Comedian Barry Ferns lives directly opposite Monty Python star Michael Palin in Gospel Oak, London
Last year, he won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.
Barry Ferns, not Michael Palin.
“I’m helping Michael out at the weekend,” Barry told me yesterday.
“Doing what?” I asked.
“I paid a cumulative sum of £200 to take my father to see the live Monty Python show. It’s his birthday.”
“Michael Palin’s?” I asked.
Until one month ago, Barry was legally called Lionel Richie.
The beloved American singer-songwriter, musician, record producer and actor.
“It must have been exciting,” I suggested, “for Michael Palin to live opposite Lionel Richie for a time.”
“I have been Lionel Richie for seven years,” said Barry. “I went bankrupt as Lionel Richie.”
“Did you plan that?” I asked. “I have never done it myself, but going bankrupt can be quite profitable.”
“These are the Deed Poll forms,” said Barry.
I looked at the forms. They did indeed show that Lionel Richie was changing his name to Barry Ferns. Well, the forms actually said:
BARRY RICHARD SALVADOR FERNS
“Salvador?” I asked.
“I added a Salvador.”
“Because it’s so ridiculous.”
“Good movie,” I said.
“If I ever write an autobiography,” said Barry, “I am thinking of calling it My Seven Years as Lionel Richie.”
“I am still not quite sure,” I said “why you became Lionel Richie.”
“In 2001,” said Barry, “I started sticking stickers on things which said THIS BELONGS TO LIONEL RICHIE.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I found it very funny… The idea that Lionel Richie was going round acquiring things and then sticking stickers on things. That was in 2001.”
“To publicise a show?” I asked.
“No. Though I had taken a couple of shows to the Edinburgh Fringe before and I did another one in 2004. Its full title was The OAP Comedy Spectacular (Guaranteed Winner of The 2004 Perrier Award or Double Your Money Back From Their Pensions). We got a load of old age pensioners to perform in a sketch show.”
“And now Monty Python has followed in your footsteps,” I said.
“In 2007,” Barry continued, “I wanted to make Edinburgh look like it belonged to Lionel Richie. My two thoughts were: It would be hilarious if I were called Lionel Richie. And it would also mean I couldn’t get sued by Lionel Richie for claiming things belonged to him. Because I legally WAS Lionel Richie.
“So, in 2007, I changed my name to Lionel Richie and went bankrupt and the show was called This Sketch Show Belongs to Lionel Richie and I also did a show as Lionel Richie in 2008 but, in 2009, I was just working so hard to get my life back in order… and I was squatting as well.
“I lived in the best squat in the world. Mock Tudor mansions on Swains Lane in Highgate. They’re all council houses. There were three flats next to each other and some law had come in that only one flat was legally allowed to be occupied, because they shared bathroom facilities. Some Council directive had come in which said this. So I filed down the hinges on one of the doors and lived in one of the flats for free for a year.”
“So I can genuinely say Lionel Richie was squatting in a London council house for a year?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Barry.
“I once had a chat,” I told Barry, “with Clint Eastwood in his living room in Wolverhampton.”
“The real Clint Eastwood?” asked Barry.
“No,” I said. “There was – probably still is – a whole sub-culture in the West Midlands of (I guess) out-of-work sheet metal workers listening to country and western music while dressed up as cowboys and cowgirls and going to shooting clubs at the weekend. Clint Eastwood had a Wolverhampton accent and had big pictures of the Old Wild West on his living room wall.”
“That’s brilliant,” said Barry. “I like the pockets of humanity that you wouldn’t expect.”
“I think I might become Gwyneth Paltrow,” I said.
“Please do that,” said Barry. “Let’s have a yearly name change thing. I could be Princess Grace of Monaco.”
“I think,” I said, “in the UK you’re not allowed to call yourself certain things like King, Queen or Lord.”
“Ah, no,” said Barry. “that’s right.”
“Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane,” I said, “wanted to call her child God but then changed it to China. I don’t know if she was banned from calling it God or just changed her mind. China is not so good as God for phoning up and booking tables at restaurants.”
“God…” mused Barry. “How can I psychologically harm my child immediately from birth?”
“Well,” I said, Lewis Schaffer’s children are called…”
“Hold on, hold on,” said Barry. “Lewis Schaffer has procreated?”
“It is a frightening thought, isn’t it?” I agreed.
“Is he a working father in the sense of Is he there all the time?”
“Don’t even go there.” I said.
“I think,” said Barry, “that the whole of Lewis Schaffer’s life should have parentheses added after it – (Don’t even go there).”
“Well, Lewis is going to enjoy this blog,” I said, “because it will mention his name and two people will have been talking about him.”
Barry Fern’s Edinburgh Fringe show this year is called The Barry Experience.
It always is when I meet him.
It would be interesting if he changed his name to Lewis Schaffer for seven years. He would get another Edinburgh Fringe show and it would make Lewis Schaffer very happy.