News reaches me in London from far-off Europe that, if you are ever hungry in Brussels, there are multiple options…
The official Brussels travel website has one suggestion… and that option is available in a variety of outlets…
News reaches me in London from far-off Europe that, if you are ever hungry in Brussels, there are multiple options…
The official Brussels travel website has one suggestion… and that option is available in a variety of outlets…
Last month saw the publication of Flirting With Fame: : A Hollywood Publicist Recalls 50 Years of Celebrity Close Encounters.
The chat continues here…
JOHN: You were allegedly Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘very first fan’ in 1981…
DAN: That is absolutely true. In 1981, I had been in LA for about six months. I was 24, no car, no money, no proper job, no connections. I was a gofer for a video company, which meant I had to run for sandwiches and coffee, clean people’s offices and my biggest job was to get my bosses’ cars washed: Jaguars, Mercedes, BMWs… They were all millionaires; I was penniless.
One day I went to the car wash. There were only two people there: me and Jerry Seinfeld. I had seen him the year before, in 1980, in Manhattan and he had been so remarkably funny.
So, at the car wash, I turn and say: “Jerry Seinfeld?”
“My name is Dan. I’m your biggest fan.”
He goes: “Gee. I didn’t know I had any fans.”
We shook hands and I said: “I saw you in New York last year. What are you doing now?”
“Well, tonight I am gonna make my debut on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”
And that night…
JOHN: …he became a star.
DAN: …he became a star. Yeah. But the funny part of that story, really, is the second half…
I said: “You and I are about the same age; we both came here from the East Coast; but I don’t have any friends here. Could you and I be friends?”
And he looked at me like this… (ODDLY)… and he says: “Weeell, I don’t give out my phone number, but here’s my business manager’s card”… He gave me the card. Nothing happened…
So, cut to 12 years later… 1993.
I’m at a TV Convention in San Francisco. Seinfeld, the TV show, was now very, very popular. Sony Pictures were selling Seinfeld into syndication.
I’m walking through this TV Convention. Jerry’s there.
I went up to him and said: “Jerry…”
“My name is Dan.”
We shook hands again.
I said: “I met you in 1981 at the Sunset Car Wash. It was the day you made your debut on The Tonight Show.”
He looked at me and said: “I remember you. You wanted to be my friend.”
He pulls his hand out from my hand. He turns and he walks away.
As we’d first met in West Hollywood, he probably thought I was gay. Who knows.
JOHN: But you’re not gay. Your second book Carrots: A Sex Odyssey is coming out this September and it is…
DAN: …the history of women I’ve loved, lost or chased or never had the courage to love at all and there’s quite a few of them.
JOHN: In the blurb, it mentions you had a 20-year long sex addiction “later in life”. What took you so long?
DAN: I was very shy when I was young, even though I had the long hair and I played the drums and I worked with Bruce Springsteen and KISS and Fleetwood Mac – I did lighting and stage work at The Sunshine Inn. I was a straight-A student in school but, with women, with girls, I was very very shy.
I was with my wife from the age of 25 to 36. We had two kids. When I got divorced at 36… I was no longer shy…
From 36 to 56 I became a sex addict. I went wild for quite a while but now I’m glad that period of my life is behind me.
JOHN: You worked at the Playboy Channel for three years and Playboy Channel events were held in Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion West.
DAN: Most of the times I was there was for events during the day. I think I met Hefner three times; he was very nice. I did go to a few parties there at night. I wasn’t there when people were making love in the pool. I didn’t see naked people, but I saw some interesting things at night.
The Halloween parties that he had! Celebrities were there and gorgeous 18/19 year-old girls with almost no clothes on. At one of those parties, I had my drink and I’m like the grandfather next to these young girls. They’re like my daughter’s age.
I’m looking around thinking: For a straight man, this is heaven! There’s a table of shrimp and lobster and steak. And on other table is free alcohol: every possible drink. Garry Shandling and Matt Dillon are there I remember… James Caan. And then the girls! Every girl was drop-dead gorgeous and some were there with their mothers!
I met this one girl of 19 and her mom was like 40 and they were both equally beautiful.
I was single at that time but I was so overwhelmed that, after two hours, I actually said to myself: I have to leave!
It was too much.
It was just too much.
JOHN: Surely you owed it to yourself to stay?
DAN: I couldn’t. I couldn’t do it. First of all, these girls wanted millionaire, movie star boyfriends. I’m not a millionaire and I’m not a movie star.
A lot of women I’ve met in my life want to use me, OK. Can you help me do my PR? I’ve had actress women, models use me. I like pretty girls and they like to torture me! But that one night at the Halloween party I actually had to leave. It was like being a kid in a candy store but you have diabetes.
JOHN: You must have unfulfilled ambitions? You were a drummer in lots of bands…
DAN: When I was a Senior in high school, a friend of mine who was friends with Bruce Springsteen told me: “Dan, Bruce is looking for a new drummer. Why don’t you consider trying out for him?”
