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The Telegraph – November 2013
As Live at the Apollo returns tonight for a new series, read Ginny Dougary’s interview with host Eddie Izzard in which he talks about his ambitions to enter politics, learn more languages, run more marathons and start a family.
The lights cascade down in neon green and flashing blue, the electronic music pounds to a climax as Eddie Izzard walks smartly on stage in high-heeled boots, jeans and tails, looks out at the packed Parisian audience, puts up his hand to silence the applause and breaks into… German.
This is quite a good opening joke, since his devotees – and true Izzardians are every bit as committed in their fandom as Star Trek or Dr Who fans – all know that his next goal (having conquered French) is to learn German (for performing purposes, as well as world peace), then Spanish, Russian and Arabic (ditto). Not only is he striving to be an endurance athlete – as witnessed by his recent marathons, with more to come – but he is clearly set on becoming an endurance linguist, too.
The show is Stripped – which he toured in the UK in 2009 – but with a difference: this is all in French, which is quite an achievement, particularly considering it’s a 90-minute show. He spent three months living in Paris last year, polishing his French, performing in French (the young, hip French stand-ups are all fous for Izzard) and living as a Frenchman. ‘I worked my arse off, but I was living in Montmartre, rehearsing in the Jardins des Tuileries, living the Parisian life. I had my passe Navigo [Paris’s version of our Oyster card] and I can make jokes about Le Marais,’ he tells me.
It has taken him 15 years to get to the point where he can perform at l’Olympia, where Edith Piaf once sang – ‘un rêve’ which he has had since ‘******* longtemps’ – in front of an audience of 1,800 people. It’s a (literally) vintage Izzard show, covering the ascent of man, why he doesn’t believe in God, the different mentality of the PC and the Apple Mac, the impossibility of Noah’s Ark (if it were real, for one thing, all the animals would be dead except for the lions and the tigers), a giraffe signalling lion-danger through charades and a cough, and a jazz-crowing cockerel. There are nods to the French (s’il vous plaît, no more holes in the ground for WCs, they make it hard to balance your iPad, for one thing – and how come there’s no broccoli, just endless haricots verts?), jokes in the subjunctive (for which he takes a bow), building up to a finale of a meditation on the frustrations of communicating in Latin (‘quod the ****’) with reference to Hannibal’s defeat, all woven together in a typically ingenious, surreal arc.
The British fashion industry makes £20 billion a year for the UK economy, so it’s small wonder that the government wants to get inside your wardrobe. Ginny Dougary meets Ed Vaizey, our MP for high heels and handbags.
Ed Vaizey, as Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, has an alarmingly capacious portfolio, covering film, television, video games, advertising, architecture (pause for breath), broadband, telecoms (the 4G auction last month was his responsibility), all the arts, museums and not forgetting, as we speak while London Fashion Week draws to a close, fashion.
When I ask him if it’s too much, he says: ‘Well, I have twice as many meetings as other ministers, but I enjoy the work and I’m passionate about it.’ Although broadband takes up most of his time, he would like to stress, in his affable way: ‘But I’m absolutely there for fashion!’
We meet at his office on the top floor of a building off Trafalgar Square, soon to move to a smaller space — his department is being downsized as part of the PM’s austerity measures — in the Treasury. The walls of his room are covered in art from the government collection, but Vaizey is rather vague about the artists. He thinks a series of paintings along one wall might be by Richard Long and there’s one of Mark Wallinger’s Mark Wallinger is Innocent works. He once had a Tracey Emin — she cited Vaizey as one of the reasons she abandoned Labour for the Tories — but that’s moved on. By the window is an Oscar statuette, which he proudly informs me was Cecil Beaton’s (in recognition of his costume designs for My Fair Lady in 1964) and next to it are handwritten letters to the minister from Colin Firth and Kevin Spacey. On a round table is a slightly beaten-up brown leather shoulder bag. Aha, could it be that the Minister for Fashion has a ‘man bag’? ‘Yes,’ he says, with no hint of irritation. ‘It’s by Mulberry.’
By Ginny Dougary
Travel writer Sara Wheeler’s latest book chronicles the middle-aged Englishwomen who reinvented themselves in 19th-century America.
Sara Wheeler’s home is a converted Victorian butcher’s shop, close to Hampstead Heath, with Matisse-blue and Gauguin-orange walls covered in reminders of her travels: an original Herbert Ponting photograph from Captain Scott’s fateful expedition here, a figure of a penguin from one of the research stations on Antarctica there.
