How We Met: Eric Clapton and Bob Kingdom

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The Independent Culture
Eric Clapton, the blues guitarist and singer, is 49. His marriage to Patti Boyd broke up in 1986; in 1991, his five-year-old son fell to his death from a New York skyscraper. He has successfully battled against drink and drugs. He is co-producing Bob Kingdom's new show and recording a new blues album.

Bob Kingdom, 50, is an actor who grew up in Cardiff. He put on an acclaimed one-man show about Dylan Thomas,

Return Journey, in London in 1991. Focusing on another tortured genius, his The Truman Capote Talk Show opens tomorrow at the Lyric Studio for three weeks before touring.

ERIC CLAPTON: When I first met Bob I was going through a very difficult time. It was a few years ago, and I'd just moved back to London. He was very supportive at a time in my life when I knew I had to find the ability to change, and it didn't take long for a real friendship to develop.

He came into my life at exactly the right time. Because of him, I found it easier to change in so many ways. Letting friends in took a concentrated effort and it was much easier to shut people out. At first you think it's a better option to become a recluse, but the self-punishment eventually takes its toll. It's like beating yourself to death every day. I admire Bob's principles and the way he has chosen to live his life, although if you asked me to define those principles I'm not sure I could. We have a kind of shorthand.

What we do most of the time is go out for a meal. I'm a member of the Chelsea Arts Club, which is very convenient at lunchtime. We've also been known to sneak off to the cinema in the afternoon. I'm not a great one for going out but Bob did manage to get me to see the film Naked.

Going to the theatre is something I hardly ever do. There has to be some kind of connection to get me into a theatre, so when Bob did his Dylan Thomas at the Lyric I was intrigued. His performance really knocked me out because the Bob Kingdom I know is a self-effacing human being who has always seemed quite humble about what he does. It shocked me to see him on stage, because he was completely different.

Bob is someone I talk to about the creative process. For me, working is a very secretive process. I don't practise much because everything's in my skull and I sort of know when I'm ready to work. It seems to be similar for Bob. Both of us enjoy the element of risk in a live performance, and neither of us is prepared to compromise. Having said that, the one thing which that really makes us laugh is the pomposity which can go with the world we work in. I recognise the dangers in taking myself too seriously. It's been very interesting talking to Bob about nerves and the dread of performing. Somehow, once you're up there you forget about the fear and just get on with doing what you love.

Towards the end of last year, I was looking forward to seeing him do The Truman Capote Talk Show here. He'd had terrific reviews at the Edinburgh Festival. When Bob told me that the show wasn't going to happen in London, it occurred to me that with all my contacts there must be something I could do. Even if I only made a few introductions, I felt it might be useful. I'm definitely a ghost producer, I wouldn't dream of interfering.

Bob has a very primitive approach to performance, which means that he's much more free to do what he wants. I've learnt that approach from him so that I also feel much less constrained. I used to make a whole performance out of deciding which clothes I wore on stage, and then I'd have to change half-way through and that, too, became very important. Now all that gloss isn't important to me. Using Bob's approach to performance is much more rewarding and somehow in tune with an inner life, which I suppose is what it's all about.

Bob is the kind of friend who makes your heart lift when you see him. We definitely complement each other. I tend to be naturally depressive, and Bob is one of the few friends who can always get me out of it. I know he's been through bad times too but he's always so bloody positive. I sometimes wonder if a day will come when he'll be just like the rest of us - bloody miserable. Knowing Bob, I doubt it.

BOB KINGDOM: We met at a time when both of us had made a decision to change our lives. Because of a shared background of using artificial stimulants, we realised that it was time to ask for help. As far as our friendship goes, the timing was perfect. Eric's a survivor, and in therapy we were kindred spirits on the journey. Alcoholism is something which has affected both of us at different times in our lives, but I think all I have to say about drink and drugs has been written into my play. It's not something I particularly want to talk about.

Seeing someone you know in private performing in public is fascinating. Particularly when it's someone like Eric, who has this almost God- like aura. Who Eric is doesn't make the slightest bit of difference to me. It would be impossible to have any deep relationship if you were in awe of a person. Genuine friendship is something utterly unconditional, and that's what Eric and I have. It's based on all kinds of things, principles, trust, work, love, and, yes, a sense of humour. This probably sounds ridiculous but I can't think of anything about Eric that annoys me. In my show about Truman Capote, I talk a lot about legends and fame and the celebrity that goes with wealth and power. They're things I've discussed a great deal with Eric. It's been very interesting to see both sides of him. There's the Big Eric - the star - and there's the other one - the Regular Eric. He's the one who's real, the one I would go to if I needed a friend.

We were introduced by mutual friends. Being Eric, he sort of became a focus. Although our worlds are very different, there is an element in our work which is similar. Neither of us is in the business of performing something which has been constantly rehearsed and refined. What we do is in our heads for a lot of the time. For me and Eric, the doing, the immediacy, the 'is' if you like, is the most important thing. Being up there, on stage, interacting with an audience.

Dennis Potter put it all into words in that extraordinary interview he did with Melvyn Bragg. He talked so movingly about living for the moment and not worrying about the future. If you dwell on the now, you don't have to fear for what comes next. It's what I try to do, and what I think Eric has learnt in the time we've spent together. It isn't as easy as it sounds. Sometimes even I have to admit that I'm fooling myself when I believe that there is no need to fear the future.

Eric has a real capacity for friendship, but there was no way I could have got to him unless he was prepared to change and to let me in. I think that at first it was difficult for him, but life has to be fluid. There has to be space to go forward.

I'm always cheered up at the thought of seeing Eric and spending time with him, and I know he feels the same way. When either of us is away we usually keep in touch by phone. One of the things we share is a love of cricket but I end up going to Lord's and Eric usually gets to go to Antigua.

Before I met Eric, I had a tendency to send up flattery. One of the things he's taught me is to be much more accepting about it. Flattery is a two-

way process - there's the giving and the receiving. Backstage, we need positive support from our friends. In a way, Eric coming in as producer of my show is the ultimate flattery, and of course I'm extremely grateful to him for helping to get it off the ground.

Coming in as a producer seems like an awfully grand gesture but it's typically Eric. It's an example of his simple generosity and the way he's accepted that sometimes it's worth just going for the moment. Even if the reviews are terrible and nobody comes, it won't make any difference to our friendship. None at all.

(Photograph omitted)

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