manners in her Sex And The City columns, so she invented a character called Carrie Bradshaw, a chic cipher for Bushnell herself.
Even now, an unexpected strain of good girl conservatism informs her opinions, an unusual trait in a celebrated former sexpert. She loathes porn (‘don’t get me started’) and even raises one of her perfect eyebrows at some of the more exuberant passages in E. L. James’ mummyporn bestseller, Fifty Shades Of Grey.
‘Look. I don’t want to say anything negative about the writer. If you can write a book and make millions of dollars, that’s fantastic. Great for you because you know, it’s hard. But I started reading one of the books. And in the first paragraph the guy puts a turnip or something up . . . And I was like, I can’t. I just can’t bear what I have been reading.’
In the velvety plush of the Carlyle’s breakfast parlour, coffee cups are stilled and an enthralled hush descends. ‘Porn has changed sex,’ she continues in her clear, steady voice. ‘I mean, nobody talks about women having orgasms any more.
‘In the early 1980s, the Big O was like a new discovery. And men worked really hard at giving women orgasms. It felt like there was a pride among men; ‘‘I’m going to please my partner.’’ Now you never hear that. Now it’s all, I’m going to please myself.’
Yes well, um, would you like a croissant or something?
‘Now it’s all, I’m going to demand that my partner does things that I see in porn, like anal sex or choking.’
Perhaps some toast?
American author Candace Bushnell, pictured November 1
‘Jan, it is all about the man’s pleasure, not the woman’s. You go on a date and it’s transactional; a lot of guys just want their wiener waxed. I don’t want to get into a whole thing about porn, but I am not a fan.
‘It makes the 1990’s look like an age of innocence, it really does. For a start, there was no social media or cell phones back then, so if you wanted to have sex with someone, you had to do it in person, right?’
In the hit HBO TV series, which ran for six seasons and was made into two Hollywood films, the Carrie/Candace character was played by Sarah Jessica Parker. A lover of beautiful shoes and unsuitable men, Carrie became a feminist and fashion icon for generations of young women who adored her, despite her flaws.
Now she is back to stalk the streets of Manhattan once more in And Just Like That . . ., the rebooted HBO series which starts next month.
The new show finds Carrie reunited with gal-pals Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), although Kim Cattrall will not be returning as sexpot Samantha.
Did she make the wisest decision of all, one wonders?
For nearly three decades later, the landscape of these characters’ lives must have changed completely, along with their physical appearances on and off screen.
Before the show has even been broadcast, the participating actresses have been criticised for daring to age — it’s just so pathetic, but there you go.
Sarah Jessica Parker, now 56, has called comments about her grey hair ‘misogynist chatter’, while Davis (also 56) has been the target of uncharitable comments about plastic surgery treatments. Nixon (55) is also being targeted by trolls.
‘There are people who feel that women over 50 really shouldn’t even be seen in public,’ sighs Candace, whose own hair is a buttery whip of glamorous blonde and whose toned body bears testament to regular Pilates workouts and a 16,000 steps a day dog walking habit.
Despite this, she can still be as vulnerable as the next woman when it comes to the indignities of the ageing process. She once spent £3,000 on face creams after a saleswoman told her she had ‘too much filler in the cheeks’. She has also suffered the double mortification of not one but two boyfriends offering to pay for her to have a boob job.
Cynthia Nixon, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City
‘I’m so flat-chested that one boyfriend’s mother used to call me ‘‘The Ironing Board’’,’ she says. ‘Anyway, there are people out there who are envious, people who just want to put someone down to make themselves feel better. Young men in particular have very rigid ideas about what women should and should not be.’
Of course, the truth is that although they are forever twinned in the collective imagination, Candace’s life diverged from Carrie’s many years ago.
After Sex And The City was adapted for the TV series in 1998, Bushnell had nothing more to do with the shows nor the films nor the lucrative revenue streams that followed.
‘As the show has grown it gets farther and farther away from the source material. I mean, there are fans out there who don’t even know it was originally based on a book,’ she says. ‘Did I earn my fair share from it? I often wonder.
Women in the entertainment industry never do as well as the men. I was cut out of certain deals. And I really shouldn’t talk about it because one’s got to be grateful. Yeah. As a woman back then you were told to be grateful for whatever you got.’
Is There Still Sex in the City? by Candace Bushnell is now performing her one-woman show on New York’s Broadway. The story is adapted from her memoir of the same name (pictured) and traces her life from well-to-do Connecticut childhood to her cosmo-drinking, party girl heyday, then through her marriage, divorce, the menopause and beyond
She appears not to be embittered by any of this, not even by the universally panned second film, and not her characters’ tendency to indulge in what one critic called ‘featherbrained feminism’.
‘No, the film wasn’t great, but people did their best,’ she says. ‘And as for everything else, I let that all go a long time ago. I don’t even know what a “Carrie” is any more. I just keep moving forward, trying to explore my own creativity.’
