Noel Fielding: interviews
Two interviews with Noel Fielding
- London Evening Standard 11/12/07
- The Independent 9/12/07
London Evening Standard
IN ONE WHIRLWIND YEAR NOEL FIELDING HAS GONE FROM OFFBEAT COMIC TO THE HOTTEST DATE IN TOWN. AS HIS FIRST ART EXHIBITION OPENS IN LONDON, HE TALKS ABOUT FIGHTING OFF GIRLS, FAME AND HIS HIPPY UPBRINGING
After four attempts, I finally get to meet Noel Fielding, one half of cult comedy duo The Mighty Boosh and possibly the hottest - or rather, coolest- 'showbiz' property of the moment. First he has flu, then a bad hangover (too late a night out with Johnny Borrell of indie band Razorlight), and then sudden work commitments on Never Mind the Buzzcocks (he's been sitting in for team captain Bill Bailey). But when I do get to meet him, there's something so sweetly, perversely - he's 34 - guileless and unguarded about the man, you can't possibly be cross. Taking offence at Fielding's lack of organisational skills would be like minding that a four-year-old forgets his school satchel.
He sidles into the café, all lanky six foot of him, with that ridiculous, sexy, haircut and long ski-jump nose ('My dad's French and he's got a similar one, it's just a Romany, Frenchy sort of nose'), wearing a sleeveless T-shirt, skin-tight jeans and pointy silver boots, like a big glam-rock pixie. Busy, then? I ask him.
'It feels like I'm being raped,' he whispers. 'I'm getting, like, 100 phone calls a week, 20 of which are asking me to DJ, another 20 asking me to a party, 20 to this or that opening; loads more to do charity gigs. I don't even know how these people get my number.' He pauses, adjusts his hair (he does that a lot), and thinks. 'I suppose I give it out when I'm drunk. Some must be friends of friends.' The night before, he and his partner on the Boosh, Julian Barratt, were on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. 'How did I look?' He grins. 'I was soooo pale. The make-up lady put all this powder on. Julian and Jonathan looked a kind of normal colour and I was wearingTipp-ex.'
He's on television a lot these days. And the critics love him. 'I'm not surprised Noel Fielding has become an ever-present big star,' says Bruce Dessau, the Evening Standard's comedy critic. 'I'm just surprised it took him so long. Fielding draws on all the right hipster influences, from punk and goth to Bowie and Marc Bolan. Throw in the surrealism of Vic Reeves and you've got an unbeatable combination.'
The Mighty Boosh is one of those comedy shows with a strict door policy. You either love it or you don't get it; it's the antithesis of hyper-real sitcoms like The Office, or double-act sketch shows like Armstrong and Miller. Fielding and Barratt first created the Boosh as a stage show - starring themselves as happy-go-lucky Vince Noir and twitchy, ill-fated Howard Moon - then put it on the radio and eventually, with Steve Coogan's backing, took it to BBC3. On one level it's quite a difficult show - multi-layered, with recurring themes, impossible to dip in and out of - and on the other, it's childishly simple, with its nonsense songs, dreamlike adventures and friendly, innocent sort of weirdness.
But above all the Boosh works because of the charisma of Barratt and Fielding. Not since the heyday of Rob Newman and Eddie Izzard have comedians inspired such worshipful legions of fans. At live shows last year, crowds of girls screamed for them at Brixton Academy. These days, it's impossible for Fielding, with that immediately recognisable face, to walk down the street without being followed or cat-called. 'I've tried everything,' he sighs. 'I wear a moustache and a baseball cap and I still get recognised. It's easier for Julian; he can blend in a bit more. I'll be standing right next to Julian in a pub, and someone will come up to me and say: 'Hey, you're in the Boosh, you're great. Where's your mate?' And I'll say: 'He's THERE!' And they'll look and say, 'Oh yeah.'' But the problem is, Fielding loves going out. Inside a club, he's a magnet for knicker-throwing fans; and outside, as he spills onto the pavement, for tabloid cameras. In tabloid world, Fielding is the new Russell Brand, more rock 'n' roll than most real rock stars; often photographed, or 'spotted', on the arm of this or that rock chick (Courtney Love, Kimberly Stewart, Pixie and Peaches Geldof). His life has been turned upside down.
