16 Things You Didn't Know About Barry Humphries

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Hates parties. Loves Margot Robbie. After six decades delighting audiences, the beloved Aussie entertainer can still surprise. Interview by Vanessa Lawrence. 

What’s your greatest strength?

The ability to throw a gladiolus 10 metres from a stage. Dame Edna [Everage, Humphries’ iconic character] always ends her show by tossing what she calls “gladdies” into the audience. I’m very good at it now.

And your greatest weakness?

Procrastination. Anything I find disagreeable, I put off.

What scares you?

Ghosts. Some people don’t believe in them but I’m quite tuned in to the “other life”. I saw one in an old house in England – this white, shadowy form. I’m also scared of cockroaches. I found a large one in my room at a Miami hotel and jumped up onto the bed, I got such a fright. 

What virtue do you most admire in people?

Listening and laughing; I like people to listen and preferably laugh.

If you could do any other job, what would it be?

I’d either be an absent-minded professor in English literature – about which I know a great deal – or a cocktail pianist. I’d sit at a piano, tinkling away, and extremely pretty women would crowd around.

What’s your most treasured possession?

My eight grandchildren. I just got some new ones, too – twins Allegra and Violet. They’re nice little bubbas. 

What’s your idea of absolute happiness?

I’m a very good artist and I like painting landscapes in the Flinders Ranges [in South Australia]. I’ll stay in a nearby motel with a couple of other artists – real ones, like John Olsen and Tim Storrier – and we’ll each set up an easel and a folding chair.

If you could have dinner with two famous people, who would you choose?

One of my favourite writers, Vladimir Nabokov, and Australian actress Margot Robbie. She is magnificent and should have got the Oscar [for I, Tonya]. Vladimir’s dead, unfortunately, but I’d bring him back to life.

How do you switch off?

I go on stage. When I’m performing, I feel I’m alone at last – it’s a release. I always suffer from nerves before a performance but never during.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Coconut ice. I like it with a cup of tea if I can get home without eating it all in the car.

What would surprise people about you?

I was a Sunday school teacher in Melbourne for a couple of years back in the ’50s. I didn’t particularly like it because I felt like a bit of a hypocrite – I’m spiritual but not traditionally religious.

If you could turn back time, is there anything you’d change?

I’d make the date of my birth more recent. 

What’s the most Australian thing about you?

My love of travel and the sun, though I try to keep out of it these days. I once had a melanoma on my shoulder that had to be chopped off. I’m glad it hasn’t visited again.

Where would we find you at a party?

Leaving. A party never gets better after 15 minutes.

What would you spend your last $20 on?

I’d go into a second-hand bookshop and buy an old, dusty book for $20 that was really worth $40,000. I’m good at finding rare books – not ones quite worth $40,000 but I’ve made a little profit here and there.

How would you like to be remembered?

As someone who helped people forget about their worries and laugh a little. 

Top image: Simon Schulter

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