Now I did not like his music at that time. I was into The Who, Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Beatles, The Stones.
Years later, I came to love quite a few of his songs. Independence Day is one of my favourite songs. But, at the time, he wasn’t famous and I had no connection with his music. So I told my friend: “It’s not for me.”
Had I auditioned, you never know… I had a beautiful drum set, I was a very good drummer, I had met Bruce the year before. He would have known who I was. But, you know, I didn’t even drive? I was 16. Bruce was seven years older than me. If we had gone to a bar, I wouldn’t have been able to play. I was 16. Under-age.
That’s the closest I ever got to becoming a famous drummer.
JOHN: Your third book is Inside The Cutting Room: A Backstage Look at New York’s Last Rock ‘n’ Roll Mecca. It’s published in Spring next year and it’s about the music business…
DAN: The backstory is my best friend from childhood – Steve Walter. We met in 1968. He and I grew up together. We were in bands together. We worked at The Sunshine Inn together. When I was 24, I went to LA; he went to Manhattan.
He owns The Cutting Room club. My lifelong best friend.
He opened The Cutting Room 25 years ago. A lot of very very famous musicians, rock bands have played there over the years.
JOHN: Lady Gaga was discovered there?
DAN: Absolutely correct. March 2006.
In March 2006, there was The Songwriters of New York Talent Showcase and 19-year old Stefani Germanotta played on my friend’s stage along with about a dozen other young performers.
There was a woman in the audience named Wendy Starland who, when she saw Stefani perform, called a record producer friend and said: “I just discovered the next Big Thing.”
Wendy took Stefani to meet this guy who heard her stuff, said, “You’re the new John Lennon. You’re a good songwriter,” signed her up and, the next time she played The Cutting Room that Fall, they introduced her as Lady Gaga.
JOHN: On your personal website, you describe yourself as “an author, entertainment industry publicist, drummer and former stand-up comic”. The domain name is danhararyauthor.com – danhararyAUTHOR not danhararyPR or just danharary… I know you have your business site www.asburypr.com but danhararyAUTHOR.com implies that writing is personally more important than other things?
DAN: In Eighth Grade, I was writing short stories and my English teacher loved them; she told me I was a talented writer. I came to LA to be a comedy writer for television. I wanted to be the new Woody Allen. I was gonna write sitcoms. I came close with Seinfeld in 1992. I came close but didn’t sell my script. I came close three times; it didn’t happen. Along the way, I fell in love, got married, had kids.
I’m a good writer. A lot of publicity, as you know, is writing. So my sitcom comedy writing ambitions veered off to PR. And that’s how I made a living for 40 years. It’s just how it happened. I told my mother: “At the age of 66, I’ve now finally fulfilled my dream of being an author.”
JOHN: So now we get to your fourth book… the one about the UFOs…
(… CONTINUED HERE …)
Even if you are on painkillers and muscle relaxant drugs for a sore spine/hip/leg/ankle… when you get an email from an unknown person called Xander with the heading TRACTORS: BIG, BIGGER, BIGGEST – as I did three days ago – you tend to open it immediately.
Tractors are currently amusingly sexy in the UK because, a couple of weeks ago, MP Neil Parish had to resign after he was ‘outed’ for watching porn on his mobile phone in the House of Commons chamber. He said he had been looking at a tractor website and, accidentally, he had then found himself watching a porn site.
The email I got was a PR pitch plugging a new Channel 5 series (starting tonight) called Tractor World.
Increasingly prestigious as my blog may be, I am surely not the first choice for publicising a TV farming series about tractors.
I thought: Either this is a wild mistake or it is an admirable piece of lateral thinking – Because of the Neil Parish MP link, you might as well pitch a tractor story to what is sometimes called a comedy blog.
So I asked Xander (Alexander Ross), co-founder of Percy & Warren – a PR agency specialising in the film, TV & entertainment industry – why he had sent me the email…
JOHN: Why did you contact me?
XANDER: We go to databases to put together relevant lists of people and you filtered through on Comedy and TV.
JOHN: You contacted me, presumably, because of the Neil Parish tractor porn story.
XANDER: Yeah, we were chatting about Tractor World and thinking maybe we could do a slide show of people and tractors with a romantic Barry White song over the top of it. That might be a little too on-the-nose, but quite fun. You’ve got to jump on an opportunity when it presents itself and it just so happens now that a documentary series on tractors is coming out like a couple of weeks after the MP story.
JOHN: The producers, RawCut Television, didn’t mind you being lighthearted about their serious documentary series?
XANDER: We spoke about it and they wanted something that could make them laugh as well. It was actually a hard brief, but…
JOHN: A hard brief?
XANDER: Well, it’s a lot harder to make somebody laugh than it is to make them cringe.
A lot of the (serious) shows that come out on Channel 5 have got that sort of popular edge to them:. You take something that’s not about the London metropolitan elite or whatever but is for a more dispersed crowd – not your office worker living in the suburbs of London.