'These last two years have been the best of my life and also the worst. It's a nightmare at times. It's like, getting chatted up 1,000 times a year. Just weird. You know when a girl fancies you, or when you've got a chance with a girl, and to have that from so many girls, for not doing anything specific, so regularly - it's a bit of a head-f***k. Nothing really prepares you for that. And you wouldn't believe how blatant they are! I was never that blatant when I was their age.' He has a girlfriend, too - the vocalist in the band Robots in Disguise, who goes by the stage-name Dee Plume. They've been a couple for 'about four years' and live together in Kentish Town.
Poor old Dee, then. 'Yeah. I'd hate it .You have to be very careful. I'm not whiter than white, and if you're going to go out and get drunk and party, and get offered all these things, you have to make sure the boundaries don't get blurred. You have to be careful that you don't stop working, or hurt the people you love.
'Dee calls me The Little Prince because I get everything I want, and it's a joke, but there's an element of truth to it. It's like it's my birthday every single day. All these people saying, 'Do you want drugs? Do you want girls?, Do you want drink?' Then there are all these famous people, and you think: oh that's quite interesting, I wonder what they're like, and you hang out with them. You know, you just want to have a look. The problem is, once you get famous too, and if you're quite naive like me, you don't realise that if you hang out with someone, and you're a boy and they're a girl, that's it. That's enough.'
One story had Fielding and Love trashing a hotel room 'like wild animals'. 'Amazing! She smoked a couple of cigarettes and we had a cup of peppermint tea. I mean, that's what happened. We had tea.'
Fielding likes tea. It's one of the reasons, he says, that he's decided to hold his first solo art exhibition above a teashop - Maison Bertaux, in Greek Street. He's been painting off and on for years - it's his extraordinary visual imagination that defines the look of The Mighty Boosh - but he's a little nervous about this, the unveiling of such personal work. 'I didn't want to do it in a gallery with white walls, and sort of go DA-DA! I really wanted it to be low-key. With tea.'
But the art is surprisingly beautiful, very Boosh-like: gorgeously colourful and technically accomplished. He tells me the little magical story that accompanies each canvas. None of it makes sense unless you see the pictures, which are cartoonish and vaguely sinister. He's inspired by Rousseau's jungle pictures and by Basquiat's early mask-like faces and skeletons, by bits of Pop Art and by children's storybooks. Imagine an ounce of Roy Lichtenstein, a bit of Magritte, and a dollop of Maurice Sendak.
Growing up, Fielding always thought he'd be an artist, and probably a famous one. 'It didn't occur to me until I was quite old that I might not be famous.' He stops and laughs. 'That's totally ridiculous. I don't mean that in an arrogant way, just in a hippy, sheltered, naive sort of way.' He was raised in south-east London by exceptionally young parents. 'My dad was about 18, maybe 17, when they had me. They used to have lots of parties and weird arty people around. My mum played the guitar and wrote poetry, and they were both very funny. It was one of those childhoods where you get up and there's 20 people asleep on the floor and you have to step over them to get your breakfast; one of those houses where you didn't have to eat if you didn't want to, and you never really got sent to bed. I'd come down in my pyjamas and there'd be a party going on, and no one's like, 'Go back upstairs!''
His parents grew out of their hippy-ishness, at least a bit: his dad became a manager for the Post Office and his mum works for the Home Office. 'But it was great. They were really tolerant of noise and mess. If I asked my dad to play football, he wouldn't do it for 20 minutes, like most dads, he'd play with me for hours.' Fielding was a really good footballer: he played semi-professionally for Kingstonian and Sutton Utd, and had trials for Spurs and Crystal Palace.
