His recent rant about God’s lack of compassion sent social media into overdrive as Stephen Fry just doesn’t do dull says Gráinne McGuinness
STEPHEN FRY’s most recent memoir can be read for a look at the glamorous lifestyle of a wealthy, successful actor in 1990’s Britain, but also gives insight into the underlying despair and addiction that dominated the life of the Blackadder star throughout the period.
In More Fool Me, Fry names various places where he took cocaine while a user between 1986 and 2001. Besides a long list of exclusive clubs and hotels, Fry snorted lines in TV studios and on film sets and in the offices of some of Britain’s most high-profile publications, from The Daily Telegraph to Vanity Fair.
He also partook of the Class A drug in a number of royal homes, including Buckingham Palace.
The inclusion of royal residences is a sign of the range of society he mixed with in the period. He was as likely to spend an afternoon with royalty as to end up playing snooker or poker with Keith Allen and various members of Blur in one of the many London clubs of which he was a member.
Fry described a visit from Prince Charles and then wife Princess Diana, after meeting the royal heir at a charity event.
He was aware Fry had a home near the Prince’s holiday residence in Norfolk and during their chat Fry invited him to visit.
Some months later, Fry and an assortment of family and friends were celebrating Christmas and New Year together when Charles rang to ask if he could call round one afternoon. Fry suppressed his instinctive reaction to the call, which was to say, “Oh f**k off Rory”.
He made a split second, correct, decision that the caller was not impressionist Rory Bremner, but the Prince of Wales.
And so Fry and his guests, including Blackadder co-stars Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie, welcomed Charles and Diana for afternoon tea. He described the childlike excitement of a group of left-wing media personalities at the prospect of the visit from royalty.
Fry is a natural raconteur, and the early part of his book reads as if the reader is beside him at a dinner party, being regaled with anecdotes like the royal visit story.
Much rawer and less polished is the second part of the book, which reproduces Fry’s diary from August to November in 1993.
Fry says that barring minor corrections and the occasional name changed for the privacy of others he has put it up as it was written. This may not be totally true, but he certainly allows plenty to be printed that does not reflect too kindly on him.
The diary begins with him moving into an exclusive spa hotel for some weeks, both to allow renovations to his home and to aid him in finishing the novel he was writing at the time, published in 1994 as The Hippopotamus.
Anyone who has ever aspired to writing a novel will be green with envy at Fry having both the means and freedom to move into a spa hotel with all meals prepared and rounds of golf and daily massages to reward himself for the rigours of writing.
But it is clear from references in the early entries that he was also trying to break habits and create a new lifestyle and when he returned to London the diary details how deeply entrenched his addictions were.
There is a surface glamour to stories of parties and opening nights, but his entries increasingly ended with stern lectures to himself about needing to change his behaviour.
And there is no glamour at all in descriptions of nights out that ended with him back alone in his apartment — staying up until dawn finishing off whatever drugs he had by himself, while doing crosswords.
In the diary he also acknowledged that two of his closest friends, Hugh Laurie and Laurie’s wife Jo, were aware of the extent of his habit and made their disapproval clear.
The diary and the memoir end before his well publicised nervous breakdown in 1995. Fry walked out of a West End production of Cell Mates and disappeared completely for several days. He said later he had considered suicide at that time before leaving the country.
He ended up paying the creators of the drama £20,000 to compensate for his disappearance and didn’t return to the West End stage until 2012.
The roots of that traumatic and costly episode can be seen in the diary entries from two years before. It is impossible to read the descriptions of his relentless schedule, combining a punishing work load with hectic drug-fuelled socialising, without thinking that at some point the writer would have to crash and burn.
As he himself admits in the memoir’s closing line, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times”.
More Fool Me by Stephen Fry. Published by Michael Joseph, is now available in paperback.
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