STEPHEN FRY

Stephen Fry is one of those freakishly talented, bright and funny guys who is liked by just about the entire planet. He’s done about a billion things (books, films, theatre, opera, crosswords - he probably is also a champion teabag folder). Who else, really, could do a TV show which features an episode discussing “the merits of Oscar Wilde's view on American violence and good wallpaper”?

“It has been suggested that Fry should be bought by the British Government and opened to the public, like Westminster Abbey or Buckingham Palace,” Ian Parker wrote in the New York Times once. And I think that’s all that has to be said about that.


When did you first realise the power of humour?
I suppose, like many comedians, it was when I first caused laughter in the classroom. I seem to connect it (quite wrongly of course) with being LIKED.

Did humour have great currency in your household, when growing up?
Absolutely: laughter is the great lubricant in the frictive world of family.

You’re an immensely creative person – you write, act, direct, been a librettist and you make people laugh. What was the first discipline you tried?
I suppose writing came first in any proper creative way, since it's something you can do on your own. You don’t need an audience, a theatre, a camera crew or scenery. But before all came a love of language either written or spoken, so I suppose the first criticism I ever received was from schoolmasters along the lines of “You’re too fond of the sound of your own voice, Fry.”

As someone who is a great artist and entertainer, do you think there are limitations to the power of art? Can it make a difference?
I blush, simper and giggle at your compliment. Yes art makes a difference, but it’s not one that is quantifiable or measurable. Oscar Wilde once wrote that all art is quite useless, which might seem to be a damnation of art. In fact, it’s the opposite. One of the paradoxes of human existence is that all those things that are necessary to us are uninteresting to us and of no real importance. The unnecessary, however, spurs us on and gives our lives meaning. Reproduction, food and shelter are necessary but it is love, sexual ecstasy, cuisine, wine and art that delight us. Art is the wine of life: wholly unnecessary, yet without it, life is mere existence.

What has been your career highlight so far?
I don’t suppose a role like
Wilde will ever come again, so that has to be high up on the list. I ADORED directing and enjoyed making Bright Young Things more than I can say. Then again, the sight of my first book in print gave me the kind of thrill that can never be repeated...

And lowlight?
Hmm. There’s no doubt that the escape from Cell Mates*, a West End play, was pretty grim. I ran away and the attention and hot pursuit by the press didn’t thrill me exactly. But I can’t really regret it, since good things came about as a result too.

Have you ever experienced a role that was too hard to play?
Every one. It’s true, not false modesty. But with the exception of
Cell Mates – which was not really about difficulty – I’ve never walked away from something I've started because it’s too difficult. I’m sure the day will come however...!

Douglas Adams once said “I think there’s a cupboardful of Stephen Frys, otherwise how could he work so hard?” Do you ever feel that you are, say, five different people in the one body?
Constantly. I worry that I’m too much all things to all people. When I’m with my sporty friends I talk cricket and rugby, when I’m with camp friends I talk camply, etc. I sometimes wonder that I have no real personality at all. But I console myself with the thought that I’m not alone in being like this.

You’ve mastered many trades. Is there much left on your to-do list?
I’ve never had a to-do list, but I’d like to cook better, speak German fluently and learn to relax more convincingly...

Do you ever look back on your life and think, “Hmm, who would have thought I’d be a millionaire before 30, attend Charles and Camilla’s wedding and have the strange honour of being voted Britain’s favourite teddy bear?” Do you wish you had some foresight into your life’s achievements when undergoing some dark times during adolescence?
I do think exactly that sometimes. If my teenage self had thought that a thousandth part of the good fortune that has attended me would be my lot, then perhaps I should have been more relaxed and peaceful in my adolescence*. But then, you see, had I enjoyed a peaceful adolescence, perhaps I should never have achieved anything. [Poet W. H.] Auden bade us hold on to our devils, for if we were to banish them we would banish our angels too.

What’s next for you? Do you think you’ll still be extremely creative in old age?
I can’t imagine ever retiring or ceasing to strive. I suppose I could find myself deeply unfashionable and unwanted professionally, but I would continue to write: that much I'm sure of.


*In 1995, Stephen Fry famously fled the production of the West End play
Cell Mates without explanation. He later revealed that a failed suicide attempt was one reason why he left so suddenly.
*Fry was found guilty of credit card fraud at age 17 and sent to jail for three months. He also contemplated suicide as a teenager.