HOW WE MET:RICK WAKEMAN AND NORMAN WISDOM

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The Independent Culture
Rock musician Rick Wakeman, 47, was born in Middlesex. He found fame as keyboard player of the group Yes, and later as a solo performer. He now has his own production company, and a Christian record label. He will tour the UK later this year. He has five children and lives on the Isle of Man with his third wife, Nina.

Norman Wisdom, 81, was born in London and went on to become Britain's highest-paid comedy actor, giving award-winning performances in films such as Trouble in Store and The Night They Raided Minsky's. In 1995 he was awarded an OBE. He is soon to star in the film adaptation of JB Priestly's Adam & Evil. Divorced, he lives on the Isle of Man

RICK WAKEMAN: I knew Norman lived on the Isle of Man but it wasn't until quite a while after I moved there that we met. This is surprising, because I'm a terrible thespian groupie. I hang around stage doors a lot.

We finally bumped into each other in 1981. I think it was at a charity golf do - we both play. For some reason, when you meet showbusiness people for the first time, because you are in the same business, you tend to talk as if you know each other. Norman was no exception. But there was something more than that. I felt like he had been a friend for years.

You also can't avoid having an image of how showbusiness people will be from their work, and unfortunately they often don't live up to it. I think Norman knew my name but he had no idea what I did. But I had been watching him since I was a little 'un of 11 or 12, so obviously I had built up quite a clear picture, and he was exactly as I had always imagined he would be. We got on like a house on fire.

Norman has always kept his private life entirely separate from his entertainment work, but he has confided in me in a professional sense. A little while ago, someone offered to write his biography, and at first he didn't want to know. But me and my wife, Nina, kept on at him. We said he should allow a record to be made of his life with his approval, or someone would do it without. He's such a modest guy, but we had to tell him, "You're a major part of comedy history. People want to read about you." Anyway, the book is now being written.

We were chatting over coffee one day, as is our wont, and Norman told me he was still writing. I thought he meant scripts. But he was talking about songs. When he sat at the piano and played me some of the songs, I said he should do an album. They were really melodic and he has a great voice. I started to tape them and then on my days off we began to put something together in the studio. But Norman, bless him, is not budget- conscious, and we went wildly over. It's because he is the ultimate perfectionist. But I could understand that completely. We have similar standards and we both like our work so much that we find it a pain to stop.

Norman has occasionally heard bits and pieces I've written, which I would describe as progressive classical music. But when I play them for him he just looks blank. Norman likes show tunes from musicals that tell a story. He looks disappointed and says things like, "But when's he going to kiss her?" And I have to tell him, "It doesn't happen in this one, Norman."

I am not alone in loving Norman. Everyone on the Isle of Man is the same. But we are all searching heavily for the key to the padlock on his wallet. He certainly doesn't flaunt his wealth. In fact, I admire how he maintains a very down-to-earth approach.

If ever we're both at a big posh do, it's great to find I'm sat near him. He will always have got there early to talk to the staff and while everyone else tucks into seven courses, he'll be eating egg, chips and soldiers. The TV chef Kevin Woodford lives on the island and has a restaurant, but he never even bothers to give Norman the menu because it's always the same: eggs, chips and soldiers.

Norman still has his boyish looks and he is a dapper dresser. He drives fast cars, has a great big motorbike and goes to the stock car racing every week.

We have watched a couple of Norman's movies together at his house, but he talks all the way through. He's saying, "Watch this bit," and explaining in detail how things were done. By the time he's finished explaining, the film has always long finished.

Last year he was granted the freedom of Tirana in Albania. Every British and American movie had been banned there - except for Norman's Rank comedies. They said they had a Marxist message because Norman's characters were always getting knocked down by the boss but he kept coming back. That "Mr Grimsdale" he always said in that funny voice turned into a catchphrase all over Albania. Can you believe it? Only Norman could do that.

And now at 81 he's doing a movie with Bo Derek. I am thrilled for him that this project has come to fruition. It's been around for six or seven years and we've chatted about it a lot. I don't know Bo Derek but I do know Norman and he's very frisky for his age. She should be on her toes if he's got that twinkle in his eye.

Norman often phones me up and tells me jokes that wouldn't sound out of place in Chubby Brown's act. Then he giggles and says, "That was a bit naughty, wasn't it?" My wife Nina comes in and asks what Norman wanted and I have to say, all innocently, that he just wanted a chat. I feel like a mischievous schoolboy hiding something from his mum. But that's Norman. I love him dearly.

NORMAN WISDOM: Rick and I met 15 years ago at a golf club on the island. We were both playing in a charity tournament. I've since found out that Rick was sure I didn't have the faintest idea who he was. But the truth is that I felt very excited when a mutual acquaintance pointed him out to me and said he would introduce us. I was familiar with Rick's career and knew I was about to meet a brilliant musician and a wonderful performer.

I seem to remember us talking about golf. Then, of course, we got on to sex - no, only joking. He really was smashing, very friendly. I knew instantly that we would become pals.

The nature of our careers means that Rick and I can't meet on a regular basis, but when we do, it's just as if we only talked the day before. We've attended quite a few charity dos together linked to golf - he's not a bad player, I suppose. And sometimes I've played the piano and sung a bit, too.

I perform concerts that still sell out and I had a hit in the Sixties with "Don't Laugh At Me Because I'm A Fool". But I'd written a lot of songs that I'd done nothing with. I played some of them to Rick one day and he seemed to like them. One thing led to another and before I knew it we had hours of the stuff on tape. That's when we decided to work on an album together.

I composed all the lyrics and music myself, and Rick produced it and did some of the musical arrangements. We worked very well together. Bruce Forsyth had told Rick about how I'd driven him mad in rehearsals when just the two of us did the Sunday Night at the London Palladium show in 1961 - the memory is obviously still painful to him, even after all this time. That gave Rick an idea what I'd be like in the studio. You see, I'm prepared to do things over and over again until I get them exactly right. But Rick is a perfectionist himself, so he could understand that.

I play the clarinet and saxophone, drums and trumpet, but I wish I could play the piano like Rick. People pay good money to hear him at his concerts. But he has played for me alone at his house. It hasn't happened much, because Rick tends to shut himself away in his studio at home and he is very protective of his work in the composition stage. But occasionally, when he's reached a point where he's happy with something, he's played it to me, and I feel very honoured.

But equally, there have been times where I've ended up performing with Rick as the only audience. It usually starts off as a story I'm telling him and then the next thing I know I'm doing a whole routine. I enjoy those times because Rick laughs so much. He genuinely seems to appreciate what I do.

I must admit I like to muck around a bit, I always have. And there have been times when I think I've led Rick astray. Once, we got told off at a theatre here on the island for being so disruptive, which is quite an achievement considering it was in a pantomime. But we aren't rotten. If we thought we were really upsetting anyone we wouldn't do it. We just want to have some harmless fun.

Some people might criticise us for behaving the way we do, because of our ages or responsibilities. But it's our attitude that keeps us young. If I didn't have that outlook I'm sure I wouldn't be able to jog the few miles a day I do, and I'm sure my career wouldn't be as successful. And the same goes for Rick. He walks for miles with his dogs and with his family at the weekend, and he never stops touring the world.

When Rick found out I was starring with Bo Derek in Adam & Evil he was delighted, as any chum would be. He knows this film is dear to my heart. He also knows I like to flirt and he can't wait to see how Bo will react. I'm sure he'll visit me on set just to keep an eye on things. I'll enjoy showing him around. He's not done movies himself so it will be nice to see what he thinks about it all.

I can genuinely say that I get on with everyone in showbusiness. But obviously some people are dearer friends, and Rick is one of those. He is a very intelligent man, much more intelligent than I am, but I don't feel bothered by that. And the fact that there is a 30 year age gap and that we're from different eras of entertainment doesn't matter at all. It isn't what our friendship is about. I just have a great laugh with him - and that's what's made us such great pals. I've been making people laugh for 40 years, so I know how important it is. !

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