JULIAN CLARY

Attitude - - Front Page - Words Tim Heap Pho­tog­ra­phy Markus Bi­daux Styling Nick Byam

We’ll al­ways have a soft spot for some­one who can make a fist­ing joke. The flam­boy­ant fun­ny­man is our Com­edy Award win­ner

The more peo­ple you can make laugh, the bet­ter, is my phi­los­o­phy, I guess,” says beloved comic Julian Clary.

For 30 years now, he has glit­tered at the heart of the Bri­tish com­edy scene, an un­apolo­get­i­cally camp tour de force. The Lord of the Mince and the king of in­nu­endo, he first made a name for him­self on the al­ter­na­tive com­edy/ cabaret scene of the early 1980s, un­der pseu­do­nyms in­clud­ing Gil­lian Pieface and The Joan Collins Fan­club.

In­spired by the likes of David Bowie and dancer/ chore­og­ra­pher Lind­say Kemp, Julian’s glam make- up and tight, skimpy

PVC out­fits made him a provoca­tive choice for main­stream TV chan­nels, but he was lapped up by au­di­ences who de­lighted in his scan­dalous and of­fen­sive hu­mour.

As we sit down to talk about his ca­reer, lead­ing up to win­ning this year’s At­ti­tude Com­edy Award, I ask if of­fend­ing peo­ple’s sen­si­bil­i­ties was al­ways part of his in­ten­tion. “Let me try and an­swer truth­fully,” Julian starts, “be­cause some­times in ret­ro­spect you can re­write his­tory, and that would never do.”

Af­ter a mo­ment, he con­tin­ues: “I think if you saw me on the com­edy cabaret cir­cuit, the pubs and clubs of the early Eight­ies, in a very left- wing en­vi­ron­ment, it wasn’t that shock­ing. It was when it crossed over to main­stream and tele­vi­sion and The Daily Mail and all of that non­sense, then it be­came shock­ing. But I en­joyed it: it was de­lib­er­ate and heart­felt.”

Th­ese days, as Julian ap­proaches his 60th birth­day next spring, the urge to of­fend isn’t as strong. “If I’m go­ing to do a gig in Har­ro­gate or Chatham, then there’d prob­a­bly be some peo­ple who are go­ing to be of­fended,” he says, wryly. “Good for them. But no, three decades on we have all evolved, and it’s more about the joy of mak­ing peo­ple laugh. That’s where I get my kicks now, and I al­ways did, re­ally; the out­rage was just a thing that hap­pened along the way. A bit like crys­tal meth.”

One of the most memorable mo­ments of out­rage was that which fol­lowed the in­fa­mous "Norman La­mont in­ci­dent" at the 1993 Bri­tish Com­edy Awards. Ar­riv­ing on a fake fo­liage- strewn stage to present an award, Julian’s open­ing gam­bit — “It’s very nice of you to recre­ate Hamp­stead Heath for me here” — was fol­lowed by a joke that he’d just been fist­ing the for­mer Chan­cel­lor of the Ex­che­quer.

Al­though it was af­ter the wa­ter­shed and went down well in the room ( laugh­ter con­tin­ued as Julian read out the nom­i­nees), 18 view­ers — out of an est­mated au­deince of 13 mil­lion — com­plained and the tabloid press made it head­line news, re­sult­ing in Julian de­cid­ing to clear his sched­ule and step away from the lime­light.

“It’s more like a bad smell!” he re­torts, when I sug­gest the in­ci­dent has fol­lowed him around like a dark cloud for the past 25 years, though it’s hard to imag­ine that many peo­ple would take much of­fence to­day. We don’t dwell on it at length — as Julian says, what is there to add that’s not been said al­ready? — but he’s made peace with it and now says: “Not many of my jokes are re­mem­bered 25 years later, let’s face it, but that one is. So it must’ve been one of my bet­ter ef­forts.”

