Julian Clary - looking back on 30 years of touring

Julian Clary
Julian Clary

Following overwhelming demand for the sold-out spring run of his new tour The Joy of Mincing, Julian Clary has added a string of 20 autumn dates across the UK in October and November, including The Capitol Horsham (October 25).

The Joy of Mincing is Julian’s celebration of 30 years as a campcomedian.

Emma Cox asks Julian about live on the road.

Why have you named your tour, The Joy of Mincing?

I always like to get ‘mincing’ into the title. We’ve had Lord of the Mince; Natural Born Mincer; and Mincing Machine was my first tour in 1989. I don’t know why; it sets the tone, doesn’t it? I suppose mincing, apart from being a means of walking around, is a way of life. The Joy of Mincing is a declaration of the joy of life despite disapproval, perhaps.

Do you still feel people disapprove?

Well, exactly. I think there probably is some [disapproval]. And mincing, which is an old fashioned word, was probably in its day borne out of standing up in the face of that disapproval.

Is the show as rude as ever - you haven’t toned things down?

No, I don’t think so. It’s the one time you can let rip a bit, on stage. I don’t want to be filthy for the sake of it, but I think it’s a comic device. You just exaggerate who you really are on stage. I’m quite fond of moments of vulgarity.

You’ve been performing for 30 years. How has comedy changed during that time?

Yes, it’s my 30th anniversary next year. It’s changed beyond all recognition. It used to be an eclectic selection of people in small rooms above pubs, in the 1980s. Our comedy was a reaction against the right-wing men in bow-ties who were being offered as light entertainment in those days.

And has your comedy changed?

Yes, a bit. I think you evolve, whether you want to or not. There was a certain amount of anger and delight in confronting people when I started, which has more or less gone now. Making people laugh is my main aim in life these days. I don’t think there’s so much to be angry about now.

Do you have fans who have been following your career for that full 30 years?

There are, and they bring their children along now. I’m very fond of them, you know. You don’t know their names necessarily, but it’s always a joy to see a familiar face. There’s a delightful family from Tunbridge Wells I’ve

known since the boy was 13 and now he’s a grown-up. It’s charming. We talk about the old days at the Hackney Empire, or our aches and pains. There’s a connection there, even though we don’t really know each other, because on

one level we do.

What sort of stories will you be telling on this tour?

Well, there’s a rather long story about how I once saved Joan Collins’s life in a swimming pool in St Tropez. It’s a true story, which I won’t give away now, but it’s a long, meandering tale that fills the first half.

Then the second half is about MBEs. I’ve noticed a lot of my friends in the business are getting these awards. They’re handing them out like Smarties. I think, ‘Ooh, I’d like one of those’, but it’s never happened so I’m obviously not favoured by the Establishment. I can only blame myself... So during the show, I give myself one and call it ‘Mincer of the British Empire’. I’m making lots of these MBEs and handing them out to people in the audience. Just the

lucky few, you understand: it’s not included in the ticket price. I’m always looking for an excuse to talk to the audience. That’s what keeps me going. You can get bored if you’re just reeling off the same old nonsense. I’m always very interested in the audience and their stories. People are very funny; they never fail to amuse.

I assume that if you were offered an MBE in real life, you would accept?

I’d bite their hands off! I think I’ve been too rude about the Royal Family over the years, unfortunately. I’m probably on some kind of black list somewhere.

What do you think of Kate Middleton, the new one?

Well, she’s very fertile, isn’t she? What more can one say? She’s got lovely hair.

Is there anywhere you’re particularly looking forward to visiting on your tour?

I love Glasgow. My rule used to be that the further north you go, the more extrovert people are. But I’ve changed my mind about that rule because I’ve had lovely gigs down south as well as in grim northern towns. I’m an any time any place kinda gal, I guess.

Do you find it difficult being on tour? Other comedians complain that it is lonely and that you eat badly because you’re constantly on the road.

Well, nobody’s making you do it. And there’s a Waitrose in every town these days. It’s probably just the dreary, married heterosexual types that complain. This is what I wanted to do 30 years ago, and I’m still doing it - standing on stage, talking about myself and getting applause for it. What’s not to like? I suppose it’s a bit weird coming off stage and being on your own, but it doesn’t bother me.

Your personal life seems to have changed as much as your career - you’ve turned your back on partying and now live an idyllic rural lifestyle in a village in Kent, is that right?

Yes. Well that’s what I’m telling you anyway. I think there’s nothing drearier than a 56 year old homosexual hanging around Soho in lycra. Mercifully, one grows out of that. Thank goodness.

What’s happened to the old outfits?