The author of four travel books and two biographies has written her first about women after focusing on the “frozen beards” as she calls them, Arctic explorers who tend to be male. She describes the experience of writing O My America! Second Acts in a New World as “like coming home”. The first line of the title is an echo of John Donne’s sensual elegy To His Mistress Going to Bed (part of the pleasure of Wheeler’s books are the many literary and poetical allusions). The second is a reference to what the six subjects of her book have in common: middle-aged women from England, in the mid to late 19th century, who all reinvented themselves in America. “Having second acts,” as the author puts it, “in the Land of Second Acts”.
She started with Fanny Trollope, mother of Anthony the famous novelist, who is a wonderful subject – doughty, curious, resourceful and so impressed by another remarkable woman, Fanny Wright, that she made her way to the writer and social reformer’s utopian commune in Tennessee, taking three of her children, and leaving the other two at boarding school in England, along with her husband. When this experiment failed, Trollope endured other hardships in Cincinnati, Ohio, trying to find ways of making money to send back to her impecunious family. She was inventive: coming up with magic shows and creating a doomed entertainment emporium. She made her fortune and fame, finally, with an international bestseller, the Domestic Manners of the Americans, which appalled the subjects and riveted everyone else.
Then there is Fanny Kemble, a well-known actor who fell in love with a plantation owner, leading to a disastrous marriage from which she eventually escaped to write a searing indictment of slavery; Harriet Martineau, a radical and political economist; homesteader Rebecca Burlend. Catherine Hubback, Jane Austen’s niece and a novelist, too, at 52, left her husband in an asylum and their three adult children, and travelled by railway from New York to San Francisco.
Private Eye and on Have I Got News For You for quarter of a century. How does he fare when the focus is on him?
By Ginny Dougary
29 Nov 2012
(Daily Telegraph Magazine)
Ian Hislop is in the first-floor dining-room of the Coach and Horses, a defiantly unreconstructed pub in Soho, London, greeting his guests at the Private Eye lunch he has hosted for the past 26 years, ever since Richard Ingrams made the initially controversial decision to hand over the editorship of the satirical magazine to what the old guard considered a young upstart.
Norman Balon, the notoriously rude proprietor of the pub – who used to slap down the plates of melon followed by meat and two veg, then spotted dick and custard – has moved on, and Hislop is anxious about the new ‘midlife crisis’ menu, which is exclusively vegetarian with haute-gastronomy ambitions – the foodie equivalent, perhaps, of Pseuds Corner, all twiddles and towers and puddles of intense colour.
I have been to a number of these Wednesday lunches over the years as a guest, but on this occasion I am here to observe how our host works the room, which he does in his convivial, eye-twinkling way. The number of women around the table has increased over the decades; Hislop is sandwiched between two of the four here today: a newspaper editor and a television foreign correspondent. He is very protective of the identities of all his guests and story sources of his journalists, so no names, no pack-drill.
Hislop says that the lunches, held fortnightly, are good for making contacts – he would never use the dread word networking – and have often led to stories, although the Eye tends to get beaten to it (gallingly, because of its long lead times) by his journalist guests, rushing off to file the news for the next day’s paper. A case in point was John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP, who got ‘hogwhimperingly drunk’ at one lunch, as a fellow guest described it (the wine does flow), and confessed to the assembled company that his mistress was pregnant and the story was about to be exposed in the News of the World. Cue mass exodus of hacks, clutching notebooks.
At one end of the table today is the dashing writer and journalist Francis Wheen, who was Hislop’s first recruit, and is now deputy editor (although Wheen resists the title). As Hislop recalls in last year’s book by Adam Macqueen, Private Eye: the First 50 Years, ‘Getting Francis was a very important early thing [swiftly followed by the rehiring of Paul Foot]. He was always streets ahead. You could give him stories that were difficult or controversial or tough without him thinking, “Oooh, well… I can’t really make the phone call,” or “I’m a bit worried about my anonymity…”’
Dasha Zhukova addressed a roomful of architecture critics at the ICA in London earlier this year, announcing the latest move in her mission to bring contemporary art and culture to Moscow. It was the first time, she tells me afterwards, that she hadn’t read from notes, and although this seemed to improve her performance – she reckoned – it was still pretty nerve-wracking for her.
There was something almost school-girlish about her demeanour as she answered questions from the audience. She wore her hair in a long pigtail on one side, a white shirt with a buttoned-up collar under an orange sweater, orange tweed Capri trousers and high-heeled white patent shoes. She speaks in perfect English with a faint Russian intonation, as well as an occasional upwards Californian lilt. She is very beautiful, as has often been noted, but her face has an open, appealing quality about it; her critics have called it blank, but there is nothing vacant at all about her steely gaze.
The Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, Zhukova’s initial cultural foray into her birthplace, which opened in Moscow in 2008 – housed in a vast former bus terminal designed by the constructivist architects Konstantin Melnikov and Vladimir Shukhov in 1926 – was an encouraging first move on her part. It announced an approach, which now seems to be her modus operandi, of taking over ruined Soviet architectural masterpieces and working with world-class architects to create sympathetic restorations. That Garage lease has come to an end, and the exhibition space is now moving to Gorky Park.
By Ginny Dougary
October 2012 FT MAGAZINE
One of a trio of British bankers extradited to the US to face Enron-related charges, Gary Mulgrew talks about prison life and why he still believes he did nothing wrong.
Gary Mulgrew, gang leader of the NatWest Three, meets me in his new pub, the Noble House in Brighton. Before he took it over with his two partners it was a bit of dive, but it’s now been Farrow & Balled with smoky shades of paint and shabby-chic sofas, aiming to attract a rather different sort of clientele. Mulgrew is a tall, strapping fellow – with a big thistle tattoo on one arm – and it is easy to imagine him as the Glaswegian nightclub bouncer he once was while he was a student, studying business at the University of Strathclyde. It is immediately apparent that he likes to play the joker: he is wearing a T-shirt for our interview which is printed with a black-and-white photograph of a bank robber.
But a recap might be necessary for those who have only a hazy memory of one of the first big banking scandals. “The NatWest Three” were a trio of British bankers who were implicated in the Enron story. In June 2002, the US Justice Department filed charges against Mulgrew, Giles Darby and David Bermingham, employees of Greenwich NatWest (a capital markets division of the bank). It claimed they co-ordinated the sale of NatWest’s holdings in various Enron-related investments to a partnership controlled by Enron’s chief financial officer Andrew Fastow. The partnership was “off-the-books” and allowed Enron’s liabilities to be hidden from investors. Allegedly with the help of Mulgrew and company, Fastow bought the shares from NatWest at below-market prices, then sold them for their real value, making more than $12m for himself and $7.3m jointly for the NatWest Three.
The case became a cause célèbre in the UK, partly due to the aggressive approach of the American investigators. In July 2006, after a long court battle, the NatWest Three were extradited to the US. They were electronically tagged for 17 months, before finally agreeing to a plea bargain in which they agreed to pay back the money and which resulted in their serving 37 months in a US jail. They were eventually transferred to the UK to serve out their sentences, and were released in August 2010.
Mulgrew has written a riveting prison memoir, Gang of One (the title refers to his refusal to join a prison gang), which was published earlier this year, and is now out in paperback. It is about to be made into a Hollywood film starring Dougray Scott.
By Ginny Dougary
The last time we saw one another was in Manhattan in the summer of 2005. It was in a private club, the sun was blazing, and Rushdie was relaxed and cheerful in sandals and a loose, bright blue shirt, watching his infant son, Milan – who now, at 15, is almost his father’s height – dipping in and out of the rooftop swimming pool. It was also the month after the Islamist bombings in London, which killed 56 people, including four suicide bombers. There was a sense then, particularly because of 9/11, that we were all living under the fatwa now. As Rushdie says to me, “It’s easier for people to grasp what happened to me because it’s not just my story now, it’s everyone’s story. It’s the story of our time, rather than of an individual.”
Last year, in the aftermath of the Arab spring, it was possible to feel positive about change in the Arab world. Now it’s a rather different picture. We talk about the American-made, anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims , which was posted on YouTube and sparked protests across the region. “The trouble is that what’s happened in those countries since the so-called Arab spring is the rise of this very organised extremist group, which is Salafi Islam, and the Salafists are so fanatical that they frighten most other Muslims,” Rushdie says. “They’re out there at the edge with the Wahhabis and they’re certainly much more extreme than, for instance, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Muslim Brotherhood are not liberals.” A chuckle.
“So, really, what I’m saying is that it’s much more evident to us now that the thing that started with the attack on The Satanic Verses is quite common.”
The Satanic Verses featured a character based on the Prophet Mohammed, showing him in a human light, and drew outrage from Muslim leaders. The book was burnt in Bradford amid accusations of blasphemy against Islam and there were demonstrations by Islamist groups in Pakistan and India, in which numbers of people were killed. On February 14 1989 – “My Unfunny Valentine”, as Rushdie puts it ruefully in his book – the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini publicly condemned the book and issued a deathbed fatwa against the writer, with a bounty for anyone who executed him.
