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Stephen Fry, British Polymath: A Twinterview

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The British polymath Stephen Fry's garlands -- as a comedian, actor, novelist and memoirist -- would fill a dozen award cabinets, but this week that he topped them all by successfully vanquishing a former British Prime Minister. His latest volume of autobiography, The Fry Chronicles, has barged Tony Blair from the top of the bestseller lists. As the King of Twitter -- one of the 100 most followed Tweeters in the world -- I interviewed him this week on the site, before two million gawping onlookers.

Johannhari101: Thanks for doing this Stephen. We meet in your digital Kingdom. You're a great evangelist for Twitter. Why?

StephenFry: I'm an evangelist for twitter, Johann, because I'm a whore for anything new. They don't all turn out as well as Twitter though...

JH: What would you Tweet to Oscar Wilde, if I could've smuggled an iPhone into Reading Gaol?

SF: I'd have tried to assure Oscar that he would be remembered and venerated long into the future. That his suffering was somehow worthwhile

JH: Can we be too connected? Is there a downside? Do you agree with people who say Twitter is crippling our attention spans?

SF: I don't agree Twitter is making us dumber: that's what they said of the novel. Attention spans? Well, I've yet to see the empirical evidence.

SF: Steven Pinker wrote a very good article some weeks ago lambasting those who claimed, without evidence, that social media dumbs down...

JH: You must need assurance too. Your new book is v brave & exposing. What part are you most nervous about people reading?

SF: Gosh. I think I'm most nervous about revealing how nervous I have always been. People think me calm, confident, poised. Inside I'm a jelly...

JH: Speaking of jelly... The book starts with u addicted to one white powder, sugar, and ends with u addicted to another, cocaine. Is that a fair description?

SF: Those two addictions are the (literal) bookends. Part of the book is about my hatred of my physical self and yet my need to placate it.

SF: But I suspect we're all a little like that... no?

SF: Nice of you to say brave, but for some reason I've always found it easy to be honest in print. Less easy in real life, unfortunately...

JH: You describe yourself as "ugly" constantly in the book. Do you see now that's a symptom of depression, not an objective fact?

SF: Well I do know there are people who disagree with my own view of my physical appearance, and I know how annoying/pathological I've been!

JH: In fact, lots of people find you attractive. You must realise that. Speaking of honesty... you say you've never fancied Hugh Laurie. Come on Stephen, you can tell me...

SF: *blush* *simper* *giggle* *nervously makes circles in the carpet with the pointed end of his shoes* *shuffles* *giggles* etc.

JH: Hah! I KNEW it! I've seen the pictures...

SF: It is a fortunate truth. I do recognise that he is very handsome and I know that many men and women do lust after him. Happily not I. True!

SF: Oh no. You thought the *blush* etc referred to Hugh! No, it was in response to your "people find you attractive" tweet! *help!* crossed wires

JH: Excuses, excuses... Hah! I would say 'lol' if I didn't believe that phrase should be punished with immediate death.

SF: Be gentle with "lol" "katz" and the odd new jargons, patois and formulations that arise from the net. Some of them are lovely & should be valued x

JH: You are v nice about everyone in the book, except Alexei Sayle & Robbie Coltrane, who sound monstrous. Are they?

SF: Oh golly. Am I that bad about them? They're not monstrous at all. Capable of it in the past, but everyone's redeemable. A.S. much nicer now

JH: Let's do some quick-fire topical questions. Do you agree with Hitchens & Dawkins that the Pope should be arrested 4 covering up abuse?

SF: Not necessarily. I do not think he should be allowed to travel in the guise of a "head of state" however.

JH: What would you say to him if you were given a Papal audience? Or if he turned up to your show at the Royal Albert Hall? (Plug, plug...)

SF: I'd want him to understand the real harm he does in vilifying gay love & covering up the child rape committed by his underlings for starters.

SF: My show at the Albert Hall, you say? On the 20th, 21st and 23rd of Sept. That one. His Holiness is welcome to come, but he must behave himself.

JH: Are you worried by the coalition cuts in spending on the arts, and on mental health services, including depression?

SF: Very worried by those cuts, yes. The smallest cuts in arts and mental health can have the hugest impact. It's chicken feed compared to other fields, but so as to look "fair" cuts are made that will devastate and demoralise for a generation. It's very sad.

JH: Your book is a love letter to the BBC. Do you worry Rupert Murdoch could kill it?

