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‘I did believe I would be successful someday. I was creative and I had something to give’: Sex And The City creator Candace Bushnell reflects on career in new show

Candace Bushnell is coming to Scotland with her new show.
Candace Bushnell is coming to Scotland with her new show.

The first and only time Candace Bushnell visited Scotland, she was in her mid-30s.

The newspaper columnist and glossy magazine writer could not have known then that almost three decades later, she would be back with a one-woman show about the birth of a hit TV series whose trajectory would see her soar to stardom as the real-life Carrie Bradshaw, making her a household name on both sides of the Atlantic.

And while she says she always knew she would one day be a success, she reveals she did not think it would be for the New York Observer column Sex And The City that she wrote from 1994 to 1996.

It became a book that spawned the multi-Emmy and Golden Globe-winning HBO show, two movies and spin-offs like the series And Just Like That – season three of which is expected to air in 2025.

Having spent the New Year celebrating with Sex And The City producer Darren Star and other friends at her home in the Hamptons – a Mecca for New York’s rich and famous – Candace, now 65, is preparing for a return to Scotland, this time to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The woman who arrived in Manhattan aged just 19 with only $20 in her purse and dreams of a stellar writing career, tells P.S.: “I used to go to England as I did stories for Vogue. I had a friend who lived there, and she had a friend who was Scottish, so we drove up to Scotland. It was so long ago I don’t exactly remember to where, but I am very excited to be going back.”

The show, True Tales Of Sex, Success And Sex And The City, is pitched as a “whirlwind tour of New York City” through its fashion, literature and sex.

Having premiered off Broadway, it will now have its West End debut at the London Palladium on February 7, followed by a string of UK and Italian dates that include the Glasgow King’s Theatre on February 9 and Edinburgh Festival Theatre on February 10.

It arrives almost 25 years to the day that the show first aired in the UK on Channel 4 in early February 1999, pulling in a millions of viewers, and ranking as the third most watched programme on British TV at the time.

Candace Bushnell. © FADIL BERISHA
Candace Bushnell.

Zooming in from the office of her charming 1,300sq ft home in Sag Harbor and nursing a cold – one pet Standard Poodle sprawled on a day bed behind her – she tells P.S.: “The show is the origin story of Sex And The City. How I created it, how hard I worked to get there, why I invented Carrie Bradshaw and what happened to me afterward.”

But it was not the money-maker people believed – while its stars are said to have made millions, Candace sold the rights for only about $100,000 (£79,000). Most of her income comes from her best-selling, award-winning novels – of which she has written 10. And neither did the show reflect her romantic life. The inspiration for Carrie’s knight in shining armour, Mr Big, the real-life former magazine vice-president Ron Galotti, ended the relationship after a year – not that she was ever in need of a hero.

She reveals: “I did believe that I would be successful someday, but not for Sex And The City. It was that belief that really drove me. I always thought that I was talented and creative and had something to give and something to say.”

But she confesses: “I thought I would be a lot more successful than I am, monetarily. Most of my income is from my other writing. The one thing I probably would have changed was my contract for Sex And The City. Now when I look back on it, I am a little bit shocked that my agents let me sign it. But in terms of what I have done, the reality is that I had a passion for writing novels, that was absolutely what I wanted to do, and I did it. That I wouldn’t change.”

Neither would she – like the captivating and notorious Samantha in the show – give up her independence. She smiles: “One of my lessons in the show is that you cannot rely on a relationship for your happiness or a roof over your head.

“I do talk about a couple of relationships from the past in my show. We all have a Samantha. But my Samantha is somebody who I had been really writing about for a long time. I would write pieces that were precursors to Sex And The City, and I would interview all my friends. I had one friend who seemed to know everything about relationships. She had a different name over the years, and eventually she became Samantha. She is a good friend from New York and she wasn’t in PR. In the book the characters are a little bit different, a lot of adjustments are made for TV.

“Part of the show is the story of Ron Galotti, the real-life Mr Big. We broke up at the same time as I got the hard cover copies of the book Sex And The City. He knew he was Mr Big (in the book). That was something that, when I was writing it, I had said to him. And he read the columns before they went into the paper. He was okay with it then. I think he might be writing a memoir called something like Finding Mr Big. I might be in it, but not much. He has a pretty extensive life, and that part was just a small part of his life.”

Did she anticipate their break-up? “No, but I sort of sensed something was a little bit off. I don’t want to give away too much because it is part of the show. But unlike Carrie I was never looking for someone to sweep me off my feet, that is Darren Star, that’s TV. And it is a very common TV trope, this idea that all women are looking for is true love and to get married.

“It’s much more complicated if you have women who want real success and want to have the same kind of success and self-esteem that men have.”

She did fall in love with the New York Ballet principal dancer Charles Askegard, and married him in 2002 when she was 43. The couple divorced a decade later after his alleged affair, without having children. It’s a choice she doesn’t regret, saying she knew in her youth that she never wanted to become a mum.

“I haven’t wavered about not wanting to have children. Being a mother is really about tasks, isn’t it? It’s about feeding the kids, getting them to school, getting them to the doctor. I realised that early on.”

The oldest of three girls, Candace grew up in Connecticut. Her late mother, Camille, was a travel agent and her father, Calvin, who died in 2018, was a rocket scientist (he invented the fuel cell used in the first Apollo missions), but didn’t rely on their financial support after her move to New York, instead making her own living as a freelance writer.

Blissfully independent, could she still be tempted by love? She smiles: “I have a good friend who has an old boyfriend who came back into her life, and they are blissfully happy. She’s a little bit older than I am, so I guess you never know.”

Her UK silver anniversary with Sex And The City is a big deal. She says: “I am glad it is still out there. It is pretty amazing that it is still going on in one form or another. People love those characters. It’s incredible.”

Age no barrier to dating

Candace Bushnell in her new show.

Advancing years is no barrier, it seems, to either success, looking good or dating.

Sex And The City’s Candace Bushnell recently told reporters she’d never had plastic surgery, but wasn’t against it, and happily uses Botox but not fillers. She exercises more now than she did when younger – mostly walking and doing Pilates. She uses a standing desk for work – from which she chats to P.S. And she tries not to drink too much alcohol, succumbing only to the odd cocktail.

She is working with Bunim/Murray Productions on a dating series – Is There Still Sex in the City? The US show is to follow four women in their 50s as they escape to a country chateau to flirt with a series of suitors from all walks of life. They’ll be introduced to senior age players, be romanced by the rich guys and even get to flirt with their fantasy man. The show asks: “In the end, who will really steal their hearts” and will they “be able to bring the sex back to the city?”

Bushnell said in a statement: “Fifty-something women and above are the hottest new dating demographic, and I should know, I am one of them. Over the decades, I’ve dated men of all ages and I’m so excited to be working on a show that combines my passion for relationships with the chance to help women like me navigate a love do-over.”

Candace Bushnell and her one-woman show, True Tales of Sex, Success and Sex And The City, will be at Glasgow King’s Theatre on February 9, and Edinburgh Festival Theatre on February 10. Tickets available now.