Then followed nine extraordinary years of round-the-clock protection from Special Branch officers. Rushdie was forced to move out of his house and rely on the generosity of friends who lent him their own homes, for weeks or sometimes months, always in the utmost secrecy, constantly moving, feeling both “shamed and ashamed” of hiding, as he writes in his book. There was the ending of two marriages; the start of a third with the birth of a second son, Milan, the end of that marriage and the start of another; the death of his father and his first wife. There was desperate depression that led him to lie that he was, in fact, a Muslim believer (which was his lowest moment and didn’t work anyway); the murder of the book’s Japanese translator and attempted murder of his Norwegian publisher (who immediately ordered a massive reprint); the bombing of libraries and bookshops. Then there was the fightback and the setting up of the Salman Rushdie defence campaign and support groups across Europe; the talking to world leaders (and the crucial difference of Clinton and Blair coming to power), leading to the eventual withdrawal of the fatwa in 1998; the move to New York, and the formal removal of his protection in the UK in 2002. All of this is covered in the 600-plus fascinating, moving and often surprisingly hilarious pages of Joseph Anton: A Memoir , published last week.
Old at heart: Richard Ingrams
The man who was one of the founding fathers of Private Eye, as well as its editor for 23 years, had arranged to meet me ostensibly to discuss the 20th anniversary of his “new” magazine The Oldie and my journey to Aldworth, where he lives, on the Oxfordshire/Berkshire border, was suitably old-world. The approach to the nearest station, Goring & Streatley, is a heart-gladdening sight of rolling, rural loveliness.
It is a beautiful summer’s day and Ingrams takes pleasure in showing me around his garden, with its bursts of wild colour and sense of nature being barely tamed, secateurs in hand, deadheading as we go. Sara joins us before retreating to organise lunch, and the three of us eat outside on a pair of old wrought iron benches under trailing fragrant flowers with the restful sound of birdsong.
Gardening and nature, along with music and friendship, would be at the top of Ingrams’ list of consolations in life – and there have certainly been periods in his life when he has needed to be distracted from grief. As his biographer and friend, Harry Thompson (the late producer and writer of Have I Got News for You) noted, Ingrams has a strong melancholic streak – surely not helped by the early passing of his father, marriage breakdown, the death of two of his three brothers and two of his three children – that sits alongside his anarchic sense of humour and love of satire.
He has always been religious, brought up by a fiercely Anglican father, Leonard, and equally fervent Catholic mother, Victoria – he converted to Catholicism in his seventies – but his faith seems more of a spiritual tussle for him than a cosy support system.
“One of the things that people think about religion is that it must be very nice to sort of sit in an armchair and think about God. People also assume that you have these certainties, but in my case, they’re not certainties at all.”
The gospel according to Beth Ditto, the Gossip front woman and plus-size fashion designer: how to wear Spanx, why polyamory is in and what to do when you bump into Madonna (literally)
Beth Ditto is wasted. She’s been on tour around Europe for the past eight weeks with her band the Gossip, and she’s barely had two hours’ sleep a night. So has the self-professed grandma of rock’n’roll – with her love of crocheting, baking and fixing her girlfriends’ hairdos – finally succumbed to its more grungy side? No, as it turns out, what’s been keeping her awake is trying to figure out the way the world works, with her best friend and manager, Tara (pronounced, confusingly, in the Southern way, to rhyme with Bear) with whom she is sharing her hotel room.
“So last night we had this crazy conversation, talking about the idea of what opinion is, what fact is, and what judgment is and, like, how those are three different things,” she explains, while munching on a bag of some kind of crunchy, dried fruit. “And how people have this idea that opinion is fact when they see a movie or read a book and how the left does it to the right wing and the right wing does it to the left.”
She’s also bothered that journalism is in danger of dying: “Because we all know that anybody can have a blog and be followed and believed – and it’s, like, people who think they’re so smart and so with it but they don’t even stop to write properly.
“Now, you have to follow me here, because I’m a little woo-woo, but it’s like in medieval times with all these major powers – London existing as a huge city, or Rome – and outside there were all these tiny groups that didn’t really have a voice and now all these little groups do have a voice, for the first time ever. [Like] rural Arkansas [where she was born and brought up] has a voice and those people have never experienced anything of the world.”
