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Rupert Everett’s gay abandon. By Gyles Brandreth

Regulars | By Gyles Brandreth

Rupert Everett, 1987

What a wild, sex-fuelled life the actor has led! And how beige my existence has been

Spring has sprung. The sap is rising. And I realise I have barely lived at all.

I have just come from recording a conversation for my Rosebud podcast with the actor Rupert Everett, 64.

Rupe has lived – and some. The star of My Best Friend’s Wedding (and, more recently, The Happy Prince, the best of the several films about the life and downfall of Oscar Wilde) came to live in London’s Earl’s Court when he was just 15, quickly discovered the notorious Coleherne pub in the Old Brompton Road, and didn’t look back.

During his late teens, and into his twenties and beyond, sex was central to his existence. Young men, old men … he had them all – and women, too. Morning, noon and night, Rupe was having it away with gay abandon.

To hear him tell the tale, it sounds terrific – though he acknowledges the downsides: the occasional encounter with a sinister stranger (‘I screamed like blue murder and ran out of the building’); the fear of having contracted AIDS in the 1980s (‘Every morning, I looked into the mirror, dreading seeing the mark of the disease on my face’); the fact of his multiple overlapping affairs hurting people he loved…

Inevitably, alcohol and drugs were part of the rich mix, but the driving force was sex. I have never met anyone before who has enjoyed so much sex and can talk about it so disarmingly – and hilariously.

Rupert is knocking retirement age now, with a settled boyfriend, is continent and content and has a rich and raunchy past to look back on.

I have got nothing. I have never smoked. I have not touched even the mildest drug. I don’t drink and if I wrote up the story of my love life, it would be called One and a Half Shades of Beige.

Of course, it’s too late now. I saw the beautiful and brilliant actress Rachael Stirling the other day and was reminded of a lunch I had with her wonderful mother, Diana Rigg, more than 20 years ago, when I was in my fifties and Dame Diana (my teenage crush when she was in The Avengers) was in her sixties. We talked about mature sex.

‘It’s horrific,’ Diana said, with a shudder. ‘You’ve got to do it in the dark because you both look so hideous – and the heaving of one body on top of the other … it’s simply exhausting.’

Diana Rigg and I bonded because we had both published collections of theatre stories in the same season.

Mine was called Great Theatrical Disasters; hers was an anthology of terrible theatre reviews, entitled No Turn Unstoned. In her book she quotes a review of her 1971 Broadway performance in Abelard and Heloise, in which she appeared topless, prompting a New York critic to write, ‘Diana Rigg is built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient flying buttresses.’

We agreed that it’s the coruscating reviews that stick in the memory. We also agreed that in our lifetime, the play that had received probably the most universally favourable reviews was Laurence Olivier’s 1963 production of Chekov’s Uncle Vanya, in which Olivier played Dr Astrov and Michael Redgrave gave the performance of his life in the title role. Impeccably cast (with Joan Plowright as Sonia, Rosemary Harris as Elena and Sibyl Thorndike as the nurse), it still strikes me as the closest thing to perfection I have seen in the theatre.

I have seen the play many times (apart from Shakespeare, it’s my favourite play) and it never disappoints. Currently, there is a wonderful production selling out at the 180-seat Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. Adapted and directed by the great Sir Trevor Nunn, 84, it is a heartbreaking joy, and if you get the chance to see it, you must.

Now and then, the National Theatre and the RSC are still doing good things, but these days the best of British theatre is to be found in the smallest of venues.

I have recently chanced to have a few encounters with Akshata Murty, the Prime Minister’s wife. She’s young (44 on 25th April), engaging, funny, highly intelligent, full of energy and interested in several of the serious things that interest me: education, literacy, the importance of poetry, the untapped potential of the Commonwealth.

In the past, she has had a torrid press because, thanks to her father and her own acumen, she is reportedly richer than the King. But from what I have seen of her, she is a good thing, an under-the-radar philanthropist who has been quietly busy bringing children into Downing Street for interesting educational opportunities.

I mention her because I realise that I often judge a person I know but don’t know well (such as Rishi Sunak) by the quality of their partner.

Actually, it’s an approach I have relied on for more than half a century. People who might regard me as a bumptious, name-dropping loud-mouth meet my wife and think, ‘Well, if she’s been with him all these years, he can’t be that bad.’ All I can tell you is that she hasn’t stayed for the sex.

Gyles Brandreth: Can’t Stop Talking! is at the Cadogan Hall on 26th April

This story was from Spring 2024 issue. Subscribe Now