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Burning his bridges

27 October 2012

9:00 AM

27 October 2012

9:00 AM

Vanished Years Rupert Everett

Little Brown, pp.366, £20

They have mostly achieved eminence, the original cast members who appeared on stage or in the film adaptation, 30 years ago, of Julian Mitchell’s homoerotic spy fable Another Country. Kenneth Branagh has his coveted knighthood, Daniel Day-Lewis and Colin Firth have won Oscars — and Rupert Everett? I’m not quite sure what has happened to Rupert Everett.

He never quite caught on as a leading man, despite being strapping. He was so languid, you felt his co-stars had to organise their movements in order to nudge him awake, jostling him into coming up with a reaction. It was only when in drag as Miss Fritton, Alastair Sim’s old role in the St Trinians films, that his eyes began to sparkle — and Everett at last came alive as an actor.

He would attribute his own lack of first-rank success to the vodka and pharmaceuticals; to his fondness for mixing with ‘hags and swamp bitches’ or ‘big old sluts’ from Argentina who possess ‘gigantic overtugged nipples’, rather than with the Establishment-approved Richard Curtises of this world. Indeed, Richard Curtis, with his romantic, brightly-lit, smiley-faced and politically correct comedies, is Everett’s nemesis. They met once — an awkward encounter that is described in Vanished Years. The upshot? ‘Richard Curtis was to Blair’s Britain what Leni Riefenstahl was to Hitler’s Germany.’ And for the record, ‘Alastair Campbell was rather nice in person, but so was Hitler.’

He’s something of a bridge-burner, is Rupert Everett. If he doesn’t have a knighthood or an Oscar it may be because he genuinely loathes the show business sphere he is in — he doesn’t have a nice word to say about anyone — and word has got about. Madonna ‘probably sets a time limit on everything, including orgasm’. Angela Lansbury has ‘the eyes of an owl and the tenacity of a mountain goat’. Derek Jacobi is like ‘an animated vicar on a prison visit’. Tina Brown is ‘a Princess of Wales in clumpy shoes’, who, like Joan Collins, hasn’t quite managed to submerge her ‘twangs of north London’. Alan Sugar displays ‘the blunt insolence peculiar to all barrow-boy billionaires’. Simon Schama is ‘Tina’s pet historian … a male lesbian.’

Everett particularly despises the many ‘hollow vulnerable parties’ he forces himself to attend in New York and Los Angeles, which are packed with ‘excessively rich people, frazzled and blinded by power and crazy money’ — which they make from perfume brands, clothing contracts and celebrity endorsements rather than from the actual acting. Everett observes the stars screaming and bullying their underlings and children. He describes their ‘malicious grimaces of welcome,’ their botched plastic surgery and general grotesquerie, with a Fellini-esque relish.

Yet though he lampoons without mercy the mascara-caked killer ants in black dresses, whose gizzards are ‘throttled by aquamarines,’ what Everett doesn’t seem to appreciate is that he is a supremely pampered monster himself, traipsing the Far East on expenses for an Aids charity, always seeming to have a Condé Nast limo on call, lunching and dining at grand hotels, and being transported by private jet to exotic locations amidst, for example, ‘clouds of orange blossom in the hills above the coast of Spain’. At one juncture he appears to take up residence in Noël Coward’s Caribbean retreat, Firefly. This isn’t exactly being on the dole in Merthyr Tydfil in the rain, despite the bitter ennui.

Though Everett wishes to present himself as a ‘lost parrot from a faraway jungle’, he is in fact a poor little rich mummy’s boy who has become (at the age of 53 — what’s that in dog years?) an acrid middle-aged queen. He works hard at being disaffected and dissolute, enjoying, for instance, the scandal of ‘photos of me having sex in a toilet in Miami’ — but the real meaning of Vanished Years flashes the opposite signal: Everett is ready to become respectable.

In this, he is reverting to his origins, which he writes about with fondness and nostalgia and a marked absence of bile. The Everetts were an upper-middle-class colonial family, who lived in ‘crumbling villas swamped in ivy’. Our author stepped from a well-ordered, nicely-upholstered background, with servants and sepia vistas containing ‘tables under trees laid for lunch’. Everett’s father was a wartime army major who made a fortune in the City. He belonged to ‘a breed verging on extinction’, which mustered at his funeral, pink-gin quaffing old comrades clanking with medals and the very embodiment of the stiff upper lip.

Everett was raised in a Grade II-listed Georgian rectory and Ampleforth’s freezing dormitories. For many years, perhaps until only recently, he was a public school rebel, who never quite got over getting away with bunking off to see soft-core porn films in York and Salisbury. Though he says of Catholicism, as imparted by the Ampleforth monks, ‘what a lot of twaddle the whole thing was’, large chunks of this book unsatirically describe pilgrimages to Lourdes — the religious resort in the Pyrenees, not Madonna’s daughter.

Everett is distinctly drawn to thoughts of death. There are moony chapters about Isabella Blow, who drank a fatal pint of weed killer, and Natasha Richardson, whose wake was presided over by Vanessa Redgrave as if she was on stage in a Greek tragedy. All this chimes with Everett’s keen interest in high fashion, camp taste, photography — in the transient, frail arts and skills. He enjoys his ‘winterish thoughts’, the sensation of shadows falling, of nothing lasting.

I said of Everett’s previous volume that it was like Lord Byron’s memoirs, grabbed from the flames. There is no Byronic energy here — and though Everett is currently playing Oscar Wilde, in David Hare’s great play The Judas Kiss, nor is he Wildean. In Vanished Years he behaves like the petulant, scary Bosie and the ‘fine writing’ in the book is often empty and evasive, like a sonnet by Lord Alfred Douglas:

The sun’s rays hurtle down this tunnel between the measurable and the immeasurable, spilling like blood over the marble sea, and turning the clouds into little rashers of pink and grey bacon disappearing into infinity.

Jesus Christ! Less of the purple prose and more spite about Angela Lansbury, and I’d be calling Vanished Years the masterpiece it so nearly is.

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