Beth Ditto is a most unusual person, quite apart from her status as the most (if not the only) well-known, fashionable, proud-to-be-fat lesbian rock chick, with her clutch of awards and accolades: NME’s Coolest Person in Rock in 2006; nominated for NME’s Sexiest Woman of the Year in 2007; winning Glamour’s International Musician in 2008. She is obviously thoughtful but also fun and seems to enjoy speaking her mind, regardless or – often without thinking – of the consequences.
Take her comments about Kate Moss, who later became a friend. “I was a punk and to me she was just a blonde, skinny, white girl…” Which is why you said that she was boring? “Well, I’d never talked to her [then] and I was coming more from a pop culture point of view.”
The Gossip’s most recent album in 2009, Music for Men, had some hands-on honing by the American producer and co-president of Columbia Records, Rick Rubin. A legend in the music business, and listed in Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, Rubin invited Ditto to his home to work on lyrics. I told her I’d read somewhere that she’d said, “I’ve always said that the Gossip are a band I would go see, not a band I would listen to.”
The architect talks to Ginny Dougary about monks, Martha Stewart and plans for the Design Museum’s new home.
John Pawson, the überminimalist designer and architect, is busily cluttering up his pristine surfaces. In between us, on a beautiful wooden table in the centre of the kitchen of his West London home, is a teapot of lapsang souchong, a plate of buttery French biscuits (with its empty packet left out — travesty! — on the sideboard) and no less than three strikingly similar creamcoloured beakers lined up for me to drink from: a Wedgwood, an original Shaker — a gift, along with an old blackened kettle on the stove, from America’s domestic goddess Martha Stewart, one of his less obvious clients — and a Pawson.
This friendship with Stewart is somewhat unexpected; his taste for unadorned simplicity (even the Cistercian monks of the Bohemian monastery he designed suggested that his plans were a little “austere”) and her rather fussy, homespun cuteseyness, would suggest that they were not the most obvious soulmates. But one of the appealing things about Pawson is that he is full of surprises.
They met when Stewart came to his home to film some sort of cooking programme, with suitably monochrome food (he remembers black squid and pasta, and a turbot and vanilla soufflé) and a table setting that included the three-pronged Georgian forks that he favours. Out of this venture came a handsome cookbook, Living and Eating — photographed chez Pawson — with the chef-turned-food-writer Annie Bell.
“It’s a proper, useful cookbook,” Pawson says. Catherine, his wife, suddenly appears with their 20-year-old son, Benedict. I get the feeling that this cookbook is a little bit of a family joke, an impression that is reinforced when I ask whether the architect is the cook of the family.
“He’s very good at toast,” Ben says. Catherine: “I said, ‘Now you’ve done the cookbook, why don’t you do the cooking!’” “But Catherine always cooks so effortlessly,” her husband says, “although I notice that she doesn’t always use my cookbook.”
His mother’s culinary tour de force was Yorkshire pudding. The family joke was that her secret ingredient was cigarette ash. “We used to have it as a first course before the beef. Very Yorkshire. It comes in a big pan and you get a big slab of it, with gravy, and it’s very good with wine [something he has given up since January]. My sisters do very good ones and so can Catherine, but it’s not the healthiest thing.”
Dr Rowan Williams talks schisms, gay bishops, dope and beards.
What a funny old life the Archbishop of Canterbury leads. The ABC, as he is known by his staff, loathes our celebrity culture – when I ask him what statement he is least likely to make, he says: “Our problem is that there aren’t enough reality shows on television” – and, yet, he is bemused (and probably, more often, horrified) to find that he is a celebrity himself.
He is often stopped in the street, for instance, for a rant or a bombardment of questions although, as befits his position as the 104th leader of the Church of England, as well as symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion (of 34 independent provinces, from Africa to America, hence his difficulties), the questions tend to be of an existential rather than trivial nature. This is just as well, since he doesn’t really do small talk.
When I ask the ABC how he prefers to be addressed, he says, “Archbishop would be fine or, if you feel informal, Rowan.” He’s not all that comfortable with pomp and circumstance, is he? “Not entirely.” Then, referring to his young press liaison lady, Marie, who is sitting in, he jokes: “She always calls me ‘Your Grace’ – hahahahaha.”
His Grace and his family – his wife, Jane, a theologian and writer, and their daughter, Rhiannon, 22 (in her final year at Warwick, reading French and English), and 14 going on 15-year-old son, Pip – spend every other weekend in their church residence in Canterbury. “We haven’t lived in our own house for about 25 years now. Gosh,” he says, as though it has just sunk in.
