Sunday night in the Olympic stadium was one of those extraordinary experiences, a unique moment in my life, and one that I shall never forget.
If ageing is finding newer and better ways to scare the shit out of yourself, then this was perfect: live in front of millions of people in a highly technical show with even the Dress Rehearsal cancelled and only everything to go wrong, I had occasion to question my sanity in agreeing to doing something quite so silly quite so publicly.
About a year ago the rather brilliant director Kim Gavin and The Head of Pretty Much Everything Else took me out to lunch and asked me to do Always Look On The Bright Side of Life at the Closing Ceremony. They took me round the completed stadium and the work site that would so brilliantly come together as a pleasure zone and asked me to keep quiet about it, as they wanted it to be a surprise. I was happy to agree but now I can say I was very proud to have been selected for the British Show Biz Team at The Olympic Games, I am a Comedy Olympian and I was also hoping to win a Brass Medal.
Waiting to go on was surreal, I was following The Spice Girls, and with the sound track in my ears and having to sing live and people also yelling in my ear I could only go forward and hope. I could hear nothing else. Not the crowd, not anyone, so when immediately I finished someone asked me “Are you happy?” I could only say “I’m happy it’s over.” But with hundreds of emails from all round the world I now know it worked and the reviews were magnificent and it was all worth it, and yes reading the comments of my friends made me very happy indeed.
The magnificent Timothy Spall confessed that with seconds to go, crouched in a chair at the top of Big Ben with a homburg hat ready to be Churchill he was absolutely terrified. Posh said she was scared stiff, they hadn’t performed in a while, but the Spice Ladies all looked exquisite and I got hugs from almost all of them. I got to watch David Beckham playing with his kid, very sweet, I got to hang with my new pal Russell Brand (who stars in Dick), I got nice hugs from Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry, to whom I said “Now we know who we are: we are the sort of people who will turn out for nothing!” I had a nice hello from Ray Davies in a golf cart, a big squeeze from the adorable Annie Lennox, bristling with bonhomie and normality, greetings from Brian May and the Queen boys, and Nick Mason whom I have known since 1979, who said he was moved by the whole thing (me too) and a lovely hug from the adorable and extremely beautiful Naomi Campbell. We did a crap movie together in the nineties and I found her delightful, then and now.
So though we did not get the dress rehearsal we had been promised – it was amazing they erected the stage in time anyway – by show time there was only one thing to do, fingers crossed and go for it. After all it’s not every day you get to follow The Spice Girls. Hiding under the stage awaiting my cue with eight of the most exquisite scantily dressed models, all wearing angel wings, I asked a stage hand who was staring at them open mouthed, “Is this Heaven?”
“Oh yes” he said.
“Funny they don’t look like virgins to me” I said.
Odd how a gag can calm you down before you face the storm and suddenly I could hear my pal Jeff singing Mr. Blue Sky, which was my cue to crouch down in the hole waiting to emerge.
And in a blur it was over.
In fact the only downer of the whole experience was the usual attempt by The Daily Mail to create a war between us Pythons, and in particular between me and John Cleese. One thing you can say about The Daily Mail is they never let the truth stand in the way of a good story. This morning I was amazed to read the hoary old lie about Pythons at war with each other trotted out yet again, with a series of old “quotes” this time “written” (perhaps “made up” is a better word) by a an old ex-girlfriend of Terry Gilliam’s called Glenys Roberts, a woman who might easily have been made up by Private Eye. They tried this on last December announcing a war between myself and John Cleese and I wrote at once to John, assuring him I love him, and have always been grateful for the many laughs he has given me throughout my life. He replied warmly and we have been on very good terms ever since. Now on the occasion of his marriage they try again. So I have written to him again, congratulating him on his marriage and wishing him great happiness. Lest there be any mistake. I like John Cleese. He is very, very funny. He has been working incredibly hard over the last few years, and I wish him well for the rest of his life. I like the rest of the Pythons. We get on very well. I do not like The Daily Mail. I can only urge you to laugh at them. Best yet, ignore them. And of course “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life.”