Sunday, 18 October 2015

Christopher Biggins: A Portrait Of The Artiste

Intent on a healthy old age, he still needs to lose weight, but recently quit booze: “I was drinking a couple of bottles of wine a week, but a doctor asked if I wanted to die in my own bed or in a hospital bed dribbling, so I gave up just like that and don’t miss it at all. I do worry about a painful death, but I keep telling Cameron Mackintosh I’ll move into his house and we’ll be looked after by the most gorgeous male nurses.”

Born in Oldham and brought up in Salisbury, he has always moved in circles he can’t really afford, ever since his car salesman father and barmaid mother scrimped to send him to private school and elocution lessons to erase the Wiltshire accent. He attended Bristol Old Vic, then joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, performing alongside Peggy Ashcroft, Donald Sinden and the young Judi Dench: “I was classified as the joker of our year, but when I got the RSC everybody was shocked, jealous.”

Subsequent gigs included the film of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Porridge with Ronnie Barker, Nero in the BBC’s legendary I, Claudius and the “sex-mad vicar” in the original television series of Poldark.

After moving into children’s television in the 1980s (”You had to be terribly careful as a gay man not to be seen as a paedophile”), his image morphed into that of bon viveur for hire; walker to everyone from Liza Minnelli to Lauren Bacall. It’s clear why they all indulge him — he oozes empathy and anecdotes and is much sharper than his buffoonish image implies...

In recent years his bread and butter has been panto and reality shows (he won I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! in 2007 — “the best career decision I ever made”)...

As Lukewarm, the comedy gay in Porridge.
A “ridiculous” youthful marriage apart (he and his former wife are still friends, natch), Biggins has long been openly gay, a situation that, according to his peer Rupert Everett, makes it impossible to win leading man roles. “Did Rupert say that? Sounds like sour grapes, he’s far too old to get romantic leads anyway. It amazes me there are still so many sportsmen, actors, singers, politicians who won’t come out and admit what they are.

“People are scared they’ll upset their fans, but the fans don’t care. I was at Cliff Richard’s concert at the Royal Albert Hall the other night — he gives so much pleasure. It may be to women of a certain age but that doesn’t matter. He’s a megastar.”

Biggins, a campaigner [sic] for Stonewall — the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender charity — “doesn’t approve” of gay marriage: “It’s fine for others, but calling Neil my husband is a step too far.” Gaybies? His baby-pink face crumples in distaste. “I couldn’t afford children: I’d need an enormous house with wings and nannies who’d bring them to me every evening for half an hour. I’d rather have a 54in TV.” He laughs joyfully, then leaps up to snaffle a scone from the complimentary buffet.

The Sunday Times.

Not sure either Sir Cameron or Sir Cliff have actually come out, Christopher...

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