Berkoff, blaine, Clary and Jones
An anguished phonecall from the actor Steven Berkoff: can I get him inside the security fence below Tower Bridge to deliver a message of support to David Blaine?
Steven is incensed at the endless yobbish attacks on David’s Plexiglass prison. Most national newspapers are treating the showers of abuse and food as slapstick, a tradition stretching back to the Middle Ages when the highlight of a holiday was pelting a criminal in the stocks with rotten vegetables.
Steven sees something much nastier. “This is because David is a Jew,” he told me. “It’s anti-Semitism.”
I have come to the same, angry conclusion myself. Yes, many of the louts who come to throw eggs and insults are drunk, or hoping to get their pictures in the papers. But others appear to hate David simply because he is a Jew.
Two men, both in their 20s or 30s, stood under David’s box flicking Nazi salutes at him last week, until I alerted security to chase them away. It sickens me to see this, in London of all places.
Steven talked with passion of marshalling a posse of vigilante guards to watch the site around the clock and deal vigorously with anti-Jewish abuse. He knew enough out-of-work actors, he told me fiercely, to form a brigade.
“Private armies will just make the situation worse,” I told him. “We have to work with the police.” I had already contacted Greville Janner, pleading with him to use his influence in the Lords to get the police presence at Potters Fields stepped up.
Steven calmed down when he had visited the site and talked to one or two of the policemen – he was reassured that they were taking the situation seriously. He drew a heart and held it up to the box, and I think the energy that flows out of Steven is so electrifying that David must have sensed it, even though my friend is getting very weak now.
Steven and I met at Rabbi Pini Dunner’s home last year, and he invited me to play Satan in his play, Messiah, which was opening at the Edinburgh festival. I turned him down – I didn’t want to be the living embodiment of evil, night after night, even if it was just make-believe. To me, it is vitally important to live positively at every moment.
But our friendship blossomed anyway, and Steven’s talent always shocks and thrills me. We dined near his Thameside home, at an incredible restaurant called the Wapping Project, in a former hydraulic station.
Jules Wright, the restaurateur, has left much of the machinery in place, which fills the space with an extraordinary acoustic. Steven revealed he had trained as a mime, and gave a demonstration that left my daughter Nat and me open-mouthed.
“It’s like he puts a spell on you,” Nat whispered to me afterwards.
My heart sank a little when I realised I was booked to record a radio ad with the comic Julian Clary. We’d met before, a decade or more ago, on Channel Four’s Big Breakfast – back in the days when Chris Evans was still presenting it.
Julian hadn’t appeared to like me very much. I remembered a rather negative vibe, a dismissive air. Would this engagement go any better?
Luckily, he’s a consummate professional. From the moment we shook hands, all I saw was an actor focused wholly on his task. It wasn’t an easy recording session, because we were in London and our producers were somewhere in Scotland , listening via an ISDN line.
His concentration helped to steady my nerves – I can still get the performance jitters, especially when I’m working from a script instead of off the cuff. At the end of the recording, his face broke into a grin and he said cheekily: “Uri – what on earth is that accent?!”
It made a great ice-breaker, and got both of us chatting. The last time I’d seen him, his career was on a high: he has been through the wilderness since then, both professionally and personally, with the death of his partner, Christopher. But his gameshows and stand-up routines changed the face of TV – it’s impossible to imagine the Graham Norton or Patrick Kielty shows without Julian’s pioneering persona.
Next time we’re booked to work together, I’ll be looking forward to it.
The stretch limo that was slinking down Sloane St just had to belong to a celeb – and I had a hunch about the feline silhouette behind the darkened windows. So I tapped on the glass, shouted out my name, and was treated to a smacking kiss on the cheek from Grace Jones.
“Oh darling,” she purred, “do you remember how you bent a spoon for me in New York ?” She didn’t have to ask: she’s unforgettable, and she knows it.
Grace looks as if she has been sculpted from marble. She is ageless, and beautiful as ever.
It wasn’t until the limo rolled away that I realised I’d met two Bond villains this week: Steven Berkoff was General Orlov in Octopussy, and Grace Jones was May Day. And wouldn’t Julian Clary make a wonderful Ernst Stavro Blofeld!
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