thu 18/07/2024

Stephen Fry: In Confidence, Sky Arts | reviews, news & interviews

Stephen Fry: In Confidence, Sky Arts

Stephen Fry: In Confidence, Sky Arts

The ebullient national treasure lets the celebrity mask slip

Stephen Fry talked to Laurie Taylor about the tiresome 'rind that is the fame layer'

When a celebrity lets their public mask slip, something wonderful and also disconcerting can happen: they can noticeably become someone else. If they’re lucky, that change can be so marked that they become just another face in a crowd.

Of course, if he were in a police line-up, I’m sure I’d have no problem picking out Stephen Fry, but something of that discernable physical shift happened in last night’s In Confidence, when Fry appeared in the interview hot seat with Laurie Taylor.

Fry’s fame is such that he does, in fact, get stopped wherever he goes. And he talked - naturally, very eloquently – about the tiresome “rind that is the fame layer” in his dealings with the world: everybody, to paraphrase post-breakdown Britney Spears, wants a piece of you.

Undoubtedly, fame has its rewards, and Fry was eager to point out that he wasn’t complaining – lest he come across as an over-indulged, whingeing celebrity. But one can surely sympathise with anyone who gets stopped by  mobile photo-snappers as often as Fry does. After all, wearing your public face, with its rictus grin on permanent stand-by, must surely start to get painful after a while. And, really, how is any person expected to behave as a loveable national treasure all the time? Fame elevates, and then it inevitably debases what it means to be human.

But there’s a difference between Piers Morgan’s brand of celebrity interview and Laurie Taylor’s. Taylor is a Radio 4 broadcaster and former sociology academic. I imagine the question of how many one night stands his famous guest might have had may not be of great interest to him. Or if it is, he manages to rise above it. And, unlike Morgan, Taylor doesn’t want his guest to play to the gallery, so there isn’t one. And with the absence of a studio audience, the relatively low studio lighting, and a cosy Turkish rug between them, In Confidence, as the name suggests – ridiculously, of course, for a broadcast interview – seems more like a private tête à tête. Or, indeed, an hour in your analyst’s office.

So that’s how the mask appeared to drop. Fry came across, not as his usual ebullient national-treasure public self, but as a rather more prickly sort. And he looked tired, a bit done in, a bit more human, not beaming with the celestial light of celebrity. Asked what he thought of the press coverage he receives, he practically threatened to leave. He claims not only not to read any reviews on himself, but no newspapers at all, though he insists that he's better informed than anyone who does, and maybe he’s right.

He also talked about his recently revealed chronic cocaine-taking years and, of course, his depression. And also how he genuinely loves doing TV ads and voiceovers – about which Taylor took some convincing – because he “likes to be below myself”. And finally he said he wished he could be more of a “mystery” like his friend Hugh Laurie, because he can never say no to an interview.

And, to my surprise – because, really, what haven’t we heard him talk about at great length already? – I rather warmed to Stephen Fry, who was recently voted the ideal Christmas dinner guest by the nation. I’m just very glad that he wasn’t on public form last night.

Wearing your public face, with its rictus grin on permanent stand-by, must surely start to get painful after a while

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I have yet to hear a decent defence from Stephen as to why he finds it necessary to inflate his huge fortune by making cheesy ads for cheesy products. Hats off to Bill Bailey for eschewing such rubbish.

The title is a dead giveaway. In Confidence on the telly? Please...everything the man says or does, however articulately, is showbusiness. Even his programme about depression was dishonest, dodging the question of suicide. Sometimes when the wrappings fall there's nothing underneath at all..

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