But football didn't mix with art, and Fielding decided to go to Croydon Art College instead, where he was taught by Dexter Dalwood, now a big-time artist represented in New York by Larry Gagosian and collected here by Charles Saatchi. At college, he started to do the odd stand-up spot - as Jesus (dress him in a sheet, and he would bear a passing resemblance to the Turin Shroud) doing Mick Jagger impressions. It wasn't a very long-lived act. 'I thought I can't be Jesus all the time, it's ridiculous. There's no real reason to be Jesus - it wasn't like I was making any point about religion. Which is probably why it wasn't very offensive.'
Eventually, he and Barratt appeared on the same comedy bill at a pub in north London and recognised in each other a kindred spirit. It's said that Barratt was intrigued by the troupe of girls who followed Fielding around. The Boosh was born.
The BBC wants them to do a fourth series, but Fielding says they've got to give them more money first. 'Me and Julian work about a year and a half on each series. I mean, this [third] series is the best we've ever done, we're very proud of it, but it's difficult to make a living when we're working that long on it. And we pretty much stretched the crew's good will to breaking point. They don't sleep for three months. We need a bit more money to make it nicer for those people.' He says he's earned more in two months of panel shows - including C4's The Big Fat Quiz - than he does in 18 months of making the Boosh.
'I'm always really surprised when people call our stuff weird,' he says, as we step outside onto the Soho streets where a teenage girl in fake fur swoons and reaches for her mobile phone. 'I always think people can cope with stuff, but a lot of them just go: 'What the f**k are you doing?' For me, for example, to have a merman in the Boosh, with a vagina, and with light coming out of it - there's nothing impossible about that. I don't get freaked out by that, but I also don't want to know what it means. I don't want to analyse it. It's not, like, overloaded with meaning.'
And maybe that's why we love Noel Fielding so much. He's pure, escapist, androgynous, fun.
Psychedelic Dreams of the Jelly Fox, an exhibition of art by Noel Fielding, is at Maison Bertaux, 28 Greek Street, from 13 December. Information: 07985 395079.
Noel Fielding: The comedian is returning to his first love - painting The venue for his first exhibition? A cake shop, of course...
By Nicholas Barber
Published: 09 December 2007
Noel Fielding's paintings are just as surreal as his comedy
A few weeks ago, the first episode of the third series of The Mighty Boosh pulled in a million viewers, making it the most-watched programme in BBC3's history. The stars, Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding, were"really chuffed", says Fielding. "The BBC sent us champagne, and we went out and got absolutely wrecked." But a Little Britain-style promotion to BBC1 isn't likely, even if the duo's DVDs are bestsellers and their live tours sell out to fancily dressed students. "When I watch BBC1, I realise why we're not on it," reasons Fielding. "It's a pretty strange, quirky little show."
That's putting it mildly. The Mighty Boosh is a sort of sitcom that revolves around a classic sitcom act. Fielding, 34, bounces with Tiggerish enthusiasm, while Barratt, 39, is his crotchety, perpetually disappointed foil. Ratcheting up the laughs, Barratt and Fielding's characters go off on bizarre yet low-budget adventures to caves and desert islands populated by mermen and yetis. It's The Goodies as reimagined by Reeves & Mortimer, or vice versa.
The duo write the show, as well as providing songs and animation and designing weird creatures, some of which have Polo mints for eyes. Where does all this stuff come from?
In an effort to find out, I meet Fielding at a patisserie in Soho. He's not hard to spot. Like a technicolour version of his friend Russell Brand, he has a permanent grin, Mr Punch profile, and the shaggy hair and dress sense of the New York Dolls: this afternoon he's wearing a floppy black cowboy hat, long black coat, red Mighty Boosh T-shirt, tight polka-dot trousers and silver shoes. While Barratt is a publicity-shy family man, Fielding is an extrovert tabloid fixture who immediately starts talking about his mate Johnny Borrell from Razorlight, and about how Frank Zappa's daughter knitted him "this really long amazing cape". You don't interview him as much as dip a bucket into his burbling stream of consciousness. The only way he can relax, he says, is by painting. As it happens, that's what we're here to discuss. Fielding's debut art exhibition is about to open in a room above the patisserie. "I know people want me to have an exhibition because they like the Boosh, but I decided it should in somewhere small, so the pressure wouldn't be so massive. I was thinking, maybe I should have done it anonymously. I was thinking of calling myself the Jelly Fox, and having some sort of armour on so no one would know who I was."