Julian’s main­stream suc­cess started with gameshows in the late- 1980s, first as co- host of Trick or Treat, then fronting his own show, the ir­rev­er­ent and anar­chic Sticky Mo­ments. What was it that gave him the con­fi­dence to mince into main­stream TV slots and be out­landishly camp? The an­swer is sim­ple: to cre­ate a world where camp was king, where wear­ing heavy make- up and black rub­ber

For three decades, At­ti­tude’s 2018 Com­edy Award- win­ner Julian Clary has gone from provoca­tive prodigy to na­tional trea­sure — but he

has al­ways minced to the beat of his own drum

Julian wears blazer and shirt, both by Gucci at Matches Fash­ion MAKE_ UP GROOM­ING AND HAIR Ni­bras, us­ing Clin­ique and Moroccanoil

was the norm, then invit­ing peo­ple — of­ten straight peo­ple — to be part of it. “That was a comedic de­vice,” ex­plains Julian. “To make the straight world the cu­rios­ity, to re­verse it all. You can achieve a lot by amus­ing folk, I find. You can sit them down and rea­son with them and go through the whole de­mys­tifi cation process, but if you can just make them laugh in­stead, it’s a quicker means to an end.”

Speak­ing of de­mys­tifi cation, part of Julian’s early brand of com­edy was talk­ing ( through in­nu­endo) about gay sex, at a time when gay peo­ple weren’t seen as equal in the eyes of the law, and there had been few, if any, openly gay TV stars. To have a camp- as- Christ­mas co­me­dian talk­ing about the in­tri­ca­cies of sodomy was en­ve­lope- push­ing, but it came nat­u­rally to Julian. “I speak in a cer­tain way and I have cer­tain man­ner­isms, so I just thought, ‘ Well, this is what my act is go­ing to be about,’ and I went with the fl ow.

“Th­ese days, peo­ple know a lot more [ about gay sex] than in the Eight­ies. I know it’s not all hap­pi­ness and roses, but gay life is a lot bet­ter than it was. Take it from me.”

In­deed, th­ese days, Julian’s life does seem fairly rosy. He splits his time be­tween a town­house in Cam­den and ru­ral liv­ing in Kent, and two years ago mar­ried his part­ner, Ian. When At­ti­tude spoke to him last, for our At­ti­tude Heroes pod­cast se­ries, cel­e­brat­ing 50 years since the par­tial de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in Eng­land and Wales, Julian joked that he was mourn­ing his sin­gle sta­tus — but he reaf­firms that their re­la­tion­ship is grounded by a mu­tual abil­ity to amuse. “He’s marginally fun­nier than Stephen Mul­h­ern on Big Star ’s Lit­tle Star and at my time of life it doesn’t pay to be too picky.”

Julian's hus­band has promised him a Si­amese kit­ten called Rox­anne as a birth­day present next year, but in terms of cel­e­brat­ing the land­mark, he’ll be mid­way through his up­com­ing tour, Born To Mince ( al­most called Bed Knobs and Knee Pads), and is sched­uled to per­form in Bury St Ed­munds, in Suff olk, that night. I ask if that’s a plan­ning over­sight, but no: “I’m hop­ing to still be alive and not in­con­ti­nent. But I love work­ing on my birth­day; it gets me off the hook [ of cel­e­brat­ing] and I’ll be in a beau­ti­ful the­atre mak­ing peo­ple laugh. If all goes well, any­way. I mustn’t pre­sume…”

His com­edy roots can be traced back to his child­hood in Sur­biton, Sur­rey, where he grew up watch­ing Are You Be­ing Served? and Bruce Forsyth and Larry Grayson host­ing The Gen­er­a­tion Game.

Al­though school life was tough — he went to a strict Catholic boys school and was bul­lied for his eff em­i­nacy — Julian had sup­port­ive par­ents and de­scribes his fam­ily as “very silly” and “We are all, sadly, un­able to take life se­ri­ously.”

He adds: “I was grow­ing up in the Seven­ties and I can see, look­ing back, that life was quite hard for both my par­ents.

