Eddie Izzard on Bexhill, the De La Warr Pavilion and performing in different languages
PUBLISHED: 14:45 21 March 2016 | UPDATED: 11:55 03 November 2017
Jim Holden www.jimholden.co.uk 07590 683036 01825 841157
Bexhill comedian Eddie Izzard’s Force Majeure tour has now played in 28 countries and four languages – an unofficial comedy record. The local polymath, an honorary patron of the De La Warr Pavilion, spoke to Jenny Mark-Bell in its 80th anniversary year
To say Eddie Izzard is ambitious is to be guilty of risible understatement. When he was a schoolboy at Eastbourne College, he thought seriously about joining the SAS, but instead applied his eagle-eyed drive to making people laugh. He is currently on an unofficial record-breaking world tour, Force Majeure. It started in 2013 and has taken in 28 countries; he has performed in four different languages. In 2011 he ran 43 marathons in 51 days with little prior long-distance running experience and at the time of publishing he is in the middle of his 27 marathons in 27 days tribute to Nelson Mandela, which he had to call off in 2012 due to medical complications. He plans to run for political office in 2020, either as an MP or as Mayor of London, although he is supporting Sadiq Khan in 2016.
Today, however, he is back at the De La Warr Pavilion (DLWP), where he had his first job, and where he is an Honorary Patron. The louche drawl and strut of his stage persona have been replaced by sotto voce solicitousness for his father, Harold, who is 87.
This year the Pavilion celebrates its 80th anniversary, and Eddie is in town for a couple of sold-out gigs. It turns out, however, that the family connections go back further than his first job in the 1970s. As a small boy of seven, and new to Bexhill – he was born in Eastbourne – Harold attended the grand opening. “All the schools were invited to send a few boys to the opening and we were all outside, making a big group where the royals came through. Whether I actually saw the royals I can’t remember, but after they’d gone inside we didn’t see them again.
“We were very much ‘extras’ put in to make the royals feel they’d got a lot of people wanting to be there.
“I think possibly they chose on the standards of your dress – the clothes you were wearing – they didn’t want the oiks to be there.” The boys were invited to a tea party afterwards but were thrown out because some of the older lads started a food fight.
Harold grew up in Sidley, a village near Bexhill, and attended the local grammar school, before joining the Navy. After being demobbed, Harold joined the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later to become BP), which took him to Aden, in the Yemen. There he met his second wife and had his two boys, Eddie and Mark. Dorothy Izzard tragically died when her sons were six and eight, and Harold brought his young family back from South Wales to Bexhill, where they attended boarding school at Bede’s, then Eastbourne College. It was a difficult time. “Well, you see,” says Eddie, “we didn’t know people here. It was this weird thing, Mum died and we were not boarding school-type kids but that’s where we ended up going. Those kids would disappear at the end of term so when we came back to Bexhill we wouldn’t know anyone. We would go to Egerton Park, we’d go to The Polegrove, sometimes if Dad was there we’d go out on a boat. There wasn’t that much to do, you had to make your own adventures.” One of their adventures was a huge train set, which Eddie recently donated to Bexhill Museum.
One senses that part of the reason Eddie has worked so diligently on behalf of the community – he has performed benefits in the town since 2006 and paid £70,000 of the cost of artist Richard Wilson’s ‘hanging bus’, which graced the roof of the Pavilion in 2012 – is the memory of that childhood boredom.
He says, responding to a question about the importance of this cultural hub to a town such as Bexhill: “I grew up in this town and the amusement arcade was the only thing going. I wanted stuff going on. Too many people are retiring here. Gradually all these hordes of people came in and they just slowed everything down, I felt. You’ve got to have a mixture of young and old.
“We need to have stuff happening here, otherwise the town suffers. This [the Pavilion] was designed to be at the cutting edge: the 9th Earl De La Warr wanted to kick stuff up. That’s what humans want: excitement and tranquillity, not all tranquillity.”
Eddie, at least, is one of those humans who seem to thrive on excitement and adrenaline. A vehement pro-Europe campaigner, his decision to perform in French, German and Spanish on the current tour is of a piece with his political sentiments and ambitions. It is also something that would give many of us nightmares, but he astounds me by saying that it takes about three to four weeks to learn and perform a show in a new language (next on his list are Russian and Arabic). “My brother Mark is the language expert. He learns them first, then arranges translations of the show and I learn it like a play, then I learn the language. I learn three minutes a day, then once I’ve got the show rolling I will be doing three hours of lessons and basic conversation a day.”
He is adamant that humour is universal – his delivery remains the same in every language and most of the jokes stay the same. “You can actually talk about quite specifically British stuff – if I tell them about John Major having an affair with Edwina Currie then they’ll know about it.”
This show has been touring for two and a half years so he has been “pruning and distilling” it as he goes along. Essentially, though, the content reflects his progressive and inclusive politics. Kicking off with the theme of human sacrifice, via typically surreal juxtapositions of the dramatic and the mundane, he segues into the theme of control and fascism.
I wonder whether growing up on the coast, looking towards mainland Europe, may have influenced his ideas. He demurs. “It’s a very conservative area here and we probably get a lot of people going Ukip. But I have vision and imagination...I came out as transgender 30 years ago: I thought that would be positive and now people are saying that is a positive way of looking at sexuality. This is the third millennium and if we don’t learn to live and work together – not only in Europe but in other parts of the world – then we’re never going to make it.
“Despair is the fuel of terrorism and hope is the fuel of civilisation.”
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