Actually, Tractor World HAS been quite a fun one to work on. If you get something like Star Wars or whatever, you’re turning down opportunities of coverage whereas, with something like this, you have to find a way to publicise it that is a little bit different or maybe even a little bit tongue-in-cheek.
For Channel 4, we do Devon and Cornwall, which has been a huge ratings success for the channel. It’s massively popular: a wholesome, kindhearted sort of programme.
JOHN: I know nothing about agriculture or tractors or muck-spreading techniques. Why should I watch a TV series about tractors?
XANDER: If you like things like Clarkson’s Farm and you’re interested in finding out about other lifestyle worlds… Good documentaries are the ones that make you interested about something in which you have no expertise. So, if you can find something that’s nice and warmhearted and has a bit of fun to it, I think you’re onto a good bet with that.
JOHN: I once stumbled on a BBC documentary series about the history of British motorway service stations. I have no idea how it got commissioned, but it was fascinating. It was amazing. Who knows? Maybe, in advertiser talk, tractors are now ‘sexy’ too… A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian was a bestselling book only a few years ago.
XANDER: As I say, we’re working on Devon and Cornwall at the moment. We’ve also been working recently on The Great Big Tiny Design Challenge with Sandi Toksvig – another Channel 4 show. It’s about making miniature houses and stuff like that. Shows like The Great British Bake Off do very well at the moment. People like nice and warmhearted and a bit of fun.
JOHN: Your company mostly does glamorous media-type things – a master class with film producer Jeremy Thomas, the return of BBC Three to terrestrial TV…
XANDER: Yes. We were born out of the pandemic in July 2020. We were a company that sprang out of another company – Franklin Rae PR – that expanded into loads of different areas.
They had been a film and TV specialist for about 20-odd years and had moved into architecture, financial technology and stuff like that. I was heading up the (media) division, but when we were pitching for new business, people would say we were too generalist.
So we asked the CEO if we could spin it off into a separate company. We did that in July 2020 and we’ve just gone from strength to strength, very much with an international outlook… Clients in Finland, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Canada, the US; done stuff in Brazil; done a little bit with Japan, although Japan can take a lot longer than other countries.
XANDER: Just that decisions are taken a lot more slowly. You get moved through hierarchies. You have to establish trust with one person, then move on to establish trust with the next person. Eventually you reach the decision-maker and then they decide Yes or No. It just takes a longer time to go through all those networks, but it’s worth it.
JOHN: What’s the most bizarre and interesting account you’ve worked on?
XANDER: I worked on a show a few years back called The Penis Extension Clinic.
JOHN: Who did you approach to get PR for that?
XANDER: Oh, you go straight to the tabloids for that sort of stuff.
JOHN: Presumably for Tractor World, you have been going for the agricultural community.
XANDER: Yes, Farming Life and so on. Agribusiness. It’s in Farmers World today, but it’s also in the Daily Telegraph.
JOHN: What’s the Telegraph’s angle?
XANDER: They’ve said it’s something for Neil Parish to watch.
…The answer is because, of course, my ignorance knows no bounds.
I was on a train in London yesterday, reading the latest issue of the Camden New Journal.
It had an article headlned The Divine Sarah – about the actress Sarah Bernhardt – adapted by Neil Titley from his own book The Oscar Wilde World of Gossip: A Subversive Encyclopaedia of Victorian Anecdote with a link to the wildetheatre.co.uk website.
On Amazon, that 2011 book is currently on sale for anything from £56 to £121.
At the risk of getting my ass sued for copyright infringement (my defence is that I am publicising the book), below are three extracts I have myself extracted from the Camden New Journal‘s adaptation.
Throughout the 1970s, Ken Russell and Barbra Streisand reportedly planned a Sarah Bernhardt biopic. But, alas, it was Reader’s Digest who produced a rather pedestrian 1976 movie The Incredible Sarah with Glenda Jackson directed by the solid and dependable Richard Fleischer. Surely such an OTT character deserves a much better modern OTT movie about her life?
Bernhardt was the illegitimate daughter of a Jewish Parisian courtesan whose clients included the cream of French society. In her younger days when acting failed to cover the bills, Sarah herself followed her mother’s profession and acquired a police file due to these activities. However, once established and wealthy, it was she who chose her numerous partners.
Proclaiming herself “one of the great lovers of my century” Sarah was reputed to have seduced every European head of state, including Pope Leo.
Although she only occasionally indulged in lesbian affairs, she had a virile edge that many women found attractive; the writer Robert de Montesquiou saw her as the epitome of the bisexual 1890s. To confound stereotyping even further, she was a very happily unmarried mother.
When a friend said to her at a party: “I’ve thought of your epitaph. All you’ll need on your tomb is: Resting at last,” Sarah shook her head and, indicating a nearby group of lovers, replied: “Not exactly. It would be better to inscribe: They can rest at last.”