“They both worked full time and my mother used to come in and start cook­ing be­fore she even took her coat off . The Seven­ties were a time when there weren’t enough hours in the day — but what got us through was hav­ing a laugh and mak­ing dis­dain­ful re­marks about the neigh­bours or who­ever was read­ing the news. ‘ Aw­ful tie… She might have combed her hair’.

We were ob­sessed with form above con­tent, I now re­alise. Noth­ing much has changed in my life.”

Julian is known for his high- camp hu­mour, and I ask when he first knew what camp is.

“I al­ways thought my grand­mother was camp; she was camp. My grand­mother would trot down the road of this lit­tle vil­lage in Nor­folk with her bas­ket on wheels. She had a camp walk. She was fl ying the camp fl ag!

“I was amused by that be­fore I un­der­stood it, re­ally. It’s funny, isn’t it? Camp is an at­ti­tude, but as a child you don’t an­a­lyse any of that. Could it be ge­netic?”

In re­cent years, Julian has taken to his role as the au­thor of chil­dren’s books with much fi­nesse. His ac­claimed se­ries of tales, cen­tred around the Bolds — a fam­ily of un­der­cover hye­nas — has added an­other string to his bow, one that’s proved cre­atively sat­is­fy­ing and a wel­come break from the cheeky in­nu­endo on which he’s based his ca­reer.

“When you’ve spent all your adult life be­ing as rude as you think you can get away with," Julian ex­plains, "if you [ then] go in an op­po­site di­rec­tion, you of­ten dis­cover a whole new world.

“To ac­ti­vate my in­ner child and write th­ese sto­ries that have been in my head since I made them up when I was about seven or eight, I re­ally love it.

“I also like do­ing book events for chil­dren — who’d have thought it? They don’t know who I am, so it’s noth­ing to do with ego.

"It’s to do with longevity and sur­vival. It turns out that mak­ing chil­dren laugh is every bit as sat­is­fy­ing as mak­ing adults laugh. Who knew?”

Of course, on top of his stand- up tours and book- writ­ing ( he prom­ises to write a sec­ond au­to­bi­og­ra­phy one day — his fi rst stopped just be­fore the Norman La­mont in­ci­dent. The sec­ond is ten­ta­tively ti­tled, A Night At the Lubri­cant), Julian’s also a panto in­sti­tu­tion.

Af­ter an ac­claimed turn in last year’s

Olivier Award- win­ning Dick Whit­ting­ton, he’s set to ap­pear in the Lon­don Pal­la­dium’s big- bud­get pro­duc­tion of Snow White this win­ter. “Lord knows, I’ve been in some dowdy, thread­bare pro­duc­tions,” he says. “But now it’s jaw- drop­ping. Frankly, it’s a variety show dressed up as a panto. I love the lav­ish­ness of the shows, and we have a pro­gres­sive, dar­ing di­rec­tor called Michael Har­ri­son who en­cour­ages me to be as fi lthy as pos­si­ble. It would be rude not to oblige.”

As we come to the end of our con­ver­sa­tion, Julian hints that his 60th birth­day may prompt “a change of di­rec­tion”, al­though he’s tight- lipped as to what form it will take. “I don’t know,” he says when I push him. “Well, I do know, but I’m not telling you. I think it’s ter­ri­bly im­por­tant that I main­tain my celebrity mys­tique!”

So, what would the young, fresh- faced

Julian Clary think of the fact that in 2018, he’s what peo­ple might call a na­tional trea­sure? In true- to- form, camp fash­ion, he says: “I pre­fer: na­tional trin­ket.

"When I started, I thought:, ‘ I’ll do this for a cou­ple of years, then I’ll have to get a sen­si­ble job’. I think he’d be sur­prised at my tenac­ity and that I’ve man­aged to string it out as long as I have — I am!”

CLARYICAL ER­ROR Julian,with Jonathan Ross, caused con­tro­versy on live TV at the 1993 Bri­tishCom­edy Awards

BITCHY: Joan Collins Fan Club, with Fanny the Won­der­dog,in 1987

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