Peter Mandelson saw himself as the third man at the heart of New Labour Chris Harris for The Times.
Since Peter Mandelson is not a man on whom humility is known to sit lightly, you might think it would be galling for him to talk about other people rather than himself, particularly when he has his autobiography to promote.
But Mandy — an abbreviation that seems singularly inappropriate when you meet him, so uncuddly is he and mindful of his dignity — appears to prefer his role as The Third Man (the title of his book, with its shadowy nod to Graham Greene) even now that his role of consigliere to the two architects of new Labour is historical.
But then the “other people” are, of course, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and although their love-hate relationship is well known, Mandelson having been at the centre of that fallout — in the thick of it, indeed — he writes about the sulks and tantrums, the violent emotions and frustrations with a visceral intensity.
Has either of them read the manuscript? “No, of course not.” Neither of them emerges particularly well, to put it mildly. Blair seems weak, unable to make a decision without checking it first with Mandelson and in relation to Brown, like a coddling and ineffectual parent who constantly threatens to discipline a child but never follows through. Brown — until he asks for Mandelson’s help in the last gasps of his regime — comes across as seriously unhinged.
“I don’t agree with that at all,” Mandelson says. “Tony comes across as someone who had to spend too much of his time and had to devote too much of his energy dealing with this insurgency from next door — but kept his calm and maintained a sort of real sense of purpose as Prime Minister and delivered right to the very end a good, sound, strong new Labour government.
The Times April 10, 2010
– Ginny Dougary
Gordon Brown talks candidly to Ginny Dougary
Photo: Mitch Jenkins
By our third meeting, the Prime Minister’s skill at the public kiss had improved immeasurably. There was now definite contact between lips and cheek and no head clunking, although he still needs to work on his puckering technique. When I commented on his progress, in the library of 10 Downing Street, he laughed… which is something he does a lot, the more we meet, in-between some rather solemn moments. My teasing had come on the back of seeing his turn on Piers Morgan’s television show, and the clips of him bungling the continental double-kiss with the likes of Carla Bruni (but, really, who can blame him for being a little fazed by that?).
In the run-up to the election, the beauty contest between David Cameron and Gordon Brown is hotting up. After Brown’s hour with Morgan came his opponent’s twirl with Trevor McDonald, featuring the Tory’s “secret weapon” – after Sarah Brown’s endorsement of her husband, at last year’s Labour Party conference, proved such a hit – David’s wife, Samantha. But McDonald’s gentle lack of probing did his subject no favours, and Cameron’s performance – not helped by some rather ludicrous footage of him jogging to a soundtrack of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good – merely reinforced his critics’ complaints that he is a lightweight.
Brown has the opposite problem; where Cameron is accused of “hidden shallows”, the PM is thought to be almost too deep. There were cavils about him looking upset (apparently there is also such a thing as being “too human”) when discussing the death of his baby daughter, Jennifer, with Morgan but, on the whole, the attempt to portray him as less remote and more normal worked. So thus far, in the battle of the populist TV shows, it’s probably 15-love to Brown.
The comedian talks about everything from relationships to body image
It started pretty badly. At one point, Ricky Gervais said it was the most difficult interview he’d ever done – and he was using “difficult” in the same way that someone says a dress is “interesting” when they mean “horrible”.
The feeling, it must be said, was mutual but, fortunately, this encounter in his anonymous-looking office, above an estate agency in Hampstead – despite 60 hellish minutes which veered between awkwardness and outright bloody-mindedness – does have a happy, if somewhat unorthodox, ending.
To be frank, I had half-expected it to be tricky. It was the control thing that worried me. I’d heard stories, possibly apocryphal, about Gervais, dissatisfied with the way a photoshoot was going, simply taking over and directing himself himself. There was in addition something about the look in his eyes – cussedness tinged with anger, a lack of trust, maybe – underneath the hectic bravado that could spell trouble.
We chitchat about the pronunciation of his name – which is French-Canadian on his father’s side – “Gervaaayze” (as in haze), although his mother, from Reading, rolled it out with a rural burr: “Gerrrrrvayze.”
He remembers only fully understanding that his dad came from another, far-off country when various uncles and aunts came to visit and “of course, they were real Canadians and had check jackets on”. He’s been to Canada but not to visit his relatives: “Obviously, I’m interested in my immediate family [he has three much older siblings] but, no, I’ve never worried about where I came from. I don’t see the point, really.”