Ross Noble: interview
Comedy's surrealest surrealist has swapped Oz for Kent and is officially back with two shows at the Apollo. Just don't ask him about his Evel Knievel jumpsuit.
The last time I interviewed Ross Noble, more than two years ago, he had left England and was living an apparently idyllic life in Australia with his wife Fran on their 100-acre farm just outside Melbourne. I'm about to discover that a lot has changed in his life since then.
On my way to the interview I bump into an old friend and tell her where I'm going. 'Oh, I love Ross,' she enthuses. 'Ask him whatever happened to his Evel Knievel leather jumpsuit.' Knowing Noble to be a motorcycle enthusiast, it seems like an innocent enough opening question, so, as I take my seat in his agent's office I ask it, not anticipating the Pandora's box of memories I'm opening, bringing up vivid flashbacks of a bush fire in February 2009.
A friend of mine wondered what happened to the Evel Knievel jumpsuit you bought?
'It went in the fire. Like everything else - I mean literally everything else. Imagine having just the stuff you're stood up in and a change of clothes in a bag; that's all I had on me that day. Literally every single thing I've ever owned burnt, including the Evel Knievel jumpsuit - I'd forgotten about that. Everything was gone.'
What actually happened?
'That bush fire was the biggest natural disaster in Australian history. Oddly, I was quite lucky: because I was off doing a preview gig I had an overnight bag with me, so at least I had some spare pants and stuff.'
Happily, all your family were safe, but how did something of that magnitude effect you all psychologically?
'We all went a bit mental! When it happened our little 'un was only three and a half months old. We came back to England, with our entire worldly goods in a bag. We then went on tour, going from hotel to hotel, a different place each night. The baby kept waking up because we had no routine, which meant that after a while the wife and I were not exactly in a stable mental condition. It became a little like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” for a while there.'
It's almost like having someone press the reset button on your whole life…
'Yeah. It's a hell of a way to de-clutter, put it that way.'
Did you go back to the house?
'Oh yeah, we went back almost straight away, in fact the house was still on fire when I went back in. There was nothing left. All my motorbikes were just puddles of metal on the floor. There were no “things” left. What had been my house was just a large patch of nothing - it was just an empty, burnt field.'
What was the first object on your list of things to replace?
'It's weird, because it sort of doesn't work the way you'd think it would. It made me understand the way Buddhist monks think. I know this all sounds a bit hippy but I realised that when you collect something, it's not about the ownership of the thing that's important, it's about the journey of collecting it - the object is just the end result of a process, you know? I mean you can buy a souvenir on the internet of a snow globe from Seattle, but it doesn't mean anything because you weren't there experiencing the place when you bought it. When you're faced with replacing everything, you realise what you've built around you is your own personal museum of your life.'
Now you're back in England, living down in the Kent countryside. What will Christmas be like for the Noble family now you're home?
'Well, you know, I'm not really sure, to be honest. The past five years it's been an Aussie Christmas - games of cricket and barbecues and sitting in the sunshine, going Christmas shopping just to get in an air-conditioned room, you know? So this year, it'll probably be a bit different.'
Will the presents be things you actually need for the house, or are you more or less all sorted
on that front now?
'We're getting there. For ages we didn't buy anything, because you just thought: What's the point? I used to be a real collector of unnecessary shit but not anymore. I've replaced my motorbike gear and bikes… oh, and bought myself an excavator. All this business about de-stressing yourself by getting a massage or going to a health farm is absolutely bollocks. Just buy yourself a massive digger. It's so relaxing. I can spend a whole afternoon, just digging a big hole, building up a huge pile of dirt and then moving it back. I'm actually looking forward to the snow because I'll go out there with my Bobcat and clear the roads. That's my Christmas masterplan. I'm going to spend it in my digger saving pensioners.'