The Inventory: Eric Idle

‘I’ll jump on anybody’s private plane at the drop of a hat. I’m an old-fashioned lower-middle-class boy,’ says the former Monty Python comedian

What was your earliest ambition?

To be a journalist; I had a typewriter and I loved writing.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

My education was paid for by the RAF Benevolent Fund, so a charity school, run like an orphanage, with uniforms and beatings. It was tough but it got me to Cambridge – like being a chrysalis suddenly becoming a butterfly.

Who was or still is your mentor?

I’ve had two: Jonathan Miller, when I was doing The Mikado; and Mike Nichols, with whom I worked for five years on Spamalot.

How physically fit are you?

I do pool exercises, like weightlifting but underwater. I walk, I swim … I’m pretty fit for an old bloke.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

Talent is always more interesting – ambition is not interesting. If you have talent, you have to find ways of expressing it but you may not be a success in the world’s terms.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

I think so but it was so long ago. I hate them because it’s all basic maths and I’m blind to numbers.

How politically committed are you?

Not at all. Laughing at them all is our job as comedians.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

No. I will jump on anybody’s private plane at the drop of a hat. I’m an old-fashioned lower-middle-class boy.

Happiest place: Provence

Yes. The first house I ever bought I still own – it’s in Provence – and I have a home in Los Angeles. I have to have sunshine.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

A first-edition Shakespeare.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

I have about 30 guitars. I love a handmade guitar. They’re so beautiful. My only other extravagance is books.

In what place are you happiest?

Provence. Easy!

What ambitions do you still have?

None. I like to write and think up things that would be fun and pursue them but I don’t have ambitions.

What drives you on?

A 12-year-old Cadillac.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

One’s kids are the best achievement. I have a son and a daughter. Keeping a relationship with the same woman for 35 years is quite an achievement too.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

Not having a father. My father was killed hitchhiking home from the war in 1945 so I didn’t know what a father was. I have learnt to become a father. I wasn’t very good first time around – my son has forgiven me – but I was better the second time, when I said, “Nothing will come between me and being a father.”

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?

He’d be amazed. Going from auditioning for Footlights to putting on plays, musicals, films, Monty Python, it’s unbelievable.

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

If I have my wife and kids, I’ve lost nothing. I’d carry on doing what I’m doing – writing and trying to listen to what I’m thinking. That’s the adventure that keeps me going.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?

Yes. You should be allowed to exit with dignity.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

No.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?

Eleven. I’m very, very rewarded.


‘What About Dick?’ is available to download from www.whataboutdick.com. Monty Python’s ‘Spamalot’ is at The Playhouse Theatre, London, www.spamalot2012.co.uk

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