Eric Idle interview
Photograph by Robyn Von Swank

The Last Word: Eric Idle on Wearing Dresses, What George Harrison Taught Him, and More

The Monty Python stalwart and author of a new memoir, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, talks the virtues of being alone and more.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I received it from my first agent, and it was very simple: Be available.

What motivated you as a kid?

To grow up and stop being a kid. I went to a very restrictive military boarding school, so what motivated me was how to sneak off and find girls and beer and cigarettes.

How should a man handle criticism?

It depends on what you mean by criticism. I mean, sometimes people say things that are critical, but you think, “That’s kind of wise.” A long time ago, I was having a row with a publisher and he said to me, “I’m not sure you have the character for success.” I thought, “That’s a very interesting question.”

What should every man know about money?

I think money is rather bad for people. Enough of it is of course essential, but too much money seems to ruin character. And it doesn’t really matter, because you’re going to lose it all anyway.

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What was the highlight of your career?

The most satisfying thing for me was closing night of the [2012] Olympic Games in London. I sang “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” for the city I lived in for 35 years and a couple of billion people. It was scary and amazing.

What adventure most changed your life?

Most of my travels around the world have been on film sets, where you’re in a privileged position and you see the country without seeing any of the hardship. Quite often, you’re dressed as a lady, so that becomes rather problematic.

What is the best survival tip you know?

At school, I learned to shoot a .303 rifle and strip a handgun and reassemble it blindfolded. They would set us off in Wales with a pack and a map and a compass and a bit of cheese and say, “See you.” These were called Junior Leadership courses, and what I discovered was that I never wanted to do anything like that ever again in my life. Not being in the army is a good survival tip.

What is the secret to a happy relationship?

You have to learn how to live alone if you’re going to live with someone else. Being alone is very good for you.

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How should a man handle getting older?

With care, I think. And preferably with a woman, or a partner, to help.

What should every man understand about women?

I think it’s important to be sympathetic. A great advantage for me is that I got to dress up, like, fancy. I know what it’s like to wear high heels, long lashes, fingernails, and try to walk.

What role should vanity play in a man’s life?

None whatsoever. Narcissism and vanity are two of the most potently disastrous things for human beings.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be patient. Things will work out.


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What’s the best cure for heartache?

I think not falling in love, probably.

Who has been the main influence in your life?

I got a lot of life coaching from George Harrison. I met him in about 1975 at a screening of The Holy Grail. He said, “Want to come and have a reefer in the projection booth?” That started a kind of wild ride. We just talked and talked, and it was very interesting and rather fabulous.

What did you learn from him?

He was good for shrugging off the prism of the personality. We seem to think we ought to have an opinion on everything when, in fact, we don’t. You can observe what’s going on with a wry wrinkle.

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