Her acting achieved extraordinary heights of acclaim. The psychologist Sigmund Freud wrote: “After the first words of her vibrant, lovely voice, I felt I had known her for years.” Mark Twain added: “There are five kinds of actresses. Bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses, and then there is Sarah Bernhardt.
Her audiences reacted even more ecstatically. After one triumphant evening, two one-armed men in the front stalls were so enthused that they were seen to be clapping their remaining hands together.
She treated some of her less sophisticated audiences with disdain. As her performances were given in French, the vast majority had no idea what was being said. In Youngstown, Ohio, her curtain call speech was greeted with tumultuous applause in spite of the fact that she had just told them that they were morons.
She made numerous tours by train across the States, becoming known as “The Muse of the Railroads”. On one journey, the train driver refused to cross the bridge at St Louis as it was threatened by floodwater. Impatient as usual, Sarah bribed him $500 to keep going. They managed to reach the other bank, but the bridge collapsed behind them as they did so. The rest of her company was not amused.
Although still looking uncannily youthful, Sarah’s health began to fail after she was forced to have a leg amputated in 1915. After her leg had been amputated, an impresario offered her $100,000 for permission to exhibit it. Sarah sent a telegram in reply: “Which leg?”
When she died in 1923, her funeral in Paris was the largest since that of Victor Hugo in 1885.
The only thing I really knew about Sarah Bernhardt before reading the Camden New Journal article was that, after having her left amputated in 1915, she continued acting on stage (and in short films) for the next eight years, until her death in 1923.
She was clearly much, much more than just a simple theatrical leg-end.
Sarah played Hamlet in 1899…
Ariane Sherine has had a busy week. It’s her birthday.
And she released the first episode of her weekly podcast Love Sex Intelligence.
And she has published her first novel, Shitcom, about two male TV sitcom writers.
JOHN: Why’s the new book called Shitcom?
ARIANE: It’s a novel about two comedy writers on a sitcom. One’s extremely successful and an arsehole. The other one is extremely unsuccessful but very nice… And they swap bodies.
JOHN: So it’s a cosy little comic romp…
ARIANE: No. It’s got racism, misogyny, homophobia, extreme swearing, graphic descriptions of violence and a short rape scene. The villain calls his mother a jizz-lapping old whore and calls his step-father a fisting spaffmonkey. He is obsessed with his penis because it’s only 2 inches long.
JOHN: You wrote it in 2004, when you were…
ARIANE: …a sitcom writer for BBC TV.
JOHN: So it’s all semi-autobiographical?
ARIANE: It’s ‘loosely based’ on my experiences. But all the characters are fictional.
JOHN: The plot is a body/identity swap story.
ARIANE: There IS a body swap and Neil – the nice guy – inhabits Andrew’s body and is able to get his sitcom idea commissioned, but he then realises fame and success are not all they’re cracked up to be.
Andrew is trapped in Neil’s body and there’s a hilarious/outrageous and disturbing turn of events which sees him end up homeless and having to have sex with a guy for money so that he can buy a gun.
JOHN: Why are fame and success not what they’re cracked up to be?
ARIANE: Because nobody treats you normally. It’s a very hyper-real/surreal type of existence. Most of the famous people I’ve met have been very nice, professional and reliable. They treat people really well. But I would not personally want to be famous. I don’t think it makes you any happier and you never know if people like you for you or just because you’re successful.
JOHN: You famously created and ran the Atheist Bus Campaign and got shedloads of publicity.
ARIANE: I experienced the slightest distant glimmer of fame in 2009/2010 and it was quite disorientating. You don’t feel like yourself because people have this impression of you which doesn’t tally with your own impression of yourself. It’s confusing and I personally wouldn’t really want to be wildly famous.
JOHN: You wouldn’t want to be successful?
ARIANE: I think there’s a difference between having recognition for what you do and being a megastar where it’s so out-of-proportion that it’s ridiculous.
You really wouldn’t want Fred Bloggs accosting you when you’re trying to take the bins out – thrusting a camera in your face, demanding a selfie or an autograph.
JOHN: Alas poor Chris Whitty. You don’t want to be famous at all?
ARIANE: I wouldn’t mind a bit of recognition, but not being followed around by paparazzi wherever I go.
JOHN: Why did you not publish the novel in 2004 when you wrote it?
ARIANE: I had always wanted to write novels and I was putting the finishing touches to it in 2005 when I was violently assaulted by my then-boyfriend when I was pregnant with his baby. I had to have an abortion which I didn’t want to have. I cried every day for a year and I shelved the novel because I thought: I don’t want to focus on comedy! I’ve just been through hell! I don’t want to be focusing on jokes when my baby is dead.
JOHN: Wouldn’t focusing on comedy be cathartic in that situation?
ARIANE: I just didn’t feel I could write it successfully and, instead, I wrote a memoir of what had happened. That didn’t get published and I’m very glad it didn’t get published because it was so raw. It had a lot of scenes from my childhood and my dad was still alive and I think it would have got me into a massive mess.
