Eddie Izzard is a busy man. He’s not only a stand-up comedian and an actor but also an activist, a political campaigner and don’t forget long-distance runner. Most recently he has been on the trail around Britain spreading a positive message about the EU and trying to persuade the good people of Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland to vote to stay in Europe.
Fresh off the back of his astonishing 27 marathons in 27 days – which he ran across South Africa raising well over £1,300,000 for Sport Relief – Eddie has been touring on the Stand up for Europe campaign, giving a series of political talks in 31 cities in 31 days. Certainly nobody can question his level of commitment to the cause.
Izzard is a man who has generously given the gifts of laughter and charity to the world and now he is following up with hope & positivity. I had the pleasure of talking to him whilst he was visiting Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff as part of his campaign tour.
Chris Cornwell: Do you think there is a discernible difference between the way Wales and England are approaching the referendum?
Eddie Izzard: Yeah. I think Wales gets 245 million and is a net receiver from Europe so any Welsh person who’s voting against it is going against his country as part of the U.K. it just doesn’t make sense. There’s 2.4 billion more to come and so much of the exports go into Europe. So logically Wales would be positive about Europe.
And Scotland’s very positive. Of course not only does Brexit mean recession but also it would probably mean that Nicola Sturgeon would choose a time to push for another referendum, not necessarily immediately but then they’d peel off, so that’d be the end of the U.K. So these Brexit people obviously just want to break up the U.K.
A lot of people don’t realise you lived in Wales.
Yeah, well I tell everyone I can; lived in Skewen, went to school in Uplands, Swansea, and in Porthcawl. They were boarding schools or private schools, that wasn’t my background but mum was dying of cancer so we had to do a very quick move. BP just said ‘alright, there’s a house to live in, there’s a school you can go to’, it was all just sort of arranged. Dad worked for BP at Llandarcy. So I could have had a Welsh accent [in an excellent Welsh accent] I’d be speaking like this, I’d have been fine with that, it’s nice.
People could say I was Jones the transvestite, ‘Ah, there goes Jones the tranny, yes, he’s an endurance runner too, that’s just how he is you know. Don’t get in his way cause he just goes on and on.’
Being someone who can speak several languages and does go over to mainland Europe and work in those languages, you can speak to people in Europe about Britain and Britain’s position in Europe in their own tongue. How do they feel about Britain and the referendum?
They, I think, find it more confusing that we are having a referendum. You see we haven’t actually been invaded successfully since 1066. There’s the Normans, then there’s a big pause until Napoleon comes along and he says ‘I’m coming!’ and then ‘Oh no I’m not, because you put this 26 miles of water here, when did you dig that?’ and then Hitler said the same ‘I’ve got some barges but… yeah okay… I’ll just leave it.’ And because of that our borders have not really changed since then and we say ‘well, it’s not really a problem,’ but the people on the mainland of Europe, they have seen change; changes and changes and changes, over centuries and centuries and centuries so they see the sense of saying ‘enough is enough, let’s try and work together in a way that stops that ever happening again.’ And I think as an island nation we think of it in a slightly different way. We’re saying ‘Well it didn’t happen over here, so can’t we just go in a different direction?’
But pulling out is a negative message to the world; all the experts on the economic side are lining up behind staying in, all they’ve got on the leave side is Donald Trump and, I think, Vladimir Putin and Michael Gove who says we could be like Albania. Boris Johnson says we can be like Canada, they haven’t even decided what it’s going to be like! So the Prime Minister of Albania said ‘Don’t be like us, we want to be in the European Union.’ So Michael Gove is actually saying ‘be like a country that wants to be in the European Union’ and we’re in the European Union.
But we’ve got to make it better, we’ve got to keep pushing forward. I’m trying to run a positive campaign, live a positive message in my life and do things in a way that shows what you can do with Europe if we have the guts to go for it. You can take your business or your work, your job, your abilities and take them to Europe and live in different cities, work in different cities, earn money or have holidays in different cities, all that kind of stuff, there are so many opportunities and the idea of people just saying ‘no, we’re pulling out. Brick wall, no-one come in.’ and then have to renegotiate all the agreements around the world, at the back of the queue, it’s just not the right way to do it.
