I’ve never been to Grays in Essex, but I imagine it to be much like many other small towns spread across the country, about half an hour away from any big city. Lots of charity shops, betting shops, mobile phone shops, and a Wetherspoons opposite the Job Centre. At the first glimpse of sunshine, young men walk the streets bare-chested, clutching cans of Special Brew; there are mobility scooters a-plenty, and teenage girls, desperate to be loved and disbelieving of the value of school, smoke their cigarettes and push prams.
These town centres are slowly dying, while the out-of-town retail parks boom and bustle with weekend car park fights because there simply isn’t enough space for all the people so desperate to put more money on credit: on little things we don’t need, quick fixes to make everything seem, very briefly, a bit nicer before X Factor comes on.
The more able kids leave these towns once they finish school. They go off to universities, and stay away. The others stay, and the cycle continues.
Then, once in a while, one of The Others breaks out too. In Grays’ case, it was Russell Brand. And he broke out like Truman leaving his show having imbibed a tonne of speed and wearing his mum’s clothes. (That’s very possibly what he actually did rather than that just being a painfully strained simile.)
And the boy from Grays done good. He took the hard way, mind. He succeeded despite addictions to drugs, alcohol, sex, attention, sex, attention, and sex. And at first people liked him. Well, people either liked him or they found him a bit irritating, but basically ignorable if he “wasn’t their thing”. This Morrissey obsessed, Krishna consciousness-seeking, back-combing, gangly, loud, addict comedian wasn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. He wanked a man off in a toilet for a telly programme once. Just to see what it would be like.
Well who hasn’t?
And then he started to become less ignorable. This pissed people off. Especially the people who had left the small towns and done quite well for themselves. Who was this idiot, daring to put his head (with all that ridiculous hair, too) over the parapet, using big words without the proper training, and shagging all our women? Bloody nerve of the small town oik.
Then he said a bad thing about Manuel off of Fawlty Towers.
Right. Get the Daily Fucking Mail. We’re gonna crucify him. That’ll teach him for looking like Jesus. And while you’re at it, take down that Wossy wanker – same principle. No education, just a lot of mouth.
So Russell went away for a little while, promising that he knew how hideous he was and wishing he could resign twice from the BBC. It must be difficult to know what else to say to placate people who want nothing less than blood because you’ve said a bad thing about Manuel.
Up until this point, I’d watched Russell (a bit) on Big Brother’s Big Mouth, and (lots) on Ponderland and listened to his Radio 2 show. I really liked him. I liked him because he knew what it was like to come from a bit of a shitty town (I’m allowed to say that – anyone else slags it off and I’ll defend it to the death, almost) but was clever, succinct, funny and goddam sexy. Plus, Rusell’s always evoked an air of “I can’t quite believe I’m doing this!” I went to see Russell live for the first time on his Scandalous tour. At the end of the gig he put out an explicit request for women who’d like to sleep with him to make themselves known – he’d prefer more than one, and no one was to bother going back with him if they didn’t know what they were there for, and weren’t willing to see it through. I was all at once shocked by this openness and devastated that I’d gone to see him with my boyfriend.
And so he went from strength to strength, and from there to Hollywood. I watched all the movies and happily bought into the self-aware, piss-taking but still sexy as fuck personas
whilst others continued to mumble and grumble. Often STILL about Fawlty Towers. Russell’s blogs about the London Riots, Amy Winehouse’s death, and his appearance in the House of Commons to debate UK drugs policies appeared to sway others’ opinions of him little, if any. I watched his documentary From Addiction to Recovery with my addict boyfriend who cried with relief at finding someone in Russell who could articulate the addict’s mindset. It wasn’t until a while after this that I revisited the documentary, alone, in an attempt to understand what he’d been going through. Russell kind of helped a bit there. Being in a relationship with an addict is shit though. Untenable.
Almost as if he wanted people to take even more notice of him, almost as though he was enjoying the attention, almost as though the people criticising him for his views and showbiz success were spurring him on, in what some might call an act of outright defiance, Russell called his next tour The Messiah Complex. This time, I went to see him with a girl friend. Some weeks before the show, we exchanged these messages: I’m the one in blue. I’m not proud.
