Editor’s Choice – Best of Beaumont Magazine – Eddie Izzard and Julie Hesmondhalgh
Columnist Beaumont Magazine
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New members to the Beaumont Society will have little idea of what articles have run over the years when Executive Secretary Helen Jones – Transgender Zone Admin – was the Beaumont Magazine Editor.
These articles feature an interview with Julie Hesmondhalgh (Hayley in Coronation St) Click here for a full Soap Character profile – which went on to be widely circulated, so you may have spotted it around. However, we were the first! Followed by some excerpts supplied by Eddie Izzard.
When Julie Met Hayley – an interview by S. Johnson
Julie Hesmondhalgh’s character Hayley Cropper is one of the UK’s most controversial soap roles, Beaumont columnist Samantha, managed to persuade Julie to take time out of her busy schedule to talk to the BS. She told Samantha what it’s like to be Coronation Street’s first television transsexual and the responsibility it carries
How old are you?
28, believe it or not! My wig and anorak age me considerably older and people are often shocked to learn I’m not in my 40’s.
Where were you born, and educated?
Accrington, Lancashire born and bred. Moorhead High School, Accrington + Rossendale College, London Academy of Music + Dramatic Art ( LAMDA)
When did you decide to become an actress, and why?
There’s always been a tug of war inside me between the ‘girly’ girl who loves to dress up and dance around, and the nauseatingly right-on part of me who has always wanted to change the world. So I was genuinely torn in my late teens between acting and social work. It took a couple of inspirational people in my life (my brother and my drama teacher) to point out that art and entertainment have a huge part to play in the development of a culture and that going into acting with a big fat social conscience, would probably be something that could make a difference to people’s lives Little did I know!!
Do you get any ‘Corrie’ fans who believe you were a man? If so, how do you deal with it?
I get asked quite a lot, but mostly by children and stupid people, so I’m terribly patient and explain. What they normally say is, ‘Are you really a man ?’ To which I reply, ‘No. And neither is Hayley.’
Why do you think that the producers chose this moment to introduce the Hayley character?
To be completely honest, it would be mad to try to pretend that it was anything other than a shocker ratings booster at its inception, but he whole thing has turned into something quite different now. As I said, Hayley existed first as a character, Brian Park (Producer) went on holiday hoping the writers would kill her off while he was away (he told me this in my interview!) and they surprised him with the TS idea when he came back and Brian, being Brian, went for it! But there was, I promise you, always a commitment to the sensitive handling of the issue from the moment they decided to introduce it. I was reassured at my interview.
When you find the time, how do you unwind? (music, pastimes, interests).
Traveling, reading, films, theatre, pop! I’m starting an Open University degree in social sciences next year.
What are your favourite things? (pets, hi-fl, etc)
I’m just buying a little flat with a garden in London, and that’s my obsession right now.
My little 1988 Fiat Uno car, Betty, is definitely up there – I love seeing her amongst all the Mercs & BMWs at Granada, and it’s my favourite thing to rattle along in her singing my heart out to Madonna or Pulp. And I have a little wooden chest with all my special mementos in it that I keep by my bed – that’s very important to me.
I like to think I’m slightly more funky than Hayley, but there is definitely a bit of ‘anorak’ in me too. I like pottering around in museums and exhibitions, and I am too very eager to please. I try to strike a balance between being rock ‘n’ roll and real prefect material.
How were you ‘discovered’ and why do you think you were chosen for the part of Hayley?
As is quite well documented now, the ‘Corrie’ casting directors came to see me in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. I had a few lines as a maid and pranced about a lot in a corset, but for two scenes I played a silent night watchman in a false moustache. I can only glean from this they spotted androgynous capabilities and remembered me when Hayley popped up in the scripts. Judi, ‘Corrie’s’ casting director, swears they had me in mind even before it was decided that Hayley would be a transsexual.
What was your reaction when you were told of the character’s unusual lifestyle?
I had been told only that Hayley was a “fun” character. so when I turned up for my interview I came in all ‘Bet Lynch’, in my leopard skin & red lippy. Judi told me immediately that Hayley was TS and that it was going to be quite a big deal for ‘Corrie’ and to be honest I was very shocked (it’s just not what I’d had in mind!) and a bit nervous and giggly, I’m ashamed to say…. then it dawned on me that this was actually my ‘dream job’ and I desperately wanted it.
