Actor Simon Callow

150 150 Rob McGibbon

subject photo

Published: 4 February 2012

Actor Simon Callow:

The prized possession you value above all others...A gold ring that belonged to the great Irish actor Micheál Mac Liammóir. I was his dresser in Northern Ireland in 1968. He left it to his partner, who left it to an actor, who gave it to me. It connects me to a theatrical past.

The unqualified regret you wish you could amend...I cut off relations with my grandmother Vera for six years when I was 18. She was the most powerful influence in my life, but it was overwhelming so I had to stand back. I now deeply regret those missing years.

The way you’d spend your fantasy 24 hours, with no travel restrictions...I’d have breakfast in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley as crocodiles eat their breakfast in the river; coffee and madeleines on Venice’s Lido island; lunch in Stockholm; tea at London’s Maison Bertaux; dinner on the island of Mykonos; vodka and caviar in St Petersburg; and bed at the Gazelle d’Or hotel in Morocco.

The temptation you wish you could resist...Oh, I can resist anything. Although bread is a weakness.

The book that holds an everlasting resonance...Plato’s Symposium. It introduced me to my hero, Socrates, who taught me how to think.

The priority activity if you were the Invisible Man for a day...I would terrorise stupid and cruel dog owners.

The pet hate that makes your hackles rise... The use of the verb ‘pop’ as a substitute for any other word. A nurse once said to me, ‘Pop your clothes off. I’m just going to pop a little injection into your arm then I’ll pop off to get the doctor.’ I’ve become an anti-pop commissar and correct people all the time. I become quite deranged – but I’m right.

The film you can watch time and time again...The French film Les Enfants Du Paradis – the most poetic representation of the destructive power of love.

The person who has influenced you most...Christopher Fettes, my drama teacher. His vision and ideas made me the man, and the actor, I am today.

The figure from history for whom you’d most like to buy a pie and a pint...Charles Dickens. Being in his company would be a tonic and a joy. The conversation would surge with electric energy.

The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child...Whenever you’ve a free moment, run, jump, swim, kick a ball, dress up, climb a tree, learn a song.

Avoid anything operated by electricity.

The unlikely interest that engages your curiosity...I am fascinated by rubbish bins – their size, shape, efficiency, colour, and their maintenance.

The treasured item you lost and wish you could have again...My grandmother’s gold lorgnette [a pair of spectacles mounted on a handle]. As a child I used to play with it endlessly, pretending to be various marquises and marchionesses. I have absolutely no idea what became of it.

The unending quest that drives you on...To give a really good performance, to write a perfect sentence, to direct a superb production. None has been achieved so far.

The poem that touches your soul...Shakespeare’s sonnet No. 49, about the anguish of love. The last couplet – ‘To leave poor me thou hast the strength of laws, Since why to love I can allege no cause’ – is the most devastating in the English language. I’ve been there.

The misapprehension about yourself you wish you could erase...That I am Simon Cowell. Or that he is me.

The event that altered the course of your life and character...My father leaving my mother when I was 18 months old. It shattered her and made her harder. She tried to be my mother and father, which was oppressive for a child.

The crime you would commit knowing you could get away with it...I would steal Bronzino’s Portrait Of A Young Man from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and feast on its enigmatic beauty in solitude.

The song that means the most to you...Offrande, by the Venezuelan-born com poser Reynaldo Hahn. He catches the tenderness of the gift of love with astonishing vulnerability.

The happiest moment you will cherish forever...Getting my first commission as a writer in 1984 for my memoir Being An Actor. I was in Santa Fe, in the US, and I went up in a balloon and shouted the news to the surprised birds.

The saddest time that shook your world...The death in 1991 of my friend Peggy Ramsay, a legendary theatrical agent, left a gap in my world that will never be filled again.

The unfulfilled ambition that continues to haunt you...I’ve never acted professionally in plays by Chekhov, Ibsen, Congreve, Feydeau or Stoppard.

The philosophy that underpins your life...Make the negative positive.

The order of service at your funeral...I would want some Shakespeare sonnets – maybe Nos. 29 and 60 – and Mahler’s Der Abschied from Das Lied Von Der Erde. Then Cole Porter’s In The Still Of The Night, Mozart’s Vorrei Spiegarvi and the last movement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto.

The way you want to be remembered...A rough beast who constantly struggled to do something dainty.

The Plug...My book, Charles Dickens And The Great Theatre Of The World, is published by HarperPress, priced £16.99. Visit