Edinburgh plays host to some quite weird and wonderful events, and when it comes to books and the like, August’s Edinburgh Book Festival has a bit of a monopoly. There are, of course, other author events throughout the year, but often the biggest or (personally) favourite authors are seen there. But then an event like this pops up.
Stephen Fry’s new book More Fool Me, the third installment in his autobiographical series, is said to be a little bit wild. It’s the one that deals with his most crazy years, which include snorting cocaine in Buckingham Palace, so you get the gist. Walk into the theatre and your ticket grants you a free copy of the book; this is no show to promote it, nor persuade you to buy it. So, really, if you already have the book – what’s the point?
The point is, other than getting to watch Stephen Fry witter on like he does on TV, that he’s full of good stories. The fact he hilariously sums up the first time he met Hugh Laurie with a one word impression and no mention of his name (you’d be hard pressed to find a better Laurie-esque ‘hullo’ if you tried) sets the tone for most of the evening.
He recalls some of his high points in Edinburgh, the seeming need for Australians to add vowels to mono-syllabic works to inexplicably extend them, and throws in some Dave-mocking for good measure. It’s not his fault, he assures us, that he is inescapable on the television (as if anyone in attendance really minds all that much).
Then things take a more sombre, dark turn as he talks of depression. Mental health issues is in no way an excuse for his behaviour with drugs over the years, but he uses a rather interesting comparison to internal and external weather and the inability to control it to convey the struggles and feelings of someone who battles with depression, or other health issues, that many might not understand.
The tone continues as he talks of celebrity deaths, culminating in a horrifically tragic Robin Williams story. One night he was performing a stand up show but – on top of his usual brilliance on stage – he was truly on fire. The man who told Fry the story (I can’t remember his name for the life of me) said afterwards, with tears streaming down his face, that if he could bring so much joy to people as Williams had that night for just three minutes, that would make his life. Williams replied, if only he could cause the same joy for himself for three minutes…
Admittedly a difficult, yet illuminating detour into darker mental territory, but the evening ends with a reading from his book (somewhat longer than the list of mad places he’d snorted coke). It involves tea with the Prince of Wales at his house, with a crescendo that hat tips why everyone generally loved Princess Diana. Taking a detour with Penn Jillette and the Queen Mother’s television and you get to the end, eventually.
Here’s the thing about Stephen Fry – he’s just brilliant. I mean, you can watch him on QI, in sketch shows, in documentaries and there’s a real quality to everything he does. Live is no different. Would I have enjoyed it half as much if I felt he was spending an hour and a half trying to sell me his book? No, probably not (although I’d still really enjoy it). Did I come home from a brilliant evening listening to Fry talk to dive headfirst into the book he’d so kindly included in the ticket price? You betcha.