Dame Edna: I love Edinburgh’s bookshops

Barry Humphries is a fan of Edinburgh's bookshops. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Barry Humphries is a fan of Edinburgh's bookshops. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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HE’S best known as Dame Edna Everage, but Barry Humphries has revealed a more sophisticated side to his nature – he travels to Edinburgh to add to his book collection.

The 79-year-old, who is set to say a goodbye to Edinburgh audiences next week when Barry Humphries’ Farewell Tour: Eat, Pray, Laugh! comes to the Festival Theatre, revealed: “Edinburgh is such a wonderful place. I know it well and I have some favourite booksellers here. I love to go around bookshops.”

One bookshop is a particular favourite it appears, John Updike’s second hand bookshop on St Bernard’s Row, Stockbridge.

“Whenever I’m in Edinburgh I make sure to visit Updike. It is a small, but very good, rare and second hand bookshop in one of those narrow streets that so characterises the city.”

The veteran performer’s connections with the Capital run deeper than just his love of antique books, however, as his son Rupert went to university here.

“Rupert wrote a satire about video games in his last year at Edinburgh University. It went rather well and he became interested in video games. When he graduated, someone said, ‘You know, Edinburgh really is the video game capital of Europe because Rockstar productions is here’.

“So he walked from his digs, walked in, and immediately got a job. Within three weeks of graduation he was helping write Grand Theft Auto. He’s just finished writing Grand Theft Auto V.”

He added, with a laugh: “My problem now is that because of my son, I have to learn to play Grand Theft Auto V or I’ll feel guilty. That’s going to be a learning curve as I can’t even play Grand Theft Auto IV.”

Eat, Pray, Laugh! finds Humphries returning to the Festival Theatre, where he last appeared ten years ago to entertain the Queen at the Royal Variety Show. It was an eventful booking.

He recalled: “The late Pavarotti was in the show. He announced, just before we started a rehearsal, that he wasn’t coming... he was top of the bill! Then, he could come, but on condition he only sang one song and could stand at the back, leaning on the piano. All the time I’m thinking, ‘I must never be like that. I must never do that to people’.

“When it came to the line-up for the Queen he was next to me. He lent against me. Now, a man that size, leaning against you . . . I nearly fell into the orchestra pit. It was like a bus leaning against you. I think, if I had shifted my balance, Pavarotti would have left this world several weeks sooner than he did. The Queen was slightly amused by the sight of all this and did address me as Dame Edna, which was nice, and just added to the confusion of Pavarotti who had no idea who I was.”

The star also explained why he will be reading the Evening News while in town.

“When I’m doing Dame Edna I read the papers. If there is something topical, or local, I put it in the show because Edna has the great advantage of being totally ignorant – she can talk about anything with authority, so she does.”

It’s Edna’s town

Dame Edna Everage dropped into the Evening News in March this year to offer her own unique take on what was going on in the Capital. Arriving in style, a black stretch limo dropped her off at our office on Holyrood Road.

She described Edinburgh as a “dream city” after we rebranded the paper the Ednaburgh News in her honour. The guest editor was presented with a special front page and said: “Edin is an old form of Edna and so Edinburgh is really Edna’s town. Spooky.”