Izzard gets serious over the `New Europeans'

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The Independent Online
Eddie Izzard is getting political. Seriously. Yesterday he performed live at a fringe meeting at the Labour Party's European Conference in Eastbourne.

Clare Garner watched his debut performance on the platform.

Here was someone the people would vote for: Britain's first PVC-clad politician - in daylight hours at least. But Eddie Izzard was not in Eastbourne as a politician - nor as a stand-up comedian - but as a "New European".

The tired grey curtains in the Sussex Suite of the Cavendish Hotel provided a back-drop diametrically opposed to Izzard's own spandangly set and his audience was entirely sober, but that did not hinder his performance in the least. He was clearly nervous before he spoke, nibbling at his burgundy- painted nails as he sat beside Carole Tongue, MEP for London East, and said afterwards that he had not expected to raise a laugh. He need not have worried. He only had to open his mouth and the audience was his.

"I'm not a lesbian trapped in a man's body. I'm happily cohabiting," he began. "That's sexuality, which isn't really the agenda here," he added, signalling that he might just get serious. So passionate is he about Europe that he had sacrificed his day off to drive down from Sunderland, where he had performed the previous night, to speak about the delights of cross- European fertilisation.

To Izzard, being European means "driving around in Greece or Spain on a motor bike with no helmet on."

He expanded the driving metaphor to explain what he hates about the post- colonial British attitude. We lack "get up and go", he said. "We've got to go in there and start driving the bloody car rather than hanging out the back like the tin cans on a marriage car." Izzard knows Eastbourne well. He went to school there, where he struggled with O-level French.

Now he has got a handle on the language, so much so that he is able to do stand-up performances in Paris which are 95 per cent in French.

"I can make French people laugh, in French. I've done French gags. That's crazy. I never thought I could do that." He had little patience with the way Britons shy away from learning other languages. They just won't risk the potential humiliation and embarrassment, but "that is the growing process."

Sadly, he does not see himself as a potential candidate. Telling gags in other languages is a far as far as he is prepared to go in making political statements.

Or is it? Was yesterday's speech not the first of many? "The first of - maybe one more," he replied, fluttering his eye lashes and smiling tantalisingly.