So I sort-of lost interest in Shitcom. I shelved it and then a little later I started writing for the Guardian (until 2018) and I think I made some tweaks to Shitcom in 2008, but, as a Guardian columnist, I didn’t want to put out a book with an incredibly racist, sexist, homophobic male character and a ton of racial slurs in it. That felt like it might be a bit of a faux pas.
JOHN: And the Covid lockdown happened last year… That had an effect?
ARIANE: Yes. I was going to do a 100-date book tour for my last book How To Live To 100 but then the Covid lockdown came in, so the tour got shelved.
But I have a Patreon account and one of the subscriber tiers is my Writing Tier.
Subscribers to that tier get a sample of my writing every week.
I came across Shitcom again and I thought I would send them that chapter by chapter. As I was reading it again, I realised it was hilarious and I loved it. So I thought Why don’t I just put it out rather have it languish on my hard drive?
I didn’t even try to get it traditionally published. Nobody in the publishing industry has seen it and, in this age of ‘cancellation culture’ I don’t think any publisher is going to be too keen on it.
JOHN: Have you thought about also publishing your ‘too raw’ memoir which you could now look back on objectively?
ARIANE: If I ever did write a memoir, it would probably be at the end of my career. I have so much left to do; and also my mum and brother are still alive and I wouldn’t want to hurt them with what’s in it. It might be something I do in 40 or 50 years.
I am aiming to write 100 books in my lifetime and I see Shitcom as the first book.
My next book – traditionally published by my publisher Hachette – is called Happier and will be my fourth traditionally-published book.
JOHN: You’ve said you consider Shitcom your first book but you have published three books already.
ARIANE: Well, they are all either co-writes or they contain a ton of contributions from other people. I think they are very enjoyable and I love my publishers, but I also want to put novels out – and, by self-publishing them, people can read them for just £1.99 each.
JOHN: So what’s your next solo book?
ARIANE: I’m Not In Love, another novel.
ARIANE: Partly. It’s about a girl who’s not in love with her boyfriend. He smells of banana. He does not eat or like bananas, but he has a strange banana smell.
JOHN: This bit is autobiographical?
ARIANE: Yes. It’s based on a boyfriend I had who is a comedian and writer and actually quite successful now. I don’t know if he still smells of banana, but I do feel sorry for his wife if he does. Also (in the book) he wears these terrible slogan T-shirts like While You Are Reading This, I Am Staring at Your Tits… And she falls in love with another man, but he’s engaged to be married and one of her unscrupulous, amoral friends says to her: Why don’t you just keep this guy that you’re engaged to around as insurance and date other guys behind his back?
So that’s what she does. But she is in her 30s and is aware that time is not on her side if she wants to have kids. So it’s a rom-com.
It’s already written, the main character is really acerbic and funny and it will be out before the end of the year.
Shitcom is out now, though, for just £1.99. Buy it!
There are SW (south west) postcodes, SE (south east), postcodes, NW (north west) ones but no NE one for north east London. That is because NE is the postcode for Newcastle.
Likewise, there are N, E and W London postcodes (north, east and west) but no S postcode, because that is used for Sheffield.
Another quirk, designed to confuse the unwary, is that the numbering of London postcodes is alphabetical, not geographical. So a postcode area 3 is not necessarily next to 2 and 4…
However, I am more interested in sex.
So, we have or had Middlesex (the central area), Wessex (ie West Sex), Sussex (South Sex), Essex (East Sex) but no North Sex, presumably because the people of Nosex eventually died out.
Apparently, in this context, ‘sex’ turns out to be an abbreviation and corruption of ‘Saxon’, which is a disappointment.
But life is full of disappointments.
I am going to have breakfast now.
So I had a chat last month (I am only just catching up) with Adam Wilder (previously aka Adam Oliver, previously Adam Taffler).
We first met at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2011 when he was street-performing in the Grassmarket and I asked him if he could juggle spaghetti…
JOHN: So we haven’t seen each other for ages. When last heard of, you were organising sex parties in tall tower blocks in 2017.
ADAM: (LAUGHS) No. Last time we spoke, I was running the Togetherness Festival of Human Connection, which did involve some sexuality, John, because that is a part of human connection – even for a Scottish Presbyterian like you…
JOHN: It’s the work of The Devil.
ADAM: It wasn’t a sex party. It was a Human Connection Festival…and that was really fun and, actually, I’ve been following that thread for the last three years.
ADAM: No. (LAUGHS) It was about non-sexual touch, actually. It’s so good for you. When we met today, I tried to hug you and you gave me a Scottish hug.
JOHN: What is a Scottish hug?
ADAM: It’s not really a hug. It’s like: I feel a bit disgusted, but I feel like I should do this.
JOHN: It was hard for me to say No.
