Alistair McGowan: The girl who has made the biggest impression on meAlistair McGowan gave up doing what he does best when The Big Impression ended eight years ago. Now he's got his mojo back, he tells REBECCA HARDY, thanks to the girl he's going to wed
23:37 GMT, 8 June 2012
Alistair McGowan is finally getting married. The brilliant impressionist, who’s entertained us over the years with his multiple personalities, lobs this hand grenade of a confession into the conversation in a casual, off-the-cuff way.
‘Maybe the reason I’ve not yet married is because I’ve never felt that need to say, “This is it for life.”’ Cue bombshell. ‘That’s about to change, but we won’t go into that.’
Hang on Alistair. We will go into that. He is, after all, 47 years old and famously unmarried since his seven-year love affair with his comic partner Ronni Ancona hit the buffers 13 years ago.
Their subsequent work together, most memorably her pouting Posh to his dim-witted Becks, on BBC1’s BAFTA-winning The Big Impression was marked by huge success and massive rows.
New ventures: Alistair has a new TV show and is getting married
After four ‘exhausting’ years on the show, they went their separate ways for good in 2004. There have been girlfriends since but none that lasted. Alistair’s passion for sport tended to intervene.
‘I’ve always found this release through sport,’ he says. ‘I once said, much to the disgust of my girlfriend at the time, “I’m never happier than when I’m on a tennis court.” That was about a month before the relationship ended.’
Then three years ago he fell head-over-heels in love with opera singer Charlotte Page, 45, whom he calls Charlie, when they appeared together in The Mikado.
‘She asked me,’ he grins. ‘We haven’t put a date on it yet.’ He’s clearly cock-a-hoop.
‘She gives me a huge amount of pleasure and happiness,’ he says, sparkly as a bottle of fizz.
‘A friend of mine who’s 82 said recently, “I love it when I see her in the town because she smiles and she makes my whole day light up.” I thought, “That’s exactly what she does for me.”’
Engaged: He met Charlotte Page, 45, whom he calls Charlie, when they appeared together in The Mikado
Which is so sweet you want to get down on one knee yourself. Alistair isn’t usually this gushing though.
‘If you asked Ronni she’d say anal is the word she always uses about me,’ he says. But today he’s loose-tongued and loosely dressed in casual shorts and T-shirt.
Maybe it’s this marriage thing. Or maybe it’s because he’s back having a laugh on TV in ITV1’s You Cannot Be Serious!, after eight years of trying to be pretty serious himself in theatre, musicals, opera and directing. The new programme is a topical sports show that mixes clips from the week with sketches and, of course, Alistair’s impressions of the great and good.
‘I’ve got one I did yesterday with
Nick Clegg that didn’t really work,’ he says. Go on. ‘It’s a bit bad
taste.’ I don’t mind.
‘Well, you know he was convicted of arson at 16’
No. ‘I think that’s the thing. People don’t realise he was. They think
I’m making it up. Well, he was, so this is what I was doing…’
launches into an impression of the deputy prime minister.
‘People say I
have a lot of power, but that I haven’t got authority. They say I’m not
interesting enough. But let’s not forget I was convicted of arson at 16
so you can say what you like about me, I can always be relied upon to
light up a room.’
Perhaps you’ve got to be here, but it’s very funny. Alistair likes the laughter.
‘Maybe it does work because his psychology is such he wants to tell people he’s interesting,’ he says.
‘It’s not just the voice, it’s the juxtaposition of the material and the psychology that interests me.’
Alistair has changed in his years away from his impressions. A year before The Big Impression ended, his father Mac, a retired headmaster, died from a heart attack at the age of 75. They were both sport fanatics and about as close as a father and son can be.
‘I’d seen him the day before which was strange because when I was doing the show, months would go by without me seeing him. I’m glad I did. In a way I’d said everything I wanted to, because he’d been ill for five or six years before he died. But there are things I wish I’d spoken to him about more.’
Notably the fact his father, who had moved to England in his mid-20s, was Anglo-Indian.
‘I did ask him all the time about India. But he’d never go into it fully. His death raised a lot of questions about who I was. Then in 2007 I did Who Do You Think You Are That programme was the best therapy I could ever have had.’
Double act: With former girlfriend Ronni Ancona as Posh & Becks, left, and the Osbournes
Alistair travelled to India to track down his family where he discovered the racism suffered by the Anglo-Indian community.
‘My father just didn’t want to go through that any more, or for us to suffer, so he hid his past. People have said to me the Anglo-Indians didn’t feel they belonged in India and they didn’t belong when they came to England. They weren’t one thing or the other. I think that’s the thing I’ve struggled with all through my career, and in my life. I don’t feel I belong in any gang. That’s why the impressions are such a happy fit. It’s trying to understand what I’d be like if I was this or that person.’
Alistair actually stumbled into comedy by accident. Born in Evesham, Worcestershire, his early ambition, after graduating from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, was to join the Royal Shakespeare Company.
‘In those days you had to get an Equity card,’ he says. ‘The options were performing in old people’s homes, stripping or stand-up comedy.’
Alistair chose stand-up and within a year was working at the Comedy Store, where he met Ronni. Their relationship ended the year before The Big Impression hit our TV screens.
‘It was difficult for a long time afterwards. The whole relationship was huge. We went out at that time of our lives when it was the first time for either of us – when you think, “OK, this is it.” So, no, breaking up really wasn’t easy.’
Was it mutual ‘It was sort of mutual but I made the decision,’ he says.
‘Then we worked together so that had its own stresses and delights as well. We could be honest with each other in a way I’ve never really been with anybody creatively since. That spurred us on, but I think it was also exhausting. We were frighteningly honest. Sometimes the rows we had were just massive. If I’m truthful, I think we hoped we could have a little break and the BBC would say, “Come back and do something else.” But try as we did, we couldn’t.’
Good impression: Mimicking Dot Cotton, left, and Richard Madeley
Following the shock of his father’s death, Alistair says he also wanted to find himself. ‘Being an impressionist you’re always reminded that you’re funnier when you’re someone else. After 18 years of stand-up and the show I thought, “Who am I”’
He was also shattered with the pressure of researching, writing, performing, editing and ‘living or dying by the viewing figures. For six years all I wanted to do was turn up and perform,’ he says.
And so he turned up and performed in, among other productions, Little Shop Of Horrors, Cabaret, Pygmalion and, of course, The Mikado where he met Charlie.
‘Now I’m back in a new way,’ he says. ‘I certainly feel differently about the impressions – maybe I feel the same as I did ten years ago.’ He doesn’t need to say before his father’s death.
One last question: does Charlie stomach the endless games of footie on the box
‘Oh, she watches more trash telly than I do,’ he chuckles.
‘She loves CSI and crime dramas. I say, “How can you be watching endless episodes of the same thing It’s a variation of the same sort of person who does the crime.” Then I think, “Oh yes, it’s a bit like football isn’t it”’
Which I guess is this delightfully funny man’s way of saying he’s found someone with whom he belongs.
You Cannot Be Serious!, Saturday, 7pm, ITV1