I had a basic understanding of transgender – I’ve been around – and knew more about the politics and civil rights aspect than the personal and physical stuff, and my learning has been an ongoing thing over the last year. No amount of books can teach you as much as a conversation with someone who has been, or is going, through a particular experience and because of the secret nature of the storyline, this came later when I was able to make contact with people in Hayley’s position. All in all though, I’ve tried not to get bogged down in facts and figures – I can only act what is written for my character. The writers are the powerful people, definitely. I would always contest a line I felt to be wrong or badly researched, but I’ve been very lucky. Hayley above all is a lovely human being – she’s been very lovingly created by all concerned.
You are now a household name in’ Corrie’ but what were your best stage roles and do you plan to go into pantomime if so as what?
I helped build and run a theatre in London for three years out of drama school – running the box office, doing the publicity, cleaning the toilets, acting in plays – a real co-op environment and I’m proudest of some of the work we did there, at Arts Threshold, with no money and lots of passion. Once I played a disabled German anti-Nazi linguistic professor (male) in a devised play about a group of dissenters in World War II. I think, in retrospect, that I was probably terrible in it but I was very very proud of the project. I’ve also done some Theatre-in-Education, taking plays to schools all over the country in a little van, which I loved!
I think Pantos are great, the most popular form of theatre there is, but I’ve never really thought about going into it ( daft really they’re LUDICROUSLY well paid! ). I’d love to play an ugly sister, but I always play “nice” characters, so I’d probably be the fairy godmother (yawn).
How long has it taken for you to settle in at the ‘Street’ and what do the other actors think of the Hayley character?
It took me a while to settle, not because of the work (which I love) but because of the change of lifestyle.
I found it very strange having money for the first time in my life and struggled to get used to being up
North again after ten years in London. I feel very happy now, and am hugely grateful for my present lot in
life!The other actors seem to like Hayley a lot, thankfully. I think Hayley & Roy bridge a gap between the old
Coronation Street and the new Brian Park one!
What would you tell your children if they asked ‘what is a transsexual?’
I’d say, ‘A transsexual is a person who feels they have been born in the wrong body. So although they grew up looking and acting like a little boy, for example, they know deep inside that they are really a girl. There’s an operation you can have to change the outside to match the inside. A man’s body can be transformed into a woman’s body, or a woman’s into a mans.
And finally, what would you say is the best thing about being a girl and the worst?!!
Best: ‘girly’ nights, dressing up, red lippy, girl power. Worst: Periods, people’s conventional standards of beauty, ‘Jobs for the boys’.
Any additional info you would like our magazine to print about you that you would like to share…
Blimey! I think I’ve said enough !!!
Good Luck with all your work and very best wishes from me to all your readers,
Lots of Love Julie
Eddie Izzard – Dress to Kill By S. Johnson
Eddie Izzard is always dressed to kill and “Dress to Kill” is the name of the stand-up tour which Eddie Izzard took across the US during the most part of 1998. The phenomenal success of Dress To Kill was reflected in the US press reviews:”
The Male Tomboy, Male lesbian and Action Transvestite, ” Probably I’m the only TV comedian in the world at the moment, in the non Lily Savage sense of the word. There’s the TS woman who won the Eurovision Song Contest, is that the same? She’s better looking, She’s gorgeous, so that’s fine; If I were gorgeous, that would be different. Julian Clary’s gorgeous. I’m this… bloke. P
eople say,’ Why don’t you change your clothes at half-time ?’ Why? Do footballers do this? I’m not a drag act. This is not about the clothes, it’s about the comedy and I just do whatever I want now.
When I first came out, a comic called John Gordillo did a video of my first gig in a dress, and in the video he’s talking to comedian Jo Brand and he’s saying,’ what do you think the reaction’s going to be to Eddie being in a dress?’ She said,’ The same reaction as to me wearing a dress.’
