It’s a bit of a redundant title, isn’t it? Apparently, you don’t need reasons. Across the world, I struggle to think of a celebrity who has reached such universal affection as Stephen Fry. He pleasingly demolishes so many of the marketing stereotypes that we are expected to hold our stars too. He’s as smart as a DaVinci, passionately left-wing, has shockingly little tendency to promote himself, and English. By all rights, he should be relegated to 4.30pm Antiques Roadshow viewing or ABC Radio National. Instead, he’s a simultaneously celebrated polymath and an ‘everyman’ for us all.
He is an author, a television star, a lecturer, a comedian, a film actor, a documentary film maker and all round nice guy. The only way he could have possibly reached such universal recognition, and over such a sustained period of time, is by being himself. The brave honesty that Stephen attaches to each project is at times quite confronting, but it makes us lean forward all the more. Whether it’s breaking his arm in between uncomfortable encounters in Last Chance to See, or happily admitting that he absolutely loathes himself in The Fry Chronicles, or confessing to a suicide attempt on his blog, Stephen doesn’t like to leave the uncomfortable separate from his celebrity.
In this way, it’s his autobiographical works that have had the most profound effect on me. His now two-volume memoir is an unflinching examination of some incredibly tough and troubling times. His two part series The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive remains one of the best films I’ve ever seen on the tricky subject. It works because Stephen takes us by the hand and gently introduces us to a whole range of compelling conversations, as well as venturing into the inside of his own relationship with his brain. As a depressive, the show had a remarkable affect on me, and I’m sure it had the same with others.
But with his most recent series, Out There, Stephen takes his ability to elegantly articulate, his compassion, and his bravery to the fore-front of gay rights. The two part series, recently concluded on ABC TV (available on iView), is a beautiful thing, and will no doubt affect thousands of people, young and old, gay and straight, for years to come, as The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive has.
Stephen manages to contribute to gay rights advocacy with originality and flair, succeeding where countless others would have failed. He tackles homophobia dead on by travelling around the world and talking to homophobes in power. Each conversation sparkles with calm compassion as Stephen gently pulls apart the absurdity behind each of their arguments. He kindly informs a Russian politician that he’s embarrassing himself in front of an international audience. He argues that his ‘penis isn’t terrorising anybody’ while in a heated debate with a Ugandan priest who wants to execute homosexuals, shortly before explaining to him that not all homosexuals are interested in sodomy. He, for one, isn’t.
It’s a stunning piece of television, and another jewel in the crown of Fry, which must now be heavy with the weight of achievement. There are few people who could instantly make a film on any subject they choose, but Stephen manages. Only a few months ago he was touring us around the lesser-known passages of London. He contributes wonderfully to a conversation on classical music here. He is beautifully funny (and young) here, and of course he still manages to turn up every week on Qi and be the only host the show could ever really have. When he has a minute, he'll write another book.
Keep going Mr. Fry. You’ve changed my life for the better, and have a measured influence over millions. Keep going. Thank you, thank you, thank you.