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Local Personality

Friday 26 August 2011 Page 12

Tea with Barry Humphries

Barry Humphries Barry Humphries is an awardwinning actor, writer and comedian and lives in Saanen with his wife Lizzie Spender. Born in Camberwell, Melbourne, Australia, Barry has had a long and varied career, and is best known for his alter ego Dame Edna Everage, a Melbourne housewife whose rise to fame has been astronomical and who is definitely one of the best-loved, and most popular comedy characters of all time. I caught up with Mr. Humphries for a cup of tea and a chat at his home in Saanen. Barry Humphries: Are there any other Australians here ? Tess Larosse: I’m not sure… I don’t know, I can’t think of any… BH: This interview might bring them all out, you never know, flush them out… TL: When and how did you discover Saanenland ? BH: Well my wife Lizzie was always talking about it and about how nice it was here, and I thought, oh no, it’s going to be full of bankers, all living in cuckoo clocks, surrounded by azaleas and speaking in that strange ‘’Schweezer Dootsch’’. So about 13 years ago, I had a book to write and was in Ireland in a flat

borrowed from a friend and I had arrived there in the pouring rain with my typewriter to find out that the ‘’offer’’ was a basement bedroom, the use of a kettle and the rest of the house locked up in case I was going to steal things! I sat there miserably, having written about three words of my book, when Lizzie called me. She was staying with a friend in Schönried and said, ‘’it’s a lovely day here, what’s it like for you?’’ so I told her it was raining and I was miserable and her hostess suggested I join them there, so I did, and realised that I was in the middle of Europe, in a beautiful place and why had I protested against it for so long? After 9 / 11 some places really felt more secure than others and so we simultaneously bought a house in Sydney, and found this place in Saanen, with the help of some friends, and we love and adore it. I try to come to Saanen when I’m out of work, and I still work, unlike many people here, I’m not retired yet, I still do shows all over the world, appearing as my persona Dame Edna, and myself. I am quite well-known in the UK and Australia, and to an extent the United States, and I still enjoy a certain amount of anonymity here in Switzerland which can be quite nice, except of course when I’m trying to get a good table in a restaurant! TL: What are you doing at the moment ? BH: Next week I’m off to Australia to make a commercial to raise awareness about prostate cancer, which is a bit ironic , as Dame Edna is always talking about her husband’s prostate. So, it serves me right, a bit like karma… TL: I heard you’re going to appear in The Hobbit, a new blockbuster movie directed by Peter

Jackson of ‘’Lord of the Rings’’ fame, how did that come about ? BH: Yes I am. It’s going to be made in New Zealand. I got a call out of the blue from Peter Jackson who is a genius, and he said ‘’I want you in my new film, it’s a small role, but an important role, you’re going to play the King of the Goblins’’. It’s going to be full of fantastic special effects of which some of them may make me appear extremely fat, although I find so does some of the food at dinner parties here ! So that’s in October, they’re already filming now, and I’ll be going over to Wellington, where Jackson has his studios to film my part in October. I also appeared in a Broadway show last year, sharing the stage for the first time with a pianist and a singer called Michael Feinstein, I think he’s also played here by the way. I do prefer to be alone on stage though. I found about ten years ago that I had an audience in the US that I didn’t know about, and some of my British television shows went there. TL: Tell us a little about Dame Edna Everage, her famous talk show for instance. I remember Dame Edna always being there when I was a child in England. BH: I invented a comedy talk show Photo: Arts Centre Melbourne

Photo: Greg Gorman

The Interview – by Tess Larosse

Dame Edna meets Princess Diana.

with my persona Dame Edna about ten years ago, and Dame Edna likes to ask delving questions, things that people don’t usually talk about then. For example, she asked Julio Eglesias what his father did for a living. When Julio revealed that his father was a gaenacologist, Dame Edna was very excited about this and asked if he ever took his work home, and could be her gaenacologist. Julio then explained ‘’well his hand does shake rather a lot’’ to which Dame Edna replied ’’that’s Ok, I really don’t object to that!“ It’s nice to have a character that you can hide behind, one can say things - politically incorrect things that one dare not normally say. In a way that’s why the Americans like this, because they’re not used to having such things discussed. It’s a relief to them. TL: Do you have a special thing you like to do, or look forward to here ? BH: Well I don’t ski, because I can’t afford to break anything, and I’m not a bit sporty, so walking is what I like to do, but in the last five days I haven’t walked further from my house to the car! I like to walk in the winter, and especially between Saanen and Gstaad, and sit on one

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