It was, basically, just another gig. A cabaret spot at a private Christmas party at someone's home.
Except that the someone was HRH The Prince of Wales, and the home was St. James Palace.
So, totally just another gig. Basically. Totally. Sure.
So, after the kind of convoluted security checks that you'd expect (Although, notably, they didn't have an issue with the knives in my flight case), the armed police parted and through the gate I went, into a bloody palace. And, as you might imagine, a royal palace at Christmas is quite, quite delightful. The halls looking like a million images from childhood Christmas cards of evocative Victorian yule-porn. I was shown my stage, where I would be flanked by a grand piano on one side, and a teen foot high wooden toy soldier on the other. There were trees, twinkly lights, balloons, and inordinately expensive works of art. Basically just another gig.
For a lefty like me, being asked to do a gig like this isn't an instant yes. It took a little considering. My background in street theatre means I pride myself both on being able to perform to anyone, and being able to have anyone in my audience. I've done street shows in Dubai – a deeply problematic place – and looked out at my crowd to see millionaires standing next to slaves. There's something profound in that. That whoever – whatever – you are, when you're in my audience, everyone's equal. That feels important to me. You can't, and shouldn't, perhaps, be able to control who's in your audience, but you can show everyone the same amount of love and equality, and hope a little rubs off. It's not much, but it's something.
But also, I don't want to be a dancing monkey for anyone with enough money to call for a tune. I'm didn't get into this just to be a jester for anyone who needs one for their friends to ignore. I judge every booking individually, on its potential merits and pitfalls. By taking this gig, I got a little flak on social media. Mostly, I got support and shared giggly excitement from people who realised how ridiculous it all was, but a couple of people felt the need to tell me how disappointed they were in me. Here's my feelings on that: If you wouldn't take the booking, fine. But if your ego is so fragile that you feel the need to tell me that I shouldn't have, without knowing or caring why I did, then, well, judge not lest you get your ass blocked. You made it all about you, so I don't need to be involved.
So here's why I did take the gig, and it's a simple answer. I want to perform for people who want to see me. And Prince Charles falls squarely in that category. He's a renowned comedy nerd. He's a long time fan of variety. Goddammit, he's a member of The Magic Circle (Having auditioned just like anyone else, before being admitted). And you know what? He sat front and centre along with The Duchess of Cornwall, and they both giggled all the way through, and clapped like champs at the end. They were great audience members and the show was fun. And that's why I do this.
There is, of course, another reason I did the gig.
I'm a lucky boy. I get to live an often unexpected life. I run towards things I haven't done before. Blame my fear of death, my only child-ness, or whatever, but I always want the next thing to be a new thing. And this was a very new thing. How many times do you get the chance to wander around a palace? To chat to someone whose face has been in your brain since you were a child? It's odd, so yes please.
It was one of those moments that underline the journey I've made. In the map of my life, there's a pin pushed in at the moment I did my first ever show, and there's a string attached to it that stretches to a bunch of other pins, over the last handful of decades. And this was one of those pins. A way of showing me where I came from and where I am. And sometimes, when you're lost and feeling that you maybe haven't moved at all, or have been walking in circles, maps can reassure.
After my act, I went to the back of the room. A couple of people came up on stage and delivered little speeches. And then The Prince got up. He thanked everyone for coming, complimented the food and made a couple of sweetly self-depreciating jokes, and then he started talking about me. And it was about as strange a feeling as one could feel. There, on stage, was such a ridiculously famous and important cultural being (and regardless of what you think of him, that's undeniable), and my name kept falling out of his mouth. He complimented me, and the performer standing next to me clapped me on the shoulder, and it all felt a little too not real.
I chuckled to myself, rolled my eyes at the absurdity of the whole thing, and let myself drift around the room next door. And as I did, the clock above the fireplace struck nine. And it produced one of the sweetest, most delicate and beautiful sounds I've ever heard in my life. I stood in front of it as it played its exquisite graceful little tinkly tune, and felt myself nearly cry at its beauty. It was only a bloody clock, but damn.
And then The Prince came to say hi, and we chatted, and yes, I know meeting new people is his job, but he's really good at it. He was relaxed, affable and funny. The prince was charming. Sorry. And then I was in a taxi home from basically just another gig, thinking to myself, well, that was not just another gig. Not even basically.
And the next day there he was, on television, at a service at St. Paul's Cathedral for the victims of the Grenfell tower tragedy. And he was talking to people. As authentically concerned with the unimaginable pain of the attendees as he was delighted by his party the night before. Neither were fake. Both were his real self. And my opinions on the idea of a Royal family haven't changed, and you still don't know what they are. But my opinion of that one guy, as a human, did.