Lee Evans can’t remember the last time he appeared on television. He rarely does interviews, he doesn’t belong to the Groucho Club and he’s never been to Soho House.
He lives in the same two-bedroom house in Essex he bought decades ago and drives a Ford Fiesta.
Yet the same Lee Evans is one of Britain’s most successful comedians. His tours, DVDs and books outsell the likes of Russell Brand, Ricky Gervais, Eddie Izzard and Victoria Wood by a country mile, and he picked up a Special Contribution to Comedy gong at the British Comedy Awards in 2011.
In October 2010 he sold 200,000 tickets for his tour on just one day (that’s £7 million-worth). In 2011 he made £10.9 million.
For the past decade the only comic who has regularly beaten him at the box office is the untouchable Peter Kay.
‘In terms of success,’ says Jonathan Ross, ‘he’s been at the top of his game for more than a decade. Lee Evans is probably the comedian most comedians want to be.’
Evans knows how to make an entrance. He arrives slightly late – ‘stuck in traffic’ – with his leg encased in a giant boot brace. It’s like a comedy prop, except it’s real – he broke his left foot.
He’s talking as he walks through the doors, apologising for everything from his lateness to his leg; how his wife is away for a few days and it takes him ten minutes just to get to the door.
He’s had to cook for himself.
‘The instructions said: “Pierce film with a fork” – the fork was on the other side of the kitchen. I couldn’t go all the way across the room so I just punched it through with my fingers...’
Fifteen years ago, when I first met Evans, it was nothing like this. He was so anxious and shy he almost folded himself under the sofa we were sitting on.
Today, at 49, there is an assurance about him that is completely new.
He nods: ‘I used to be terrible. For a long time I was like that; most of my life.
'I never expected to feel confident, but a year or so ago it just happened. I changed. I think its age; it’s a lot to do with my family (his wife Heather and daughter, Mollie) and also the realisation that nothing anyone else says can actually touch me. And I like my life. It’s that simple.’
It has taken Evans several breakdowns, a few failures, a family death and confrontations with Hollywood A-listers to reach this point.
What has driven him this far is pain.
‘The most painful place,’ he says, ‘is the best place for me. It always has been.’
Evans no longer fears pain.
‘I think pain becomes your friend,’ he says. ‘And for me it forces me to push on to the next thing, the better thing, to work out why something hasn’t worked.
'I have never had therapy so I can’t explain it properly, but I think it’s sort of a good thing. For me, anyway, it’s good.’
It hasn’t always been thus. As a child, Evans, his older brother Wayne, now 51, and his mother, Shirley, moved around the country non-stop as his father, Dave, a nightclub performer, attempted to pursue a career in showbusiness.
‘We never stayed anywhere for long. Southport, Blackpool, Bristol, Essex – we moved all the time. I went to dozens of schools. I was always the new boy. I was bullied everywhere I went by the kids, by the teachers.
'I never knew exactly why. It was probably because I was an easy target, I had a weird, funny face and I hardly ever spoke.
‘I remember at one school the teacher made me stand up. He then told everyone to look at me and said: “You are all looking at an idiot.”
'Everyone laughed. I’d get punched, hit, kicked, shouted at. And I believed it. I was a pleb, an idiot, a fool. That’s who I was.’
He speaks with a total lack of anger. The bullying never made him angry – ‘I just accepted it’ – and it never made him speak up at home.
‘I’d have been beaten up for not dealing with it. My mother is a tough Irish woman. You weren’t supposed to bring home problems. There were enough of them.’ Like?
‘Me being born with a hole in the heart (it healed up by the time he was a teenager), having no money, not knowing where we were going to be. It wasn’t the typical household. There wasn’t tea on the table at five o’clock. If you were lucky it would be one in the morning.
‘We’d always have people coming round, Freddie Starr, Tom O’Connor, Mike Reid. All the guys from the comedy circuit would come round when they were touring.’
He never told anyone at school.
‘Why would you want to draw any more attention to yourself? I said nothing. I never said anything anyway.
'People just assumed I was thick.’
He pauses. ‘It was a very eccentric sort of childhood. My parents both did as good a job as they could but it was pretty crazy.’
Most of his evenings were spent watching his father rehearse and perform. Evans watched everything: the musicians, the comics, the singers.
‘By nine I could completely analyse a joke. I got that it had to have pace, timing, a twist; it had to develop, grow. I saw what made people laugh.’
Somewhat randomly he decided on a career as a boxer. Comedy came later.
‘I think I always knew I could do it. I was cripplingly shy and the spotlight terrified me, but it also made me feel right. I knew what to do. It wasn’t till I was about 20 that I really started. Boxing came first. I think it was about facing fears, about fighting back. I liked it.
'What I liked most was being punched; right in the face. I felt I was getting what I deserved. I was a sad, lonely teenager. But I was pretty good – I nearly always came second in a fight.’
Then there was art college at Thurrock in Essex.
‘I loved it,’ he says, ‘but I had to leave because I didn’t have enough money for the fees.’
Evans doesn’t live like a superstar; his idea of a night out is going to the pub with his mates. His life revolves around his wife, daughter and brother. Last year his eight-year-old nephew, Maxwell, died.
Born with a defective lung, a transplant failed to save the youngster’s life.
‘He was an amazing little kid,’ says Evans. ‘He was funny, he was talented. He was one of us. When you go through that it changes you. He left behind a lot of joy and for me he made me feel I should never waste another day of my life. I think about little Max a lot of the time.’
Evans does not classify Maxwell’s death as a tragedy.
‘He gave us a lot, he left a lot of good behind.’
He speaks of other traumas in his life in the same way.
‘I think I’ve had a couple of breakdowns. The first one came after I won the Perrier Award (in 1993). I went a bit mad because I was so worried that I didn’t deserve it. I thought I wasn’t good enough or grateful enough or talented enough.’
In 2001, when he achieved his boyhood dream of appearing in a BBC sitcom, So What Now?, he again suffered a breakdown.
‘I was writing the scripts and then I’d get on set and I’d be given a script with someone else’s name on it. It was like being punched in the stomach and you’d have to start performing feeling like that.
‘The show turned into something completely different from what I intended it to be. It was as if they didn’t trust me, as if they didn’t think I was good enough a writer, but it didn’t work. I had to walk away from doing any more series. I just went home.’
He describes how he spiralled into fear and insecurity.
‘It was Heather who pulled me out of it,’ he says.
Finish reading at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-2299933/Lee-Evans-I-bulli
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Posted By: AAways |
4/01/13 11:27 AM
One thing about him that I like is that he is very humble and never forgets his roots