Plus Crossword and Quiz
Did I read that Bruce Forsyth was a shy boy? And that it was singing and dancing that gave him confidence? It’s not impossible, even though you can find pictures online of him singing and dancing in his crib. It’s part of the mythology of the famous that their early days are inauspicious. To be interestingly rich, you have to start poor. If you are funny, you need to have been tragic. If you are a show-off, you must once have been a shrinking violet. Cher was shy. Ditto Joan Rivers and Robin Williams. Brendan O’Carroll, who plays Mrs Brown, would no doubt tell you he is shy still.
How do I know these things? I have kept my ear to the ground. As a shy boy myself, I followed the trajectories of other shy people with intense interest. If they could break out and make something of their lives, then maybe I could, too.
It has taken me a while to realise that the ugly duckling becoming a swan, or the caterpillar turning into a butterfly, are misapplied metaphors for the shy child transformed into a superstar. I believe now that the shy remain forever shy, but somehow incorporate their diffidence into their performance; employ it as a source of energy; maybe coax that mysterious quality we call charisma out of it. To be creative is to keep one’s contradictions in harness. And aren’t the most-loved performers those who let their weakness show beneath their strength?
Only this will explain how it is possible to seek exposure and concealment simultaneously. Remember Milly Forrest, the cloakroom attendant recently “plucked from the sidelines” to sing at the Wigmore Hall after the soprano rang in sick? As a boy, I would imagine being in the audience at the Royal Opera House when Jussi Björling took ill and the cry went out for a replacement. “Anyone know the words to Nessun Dorma?” Up would go my hand. “I do, I do. I know the tune, anyway.”
So habitual was this fantasy that I couldn’t attend a play, a recital, a pantomime, even, without wondering if that were to be the night they’d need me. But that which I desired, I dreaded just as much. The concert halls and opera houses I found exhilarating also terrified me. What if Arthur Askey picked me out and made jokes at my expense? What if Dame Myra Hess hauled me up on to the stage to turn her music? Even at the ballet I didn’t feel safe.
And so I cowered, as indeed I still cower, conspicuously. Just so they know, if they do belatedly want me for Turandot, or Les Sylphides, come to that, I’ll be hiding in the back row of the stalls, shielding my face.