And so it came to pass that we went to see the Messiah perform his show, and indeed joined the terrifying throng of women desperate to be touched. It was horrible: a sort of crazed mania overtook these people, and I became squashed among the iPhone screens. My friend draped herself over him, whilst he, completely unaware of any of this marauding crowd as actual individuals, bathed in their adoration. Claustrophobic, I slipped away from the madness, and clung to the side of the stage as though it were a liferaft in a sea of lunacy. I was disappointed in Russell then. I’d thought our first encounter would be far more sedate. Special. Daft cow.
Listening to one of Russell’s “inner circle”, they compared being with him to being with, “that friend who always gets too drunk so it takes ages for you all to get anywhere. But in this case, it’s not because your friend’s too drunk. It’s because he’s Russ.” I’d never seen that kind of chaos before. Now I understood what he’d meant.
I felt differently about Russell for a while after that. Would the real Russell Brand please step forward? Cheeky chap made good from a town like mine, recovering addict serving as an inspiration for others, or simply self-serving “The Sun’s Shagger of the Year”? I guess none of us is that one dimensional though. We’re all a heady cocktail of sins and virtues, after all. We’re all capable of twattishness or loveliness.
And then he started this revolution malarkey. I haven’t bought the book yet. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I mean, I know how I feel about Revolution: let’s have one and make everything better for all the folk who’ve been led to believe that surviving life means living from one bottle of Frosty Jacks to the next whilst the “floating duck house” expenses claimants tell them how shit they are. But then look how he behaved in that Evan Davis interview! I wanted to chide him for that. “Chide” because it sounds motherly – and he made me feel like a defend-her-son-to-the-death-no-matter-what mum who, as she watched her unruly son’s inexcusable behaviour, quietly resolved to give him a clip ’round the ear and shout, “How dare you be so bloody rude to that nice man?” Mind you, I hate graphs too.
So yeah, I’d quite like a revolution I think, but I can’t afford the book at the moment…
The Guardian Live interview was shown at a local cinema. I went with some friends, and loved it. Russell at his best: admitting he can be an idiot and is still learning how not to be, and basically talking about how we should all just look after one another. I can totally get on board with that. However, I’ve had (male – though I’m not sure if that’s relevant) friends tell me I’m a hypocrite for “buying into his bullshit” and that he’s “threatened by educated people”. I had the following text conversation with one of these friends whilst waiting for the interview to start. You might detect the slightly sarcastic tone coming from the friend in grey. Apologies for my language. It’s a cinema where they let you drink on sofas whilst you watch. It’s amazing.
Then came this…can you tell which of these was said by Boris Johnson and which was said by Russell Brand? Yes, actually. Every single one. But what was the agenda here? “Russell’s just a part of the establishment – or wants to be. Look, he’s just like this bumbling buffoon, and his motives are the same”? They’re not though, are they? As I still do, Russell’s lived among the Frosty Jacks and has seen what people have to accept as being “their lot” on a daily basis. He’s seen a side of life that the likes of Johnson never ever ever will. And yes, I can see the paradox that the very brilliant Lucy Kellaway puts to him in this FT article. Namely, “you’ve been chauffeur driven to a soup kitchen and are wearing a lot of expensive stuff…how’s this revolution gonna work exactly?” But one thing’s for certain, Russell’s ruffling a few feathers and making people who felt previously totally disenfranchised feel that they have a right to say, “None of these politicians represent me. Is my choice seriously just “which one’s the least crap”?”
When those in the public eye whom I respect and admire criticise Russell for being “odd” and “one blue tracksuit away from turning into David Icke” (celeb Twitter comments) I feel sad. I feel sad because this bloke speaks for me. Sometimes he drives me mad and sometimes he disappoints me, but most of the time he makes me proud that someone without a privileged background and from a town much like my own has cracked it.
Does he really want this revolution? Yeah, I think he probably does. Does he want to sell loads of copies of his book? Yep. Is he still sleeping with lots and lots of women in a very disposable fashion? Most likely. Will I ever give up on him, even if he goes full Icke? Nah. I know what I came for, and I’m willing to see it through.
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