In a television profile of Julian Clary from a few years ago, he is described, rather unsurprisingly, as an outsider as a teen.
He was a character with a penchant for wearing “weird socks” and using words such as “forsooth”, according to one acquaintance. Such fledgling affectations are endearingly tame compared with what evolved into Clary the outlandish entertainer, the PVC-laden, colourfully and crudely camp fountain of innuendo.
As a gay teen at a strict Catholic school in Ealing, west London, Clary didn’t fit in and didn’t want to either, combating his outsider status by seeking to draw more attention to himself. A natural shift into performing followed.
“I think I wanted to be liked,” he says of finding his home on the stage. “I think that’s what it was, given the hard time I had at school. There was something very reassuring about being on stage and making people laugh, because you get that sound of laughter every two seconds and it fulfils a need, shall we say. And I didn’t really want to change myself to fit in anywhere, I just wanted to be accepted.”
September marks Julian Clary’s ninth visit to Australia and his second this year after his duties as ambassador at the Adelaide Fringe in February. He says he feels at home in Australia and while he loves Britain, it can be “oppressive” and doesn’t share this nation’s love of having a good time as a “national characteristic”.
“I’m quite a light person. I’m not a deep-thinker or anything and so I like that kind of lightness of touch of getting through the day, and there’s something about my comedy and Australian comedy that we understand each other,” he says.
“In the past when I’ve got into trouble, shall we say, in the UK, I always know I can go to Australia and be embraced,” he says, laughing. “You’re less likely to be offended in Australia than anywhere else. I feel like I’m amongst my own kind.”
That aside, he has stern words on the matter of gay marriage.
“I’m terribly embarrassed for Australia that you haven’t caught up yet because you know it’s going to come and you know it’s going to be a good thing. We’ve been through all of this here [in Britain], people’s fears about the disintegration of life as we know it. It’s not true. All it means is that gay and lesbian people have a right to be happy the same as everyone else, so chop, chop, Australia.”
Ahead of his Australian tour, he’s been filming a documentary about Noel Coward for British television. Clary lives in Coward’s former home, a 15th-century manor house in Kent, along with his long-term partner Ian Mackley and a collection of chickens, ducks and dogs. He says he has a great interest in the flamboyant playwright for many reasons, but in making the documentary, he was seeking a different side to the famous wit.
“I think I was more interested in his life away from public life, and [instead] what the social life was that he had in Kent and the quieter time really with his chosen friends. He had a number of nervous breakdowns in his life and so the image he presented of himself as being witty all the time and smoking cigarettes and drinking cocktails wasn’t the whole picture. So it was just filling in a few gaps.”
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