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Richard Eyre, 71, was director of the National Theatre from 1987 to 1997. His numerous productions there included Guys and Dolls, Richard III and King Lear. His film and television credits include Notes on a Scandal, Iris and Tumbledown, for which he won a Bafta. He was knighted in 1997.
What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
Like a lot of young boys I used to daydream about being a fireman and rescuing people from burning buildings but if I had a real ambition it was to be a ballet dancer, after I read my sister’s copy of Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes.
Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
Sherborne [public] School. I didn’t like it and was thrown out three or four months early. I became a barman and then went to university. I got a third at Cambridge.
Who was or still is your mentor?
As an aspiring director, my model was Peter Brook. He was the one I admired without reservation. Then I got to know him as a friend and he’s a continuing inspiration.
How physically fit are you?
When I’m working I spend most of my day on my feet and if I’m in London I go running three times a week in Hyde Park, so for my age I’m quite fit.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
Talent. But talent without character is just smoke in the air. So talent and character – character meaning the ability to withstand defeat, being stubborn and stoical and doing things for the right reason.
Have you ever taken an IQ test?
I have. I was 12, I think. The result was 132. I can’t remember if that’s good or bad.
How politically committed are you?
I have a profound interest in how society works. I believe in the forces of class and money, and in trying to create a more equal society. Unfortunately I’m increasingly sceptical about the agents of change being in parliament.
Do you consider your carbon footprint?
I’m environmentally aware and occasionally quite conscientious.
Do you have more than one home?
Yes: one in London, one in Gloucestershire.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
A Howard Hodgkin painting.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
My garden. And 40 or even 30 years ago, I wouldn’t have believed I’d ever say this.
In what place are you happiest?
What ambitions do you still have?
To keep working is quite a powerful, overriding ambition.
What drives you on?
The joy of working on a good project with good people.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
I suppose running the National Theatre. But I wouldn’t single out any particular project: it would be like trying to pick a favourite child.
What has been your greatest disappointment?
Not bothering to learn to speak several languages properly.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?
He would be incredulous.
If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?
I would start again, doing what I do, in the belief that everything comes full circle.
Do you believe in assisted suicide?
I do, yes.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
I believe in an afterlife in the sense of Larkin’s “What will survive of us is love”.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
I’d say eight. To which the response would be, “You jammy bastard!”
‘The Pajama Game’, directed by Richard Eyre, is at the Shaftesbury Theatre until Sept 13; thepajamagamethemusical.com
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