I don’t think there are many out transvestites in the public eye – transvestites in the sense of male tomboys. I’ve been looking to find them. There are a lot of gay and lesbian people who are out and there’s drag per se, dressing up as women, and there’s rock stars who’ll put on eyeliner and could well be TV – but I don’t think they are. I don’t know where Mr. David Bowie stands at this time. I always thought it would be quite good fun to play a girl in one of the school plays, but I never did, and this was in my cute days when I could have passed for a girl more. I was 17 at college, when they said:
My brain couldn’t deal with it. I got flu, or a cold or something. I was quite incapacitated. It was just not being able to deal with this situation. I remembered when I was 21 this one friend of mine saying – chit chat, chat chat – ‘ Have you ever worn women’s clothes?’ And I remember my mind going, that’s one question that’s right at the heart of the problem, and my voice going: ‘Ahh…ggh…hyuh…uhh…no.no! No!’ It’s going all the way in and alarm bells are going off – AWOOP AWOOP! Dive, dive, dive’. I had to sit there. I was trying to think, why? Why do I feel there’s this boy/girl fight going on inside? Why? ‘Why’ seemed to be very important. I still haven’t got an answer. I just pulled the curtains and lay in a room and tried to go through it – real self analysis. I worked out that I’d better come out and I just did it.
I’ve thought about changing sex, but I look too much like a bloke.’
Then there was the fight I had in the street at Cambridge. It was after the third gig of my tour – Cambridge Corn Exchange. Sold out, got a good review on The Late Review – they gave me a clean sweep of yeses, Germaine Greer and everyone, and I get the impression they tear the shit out of things, normally. I was sitting on my bed going, ‘Hey, this is really good.’ That was my second show. Then the next night I did the third show, went out afterwards and had a fight with these guys. I don’t think I was enormously transvestite that night. I wasn’t wearing the skirt and the fantastic Versace boots, I was just wearing the trousers and heels and make-up, and this black jacket I wore in New York – my lucky jacket, that. It’s now got a hole in it. So this guy stopped and said to his mate,’ Look it’s a transvestite.’ He went, ‘Ooh Tracy, ooh Tracy, ooh Tracy.’ So I did all my streetlore-type stuff: ‘ Look, you live on the street – have respect. You don’t need to do all this. We’re just two individuals on the street – have respect.’ ‘ Ooh Tracy, ooh Tracy.’ I’ve gone very big on the Tracy line. We’ve now got tour jackets with My Name Is Not Tracy written on them. It has to be said in a Michael Caine voice.
So he was going, ‘Ooh Tracy, ooh Tracy,’ and I was going, look seriously, have respect. Why do you need to do this?’ And he hit the ‘Ooh Tracy’ line a third time – magic three – and I said, ‘You’re a cunt who deserves to be cut with a knife’- which I repeated in court – and then he went for me. I was doing quite well, I was blocking away. And then four other guys were suddenly there. And I just thought it was me and him, but of course the way to win battles is superior numbers. So they were all beating away and my friends were trying to pull them of me. I was doing well with this bloke, I got about four hits in. And at the end I was still vertical. It was probably over in about 30 seconds. Then they sauntered off and went into this pub disco about 50 yards away. So we were all staring at each other and they were talking to their bouncer friend – who turned up later as a witness for them. He told the court,’ Yeah, he attacked five men at once,’ then he went and sat down and joked with them at the back of the court. The police turned up and said,’ Was it squaddies? Was it squaddies?’ Squaddies? Two Oxford dons, mate.’ They kept saying,’ Was it squaddies?’ like it was,’ Oh, we have tons of squaddie fights. They’re constantly beating up transvestites round here.’ Anyway, two of my friends went into the disco to point them out, and there was a kind of hyperactive bouncer there.
They couldn’t find the troublemaker. I went in there and I couldn’t see these guys and the bouncer asked me, ‘ is this him?’ And this guy, who was one of them but who was the pacifist, appeared and he was saying,’ Look we didn’t want any trouble.’ I thought, oh, if you’re here, the other guy must be here. And I looked round and there he was, dancing in the crowd, Happy Mondays-Kind of dancing. So I picked them out. And in the police van on the way back, he apparently said,’ Yeah, I did it,’ and he admitted everything. The police never told me that. I felt more bashed up than I looked. We had to give the police all the details and for some reason I had to show them the physical evidence so they could note it down. The bruises. And then three months later, when I had forgotten everything about everything, I had to hire a car and go to court. and everybody was going, ‘I’ve forgotten what everyone looks like. It was just some guy you saw for two minutes three months ago.’ You can’t remember what you said in your statement because it was three months ago. They said,’ can you identify the man in court? Are you sure it was this man?’
