Julian Clary: interview
To the wilderness and back again - it's been a strange old ride for the erstwhile Joan Collins Fanclub. Time Out talks to the ever-youthful Julian Clary, back on the road again.
Over a career spanning almost 30 years Julian Clary has gone from being the exotic, shocking, camp queen of the 'alternative' comedy circuit to pariah in the right-wing press, for his often outrageously obscene jokes on live TV (remember the one about Norman Lamont?), to beloved elder statesman of the-biz-we-call-show with his charming participation on the second series of 'Strictly Come Dancing'.
It's been an odd career littered with double entendres, drugs, drink and dogs, but after taking a few years away from live comedy, during which time he left London for the Kent countryside - he now lives next-door to Paul O'Grady, in a house once owned by Noël Coward - he's back on tour and as fabulous as ever. Time Out caught up with him one rainy Wednesday in King's Lynn, Norfolk, just minutes before his loyal fans packed out the delightfully quaint regional theatre for two hours of unadulterated filth and innuendo.
This is your first live tour for five years how's it going?
'It's lovely. It's so satisfying making people laugh, and then moving on to the next town. I feel a real sense of purpose, it's very gratifying. It's my fiftieth year, and I thought: What would I benefit from? I'd benefit most from being applauded. We did some dates at the end of last year and I liked it so much we've extended the tour. Having done all the obvious places we now find ourselves in such exotic places as King's Lynn, Skegness and Burnley. I rather like it. I feel like an old trooper.'
We thought you had retired to the country to write novels and left the itinerant life behind you?
'I got bored. It was all a pose. I thought I'd love the country life. I'd get myself some chickens, that kind of thing and it would all be perfect, but after a few weeks I thought: I've got to go and do something exciting. The thing they don't tell you about the country is that there's lots of mud, it's all over the place - very messy.'
The last time you were out on tour it was a very glitzy and glamorous affair this time it's a little more intimate…
'Exactly. I wanted a sort of back-to-basics feel. I liked that big show but it was kind of unnecessary. I had a crew of about four, a pianist, backing singers, glamorous assistant and
a lot of mouths to feed. I wanted this to be more self-contained and simple.'
Has your style changed at all over the years?
'Not really. I think it's evolved a bit. I'm a bit warmer and a bit more friendly now. Things have moved on a bit as well, people are much more accepting. Earlier in my career I quite enjoyed shocking people and thought some people deserved to be shocked. I was on a mission to demystify the more graphic lifestyle practices. But now everything's moved on. I talk about fisting and rimming and people are fine with it. There's just the odd place where they are collectively tight-lipped, but mostly it's fine. It's marvellous when you think about it, isn't it? Little old
ladies now come and lap it up - if that's the right expression.'
What subjects do you cover in this new show?
'Well, I cover moving to the countryside, fisting, rimming, skydiving and caravanning. All the usual stuff really.'
Of course! So what's your audience like now?
'Well, there's a real sense with my audiences that we've all been round the block together a few times. When I talk to people after the shows there are some folks that I pulled out of the audience 25 years ago at Durham University or somewhere, others who watched me on “Sticky Moments” and have followed me ever since. There's also now another part of the crowd that's come because they saw me on “Strictly Come Dancing”. I can normally spot them. If there's a lot
of lacquered hair out there the fisting material can be a bit tricky.'
You also have a group of particularly ardent fans, don't you?
'They call themselves “The Claryettes”. There's one girl who came to every gig on the last leg of the tour. She did all the warm-up gigs, ten nights at the Edinburgh Festival and then 40 dates. Imagine all that travelling and the cost of hotels and tickets. I thought: God, aren't you bored yet? But she loves it. She's here again tonight, bless her.'
How has turning 50 affected you?
'It's been very liberating. There's a real sense of achievement. I remember all the anxieties of being younger, the ambition and self-doubt, but I can look back at all the things I've done and have ticked off my to-do list and it feels great. It's also nice to just still be here. I feel very lucky. I was young man in my twenties when HIV and Aids hit my generation and I was right there in the midst of it. People I knew and loved didn't make it. I feel somehow duty-bound to enjoy myself for them. I think you get happier as you get older. I feel a sense of lightness of being somehow. I'm also still here in the sense that there's still an audience out there for me, for which I'm very grateful, I wouldn't want to be playing ever-smaller venues, slowly fading away - I'd rather
just not bother. Thankfully they're still here and I'm still here, so I can continue do what I want to do - be filthy and make people laugh.'