When I was a child, my grandmother often used to repeat this phrase to me - “Stories only happen to people who can tell them. So have courage kiddo, and you will slowly learn how to sail against the tide.” As I listened to Stephen Fry’s almost unbelievable life story, my grandmother’s words never rang truer. In a breezy conversation with editor Anindita Ghose on JLF Brave New World, Fry gave insights into his daily routine, where his spark came from, his inventive patterns of thought, all the while keeping a crinkly smile on the reaches of his eyes and warming the viewer’s heart. Through his rollercoaster journey, Fry has managed to juggle with every creative occupation possible - be it writing, theatre or comedy.

The pandemic-induced lockdown has not slowed down his ingenious self though - while shuffling through his drawers, he found some to be full of ties of all sorts and decided to spin tales out of them, which of course, garnered instant popularity (with thousands of likes on Instagram). He mentioned that someone even approached him to make a book out of it! This small instance truly is the mark of an innovative thinker; one who can make the normal look interesting, and make the interesting appear normal. But he also emphasised on the inequalities that these times have highlighted, while maintaining a sense of gratitude for his good fortune - “We may all be in the same sea, but we are in very different vessels; some in super cruises while others struggle in leaky vessels.”

When he was seventeen, he recounted slightly guiltily, how he went on a spree after stealing a coat at a pub, and upon discovering credit cards in the wallet inside it, he used them to stay in hotels, spending on food bills, imagining that it was “only the banks that would suffer” as he overstepped the boundaries of the law. But fortunately the series of events that followed became a sharp turning point for him. During his probation, he realised that his “love for the language and learning was so profound”, that it was an integral “part of him”, and he simply “could not throw all his opportunities away”. Narrating his time in Cambridge, which he had entered soon after “avoiding prison by the skin of his teeth”, he spoke of encountering actress Emma Thompson, actor Hugh Laurie, with whom he became quick friends, and his experience of piecing together productions, winning prizes like the ‘Perrier Award’ along with them. Those friendships were so organic that “it was like love at first sight”, he laughed. While speaking of comedy, he discussed how it manages to “break and question hierarchies”. He also admitted that we live in a fundamentally different world today, one filled with “privilege” and “networks”, so the idea of what may strike the public as offensive has changed.

Even after living a life steeped in challenges, his aspirations and never-ending optimism are what make him sail through. His is indeed a story worth telling.

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