ADAM: This is what I’m into now. I’m teaching a course called Embodied Sovereignty. It’s about knowing What do I want? What do I not want? I want to say No. Why is it hard to say No?
JOHN: Why is it hard to say No?
ADAM: Because we don’t want to upset people and have a bad reaction. We have two fundamental needs – The need for authenticity and the need for attachment.
So, spooning… We had these 1,547 people spooning and why is that important, John?
ADAM: It’s so important, John, because it makes us feel relaxed. I feel sorry for people who have had no-one to hug during this COVID thing. It’s enough to send you mental. There is this thing now called Nordic Cuddling: you can hire someone to come round and cuddle you.
JOHN: Why Nordic?
ADAM: (LAUGHS) It makes you think of clean, blond people.
JOHN: I rather like dirty brunette people.
ADAM: I have a friend who was a cage fighter and he is really into all this intimacy work. He told me: “Adam, you know, I now realise why I was doing all the cage fighting was because I really wanted to hug and squeeze people, but I never knew how to ask for it.”
JOHN: I’ve always thought rugby players are sexually highly suspicious.
ADAM: I used to play rugby. I loved it. I loved getting the ball and people trying to take you down. It was somewhere you could actually express the anger and the passion. Normally, you’re not allowed to. It’s like Liza Minelli in Cabaret. You have to go under a bridge and scream when the trains come over.
JOHN: Well, what use is sitting alone in a room?
ADAM: I was a very angry kid.
ADAM: Because of life. My mum was doing all this spiritual stuff and my dad was REALLY mainstream. A professor.
JOHN: Of what?
ADAM: Finance. Oh my god. It was such a weird kind of oil and wine situation. I had zero boundaries with my mum. ZERO. And then my dad would get really pissed-off because I just had no boundaries. They divorced.
JOHN: They were happy with each other?”
ADAM: No. They divorced. They divorced. Of course they did. I was about… John, you’re not my therapist! We are not going there. But, suffice to say, I was an angry kid. How do YOU feel when someone’s being angry near you?
JOHN: Erm… I don’t think I ever really had trouble with bullies at school.
ADAM: Might not be bullies. Might be parental stuff.
I’m big into the Embodiment Movement at the moment and I’m speaking at the Embodiment Conference in October, which is going to be the biggest online conference ever – over 130,000 people have signed up for free. Over 1,000 speakers, including me.
JOHN: Define ‘embodiment’?
ADAM: It’s essentially about noting sensations and feelings in your body and becoming more aware of them. It’s a big deal in Business now. It never used to be, but now it is. In Leadership and Training and all that stuff. If you notice a bit more about what’s going on, you can respond differently in the world.
There was a brilliant psychologist last century called Carl Rogers. He developed the Person-Centred Approach.
With normal psycho-analysis, you’d say: “Ah yes, this is your problem and this is how you will fix it!”
The Person-Centred Approach is: “I’m your buddy and I’m just here to support you and listen to you and, actually, the best person to work it out is you. I’m just going to be here and help you.”
I like to create an environment where people feel they can explore this kind of stuff.
JOHN: Have you seen the movie Joker?
ADAM: Oh! I loved that SO much, John! Oh my God! It’s a warning about what happens when we’re not comfortable with our anger. And I also found it a very moving and beautiful story about someone coming into themselves and their life… taking power in his own life, though in a destructive, dark way.
I think I actually burst out laughing in that scene where he stabs the guy in the head with the scissors. I think I squealed with delight.
ADAM: I just felt really happy that he was (LAUGHS) asserting himself, instead of just being a victim… although I don’t advocate that kind of destructive behaviour.
JOHN: You don’t seem to be an angry person as an adult.
ADAM: I love expressing a bit of anger.
JOHN: Ever have a primal scream like Liza Minelli?
ADAM: No. No. But I like to do a bit of shaking. That’s fun. Give a good shake. Shake your body from the top to the bottom for a good 10 minutes.
JOHN: What? Like Tom Cruise in Cocktail?
ADAM: No. It starts from the hips and knees and works up. Lets loose. Dancing. I love dancing.
JOHN: I never liked dancing. Couldn’t cope with strobe lights. The whole of the 1960s and 1970s were wasted on me.
ADAM: Nowadays it’s all about Hampstead Heath and wearing headphones.
JOHN: So what have you lined up?
ADAM: I’ve been trying to reconcile the various parts of my personality – this sort of wild happy-go-lucky comedian and this really grounded Yeah, I’m into Human Connection guy and I’ve finally got it… I am a Human Connection Coach and comedian. That’s what I’m putting myself out as now. I’ve done a bit of work with Google and Coca Cola and Accenture and some local governments…
JOHN: Doing what?
ADAM: Doing stuff around how to create a culture of togetherness where different people like hanging out with each other; giving people the skills to set boundaries and say No and get on better.
JOHN: This might not work in Glasgow, where they head-butt people to say hello…
ADAM: My friend is a sex therapist up in Glasgow…
JOHN: This doesn’t surprise me.
