Tears are never far from ruining the make-up of Eddie Izzard

His new DVD is far from a laugh-a-minute, but then so is its author. By Ian Burrell

On the evening before I met Eddie Izzard he had walked across the cobble stones of the Covent Garden piazza to reminisce on the long, hard years he spent pedalling a unicycle and tying himself up in chains in the hope of prompting a few laughs from passing shoppers.

"I just like visiting the place where I lost it all," he explains, sounding a little maudlin and slightly irritated that he found the area barricaded off and deprived of the street theatre for which it is famous. "It's my manor; it's where I found myself and learned that pit-of-the-stomach thing."

These days Izzard splits his time between London and Los Angeles and earlier this year he reached a new pinnacle in his career by playing New York's Madison Square Garden.

"From the Garden to the Garden," he observes. To some, he is the male comic with a strange talent for applying eyeliner and stepping gracefully in high heels. That simplistic caricature he suspects, in spite of his global fame, puts people off coming to see his act.

It's the reason why his Christmas DVD is a complicated biographical documentary, rather than one of his shows. "Seeing as people still don't understand where the hell I come from, it seemed like a good idea."

So instead of belly laughs at Izzard's trademark stream-of-consciousness journeys into the surreal, such as those served up on previous live DVDs such as Dressed to Kill and Stripped, viewers of Believe get to see tearful Eddie, angry Eddie and Eddie dying on stage, again and again. It's a challenging watch for Christmas.

Sarah Townsend, Izzard's former girlfriend, directed the film over six years. She says Izzard's work ethic presented her with a problem.

"There are no tantrums, no drug parties or behaviour that will create wonderful footage. It isn't like that - it's very organised; a streamlined machine," she says.

At least that has been the case since 2000, when Anne Robinson and the BBC's Watchdog threw a spanner into the works. Ten years later Izzard remains outraged that the show had the audacity to accuse him of ripping off his audience by performing successful gags that he had told before.

So livid was Eddie that Townsend actually starts the film with what many would regard as a footnote in his rise to stardom. "We had never seen you so upset by anything," she says, sat on a sofa alongside the comedian. He is far from over the incident. "The Watchdog thing really did fucking kick me in the head. Watchdog is normally: 'This guy sold a bad vacuum cleaner," he complains, slapping himself theatrically on the wrist. "And I'm in that bag! That's not what I was trying to do!"

He was, he says, doing no more than the Rolling Stones playing their hits. "Morecambe and Wise? They had the same show for 20, 30 years. I only had that show for a year - give us a break!"

Believe picks up the story as Izzard bounces back with his Sexie tour in 2003. But for six years Townsend filmed her ex without being able to find a narrative. It was only in the last week of filming that she coaxed from him the most poignant moment on Believe, when he emotionally acknowledges the reason for his extraordinary drive: the death of his mother when he was six years old.

"The big problem is that everything I do in life is trying to get her back. I think if I do enough things that maybe she will come back," he says on the film, before a long pause in which tears run down his left cheek.

"I don't know what went on in that interview, but I had never quite said that before. It was a slightly out-of-body experience," he says now. The loss of his mother drove him onwards.

Now he's huge in America, he admits his cross-dressing helped to make his name. "For me to say: 'I'm a transvestite and I'm doing this', seemed to be quite fresh in America," he says, while complaining that he has had to "crowbar apart" the notion that he is a drag artist. "People thought: 'It's all about make-up' and then realised: 'Oh, it's not - he's talking surreal stuff'." He was hassled by American officials - "they always used to pull me over" - not for his dress sense, but because his passport records his birth in Yemen.

He is about to decamp to a Paris club where he will perform in French for three months. He'd also like to do his act in German. "I'm very positive on European politics. We just need to be a big melting pot because we are all the same humans around the world."

'Believe' is on BBC2 on Saturday at 10.45pm and is out now on DVD

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there