Column One: Vaz and Izzard: Britain's oddest double act

John Lichfield
Saturday 22 October 2011 23:16

EUROSTAR PASSENGERS from Paris to London were confronted yesterday by the strangest double act since Mr Barnum met Mr Bailey.

On the one hand, there was Keith Vaz, minister for Europe, provocatively dressed in a grey suit and a grey tie. On the other, there was Eddie Izzard, soberly dressed (for him) in black high heels, flared maroon coat and long silver nails.

As part of the Government's week-long, "Europe roadshow" - bringing the pro-European gospel to the people - the odd couple accosted passengers on the midday Eurostar from the Gare du Nord to Waterloo. "We are here to make Europe sexy," said Mr Izzard, "which is a difficult job."

Mr Vaz said the aim was to show that the European Union was not something distant or scaring but something that appealed to "ordinary people" such as Mr Izzard. The stand-up comedian has been called many things but rarely an "ordinary person".

Mr Izzard said he had agreed to be one of the Government's "European champions" because he believed in the "vision thing" for Europe. "I believe that we are on to something really good here, if it means that we stop rolling tanks across one another's borders and stop killing each other. There are 800 million of us Europeans and we've been killing each other for centuries ... If we can make Europe work, we could be a model for what should happen in the world."

The comedian was wearing "European make-up", but could not remember where he had bought his clothes. "We transvestites, we are a bit like homosexual tom-boys, you know, we don't care about things like clothes." He said that, as a life member of the European Movement, he had tried to do his own bit for European understanding by exporting his stand-up act to France and performing partly in French. "I would now like to do it in Italian, in German, in Dutch."

He compared the Europhobia of some Britons to the barriers he had to overcome as a transvestite performer. "People look at me and say, `Ooh, I can't stand him'. But then they listen to you and get to know your personality and they say, `Oh, yes, I know him, he's not so bad'."

Earlier, the minister for Europe had taken Mr Izzard with him to the Senat, the upper house of the French parliament, to represent Tony Blair at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Council of Europe.

The senat, predominantly male, average age 84, is a bastion of solemn, heavy-suited conservatism. What did the senators make of Mr Izzard's outfit? His eyes twinkled. "Ils ont dit rien," he said. "They said nothing. Not a word. Why should they?"

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