ADAM: …and he gets very few people coming to him, but they’re really sweet, apparently. Imagine you were in a culture where you can’t talk about something but it’s really important to you and someone tells you: “Oh! This is really normal.” It’s liberating. He does some cuddle parties up there.
JOHN: Celtic cuddle parties?
ADAM: That’s about… JOHN!!!! I haven’t even told you about the House of Togetherness!!!
JOHN: Tell me.
ADAM: Last year in January (2019) I saw this old yoga studio in Covent Garden which was available for six months and I thought: Fuck it! I’ll take it! and create The House of Togetherness!
So I created a venue in London where people could come together for things like Blindfolded Adventure Time… Spooning Hour… something called Sex Club… Speak Your Truth… People could come together and have these experiences of how to connect better with ourselves and each other.
We had some very Glaswegian journalists come in for Spooning.
JOHN: Glaswegian journalists?
ADAM: People who don’t find it normal to touch other people.
JOHN: Did you call it House Of Togetherness because the initials are quite good – HOT?
ADAM: No. House of Togetherness because it made sense. I’m doing togetherness…
JOHN: … and it’s in a house. I see…
ADAM: We started in January and had to finish in October because the building was being redeveloped. It was really really good fun, man. I totally burnt myself out as well. It was nuts. I was wasted by the end.
I’ve been rebuilding myself over the last nine months and now I’m developing into the School of Connection: the School of Togetherness, basically. I want to help people learn the skills I think are really important in culture right now. Things like listening with empathy and compassion; speaking your truth; being able to say No; being able to ask for what you want; the relationship between pleasure and direction.
I have two courses running online right now. One is on non-violent communication. It’s about how behind every conflict are un-met needs and, if we can talk about those, then we can resolve things.
As a comedian and human connection coach, I feel like it’s all coming together now.
So I was having tea with a chum at St Pancras station in London and somehow the subject of ‘transitioning’ and trans-gender came up. I can’t remember why and I can’t remember if I am supposed to type or say transgender or trans-gender or transexual or trans-sexual. I think at least one or more ways of typing or saying the words is guaranteed to offend at least one or more people.
“Actually, I was transgender when I was a teenager,” my chum told me.
“Did you have your willie cut off?” I asked.
“No,” she replied. “I never had one.”
“Well,” I said, “I don’t think there was any transing involved.”
“That’s very offensive,” she said.
“To you?” I asked.
“No, not to me,” she replied. “But to some people.”
“Trans-sexual I understand,” I said. “It involves adding bits on or taking bits off. And transvestite I understand. But trans-gender sounds like some Northern rail franchise.”
“That’s very offensive,” my chum said.
“Which?” I said. “Trans-sexual or transvestite or the Northern rail franchise?”
“All three,” she told me. “I hear Eddie Izzard no longer calls himself transvestite because some people find that offensive. Now he calls himself transgender.”
“Has he had his willie cut off?” I asked.
“Not that I know of.”
“Does he sometimes wear men’s clothes and sometimes wear women’s clothes?”
“Men’s and women’s clothes are constructs imposed by the patriarchy,” my friend said.
“I’m confused,” I said.
“You are transfixed,” my friend said.
“Do I need to have my willie cut off to be transgender?” I asked.
“Are there hyphens involved if you type the word?” I asked.
“Depends what the word is,” my chum said.
“I would quite like to identify as a slightly overweight West Indian lady,” I said. “I like the accents. Very warm and cuddly.”
“People would find almost all of that offensive,” my chum said.
“That’s racist,” I said.
“No it isn’t,” my chum said.
“Not trans-anything?” I asked.
“Transgressive,” my chum suggested.
“Can I identify as Bobo the Clown,” I said.
“That might be OK,” my chum said. “But you might need to do a clown course.”
“No,” I said. “I mean a proper clown. Not just sitting staring at people until they do something.”
“Why are you so annoying?” my chum asked.
“Practice,” I suggested.
Anyway – long story short – John Fleming is dead.
I now want to be called Bobo The Clown.
I see a bright future ahead.
With the added bonus of hair.
I need to tell you about the latest ghastliness to blight the land of happy safaris and dancing with Maasai.
A short while ago, the Kenyan government had a chance to behave like decent human beings and revoke laws criminalising homosexuality, in line with pretty much exactly what their own 2010 Constitution says. But no. They went with the old Colonial Penal Code forbidding “carnal knowledge contrary to the laws of nature” – which, according to people who obviously know bugger all about nature, means homosexuality.
They also refused to stop forced anal examinations by police (which are supposed to be a sure way of telling if you are a friend of Phillip). And, of course, the bigoted, the ignorant, the religious and the bastards rejoiced and began a happily homophobic spree.
Today I met up with Vicky for her beverage of choice – Cafe Latte – and a catch-up and planning meeting for Mama Biashara.
