Interview: Julian Clary.
What can you tell me about your forthcoming “Lord of the Mince” tour? It does conjure up certain mental images…
It’s a one man show – and it’s me at fifty, looking back at what I might have achieved. The second half is a secret. I’m not going to tell you what it is, but it’s very surprising, and rather alarming for the audience. So we have ushers standing by with flasks of brandy, just in case it’s too much for people.
Given the title of the show, and your recent involvement with Strictly Coming Dancing, will there be any dancing involved?
Ooh no, there’s not really any dancing. I talk about Strictly Come Dancing, and I shake my maracas about – but you can’t really do ballroom dancing on your own. I will talk about it, because I did the tour earlier this year. I give people the dirt, really. Rather than a step-by-step account of how to do the quickstep, I thought people would rather hear the gossip and the filth.
This will be your first tour in five years, so why the long gap?
I didn’t think I’d tour any more. I enjoyed the last tour, but it occupies your whole life, you know? I thought: oh, I’ll do a bit of television and a bit of radio, and I’ve been busy writing some books. But then I did a one-off gig somewhere, about six months ago. I enjoyed it so much that I thought: actually, this is why you started doing comedy in the first place, and it’s much more satisfying than anything else. And after a year or two of being holed up writing in a study, I fancied going out and showing my face.
You turned fifty in May. How did you celebrate?
I had a big garden party. I had all my friends and family here, which was fabulous. And I acquired a new puppy. That was my present to myself. He is allegedly a Jack Russell, according to Paul O’ Grady – I got him from the Paul O’Grady Show. But he’s no more Jack Russell than you are. He’s showing distinct signs of being a Staffie. So I guess I’ll just have to become a drug dealer.
Has your act has changed much over the years, or is it still basically a steady stream of good, honest smut and innuendo?
Oh, I will never grow out of smut and innuendo. I can satisfy the mature side of my mind by writing books. On stage, it’s a bit more stately now, I think. And the audiences are different, so it’s a bit more gentle, and a bit more reflective. But still filthy.
Are you still actively trying to shock your audience? Do you want to hear gasps of horror, at any point?
Yes, that is quite satisfying – but it’s harder and harder to shock people now. I was quite nasty to people when I started out, so I think that’s moved on a bit. But I quite like people laughing with me, rather than at me.
Is there a fundamental part of your brain that is constantly scanning for smut, or is that a faculty which you can switch off for days at a time?
Well, it’s really to do with playing with the English language. Once you start, it’s like exercising a certain muscle. You get better at it, and I can spot innuendos a mile off now. I don’t always acknowledge them, because it can get tedious for people. But I certainly amuse myself, all the time, with anything phallic that I might see or hear.
When you first started out, there were far fewer openly gay public performers around. Was there a time where you felt you were being cast as a kind of role model? Did you get anguished letters from isolated gay fans, saying that you’d helped them feel that they weren’t alone?
I did get a bit of that, and I never really felt comfortable. I never had any aspirations to be a role model, and I think that the whole concept is a bit dubious, really. I never felt at all reassured by seeing anyone else that was gay when I was growing up. It all sounded a bit worthy, all of that. It’s like being a “trailblazer” – people say that sometimes, and there was no thought of that in my mind. I wasn’t doing anything for the benefit of the so-called gay community. I was just doing my own thing.
So you were never particularly pressed into political service?
No, not really. I used to go on Gay Pride marches and things, but I’d rather stick pins in my eyes now.
Now that gay identity has become so much more normalised, do you think that something has been lost along the way: that rather nice feeling of being part of an underground subculture?
I think that’s a case of rose-coloured spectacles. I don’t think it was that great. Although I had a college lecturer who was in his Seventies, and he used to talk about how fabulous it was in the Forties, picking up guardsmen in St James’s Park and all of that. That’s all gone. That sounded quite… exciting.
You’re now living in a kind of pastoral paradise in rural Kent, with your chickens… or rather with what’s left of your chickens, as I heard there was a bit of a set-to with a fox.
Yes, the fox got three of them [Jordan, Jodie and Margaret], and I’ve got four left. But that’s just country life. And one of my hens had brooded – she was sitting on three eggs which were due to hatch tomorrow – but I got up this morning and the eggs had gone. I think a rat had come in and started eating my eggs. So if it’s not one thing it’s another, frankly.
Does a bonding experience take place with your chickens, or are they purely functional?
I don’t mind if they don’t bother laying an egg. It’s entirely optional. It’s a case of city boy moving to the country and thinking: oh, how rustic to have chickens running around. Which it is!
Oh, and there was this little nugget from the out-takes…
I noticed when I was researching you that you are exactly two days older than my partner. He turned fifty on May 27th. So I suppose from an astrological point of view, you must have almost identical personalities.
Oh, you poor thing – he must be awful to live with.