Do you think that people are more engaged with the referendum when they consider it not as a political issue but a social one, one to do with their position in Europe to other people as opposed to something bureaucratic?
I suppose you could term it that way but I think you actually have to put your ideas in order of importance and it seems to me that humanity, you put that there, at the top, that is the social one. That is what we’re trying to do, it’s the direction we move in as human beings. History is watching this.
Back in the thirties when we were rejecting Jewish refugees coming over, saying ‘Oh no we don’t want that…’ it is remembered. It is remembered whether we were good or were bad. I think we took some in and some we didn’t. There was one refugee boat that went all the way round across the Atlantic and was forced to come back, all the way, and then they ended up in concentration camps. So the social thing, the humanity thing, of trying to learn to live together and work together in some shape or form.
I think that is so important because there are smart people on both sides of this debate and they put forward their arguments in the best way, so if you’re an average person not spending all your time looking at this it can get confusing but I think humanity trumps it all. It’s what we do. Are we the United Kingdom or are we the Separated-out-wanting-to-hate-each-other-and-stab-each-other-in-the-head-kingdom? I don’t think we’re that. We were that but then we said ‘no, this doesn’t get anywhere!’ It just doesn’t get anywhere. And we paid off WWII debt in 2006, that’s how much debt it will cause when it goes into a war situation, so we don’t want those costs, we do want to be forging ahead, and we don’t want to go into a Brexit recession because that’s what’s going to happen if people aren’t careful. We’ll sleepwalk into that or we can keep going forward and try and mend it. If you have a house and it’s not working right do you just lock the doors, stand outside and look at it or do you actually get inside it and try and mend it? You’ve got to be inside the house to mend it.
The ideological side of it seems to be important because, like you said, there are facts and figures on both sides of the debate and frankly no average person has the time to check them all out.
The only thing is that I would say is the Brexit people have lost the economic argument. Brexit equals recession now. They are not even arguing it, have you noticed? All they’re saying is ‘immigration, immigration, immigration, immigration’ because they have actually lost the economic debate. Brexit is now synonymous with recession. In fact it’s an anagram if you add some extra letters, an anagram of recession.
One of the things, people have said to me, particularly older people, is ‘Well, I don’t agree with human rights!’ which I find such a curious thing to say. It seems to me that human rights are a fundamental element of the progress made by the European Union. Why do you think some people are so negative about them?
I don’t know; I haven’t got to the bottom of that. They might see it that if you have human rights sometimes bad people also have human rights. But if they say they don’t want the average person to have human rights, then I don’t know. I’d assume they would want human rights themselves. Don’t they want human rights if they got into a situation?
My dad is 87, my dad is 87 and a vote-in, remain supporter. He was just too young to be in the Second World War but he must be one of the older voters and he’s positive about the idea, so it’s not all old people, it is maybe more old people. But some people, as they get older, they do go and march off to the right and set up camp over there and I’m not quite sure what that is. Someone else is going to have to look into that one, but young people, 18-35 year olds, 75-80% are positive. Michael Eavis, and his daughter, who run Glastonbury, they said ‘get registered before you come here and vote to remain,’ I’ve just tweeted all that out along with the fact that 88% of 600 economists profiled said stay-in. And Nigel Farage was asking his voters to ‘bully people,’ did you hear this? It is actually kinda amazing. He actually says ‘get out there, bully people to vote for us.’ You think ‘bully’ people? Are you sure you want to use that word? But he used it.
[Eddie shows me a video of Nigel Farage atop a campaign bus:]
It just seems like he’s admitting to his usual tactics there.
Well, yeah, because you’d think that after years of doing it, you wouldn’t misspeak like that.
He always seems to trump his own idiocy doesn’t he? He’s like an ever-winding staircase of lunacy.
Well, yeah, he was a merchant banker and that is cockney rhyming slang.
Main Image: Copyright Idil Sukan