She has written ten books, married and divorced ballet dancer Charles Askegard (he had an affair with a younger dancer, Candace named her in the divorce papers) and now lives in contented singledom, mostly in her house in Sag Harbour in the Hamptons.
A recent relationship with a millionaire property developer called Jim Coleman has evolved to ‘just good friends’.
‘These things happen. And anyway, he moved to Palm Beach,’ she says.
Much of this is chronicled in her warts and all stage show, charting the highs and lows of her remarkable life.
‘There I am, 48 years old, my hair falls out, my vagina dries up and I am exhausted,’ she says at one point, cocktail glass in hand, telling it like it is, or was.
On stage she also reveals for the first time that she became pregnant when she was dating ‘a count from Luxembourg’ sometime in the 1980s, but decided to have an abortion.
‘Yes, I did,’ she tells me. ‘And if I had the baby, Sex And The City would not exist. That’s something that people need to understand.
‘Lots of women make this choice because it’s just not the right time. It wasn’t the right time for me to have a child and he wasn’t the right person, he was very unstable.
‘I don’t regret it and I don’t think there is any shame attached to having a termination. To me, bringing a child into the world under the wrong circumstances is what is morally wrong.’
Her stage show is set out in a series of life lessons, which include Men Lie About Everything; When It Comes To Sex There Is No Free Lunch; and perhaps the most important one of all; Your Girlfriends Are Forever.
After the turbulence and hurly-burly of the dating game, Bushnell seems to have happily settled down into a Hamptons existence shared with her dogs and her single girlfriends; a period of her life she calls The Bonus Years.
‘There is so much fun and joy being with a bunch of single women again, all supporting each other, being there for each other. The reality for women is there is a big chance you are going to be single at some point in your life. Statistically, it’s going to happen. And it is something that women need to know how to do; you need to know how to be in a relationship and also know how not to be in a relationship.’
After Sex And The City was adapted for the TV series in 1998, Bushnell had nothing more to do with the shows nor the films nor the lucrative revenue streams that followed
Bushnell is slender with a porcelain doll face, but she shimmers with the strength of a survivor, a woman who has persisted.
As a young girl at acting school, she had to learn how to deal with ‘creepy’ behaviour.
‘At auditions or photoshoots, men would tell me to take my clothes off. I always refused.’
As an older woman, she had to negotiate the privations of the menopause. ‘It’s a big psychological moment for all women, because we’re always told that our worth is based on an ability to have children, then suddenly that is gone, it’s a tool no longer in our toolbox.
‘Some women don’t really have anything else to fall back on. I had a moment of ‘‘Oh my God, this is happening to me’’. It lasted for an hour or so, then I got over it.’
Despite being ‘as horny as hell when I was 18’ she doesn’t miss the sex, not at the moment anyway.
‘Oh God, I don’t really want to talk about my sex life. I honestly don’t. Once you get over a certain age, people don’t want to hear specifics. Anyway, right now I feel like I don’t really have time to pursue a big sexual relationship.
‘I don’t want to be with some twentysomething guy just for sex. I’m too old to have sex just for sex, and that was never me anyway.
‘If I have sex it’s got to be a cool thing. There’s got to be conversation, he’s got to be interesting, there has to be a continued form of communication. That is what I want. I want to have the best sex.
‘But then there is the possibility of emotional disappointment. You know, if I had sex tomorrow with someone and they didn’t call me the next day, I’m probably still going to feel be a little upset. And that is not a good look when you’re 62 going on 63,’ she says, and roars with laughter.
Candace is a card, she really is. You might think that Sex And The City has changed her life and made her fabulously rich, but it hasn’t, not really.
She still lives in a tiny apartment in New York, not far from the tiny apartment she had when she was writing her columns all those years ago. Yes, she says, she bought the house in the Hamptons but one that was ‘on the market for two years because nobody wanted it’.
However, she is not pleading poverty, she still drinks cosmopolitans and she still loves shoes.
‘Last week I bought a new pair of Manolos. I think they were $900. But they are a costume, right? I need them for the show.’
How many new pairs has she bought? ‘Only four,’ she says unabashed.
Nearly 30 years ago, Candace Bushnell entranced millions of women with her buccaneering adventures, her independent spirit and her unshakeable belief that good shoes will bring you good luck. Today, she must sometimes wonder what all that boy-crazy fuss was about. Her life has been no fairy tale, her Prince Charming is still noticeable by his absence, but thrillingly, she still has faith in the power of shoes.
‘If you believe they will bring you luck, then they will,’ she says, wiggling her own Manolos. ‘All you have to remember is that this is not a Cinderella story. It is the opposite of Cinderella. It is not sitting at home waiting for life to happen, saying ‘‘Oh, I lost my shoe and somebody needs to find me’’.
‘It is about putting on your shoes and going out there and finding that life for yourself.’