Julian Clary is one of the UK’s most popular entertainers. Although he’s best known as a stand-up comedian, Julian has, amongst other things, been a regular panellist on several BBC TV and Radio shows, acted in the West End and published four novels. He’s also a popular figure on reality television – reaching the final of Strictly Come Dancing in 2004 and more recently winning Celebrity Big Brother in 2012.
Julian will appear in the role of Spirit of the Beans at the New Theatre, Cardiff for their 2013 pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk.
Who is Spirit of the Beans?
It’s an unusual role; he’s an ethereal being from another dimension that arrives by rocket at the beginning of the show. He’s basically the Fairy Godmother role – a guiding spirit for Jack to help him through his path in life. In terms of the story that’s who I am – in other terms I’m just there to have a laugh. He wafts around a bit – I’ve got these outrageous costumes with each one more spectacular than the one before. There’s an element of suspense as to what I’m going to be wearing next.
Is that to say there’s going to be a lot of costume changes?
Yes, there will be eight changes.
That’s pretty Lady Gaga-esque.
Oh yes, expect yards and yards of feathers and sequins – I love it. The costume department do all the work for me – I just wear the outfits and people feel obliged to clap.
Did you see much panto growing up?
I didn’t really. I was quite scared of it as a young child and a bit indifferent. Let’s face it – panto can be very naff and I think I must’ve had a very unpleasant experience. The reason I like this show is because it’s a real spectacle with real magic. Little children’s jaws are dropping as they watch – that’s as it should be because it may be their first theatrical experience. I’ve learnt by doing it and if it’s done well then it’s a fabulous genre for me because no one is going to accuse me of dressing up too much or wearing too much make up. I can tread the fine line between single and double entendre and hopefully be there to amuse all the adults while the children are being enchanted by the story so these shows are, and I hate to use the phrase, something for everyone but…
…it’s a family experience though, isn’t it?
Yes, but also you get hen nights coming again and again because they enjoy it. So it’s a good one.
You were on Celebrity Big Brother (CBB) last year. Did you think going into the house was a risk?
Yes, it definitely was because it could go either way.
Did people advise you against going in?
So why did you do it?
Because they told me not to (laughs)! I was intrigued and I’ve always liked watching it – they also offered me a lot of money. It felt like a gift from God saying ‘this is your publicity for the new tour’ but I thought if everyone hated me I might never work again. You are very exposed in there so I was cautious and didn’t say much.
Did you find a new element to your audience after doing CBB?
I did notice that on the tour because CBB is a show watched mostly by a young demographic. It was quite similar to when I did Strictly Come Dancing in 2004 except I got a lot of silver haired ladies instead which was quite nice.
Is stand-up quite a lonely profession?
Yes. One of the reasons I like panto is because you’re part of an ensemble and you’ve got people to have a laugh with but stand-up is really satisfying – it fulfils a need in me. I’m quite a solitary person anyway so it doesn’t bother me to be on my own. You still have people around you such as the tour crew and your manager but it’s weird because you might be on stage in front of 2,000 people and then five minutes later you’re sitting on your own in your dressing room taking your make-up off.
You’ve become a multi-faceted performer. Is it important to you to develop different skills to remain successful?
I diversify into these different things because I’ve been around for a long time and I’d get bored if I just kept doing the same thing. I didn’t plan it that way but it certainly gives you longevity and, for me, if I’ve been touring for six months all I want to do is go home and then I get bored so I start writing a book – that gives me a function in life so then that lasts for six months at which point I’m screaming to get back on stage again. It all fits in.
Do you remember your first stand-up show?
Yes. I promised myself that if I died three times in a row wouldn’t carry on but luckily I’d only die twice and then do an OK show the third time. As time went on I died less often – the fear of dying onstage drove me on.
Did you have any stand-up heroes growing up?
I liked Larry Grayson and his gallery of imaginary characters. I liked that his act wasn’t really about anything but it was still funny. I watch him on YouTube sometimes constantly interrupting himself throughout the act. It’s about drawing people in with your personality.
What makes you laugh?
I’m more likely to laugh at things that are not supposed to be funny – things such as people falling over in the street. It’s an absolute scream with all these bars and clubs around New Theatre. There were a lot of young people out last night dressed very badly thinking they looked fabulous - you knew they were going to end up in the gutter in a couple of hours (laughs)!
Jack and the Beanstalk is at New Theatre, Cardiff from December 14th 2013 – January 19th 2014.
Michael Took was asking the questions.