After years of working for Comic Relief in the most destitute parts of Africa, author Helen Fielding shot to stardom as the creator of Bridget Jones, the thirtysomething "everywoman" that stole the hearts of readers -- and eventually moviegoers -- everywhere.
Born in the industrial town of Morley, Yorkshire, in northern England, Fielding is the second of four children to a mill manager father and a homemaker mother. An avid reader, she studied English at Oxford University with the intention of becoming a writer. After she graduated in 1979, the British Broadcasting Corporation's television division offered Fielding a producing job. Feeling that the gig was too good to pass up, she put her writing aspirations on hold to take it. Fielding worked in television for a decade, making documentaries in Sudan, Ethiopia, and Mozambique for Comic Relief, as well as producing news shows, children's programs, and light entertainment. In 1987, she collaborated with Oxford classmate Richard Curtis and writer Simon Bell on her first book, Who's Had Who: In Association With Berk's Rogerage: An Historical Register Containing the Official Lay Lines of History From the Beginning of Time to the Present Day, a parody of the famous book that charts the ancestry of Britain's nobility. Curtis went on to write Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), which starred Andie MacDowell as a character based on Fielding. He credits the film's -- which was originally titled "Four Weddings and a Honeymoon" -- uniquely solemn undertone to Fielding's input. After leaving television in 1989, Fielding worked as a freelance writer for the Independent, The Sunday Times, and the Telegraph, composing features and reviews. In 1994, she wrote her first novel, Cause Celeb, a satire of celebrity fundraising that she based on her experiences working with Comic Relief in Africa. The book's critical and commercial success led the Independent to offer Fielding a weekly column. Hesitant to write as herself, Fielding convinced the newspaper's editors to let her write from the point-of-view of Bridget Jones, a female character she had been developing for a sitcom. The fictional single thirtysomething Londoner was an unprecedented hit among readers. Bridget had such an effect on British popular culture that she even added words to the country's cultural dictionary -- Brigitisms like "singleton" and "smug marrieds" became part of the daily vernacular. Fielding, who had started the column to help finance a book she was writing about the economic problems of the Caribbean, turned Bridget's articles into a novel in 1996. Based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the startlingly honest and wildly funny Bridget Jones' Diary took Fielding less than four months to write and earned her the prestigious British Book Award. Two years later it was released in the United States and spent several weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. In 2000, Fielding published Bridget Jones' sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. She was also well on her way to transforming the first book into a screenplay, with help from Curtis and screenwriter Andrew Davis (who adapted the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice ). After a moderate uproar over the choice of Texan Renée Zellweger to portray the very British Bridget, the film went into production under the direction of Fielding's close friend Sharon Maguire (the inspiration for one of Bridget's fictional buddies) with Colin Firth and Hugh Grant rounding out the main cast. Bridget Jones' Diary opened in 2001 to immeasurable critical acclaim and earned Fielding award nominations from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, the London Critics Circle, and the Writers Guild of America. While preparing for the film's sequel, an adaptation of The Edge of Reason, Fielding also began writing a novel inspired by her experiences in Hollywood.