By Alison Boshoff
Daily Mail, Tuesday July 15, 2003-07-15 | Thanks Mimi!

The pretty skirt - new season Cacharel - could not be more feminine. Nor could the applied make-up or spiky-heeled Yves St Laurent shoes.

Eddie Izzard, 41, had even attempted to make his burly physique more womanly with the addition of fake breasts - 38C, since you ask.

(The breasts, incidentally, were borrowed from Uma Thurman's body double in The Avengers film in which he co-starred. 'They're his favourites,' a friend said yesterday.)

The overall effect is disconcerting. Pictured after a night out at the Groucho Club at the weekend, Izzard cuts an extraordinary figure, to say the least.

The physique and walk are unmistakably male, but everything else - from the Calvin Klein sunglasses to the sheer tights - has been chosen because it screams 'woman'.

So who is this man strolling through London's Soho dressed expensively in women's clothes? And what is it that makes him want to dress as a woman?

For the surprising truth is that Edward John Izzard is the heterosexual product of an extremely conventional upbringing. His father, John, is a retired BP accountant living in the most conservative of resorts, Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex.

Izzard is one of the most successful stand-up comedians Britain has produced. He is equally one of the most controversial and troubled.

His fetish for cross-dressing has lead many to claim he is homosexual. In fact, he insists he is straight. So what makes this most bizarre figure tick?

He says he first wanted to wear a dress aged four, and started to cross-dress in secret in his teens.. In his early 20s he began to dress as a woman in public. But for all his fondness for frocks and high heels, Eddie is a confirmed heterosexual.

'He likes bosomy, busty women and is his very successful with them' insists Karon Maskill, Izzard's PR for five years and the blonde pictured with him at the Groucho. 'There are so many groupies on the tour - a lot of women find him very attractive. The write him erotic literature - you would not believe it.'

Karon, who insists she is 'certainly not' romantically involved with Izzard, says that they enjoy a cosy relationship and often go on shopping trips together.

'Your forget that it's out of the ordinary after a while,' she says. 'He is not at all girly and not at all camp. I think people expect him to be one or the other, but he is a real man.

'He loves his gadgets and toys, and he loves flirting with women. At the same time, he loves shopping and he loves his shoes. I don't think you can understand it unless you are him.'

This bizarre lifestyle has not damaged Izzard's popularity as a comedian. His fortune is believed to stand at 5 million, thanks to lucrative video sales. After his forthcoming world tour, it may well double.

Prince William has 'all his videos', according to Prince Charles. Madonna is a fan, as are Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Billy Connolly and Sean Penn.

Such fame was not anticipated for the boy born in Yemen to a family which then moved to Northern Ireland and Wales, following his father's career with BP. Izzard's mother, Dorothy, a midwife, is remembered as an endlessly loving figure.

'She used to bring me hot, milky coffee when I woke up in the night,' Eddie has said.

After her death from cancer in 1968, he and his elder brother Mark were sent to a strict, old-fashioned boarding school. Eddie, who was dyslexic and deep in grief, found it cruel and frightening.

'I cried relentlessly for a year' he said. 'My housemaster would help me along with beatings when he could fit them in'.

The death of his mother was a defining experience for Izzard, who makes no secret of the fact that he is still grieving for her.

'The loss doesn't get better. The brain deals with it, but I don't think I'll ever get over it. It is hellish and there is no bloody logic in it.'

He insists, though, that this loss has no bearing on his desire to dress as a woman: he says that was present before his mother died. Instead, he says her death made him a performer.

'One of the problems of loss at an early age is that it leaves you with a tremendous need to be loved. It's why I love performing to a live audience. I could never stop. It's a drug to me.

Eddie studied accountancy at Sheffield University, but spent his time performing, dropping out after a year. He appeared at the Edinburgh Festival and in 1991 was nominated for the Perrier Award. Two years later, he won the British Comedy Award for Best Stand-Up Comedian. Since then, he has appeared in films and won two Emmys for Dress To Kill, a video of his stage show.There have also been West End Runs with A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg and Lenny, about Lenny Bruce.

Surprisingly, he has conquered the U.S. - traditionally an ultra-conservative market - with apparent ease. It is a punishing schedule, which has certainly made it difficult for him to have an enduring relationship. But then, as he admits he is not beyond sabotaging relationships because losing his mother has left him terrified of experiencing loss.He says he was 'frozen' until the age of 19. When he began dating women he didn't know how to cope. 'Being in love was like a drug, a heavy outpouring of emotion on my part. I opened up and they ran off. I had to learn to calm down,' he said.

By the time he lost his virginity at 21, he was cross-dressing in private and struggling to define his sexuality.

When he was 23, he told a female friend whose brother was gay that he was a transvestite. She helped him to 'come out' to his friends and to join a support group. 'I did a whole six months wearing make-up and skirts - I just wore them every day,' he said.

'From day one, the hassle you get is through the roof and you have no social skills to deal with it. And then it calms down, you develop those skills and you get your look together more. But your day one is hell, and your day two is hell minus one day. You have to step over this huge mental barrier.'

Telling his father was even more difficult. 'I built up to it for years. I told him when I was 29. We'd just been to a Crystal Palace football match. He just said: "That's OK."

'Even though he's ultra-conventional, he's been supportive. I'm so pleased I confronted my fear and told him. I'd have been frustrated if I hadn't.'

'I always thought I'd be a comedian with a huge secret. But once I told my dad, I felt free to reveal it on stage. Ever since, I've refused to apologise for being what I am.'

John Izzard, 74, who lives with his second wife, Kate, said 'He is a great lad. I have been proud of him an his brother for such a long time. It really doesn't matter what he wears, he is the same Eddie he always was. He's my son and I think he is terrifically talented.'

Loyal words, but others fear that the legacy of Eddie's conservative upbringing is that - for all his brave talk - he is far from happy with his unconventional private life. For one thing he remains unsure about the boundaries of his sexuality, and says his feelings about cross dressing fluctuate.

'I am constantly trying to access my whole girl side, trying to define what my sexuality is all about,' he said last year.

'I haven't got the answers. It is still a bit confusing. And I know that some sections of society find me abhorrent.'

He always has to explain that he is not homosexual, and is frustrated when he is not believed.

'I am not gay. I'd say if I was. But try as I might, I just can't fancy a man.'

Certainly there have been a string of women, including one long-term relationship with the singer Sarah Louise Townsend. The relationship was, unsurprisingly, complicated. They dated from 1999 until some time in 2002, but were never pictured together and she was never named by Eddie.

'Everyone thinks she doesn't exist or she is a front for me being gay,' he once complained. They were introduced by a friend the late Eighties in Londonderry. They drifted apart because of his touring commitments but then re-ignited their romance, with Sarah Louise joining his tours abroad and accompanying him to TV recordings.

They always kept separate flats in London, hers in Chelsea and his in West London. Though the romance has fizzled out, they continue to run a company, Ella Communications, together, and she has worked on several of his videos.

Without her, his sex life remains as confused as ever. Recently, he complained: 'I've got breast envy. Just like teenage girls or some women think: "Oh, I wish I was bigger." That's exactly what's going on with me.'

And it seems that Eddie's thoughts are turning to his life after the world tour and the possibility that he might become a father one day - despite his doubts over his identity. He aides admit he does talk about it and his father said yesterday that the topic has come up.

'Eddie' does talk about having a family and he would be a terrific dad,' he said 'But first he has to find someone to have children with.'

Let's hope he finds her.

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