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Michael Palin on his new book and Monty Python reunion
As a Python he gamely donned a lumberjack outfit and sang “I chop down trees, I wear high heels“ and Michael Palin has never been afraid of looking silly.
When we talk he is taking a break from editing the third volume of his diaries and baulks at editing out the embarrassing bits.
“I try not to re-write though because the point is the diaries are as I felt at the time and spontaneous and I don’t like to update them. If you say something stupid that’s what it was at the time and how you felt.“
The Gospel Oak grandfather will publish Travelling to Work later this year and says: “They cover the years 1988-98. I had started doing travel shows but was also doing a bit of acting and was trying to write a book, write a novel and did a play on the West End.
“It was quite a busy time for me.“
In the late summer he will embark on his first ever solo tour to talk about the book in September, with two London dates, and says: “I have always enjoyed doing a one-man show but have tended to do them for one-off charity events or big events like Cheltenham Book Festival or Hay. I thought it would be quite nice to do something right across the country at a time when you have something you want to talk to people about.
“It gives me access to lots of different places and audiences.
He adds: “I’m quite enjoying doing a bit more acting this year. I did a drama series with the BBC, Remember Me, which will probably come out in the autumn and will be with Python, so I thought this is the year to get on stage.“
Fans have gone into spasms of funny walks since Michael and the other Monty Pythons announced they would finally be reuniting on stage at O2 next month, but the 71-year-old is typically humble, saying: “A lot of old guys in their 70s will stagger on stage every night for ten nights. It will be an interesting medical phenomenon. I’m looking forward to it.“
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition but when I press him further he admits he is more nervous about the Python show, which will include new material as well as all the classic sketches, than he is about his solo tour.
“The reunion is more of a sort of unknown quantity,“ he says.
“There is a little bit more to remember and a lot more people involved.
“We have got to get back to those days, 45 years ago when we wrote this material, when we weren’t well-known and were allowed to go and do our stuff and be mischievous and naughty and rude.“
Born in Sheffield, Michael describes himself a an unusual mix of “shy boy and show off” and says when it came to his career he was always “very much blown by the wind“.
“I did enjoy acting at school, performing and imitating the teachers, but I never in a thousand years expected that would be a living, I thought I would go and work in a bank or something like that, maybe advertising or publishing.“
But he managed to follow in the footsteps of his heroes Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers, forming the Pythons in 1969 with John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle and Terry Jones. They recorded 45 television episodes and films such as Life of Brian and last worked together on The Meaning of Life in 1982 before going their different ways, with Michael starting his illustrious travel career with Around the World in 80 Days.
Despite the breathtaking adventures he has gone on since, Michael says those early Python days are still his career highlight.
“The great, sheer joy of sitting around a table and writing material and inventing things like the fish slapping dance, which came out of nowhere. I look at it now and think ’oh that’s probably the best thing I’ll do in my life, just get hit by a fish into a canal’.“
He says he has changed “surprisingly little” over the years, adding: “I organise myself slightly better now and I’m much less competitive than I used to be. Everything in your 20s, 30s, 40s is you have to be top and are looking over your shoulder the whole time.
“When you reach 70 and you can still stand up unaided you think that’s quite an achievement.“
But he is far from a pipe and slippers pensioner, and says: “I’m fascinated by the world and people and love travelling and writing about the world, that’s why I keep diaries because I want to celebrate life and remember it.“
Full tour dates for Travellng to Work at palinstravels.co.uk