Alan Carr: 'Fame distorts you like a hall of mirrors'
Beneath the exuberant on-stage demeanour, Alan Carr was dealing with a rare psychological condition that made performing hell. The Chatty Man tells our reporter why he now prefers the quiet life
Alan Carr perches on a hotel lobby sofa, flanked by a life-size skeleton that has presumably been left there for Halloween purposes. "This is my date for tonight," he cackles gleefully, noting that television producers have forced him to share settees with quite a few stiffs in his time. He then adds, almost as a private afterthought, "I can't believe how gay Dublin is becoming!"
Joking aside, however, Carr seems a bit worried about this interview. "I'm coming across as a complete neurotic, aren't I?" he asks halfway through, clutching his head in mock-horror. "You're not going to write this up like I'm some kind of nutcase?"
For anyone who knows the northern English comedian solely through his small-screen appearances, Carr's insecurity may be hard to understand. As the host of long-running Channel 4 talk show 'Chatty Man' and a live performer whose last tour sold out 200 arenas, he usually projects an air of camp self-assurance. We are speaking just a few hours before he is due on 'The Late Late Show', an assignment you might have assumed would be second nature to him by now.
"It's the opposite with me, I'm getting less confident as time goes by," he sighs. "I don't want to moan because I have a lovely life and I'm really grateful for it. But I do find that celebrity distorts you like a hall of mirrors and sometimes the insincerity of showbiz people just does my head in."
Carr's ambivalent attitude to life in the limelight punctuates his second memoir, 'Alanatomy', a sequel to the best-selling 'Look Who It Is!', which was published in 2008. Much of it is taken up with cheeky anecdotes featuring his new A-lister friends, usually ending in punchlines that could have come straight from a stand-up routine.
There are amusing stories about him swimming in an aquarium with David Hasselhoff, getting to touch Kim Kardashian's infamous bottom, and being nonplussed when Mariah Carey specifically requests an ostrich feather to cool herself down.
Towards the end, however, 'Alanatomy' goes seriously dark. Carr has recently been left distraught by the death of his long-time manager and become a reluctant carer for his alcoholic partner Paul. He has also suffered from night terrors and developed a rare psychological condition which makes him think he is wetting himself on stage, which he puts down to pure anxiety.
"I suppose it has been a bit of a mid-life crisis," he muses, before immediately wondering if that makes him sound like a drama queen. "When I turned 40 this year, I suddenly thought, 'My life's running out'. Everything became like a trolley dash in a supermarket about to close.
"My agent offered me some dates in Australia and New Zealand so I went, thinking I might never get the chance again. But when I got there I was walking around on my own, really missing Paul and my Irish setters, and I just wondered, 'Why am I doing this?'"
Basically, Carr says, he needs to learn how to handle stress better. He is currently wearing contact lenses in order to look less conspicuous (his thick glasses will go on for 'The Late Late Show') and when a trick-or-treating child recognises him anyway, he deals with her kindly but briskly.
"Some people think that if you're on television, you must crave attention all the time," he says. "Actually I get my fix from performing live and otherwise I'm happy to be quiet."
Drinking games have always been a staple feature of Carr's chat shows. During an appearance on ITV's 'This Morning' last November, he downed so many tequila shots that he could not remember the name 'Chatty Man'. 'Alanatomy' also describes how he once met his childhood hero Harrison Ford but was too plastered to remember a single thing about it.
In the past, Carr admits, he has sometimes worried that he might be an alcoholic. Having now seen the real thing up close at home, however, he is happy to rule that possibility out.
"I've done nationwide tours without a single hangover or date cancelled. But Paul was knocking back vodka in the morning, hiding bottles around the house, stinking like a tramp. It was like watching someone die in front of your eyes.
"Alcoholism is like jet lag, nobody has any sympathy until it happens to them. Life became very strange because one minute I'd be on the telly encouraging Taylor Swift to have a Jagerbomb, the next I'd be going home to stop Paul drinking. Now he's been in rehab and is doing really well. His skin is clear, he's lost loads of weight - I hate him!"
When Graham Norton was an unknown stand-up, he would begin shows by simply declaring, "Yes - I am!" By the same token, Carr's sexuality is so obvious that he never had to come out or even discuss it with his parents. "While other boys were into sport, I was writing to Jim'll Fix It asking if he could help me to meet Wonder Woman."
Just to complicate matters, Carr's father Graham was manager of Northampton Town FC, and hoped the boy might become a footballer. "He used to make me run around the park, shouting, 'Move, you fat poof!' I think he must have thought there'd been a mix-up with some hairdresser's baby at the hospital."
Although the two now have a good relationship, this was clearly not always the case. One of Carr's early routines recalled the moment when he told his dad he wanted to study performing arts at Middlesex University. "Alan, why are you doing this to me?" "I don't know, Dad - but I think I can show you through expressive dance."
Comedy eventually liberated Carr after several years of dead-end jobs in a supermarket, packing warehouse and credit card call centre. 'Alanatomy' mentions Dublin as one of his favourite places to perform, and he tells me this should be extended to all of Ireland.
"I've always tried to make sure that my tours include Cork and Galway because stand-up here never feels like work, it's just fun. Kilkenny is the best festival in the world, there's no nonsense about awards and everyone just enjoys themselves."
Oddly enough, however, Carr confesses that he was totally unaware of Ireland's same-sex marriage referendum last year. In fact, he rarely talks about being gay on stage and certainly doesn't want to be seen as any kind of role model.
"I get a lot of criticism from militant gays who say I'm a camp stereotype or I'm not a good representative for homosexuals," he complains. "But are Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan good representatives for heterosexuals? Around this time of year people ask me to play a pantomime dame and I tell them I wouldn't know how, this is just who I am."
Carr now feels that both his personal and professional lives are entering a new phase. He plans to marry Paul next year, but plays down reports that his good friend Adele has promised to be the bridesmaid. "It'll be quiet, low-key, very discreet - everything you think when you hear the name Alan Carr," he quips. He is, however, quite certain that he will never be a parent. "I just don't have that urge and if you don't want kids, you shouldn't have them."
His television career is also moving on. 'Chatty Man' will wind down after next month's Christmas special and he wants to concentrate on 'Alan Carr's Happy Hour', a new Channel 4 programme featuring games, sketches and stunts with celebrity guests.
The traditional chat show concept, he argues, is probably on its last legs anyway.
"I've done 16 series of 'Chatty Man' and loved every minute of it. But viewers are cynical, they know that guests are only on to promote an album or whatever. People lament the end of Michael Parkinson's show, but he didn't have publicists whispering in his ear, 'If you mention the sex tape, then we're leaving'."
Instead, Carr believes that the future belongs to online formats such as James Corden's 'Carpool Karaoke'. "Why should Justin Bieber fly to England and sit on my sofa when he can spend 15 minutes in a car, sing a song and get a hundred million hits?"
Time and time again, Carr assures me that he doesn't want to sound like a whinger. "The problem is, I don't know what I'm supposed to be," he confides. "Just look at how Gary Lineker and Lily Allen were attacked for speaking out about the Calais refugees. If you express those sorts of opinions, people say you're overpaid and should keep your mouth shut.
"But I hate being called shallow or vain just because I clock into a studio and not a factory."
On that note, Alan Carr shakes hands with his new skeleton friend, flashes a huge toothy grin, and heads off to yet another television gig - a star whether he likes it or not.