I’ve still got them, though goodness knows what I’ll ever do with them. I might bring some of them on the tour, as it’s my 30 year anniversary. A kind of retrospective fashion show. I used to look at all these drawings of rubber outfits covered in feathers and think, ‘My goodness, that’s outrageous, I couldn’t possibly’. But that was part of the fun.

Are you never tempted to wear them again?

Don’t be silly. I sniff them sometimes. Just for old times’ sake. Scent is very evocative isn’t it? A lung full of my old diamante jockstrap and I’m immediately transported back to the London Palladium in 1993.

Do you ever wear make-up anymore?

Only on tour. I like the glittery lips and all of that. Not for television. I think on high definition, it looks a bit peculiar.

How do you feel about ageing - do you enjoy it?

It’s not on the top of my list of enjoyable things, no. Although I am thrilled with my grey hair. I’ve turned from a fluffy chicken into a silver fox. It’s very interesting: when you’re young, there are all these things you want to achieve. Then when you get to your 50s you’ve either done them or you haven’t, so the physical deterioration is offset by the things that you can tick off the list. In that respect each decade is better than the last. Although I’m sure one reaches a tipping point where that’s not the case anymore.

How do you feel when you look in the mirror?

I think it’s very easy to delude yourself. I might think to myself, ‘I need to lose some weight’, so I won’t have any butter on my toast, and the next day I look again and think, ‘Gosh, I’ve lost two stone’. I’m fine about myself, really. It could have been a lot worse.

What hobbies do you have?

I used to like yoga, although I haven’t been for ages. It started morphing into an encounter group with people talking about their depression and their marriage problems. I just wanted my ham strings stretched. So I said ‘Namaste’ and didn’t return. I like pottering around my garden. Am I good? I’m very good at walking around and telling my gardener what to do. If I’d have told you years ago that you would end up living in the county with dogs, pottering around your garden, would you have believed me? I probably would, actually. Because as a child I was very into animals and nature. Obviously I got distracted for a few years. With gay urban and all the rest of it. So I’ve come full circle.

Do you still play poker?

I do, and I’m getting better, which is exciting news. I used to lose hundreds of pounds. But now, if I lose £50, I feel like I’ve won.

What about cooking?

Oh, I loathe cooking. It’s hot and bothersome. Getting everything ready at the same time, all that peeling and chopping, and then it’s gone within a minute. It’s a shame, because I have the sort of house where I had a vision of myself baking and making jam, but I’m not cut out for it at all. I can make a nice salad. You can buy anything in supermarkets ready-made, can’t you? You don’t need to make your own food. It’s far nicer out of a carton.

What do you think the public perception is of you, and do you think they’d be surprised by your real life?

Maybe people imagine I’m camp and outrageous all the time and that I wear full make-up and glittery outfits when I’m at home doing the hoovering. In fact I wear just a touch of raspberry lip balm and a drip dry kimono. Just like anyone else.

Are you well known in your village?

Well, who knows? Most people here have got better things to do than get excited about celebrities in their midst. Mind you, I was in the front garden recently and a woman drove past with a friend and then I heard her car screech to a halt. And I heard her say, ‘There he is, look, there he is’. Then she shouted out to me, ‘Where’s the other one?’, meaning Paul O’Grady, who lives in the same village. Quite rude, I thought. I am aware that I am sometimes slightly snappy with members of the public.

What would be the best way to approach you, if somebody wanted to come and ask for an autograph?

Send a stamped addressed envelope to my agent. I jest. As long as I’m in a good mood I’ll oblige. Autographs, selfies, a sample of my DNA, you only have to ask.

Your children’s book, The Bolds, was hugely successful. Did you feel any pressure writing the second one?

No. I’m onto my third now. They flow out of me, I don’t know where they’re all coming from. It’s delightful; I just have such a lovely time writing them. Making children laugh is a whole new thing for me, it’s lovely. No child pretends to laugh - it’s very genuine. It’s obviously a world away from my usual filth but that’s liberating. A whole new World.

You came third on Strictly Come Dancing and won Celebrity Big Brother. Are there any other reality shows you’d like to do?

I like reality television. I like watching it, and I like things that are unscripted.

What about acting?

I don’t have any burning desire to act. I’ve spent so long creating my persona that it seems strange to let that go and be someone else.

I’m always looking for a surprising offer, mind you. Good things often come along as a sort of divine intervention. Just as you’re thinking, ‘What am I going to do next year?’, something wonderful comes along. And if it doesn’t I’ll think up my own fun and games in the privacy of my luxury home. And I’ll make sure I draw the curtains before I start.