Eddie Izzard: ‘Being transgender made it tricky to have a relationship’

Occupation Actor and stand-up comedian. Age 56. Relationship status It's complicated. Best known for His stand-up comedy shows. Currently Starring in The Flip Side.  

I don’t believe in marriage. I’m a far greater believer in a strong relationship.Credit:Sam Oster

My mother, Dorothy Ella, was a midwife and nurse who met my father, Harold, in Aden, Yemen, where he worked as an accountant with BP. They moved to what was then a British colony for work. I was born there and it's where I got my love of Arabic. Mum died from bowel cancer after we moved back to Wales. I was six.

Mum was very caring and loving. I used to wake her in the middle of the night to get her to make me a glass of lemonade or a mug of milky coffee. I also have memories of her cutting potatoes into small dice and shallow-frying them to make crispy chips. She'd always let me help. I was quite affected by her loss and didn't understand it for a long time. I cried for years.

After my mother died, my older brother, Mark, and I went to boarding school until we were 18. I didn't like boarding school – I felt very isolated.

I do have great memories of one teacher, Mrs Drake. She made learning French fun. We had lessons every Saturday morning and she'd make us play a game in French and we'd win sweets. This was a special treat as we weren't allowed to eat them at school. When my career started to take off, decades later, she came to see me perform and told me some lines I was quoting weren't being translated into proper French. It was quite funny.

My first kiss happened with the Taylor sisters – I think it was with Jane. It was fun, sexy and kind of weird considering I was a straight wannabe lesbian kind of guy. I was nine.

I also played kiss-chasey with Nicole Cunningham around this time. She was a year older, and kissed me at boarding school. When I saw her again, after 35 years, I asked if she remembered our first kiss. However cheesy, one doesn't forget.

My first celebrity crush was with Teri Garr in Young Frankenstein. I thought she was very sexy. I also had crushes on Marilyn Monroe and Deborah Harry from Blondie. I had a thing for blondes, you might say.

I was always interested in relationships but very slow at getting them started. I didn't come out until 1985, and told my dad six years later. [Izzard has described himself as a "straight transvestite" and "a lesbian trapped in a man's body".] He was quite supportive, in his neutral way. He wasn't a champion of LGBT rights, but he said, "That's okay, son. Mum would be okay with it."

Being transgender and out for 33 years and all the things that does – plus the politics, comedy and my marathon running, all of which I love – make it tricky to have a relationship. And those people I'd want to be in a relationship with are also competent people busy doing their own thing.

I was in a long-term relationship with [British singer, director and producer] Sarah Townsend. We met at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1989. She made the Emmy Award-winning documentary Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story in 2009.

Sarah and I are very different and still get along really well – she is producing my next film. Her visual ability is huge. I tend to be all over the place but she's great at guiding me.

My autobiography, Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens, which came out last year, delves into many of the relationships I've had with those who are okay with me talking about them.

I've learnt that relationships get much harder as you get older, and being an actor makes them even more difficult. If I dumped my career I might have a chance! That said, I have a curious relationship going but I tend not to go into it because the other person doesn't want to be judged through me.

I don't really believe in marriage – it's a governmental rubber stamp or a religious thing – but if you want to use that as an excuse to throw a party, then I won't judge you. I'm a far greater believer in a strong relationship and would love to have kids one day, but I am trying to work out how to do that.

Earlier this year, I spent five weeks in South Australia filming a romantic comedy, The Flip Side. It was great working with female director Marion Pilowsky and with Emily Taheny, who plays Ronnie, my love interest.

I loved hearing Emily play with strange voices in between filming – they were very rural and reminded me of the caricatures I would do in standup shows. She was super fun to work with. It's always a fragile place when you're out of your comfort zone. I could see she was trying to bring a slice of herself and I could relate to that.

The Flip Side is out now on DVD.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale December 9.

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