Lord of the Mince may be the name of his latest show, but there’s far more to Julian Clary than camp comedy. Interview by Sandra Fraser.
Outrageous, risqué, shocking – just a few of the words that spring to mind when describing Julian Clary. He shot to fame as the Joan Collins Fan Club (alongside Fanny the Wonderdog), with a brand of humour that was full of innuendo and, at times, jaw-droppingly vulgar. He hasn’t put the double-entendre behind him, so to speak, but recently we’ve been seeing another, softer, less acerbic side of Julian, with appearances on Strictly Come Dancing and Who Do You Think You Are? plus a number of roles hosting and presenting top-rated television chat shows and quizzes.
But just as his public, and perhaps, his parents, may have thought middle age was mellowing him, Julian has set a series of tour dates which will feature his full-on brand of blue humour in all its glittering peacock glory.
So which is the real Julian Clary, the dog loving, chicken-keeping, country-living home-bod who wears shorts, a tee-shirt and no make-up, or the glammed-up, MAC-sponsored diva with a sharp retort on the end of his tongue and an album of air-brushed images on his website?
Julian says they’re both him, one persona “just happens” when he’s on stage, but it could be “a bit unbearable” if he were to stay in stage character all the time.
“On stage is on stage but I can stop being glamorous at home – it’s easy,” he says, adding that unlike Michael Barrymore, who allegedly found real life dull compared with the excitement of performing and presenting, he has never found it difficult to switch between the two.
Julian sighs when I bring up his notorious 1993 quip about the then Chancellor Norman Lamont, on live television at the British Comedy Awards. But though it took place more than 15 years ago, it was a defining moment, not only for broadcasting, but for Julian Clary too – and everyone who knew I was about to interview him couldn’t help but mention it.
“I think I thought it was a funny line. I didn’t think I would still be talking about it this much later,” he says. The “funny line” left him professionally sidelined for more than a year, though the complaints, it has to be said, only trickled in. A mere 12 were received from an audience of 3 million, but producers and TV executives became a little twitchy about what Julian might do next. In retrospect Julian says he understands what made him overstep his own mark.
“Fifteen years later I can see that my life needed to come down a bit. I needed some time off,” he says, musing whether he pushed a self-destruct button to buy himself personal space.
“I quite enjoyed being outrageous back in the Eighties but I didn’t feel like any great crusader,” he says, adding later that in the context of today’s most outrageous programming, his shows and comments were never really that shocking.
Iconic figures like Danny La Rue, Kenneth Williams and Larry Grayson were at the forefront of camp humour throughout the Seventies and beyond, but though they pushed at the boundaries of their era, Julian’s show was unique when he first hit the big time. He brought a blend of shock, horror, humour and high-camp to an open-mouthed and disbelieving audience, the majority of whom became instant fans. Certainly they took Fanny to their hearts. Julian’s star rose and rose, though it hadn’t been his dream to become a stand-up comedian.
“I thought I was going to be a pop star, then an actor. Slowly it dawned on me that writing and performing my own material was much more exciting to do,” says Julian, who studied English drama at Goldsmiths College. He liked being self-sufficient, relying on his own talent rather than waiting at the beck-and-call of a show director or film producer with on-going auditions and castings. Self-deprecatingly, he says he didn’t have the versatility to make a career of acting, though television and stage roles have since come his way.
He is a man to set himself challenges, however, which is why he seized the opportunity to take part in Strictly Come Dancing. He reached the show final with partner Erin Boag, much to his surprise, and restrained pride.
“It’s hard not to learn a few basics when you’re being taught by a world-class dancer,” says Julian, with modest understatement. “She helped me overcome my fear of dancing and I realised any kind of fear can be overcome.”
Armed with his new-found additional confidence, he accepted the role of the Emcee in Cabaret, in the West End’s Lyric Theatre, cutting a chilling character. He has also written two novels, brought out an autobiography and penned a regular column for the New Statesman. So are there any more challenges left?
“A few, yes. You don’t write one novel or two novels, and think, ‘I’ve done that now.’ I want to do more writing. I want to do a musical and act in some Shakespeare. There are lots of things bubbling under the surface,” he says, going on to name some of his recent credits, like Just a Minute and Have I Got News for You.
“I think if I was just stuck doing one thing I would be bored,” says Julian, adding that he likes to diversify, which begs the question, why return to camp and close-to-the-knuckle stand-up? The answer is simple, he loves to make people laugh, he finds it very satisfying. He hopes he finds himself doing another tour to celebrate turning 60 and another when he’s 70.
Seriously? Can he really see himself still on stage in his seventies?
“I can’t see into the future,” he says, a touch defiantly, “so I don’t know.”
He switches into stage persona and delivers the line that there’s a care home down the road that he’s got his eye on when the time is right. He fancies sitting in the window watching the world go by. Not for him the sad decline into lonely old age, like some “miserable old queen,” as he puts it. One wonders what the rest of the residents would make of him, let alone the nursing staff.
Julian has had his sticky moments but says life is pretty settled right now.
“It would be unbelievable if I’d got to my age without any ups and downs,” he says, in trademark whiny voice.
Julian lives with his boyfriend near Ashford in Kent, in a house once owned by Noel Coward, with his dog Valerie, puppy Albie and a growing flock of hens. Former transvestite comedian Paul O’Grady, who has recently thrown off his trademark Lily Savage wig and declared he will no longer be dressing up, is a neighbour and friend.
“I’ve no desire to live anywhere else at the moment, other than with my boyfriend, it’s inspiring,” says Julian. “I’m very contented.”
Finding contentment led to him agreeing to take part in the genealogy programme, Who Do You Think You Are? He feels so much of one’s make-up is genetic and the programme helped on his journey to self-knowledge. He discovered German ancestry on both sides of family tree as well as a genteel artist.
Julian’s show, Lord of the Mince, is the product of looking deep into himself, he says. He promises his audiences not only a bit of biography, but a recently discovered and unexpected new talent of his own.
“Everything is more acceptable now. But I don’t think it’s anything to do with me,” says Julian. A new generation of comics may well beg to differ and a phalanx of fans are truly grateful.
Julian Clary’s show Lord of the Mince will be at Oxford New Theatre on October 9 and Cheltenham Town Hall on October 29. Julian’s parents live in Swindon and he expects they will be in the audience when his show hits the town’s Wyvern Theatre on October 16 & 17.
For a full list of tour dates and booking information visit http://www.julianclary.co.uk