Vicky is straight, but a greater ally than could possibly be imagined in a country like Kenya. I ask her about the situation and she sighs the Vicky sigh that says things are not good.
Of course, there are beatings and killings (there always have been, but now the government has decreed they are probably for the best) and, of course, no one in a job is safe from being outed and immediately fired. Ditto people in rented accommodation.
60% of gay people (it is reckoned) have been or are still married with children here. And that means when they are outed very often those around them evince displeasure with their lifestyle choices by sexually abusing their children.
But the worst thing is that gay guys are frequently being denied access to AntiRetroViral drugs in government hospitals. And not just ARVs but all manner of medical treatment.
The gay community is fast disappearing underground, says Vicky. She has hundreds of people wanting help from Mama Biashara. So, this time, we are going to help a load of gay (and lesbian) groups to get to a safe place (few and far between) and start a business and a new life.
This will almost certainly be outside big towns, because even Mombasa – once very gay-friendly – has become ‘hot’.
Our big challenge will be finding safe places to meet them. But that is where our Mama Biashara network comes into play.
One group who is particularly desperate is, she tells me – wide-eyed – a group of gay Maasai men.
I cannot begin to imagine how tough it must be to be a gay Maasai.
He can turn his creative mind to anything constructive.
My chat with a London dominatrix in yesterday’s blog reminded him of one of his more eccentric commissions…
Here, he shares his memories of Brenda the Dominatrix…
Some years ago I made some stocks – the three-hole jobby type for head and hands – for a dear lady – Brenda – who specialised in the modes of “indoor sports and correction”.
It was arranged I should pop round for a cup of tea and discuss the stocks and “any other devices that may be of interest” in her line of work.
The tea was quite normal – “I don’t do chocolate digestive biscuits as they give me wind, you know,” Brenda told me – with an assortment of other biscuits on offer, all on a silver tray – “The real stuff. None of yer plated rubbish here!” she said – as we sat there discussing assorted manacles, stocks and “what else you feel would be nice”.
Brenda was in her late forties at the time. Her hubbie Cliff worked as a manager of a furniture store, in the fitted carpets and rugs department.
Once tea and biccies were consumed, she gave me a ‘tour’ of the house and all manner of ‘normal’ household gadgets seemed to have another purpose for her.
The canvas-type icing bag and assorted nozzles as used by bakers, once filled with a mix of gritty birdseed and lemon curd, could be slowly injected in a part of the body normally associated with exit work – “You have to get the mix just right and you have to get the speed right,” she told me. “It comes from experience.”
One item that had me wondering was the small, industrial-type floor-standing food mixer – I had seen one in our local baker’s years before as a schoolboy.
It was used by Brenda to mix custard powder with builder’s-type sand – “If Cliff’s not about when it’s delivered, it does my back in getting the bags in as it comes in half hundredweight bags, so I have to split the bag and carry it through in bucketfuls one at a time.”
Once her client was strapped down, naked with a gag in his mouth on a plastic-covered couch, she applied the said mix with a sort of paint roller – once again, speed was of the essence – until he was totally covered from neck to toes. The whole process took about two hours or so from start to finish, then scraping it off on old bits of newspaper before taking a shower.
I asked: “How on earth would people first find out they get their kicks from this process?”
Brenda leaned over and whispered: “I have three who did.”
In her dungeon – the cellar – she had manacles bolted on the walls – “My Cliff put them up for me with Rawlbolts. He had never drilled a wall before” – and a full-size rack, something I had only ever seen before in films – “The best part of five grand that cost me, luv,” she said, “but it’s got the best non-rot rope fitted to it.”
I made her a set of stocks as requested, then sets of leg-irons, chains and handcuffs to make it all up into what she called “something meaningful” .
I also did repairs and improvements as some of her whips were “not lasting as they should”. This was basically down to the attachment of the whip to its handle or grip and was, according to Brenda, all down to “cheap imported crap” as she could not get decent English-made stuff.
I put her in touch with a saddler I knew who supplied her with handmade whips although I then realised I had shot myself in the foot as my whip repair work dried up.
Sadly it all came to an end when Brenda had a heart attack during a ‘training session’. She was fifty-seven. Cliff told me: “It’s the way she would have wanted to go.”
At the time of her death, Cliff was away on a company training thing.
The poor client was chained up for about a couple of days before his (weak) cries for help were heard.
It was the postman who heard him.
A friendly matey policeman told me this and the same Plod mentioned that the chains and ‘restraints’ were so well-made “that Houdini could not have got out of ’em, mate.”
I kept silent on the matter.
The client requested no publicity.
I got on well with Cliff as he was always keen to learn what power tools did and I loved his description of Brenda: “She’s a little, fun-loving tinker is my Brenda – nothing phases her you know.”
A while after, he sold their home and moved to Portugal to retire early. He said the house brought back too many memories to stay.
I still miss Brenda and Cliff.
She once told me: “Do you know it cost a bloody fortune to soundproof that room…”