Fielding needn't worry. Judging by the few works already at the patisserie, and a few others he shows me on his cameraphone, one thing is obvious: the boy can paint. What's more, his offbeat, pop-art pictures are seriously commercial. They'd sell as fast as the patisserie's hot cakes whoever the artist was. The fact that it's a television star with famous friends will only bump up the prices.
Fielding always wanted to be a painter. He didn't get "sidetracked into comedy" until he was studying fine art at Croydon Art College, and had to create a performance piece based on a book. He chose the Bible. The piece began with Fielding hanging from a crucifix, and suitably sombre music playing. Then he leapt off the cross to "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and squirted holy water at his fellow students from a water pistol. "Everyone thought it was the funniest thing ever," he says, with chirpy honesty rather than arrogance, "so I thought maybe I should do some stand-up. I did my first three gigs in character as Jesus, because I didn't know whether I'd be funny as Noel. Then I thought, 'Jesus is a pretty powerful character, how am I going to follow that?'"
Encouraged by Harry Hill and Phill Jupitus, Fielding developed his own brand of fantastical rambling, and soon met Barratt, who liked to take off on similar flights of fancy. "I thought, this guy's very interesting and talented – great performer, good music and pretty cool – Julian went to drum'*'bass clubs, he knew about youth culture. When we found each other, we thought, we need to do something that will make our friends laugh – cool people, people in bands. That's why we started our own comedy nights, because at that time Jongleurs was weird. People would be drunk and have a meal while watching you. They just wanted straight jokes. There was nothing there Julian and I could be part of."
In 1998, they went to the Edinburgh Fringe with a show that was different from everything else: an hour-long absurdist pantomime, with music, costumes and home-made props. They won the Perrier Best Newcomer Award. The following year, they were nominated for the main Perrier Award, and they've been exploring their own wonderland, and growing their audience, ever since. Next year, their tour includes a night at Wembley Arena, they're planning to do some TV in America, Mark Ronson has offered to produce their album and they have an idea for a film. Fielding is also a regular on Never Mind the Buzzcocks and The IT Crowd, but hopes to take a year off soon to focus on his painting. Which brings us back to the exhibition.
The paintings haven't been hung yet, so the gallery owner leads us to the basement where a few of them are stored. A friend of hers, the actor Bernard Hill, wants a sneak preview, too, so we process downstairs to a room cluttered with books and folders, with a red velvet couch against one wall, a stuffed toy deer propped on a shelf and a washing-line draped with chefs' uniforms hanging at eye level. The manageress picks up one of Fielding's paintings, which features a crocodile in a hat shouting "Show me the money!" Stylistically, it's somewhere between Henri Rousseau and Tove Jansson, creator of the Moomins. "There's a story to this one," Fielding says. "It's like a psychedelic Jungle Book." Then a glazier knocks on the door.
Somehow or other, then, we're in the basement of a cake shop between a minicab office and Jeffrey Bernard's favourite pub. The manageress is kneeling on a table, ducking under a washing line, holding a painting with one hand and shouting instructions at a glazier who's standing beside a cuddly Bambi, while a glam-rock comedian is telling one of the stars of Lord of the Rings about how a French documentary crew was filming the crocodile when it ate the director and stole his hat. So that's where all this stuff comes from. The Mighty Boosh don't make it up. It actually happens to them.
Fielding's work will show at Gallery Maison Bertaux, 28 Greek Street, London W1 (020 7437 8382), from 13 December to 29 February