EDDIE Izzard is Britain's most famous transvestite. At least that is how he used to be described. More recently, his other attributes - astonishingly inventive humour, outspoken political views and successful film acting - have edged ahead of notes on his nail polish and mascara. So ask him to talk clothes and he greets the query with a pause, then a languid intake of breath. "OK," he says. "What I'm wearing is clothes, basically. General clothes. You know, cloth-based stuff. Some cotton, I think. And shoes. Yeah, I've got shoes on. The sort of shoes you'd wear on Question Time."
Now this tempts one towards Izzard-style speculation - the sort of surreal tangents which delight audiences as he wonders why the grim reaper has not updated his kit to include a Flymo, and what happens inside a toaster when it decides not to let go of the bread. So what might constitute suitable footwear for Question Time - brogues, perhaps, for the holes in the arguments or black patent to reflect the glint of majority opinion?
This is not to say Izzard is glib or blasť about his
invitation to join this most ponderous of political debate programmes. He has already
appeared on Newsnight and is delighted to tell anyone who will listen (and many who won't)
just why the single currency is the best idea since Noah took up woodwork. "I was
always political," he insists. "It's nothing new, but I'm stamping on about
Europe because the British can be so incredibly small-minded. It's crazy. Europe is the
biggest melting pot in the world and we have all these little Englanders just wishing it
will all go away. Scotland is not quite so bad. In fact, the Scots can surely attest that
you don't lose your character by going into a union. They never became English,
One can tell Izzard is moving up a gear, about to cruise into a long speech on the benefits of mutual Euro-cuddles. So it's time to fire up the Flymo and do some grim reaping among his prize punditry blooms. Perhaps we could get back to frocks. Is it true that he cross-dresses less than he used to? He offers a long, long hmmm ... by way of response, then adds:
"It's not that it's less. It's that it is less of an issue. I just wear whatever clothes I want whenever I want. I don't think 'My God! More cross-dressing!' It's like it is for women. When you put on trousers, do bells ring and people scream and lean out of windows? Do monkeys nick your Biros because you're wearing flat shoes? There's a woman just walked past wearing trousers. Not bothered at all. Well, that's how it is for me."
This sunny at-peace-with-himself plateau has been hard won,
however. Izzard had a bleak childhood, even if he now amends this statement to
"not as bleak as all that". His mother died of bowel cancer when he was six
though this was not, he always explains patiently, the trigger for his transvestism. That
had begun two years earlier. However, it did make female clothes rather harder to come by,
he recalls wryly. His father was a high-flying accountant with BP, and so Eddie and his
brother were immediately sent to boarding
So while studying management and accountancy at Sheffield
But the distinction confuses more than casual hooligans.
So courage was rewarded again, and Izzard remains appreciative of the lesson. "I don't want to think of myself as Captain Transvestite," he muses. "But yes, I suppose I do ballsy things and they scare the hell out of me. But I believe that something phenomenally positive comes out of facing down scary issues. It certainly works for me. It's like wartime, I suppose. Hellish conditions, but everyone is forced onto a different, higher level of ability." Among the "higher levels of ability" that Izzard has forced on himself is performing in French for a French audience, and expanding his essentially intimate repertoire to accommodate audiences of 10,000. "I just played to 8,500 in Docklands," he laughs. "And I know that some people prefer smaller spaces and what they'd call 'the old intimacy' , but I just persuaded myself this was intimacy on a grand scale. Phenomenal intimacy!" Irrepressible optimism which is rewarded by ever-widening sell-out tours.
At 35, Izzard is arguably Britain's best-known stand-up comedian, though without ever having done a television series.