They put the witness and the defendants about 50 yards apart. It wasn’t a great situation. Intimidation is common, especially in the toilets, which you share. It would be very logical to put the witnesses on one side and the defendants on the other so they don’t meet. Think about what intimidation serious villains could do. Anyway. We couldn’t remember what the bloke looked like, but he was stood there, going ‘Ello darlin’! Argh!’ being the chirpy lad he was, and we went oh it’s him! That’s the guy.’ He’d identified himself when we couldn’t remember him. He decided not to talk in court. And we’d all seen Crown Court on TV, so everyone was there ready to do their thing:
Me It was him, m’lud.
Magistrate It’s not m’lud.Me All right.
Magistrate And only answer when your spoken to.
Me All right.
Magistrate And don’t point out anyone in court.
Me Oh, right. Can I say what he looked like?
Me Well he looked like him. It was very important to wear make-up for the court case or their imaginations would have run riot.’ What did he look like?’ ‘Oh, he was up to here with the stockings and a wig on.’ The image of transvestites is so negative. It’s like American television; I have to do every interview with make-up to tell them,’ This is what it’s going to look like, guys. This is going to be the Marc Bolan end of transvestism.’ I went to Downing Street in make-up. I was pleased New Labour had won. I’ve learnt that you’ve got to be really non-apologetic.
Eddie talks about his childhood – the death of his mother being a low point, to his experiences on a TV/TS helpline. ” People were phoning up like they were sexlines – and asking ‘what are you wearing now?’ I’m wearing a hat and a balaclava ” He talks of his childhood religion (Jesus, his disciples and the art of running in flip-flops)'; Monty Python, sex, crime and space. ” It’s pop culture stand-up. All the stuff I talk about, history, whatever, it’s all from the television.” And his opinions on transvestism, ” they’ve done studies and found that there is a gay gene thing. I think that means there’s a lesbian gene and a TV gene, it would be good to prove it,”…
I actually came out when I was 23 (1985) and then I sat in a cafe and told the Observer I was a transvestite halfway through 1991. I wasn’t wearing make-up or anything. And then people started saying,’ Well, I’ve never seen him in a dress,’ so I thought I’d better go on to the next stage. I wasn’t actually meaning that I should wear skirts on stage or whatever, but then I thought I should do that if I wanted to. I should have the freedom.
When I first came out, I went to see a bank manager, a dentist and a doctor wearing a dress. I remember going to see a dentist wearing make-up. He was looking at me with all the make-up on and I was saying,’ I’ve got a bad tooth.’ I went to the doctor wearing make-up:
‘ I’ve got a cough.’
‘ You’ve got what?’
‘ I’ve got a cough.’
‘ You’re a transvestite?’
‘ No, I’ve got a cough. I am a transvestite, but I’ve got a cough.’
‘ Well, I’d better sort the transvestite thing out. Have to refer you for that.’
‘ No that’s not a problem, Just the cough, thanks.
‘I dared myself to go to all of these places because I thought if I did it, my confidence would grow. So I did. It was scary, but scary is interesting if it’s positive. Once you’ve done it, you realise that it’s not as scary as you thought it would be, therefore your scary receptors change. Fear is the mind killer': one of the great lines in Dune. I love Dune. I took a train back to Sheffield, where I was a student, and I had a friend there I thought might kill me for being TV but he just turned up at the station and picked me up on his motorbike. Lucky I wasn’t wearing a skirt.
Never apologise for being TV.
