Life Lessons From… Stephen Fry

Monday, 26 May, 2014

Illustration by Jennifer Choat

Stephen Fry is a British actor, writer and broadcaster pending canonisation as the patron saint of eloquence and curiosity. His mellifluous tones coaxed a generation wired on tartrazine-102 to sleep as the narrator of the Harry Potter audiobooks. Since his Cambridge days of impertinence, cynicism, and delinquency, Fry has matured like the Stilton Cheese of his native Norwich—heavier, sweeter, and more lucrative with age. Most recently, he has directed his substantial intellect and unending patience to gently insidious political activism in queer rights and mental health.

  1. Institutionalised privation is what made Britain Great.

Fry’s aversion to sport and penchant for cerebral stimulation marked him an outsider among his testosterone-addled private schoolmates. He developed a foolproof method of staving off homophobic bullying: “Don’t touch me, I’ll get an erection”. To pass the time among cultural philistines, Fry divided his efforts between academic excellence and petty delinquency. After his brief stint of credit card fraud, Fry was arrested for being an ostentatious nuisance at the Ritz lobby bar and sentenced to a short spell in Pucklechurch House, which sounds more like a Midsomer parish than a penitentiary. Fry attributed his survival to his years at an all-boys boarding school, where he contended with the same arbitrary hierarchy, pack mentality, and latent homoeroticism found in most male prisons. Nonetheless, if you, dear Antipodean reader, should end up gaoled at her Majesty’s pleasure, please reconsider whether the mention of sexual arousal in a small confined shower block full of rank-and-file convicts could be misread as an invitation…

  1. Curb your enthusiasm.

Fry’s short 1985 essay in society magazine The Tatler is a rare bearable treatise on celibacy. He puts his considerable wit to work dissecting a coupling based purely on sex: “The day dawns when Partner A is keen for more swinging, grinding and sweating and Partner B would rather turn over and catch up with Mike and Smith”. Once in the heat of coitus, the amygdala—the primitive lobe of the brain—transforms the most dignified of us into rutting, bestial mammals. As Fry sagely notes, “these vestigial urges have no place in a rational, intelligent community”. You don’t have to degrade your body (read: temple), cheapen your relationships, or endure mediocre pillow talk the morning after with abstinence. Besides, you need never run the risk of discovering that you’re not all that good at It.

  1. A final pearl to the sun-chapped, floppy-hatted swine headed for Splendour In The Grass.

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only poor choice of footwear.”