SF: I worry that the BBC will kill itself in its hurry to placate its enemies in the media. Just because "we pay" for the BBC it seems to justify any amount of assaulting it

JH: In the book, you say you always "really did ache to be a star. I want to be famous, admired, stared at, and known." Why?

SF: I wish I knew, Johann! Cheapness, hollow whorish inadequacy? It's silly and wrong, but I had to admit it!

JH: U also say there's a paradox in our view of fame: we all "know that money& fame do not bring happiness" but we "don't want to know it."

SF: Yes, I think that paradox is true. We all *say* money and fame are trashy and don't guarantee happiness, but we all refuse really to know it

JH: The book has a bold defence of celebrity culture & fame, against the general sneering. What do you like about it?

SF: It's not that i like celebrity culture so much that i dislike sneering or people not thinking things thru. I like to think against the flow

JH: And why is everyone so down on it? We're all part of it, and we all sneer

SF: Exactly; there's no hypocrite like someone who uses the word "hypocrite" - and I include myself in that. 2 many think others are the problem

JH: Yes. And you say that celebrity culture isn't new - the ancient Greeks did it. Can you explain?

SF: I am the reason the world is so fucked up ... if we could all say and mean that the world wouldn't be fucked up... Oops. I used the fuck word. Sorry.

JH: Speaking of celebrities who think they're Gods, you've beaten Tony Blair off top of Amazon! Have you read his book? What do you think?

SF: As one who used, in the opposition days, to write bits of speeches for Blair, I can't say I'm pleased at how he turned out!

SF: I did tweet earlier that being No 1 on Amazon meant so much more because it knocked him off that posish. Wrong of me, perhaps, but still, eh?

SF: I started to read his book, but it made me feel a bit unwell. The weird matey jostling with the alpha male I find, well, nauseating, TBH

JH: Coming back to your autobiographies... Should it be legal today to send children away to boarding school @ 7 years old, as you were?

SF: It certainly shouldn't be illegal. I didn't mind particularly. I never doubted my parents' love for me, boarding school or not.

JH: Your Royal Albert Hall show is themed on people tweeting you. What would you tweet to your 16 year old self?

SF: Yes, in answer to your question, there are still some good seats in the Albert Hall left for Sept 23rd I think... but they're going!

SF: Golly. I'd tweet myself to stop feeling sorry myself I suppose. But my 16 yr old self wouldn't listen. He'd carry on being a mooncalf...

JH: If you could send a Tweet to the afterlife, who would it go to and what would it say?

SF: A tweet to the afterlife? Isn't that what epitaphs on tombstones are?

SF: "Here lies one who tried to restrict his utterances to 140 characters but despite his best efforts he often got carried away and failed to f

JH: You say you always found the gay scene "about as arousing as a Tupperware party." Why was that?

SF: I was never aroused by Clones, by muscle vests, by disco or dance music, by staring eyes and forbidding glances; made me very unhappy & scared.

SF: Mind you Tupperware parties can be quite hot...

JH: You call yourself "90 percent gay". Do you see yourself ever having a relationship with a woman? If so, which one?

SF: Ha! In the book I do mention two women in my life I could have ... you know ... gone further with. Rowan Atkinson married one of them, curse him...

JH: A fight between Melchett and Blackadder for the same woman... why was that episode never filmed?

SF: Ha ha! Melchie would've won, simply by being louder. Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

JH: What would you Tweet to Richard Wagner?

SF: I'd tweet him to abandon his hideous anti-Semitism. Warn him that it would lose him admirers and stain his reputation, and would lead to evil

JH: You're also very brave in the book to describe how you were celibate for ten years. Do you regret it? What reawakened you?

SF: I don't regret the celibacy no. I regret little in my life. I think the Cell Mates incident (walking out of a play) focussed me out of it.

SF: Celibacy is just one of things that the Mozzer and I have in common....

JH: You describe how as an undergrad a big group barged into your rooms and demanded to "know your secret". What's your secret, Stephen Fry?

SF: Golly. My secret is that I have never thought there is a secret to anything in life. Passion. Love. Drive. Work. Work. Work. Dull but true.

JH: That seems a good note to end. Thanks for doing this. All hail Stephen, vanquisher of Blair, King of Twitter, and Queen of the Royal Albert Hall...

Stephen Fry Live is on at the Royal Albert Hall on September 20th, 21st and 23rd at 8pm. Tickets cost from £30 to £55. To book ring 0844 875 8758 or log onto www.ticketzone.co.uk

Johann Hari is a columnist for the Independent - you can read more of his work here - and at www.twitter.com/johannhari101