Never apologise for being TV. You’ve got to say, Hi, I’m here, can I have a cup of tea? And one of those biscuits?, If you say that it’s fine. If you go in and say,’ Excuse me, I’m a transvestite, I’ll be in the corner, I won’t be a problem, I’ll face away,’ everyone will go,’ oh-oh, problem case in the corner.’ So don’t apologise. I picked this up from Madonna. If I had my life over again, I’d be TV again. Even though it’d obviously be much easier not to be. A lot of TV’s don’t come out because then you’re a bloke who fancies women. But there’s this whole female side in your head that’s a big secret and such a burden and when you come out, it’s ‘ARGHHH! Got to tell everyone! But once you’re out, when people say,’ Are you a transvestite?’ and you go, Yeah…’ and then there’s nothing else for them to say. I’ve thought about changing sex but I look too much like a bloke to change sex, and I actually appreciate the male side more by being able to express the female.
My website, www.izzard.com, has just won second best website from Yellow Pages. It’s good. People log on and say what they want. It had 6000 hits in six weeks. I think it might be eight people just constantly logging in.” (OK which one of you BS members is responsible?) He looks at some photographs and sighs.” You can’t look like a tomboy with a powder puff in your hand,” he says. In ‘The Avengers’ I only had these little scenes with Sean Connery. It wasn’t, ‘You talking to me? I don’t see anybody else here.’ It was more like, ‘You’re obviously not talking to me as I have no lines.’ I didn’t quite have enough to get my teeth into. They said, ‘We’ll put some more lines in,’ and gave me three more lines and I said, ‘No, no more lines, we’ll take ‘em out.’ Because Steve Mc Queen used to take lines out. I think my character was expected to say a few lines – stuff like don’t you do that, John Steed.’ But it was more powerful if I wasn’t saying anything. So I thought, I’ll just stare at people and be enigmatic in some way. Some sort of silent guy who stares at people, hits them, chews gum and controls killer bees…
Stand-up comedy and film acting are very different. There’s a certain purity about stand-up comedy. If you want to be original in stand-up you just talk about your own sad life and people go, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ So you can be as sad as you want – ‘ You know, I can’t tie my shoelaces and I still can’t tie my shoelaces, because I was attacked by my shoelaces when I was a kid.’ And people will love it. Whereas you wouldn’t do that in a film. Unless you playing a weird shoelace guy. I was walking through Time Square in New York and this guy was looking at me and shouting, ‘F***n’ faggot!’ And I was going, ‘You’re a f***n’ faggot.’ I shout whatever they shout at me. So some people were going,’ I saw you on the telly,’ and other people were going, ‘F***g faggot,’ and one person said, ‘Are you funny? Say funny! Say funny now!’ I was saying, ‘I’m expensive, I’ll only do it for $10,000.”Tell me funny now! ”Give me $10,000 and I’ll be funny’. I thought, if he gets that money out , I’d better be funny… And I could feel the aggression coming off those people. I’m no good at fighting but I just can’t stick it if people shout shit. And it can happen anywhere. If I’m in Leicester Square at night, I’ll get it.
‘If I decided I was going to wear a dress in a dream, I’d wake up just before I got the opportunity.’
When I was younger, I broke into Pinewood Studios, I broke into
Elstree Studios, I broke into the TV room at school… and I stole make-up. Yeah. The things I needed to get, I would get. Allure magazine just gave me 55 lipsticks to try out. That’s a great irony for me, I have stolen lipstick from Bexhill-on-Sea Boots The Chemist when I was fifteen. I got caught, but I was too young to go to prison. I didn’t buy it because I thought someone might say,’ Why are you, a boy, buying make-up? You must be a transvestite.’ It could be embarrassing. So I thought, I’ll steal it. Then no-one will know… except me and the judicial system.’…..
Dress to Kill is very easy to read, and a very well put together biography with a 90s style. It’s the sort of book which not only is funny, but explains the background to the most famous TV of our times, (with the exception of Janet Scott! ) who has helped the understanding of the subject by being so ‘out’ about it.
The biographical nature of the book is quite disjointed, and jumps about; but this quirky style makes you turn the page, and it works really well. With some great gritty ‘urban street-life’ images, it is certainly one for the shopping list! And as the saying goes,’ If you want to know more, then you’ll just going to have to read the book.’
With thanks to Eddie Izzard, Ella Communications and Mike Watson at ‘Hall or Nothing’.