Fry bows out of Baftas after revealing stage fright was too much for him

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The Independent Online

For six years, Stephen Fry has fronted Britain's premier film awards with trademark panache. Yet for all his ease and charm, he was concealing crippling nerves.

Now, the celebrated comic actor, who recently revealed his struggle with manic depression in a prime time documentary, is to hang up his tuxedo. Fry, 49, announced he will no longer put himself through the ordeal of presenting the Bafta film awards in front of some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

The star, who is loved by millions as the quintessential Englishman, revealed recently that he had suffered extreme stagefright prior to his appearances before an A-list audience at the Baftas. He said last night: "It has been a tremendous six years, and I look forward to watching it without nerves in the future."

The Cambridge-educated comedian and novelist, who rose to prominence alongside longstanding collaborator Hugh Laurie, has long struggled with mental illness and the emotional pressures of his profession. His sudden disappearance from the stage of the West End play Cell Mates in 1995, causing the production to close amid concern that he had taken his life after he fled the UK for Belgium.

This summer Fry, who suffers from bipolar disorder, revealed that he had indeed come close to suicide after suffering a breakdown. In a two-part documentary for BBC2 about manic depression, Fry said: "I went into my garage, sealed the door with a duvet I'd brought and got into my car. I sat there for at least, I think, two hours in the car, my hands on the ignition key."

Only after returning to Britain was Fry, whose private life has long been the subject of fascination after he revealed he was celibate for 16 years, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He said: "I'd never heard the word before, but for the first time at the age of 37, I had a diagnosis that explains the massive highs and miserable lows I've lived with all my life."

The actor, who describes himself as "emotionally rehabilitated" on his website, has returned to prominence with a series of roles from an Oscar Wilde biopic to the host of the BBC quiz show, QI, and the advertising frontman for Twinings Tea.

BBC and Bafta bosses yesterday paid tribute to Fry for his compering performances, which once included him departing from his usual urbanity by ending a ceremony with the words: "That's enough tedious wank from me. Let's party."

David Parfitt, chairman of the Bafta Film Committee, said: "Stephen has been a wonderful host and it has been a pleasure to work with him for the last six years. We hope to invite him back as a nominee in the not too distant future."

Peter Fincham, controller of BBC1, which broadcasts the ceremony, said: "Stephen Fry has been the mainstay of the awards for six years, where he has been brilliant, but I entirely respect his wish to hang up his dinner jacket."

Despite the praise for Fry, whose numerous television credits include Blackadder and Jeeves and Wooster, the Baftas - the UK's answer to the Oscars - have attracted a dwindling television audience.

The academy attempted to increase the relevance of the awards in 2002 by switching the ceremony from April or May to February to ensure they came before the Oscars in March. But the audience for this February's awards was about three million, a reduction of 1.4 million on 2005 and 2.7 million below its peak in 2004.

Bafta is now looking for a new host, with Jonathan Ross said to be already in negotiations.