CHEMISTRY LESSONS: PROFILE

Chat-show queen RUBY WAX talks with James Rampton

It is hard to imagine Terry Wogan clambering on top of Pamela Anderson in the back of her limo to try out her favourite sexual position. But this is exactly what Ruby Wax does in her new series of celebrity interviews. As she leans on Anderson's celebrated chest, Wax turns to the camera and shrieks: "If I burst one of these, do you know how much I'm going be sued for?"

The chat show has moved on since the genial Irishman with the questionable hairdo would clasp celebs by the knee and ask them to tell him everything about their new film. We are now in the post-sofa era; irony has taken over from flattery. With the rise and rise of spoof interviews by Mrs Merton, Alan Partridge and Dennis Pennis, it is now almost impossible to get away with a primetime chat show that is little more than a PR-led plug of new product. "People in this country smell a rat very fast," Wax contends, "otherwise we'd still have Wogan."

Although she is now the undisputed chief of chat, Wax dismisses the idea that she is the "new Wogan". "I hope I'm not," she gulps. "I wouldn't want that job because you burn out listening to the guests plugging. What's good about our show is that we keep the energy up. And you couldn't keep up those positions I did with Pamela if you did it three times a week."

Her uncanny knack is to get people to do and say things they would never dream of doing and saying even in their own front rooms. Under Wax's prompting, Jean-Claude Van Damme leaps to her rescue and head-butts the inflatable plastic crocodile that is assaulting her. In her most famous interview, which gained close on 15 million viewers, Wax got the Duchess of York to talk about why she has separate drawers for different-coloured T-shirts and ended the meeting by shutting Fergie out of her own house. The woman's middle name is "chutzpah".

Wax has the unusual gift of empathising with people while simultaneously taking the rise out of them. She lulls stars into revealing their true colours. A half-hour interview with Imelda Marcos turned into three days, because the world's most famous shoe-owner took a shine to Wax - even after she had quizzed her about mass killings during her husband's regime.

Following the broadcast of her interview, Fergie "called and left three thank-you messages, because she had got sympathetic letters. People felt sorry for her situation, and she really cares what people think about her."

In the past, Wax had a bit of "reputation". Shouting and screaming were not unknown; one newspaper remarked on her "brash pushiness and inflated ego". But now she has mellowed. She has a refreshing lack of stuffiness which makes her guests - and viewers - warm to her; she admits to Sharon Stone that she prefers sex to be over quickly, "so I can get on with eating". Never one to stand on ceremony, Wax conducts our interview in the untidied bedroom of her elegant west London home without batting an eyelid.

The atmosphere Wax is aiming to create on her show is that of two pals having a good old gossip. That facilitates such revelations as Helen Mirren's headline-grabbing announcement last week that she wants to retire. "You know in a restaurant when you hit a good stride with someone and you get on the same wavelength?" Wax asks. "If they don't like me, it doesn't work. There has to be a chemistry. Just give me the inner landscape; I don't want the dirt. If you go for that, their eyes glaze over and they think they're on Oprah.

"I can get things out of people because they're walking. When they sit down the whole time, they begin to solidify and take themselves more seriously. I feel it myself; you're sitting there and start to doze off."

Interviewees are all shown tapes of previous Wax interviews so they know exactly what they're letting themselves in for. Nearly all play along gamely (only Dennis Hopper appeared to be "on another planet"). What we see is the distillation of at least three hours' chat. "We don't show you the boring stuff," Wax says. "We'll do another show with the boring stuff on Channel 5."

Research is key; Wax turned up for the Marcos interview in pounds 80,000 worth of Theo Fennell jewellery "so she knew I was one of her girls". "Ruby gives a lot in interviews," maintains Clive Tulloh, the producer of Ruby Wax Meets... "To prepare for Helen Mirren, we watched her do six different interviews with Terry Wogan. Then you can see the subjects where her eyes go dead and know not to ask her about them. Ruby really tries to connect with people. You don't feel that other interviewers always do."

In the future, Wax might do more world figures. "I'm interested in power when it corrupts, but not a lot of those people are available," she laments. Winnie Mandela has been approached, and Tulloh would like to see Wax interview Colonel Gaddafi.

"If you started doing despots on a comedy chat show, you would offend a lot of people," the producer concedes. "But I think despots deserve it. The best way of ridiculing anyone and showing up their pomposity is for Ruby to do them."

A new series of `Ruby Wax Meets...' starts with Sharon Stone on Mon, 10.10pm BBC1

EYE TEST

1953: Born in Chicago into what she has called a family of eccentrics. Her father, originally from Vienna, made sausage skins and her mother was an accountant

1970s: Studied psychology for a year at the University of California, Berkeley, before leaving to hitch-hike round Europe. Rejected by Rada, she was accepted by the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. On graduation, she spent five years at the RSC. There, Alan Rickman told her she should write down the funny things she said and David Suchet directed her first comedy shows

Early 1980s: Wrote scripts for Not the Nine O'Clock News, starred in and wrote Girls on Top with French and Saunders

Late 1980s and early 1990s: Appeared in various eponymous comedy shows, including: Don't Miss Wax, East Meets Wax, Ruby's Hit and Run, Ruby Takes a Trip, Wax Cracks Hollywood, Wax Cracks Cannes. Fronted five series of The Full Wax. Married TV producer Ed Bye, with whom she has three children

1995: Presented six-part series on health, Ruby's Health Quest

1996: First series of Ruby Wax Meets...

RUBY'S TOP FIVE INTERVIEW GEMS

1. To Imelda Marcos: "Where did all the billions go, honey?" 2. To Fergie about the notes reminding her what is in her drawers: "you couldn't open a drawer? What are you, too lazy to go over there and check?" 3. To Burt Reynolds: "Nice wig, baby, what about your love life?" 4. To Jean-Claude Van Damme's mother: "the birth must have been painful ... did he just kick-box his way out?" 5. On why she is interviewing Pamela Anderson again for the new series: "when we showed her last time, we got nine million viewers."

News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

    Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

    £24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

    Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat