Alex James – ‘All Cheeses Great & Small: A Life Less Blurry’ – Book Review

Will his country house's rural charms make a worthy read?

Stewart Lee has a routine about friends who’ve recently moved to the country. “Come and stay, Stu… there’s loads to do… there’s a horse to look at… Paddy McGuinness is coming to the Corn Exchange… come and stay and could you… could you… bring some coke?” When Alex James announced, at the age of 32, that he was giving up life as a Groucho Club dandy and had ‘bought the farm’, those of us who’d had the pleasure of necking champagne in model-strewn hotel rooms with him until dawn imagined this dislocated hedonist stranded and forlorn, neck-deep in sheep shit.

Not so, apparently. With the same wide-eyed, unfettered excitement he recently brought to such celebrated Sun articles as ‘Gosh, McDonald’s Isn’t Just Beyond Ethical Reproach, It’s Better Than Blumenthal!’, Alex enthuses about every aspect of his first year trying to make a dilapidated Cotswolds farmstead a) liveable, b) a business and c) occupied by pigs that play football. For 270 pages nothing happens, all of it brilliant. The upbeat tone matches that of his Blur-era autobiography A Bit Of A Blur, treating his downsize from rock heart-throb to cockerel-throttling country gent as if cheese contests were Britpop orgies. Riding bikes, the smell of berry bushes, piles of cow dung: all brilliant.

Though it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a more sprightly insight into the classic cliché of the rock star-turned-lord of the manor, a couple of hundred pages in it does start reading like an eccentric home-improvement brochure – a barn sauna! A massive kebab tent in the garden! – interspersed with Alex coming over all Enid Blyton when he’s making his own jam and shit. A brief glimpse behind the curtain of the Blur reunion enlivens the final section but you’re left entreating Alex to pop back to town once in a while – there’s plenty to write about, we miss you, and can you… can you… bring some cheese?

Mark Beaumont