There’s no love lost between BILLY CONNOLLY and the Scottish press. So when both camps met to talk about forthcoming film Mrs Brown, sparks surely had to fly. The List was invited for an exclusive peek behind the scenes. Words: Alan Morrison
18 THE LIST 7—20 Mar 1997
. King of the castle: Billy Connolly and Judi bench at the 1997 Edinburgh Film Festival
INTO THE ARENA they came, expecting the bloody spectacle of the Christians versus the Lion. But the Scottish press are an ungodly lot and Billy Connolly no longer sports a shaggy mane. No, these days he’s a pussycat, his coHeaguessay.
It is twenty years since Connolly held a press conference in Scotland, although his sparring matches — verbal and otherwise — with the nation’s press pack are legendary. Nevertheless, here he is in the capital for the Edinburgh Film Festival premiere of Mrs Brown, the table before him overﬂowing with tape recorders and microphones. the television cameras ready to roll.
Earlier in the week, I’d been asked by the company distributing the film to chair the proceedings — introduce the cast and crew, regulate the flow of the questions from the ﬂoor. Here was a unique opportunity to watch the events unfold before, during and after.
Saturday, lpm, and lunch at The Atrium, where Mrs Brown’s key personnel are assembled. l’m introduced to Connolly. ‘The List‘?’ he says, eyes twinkling. ‘Years ago I did a lovely interview with The List.’ Should I deflect any questions, tell the journalists to stick to the film and not stray into his private life? ‘No, no. I’ll take on anything. I’m not being laddish, it’s just I don’t care. They can ask me anything.’
Throughout the meal he’s happy, relaxed, glowing in a confidence that comes from receiving universally positive reviews about his role as John Brown, the Highland ghillie who brought Queen Victoria out of her deep grief after the death of Prince Albert. At his side is his wife Pamela — formerly Pamela Stephenson of Not The Nine O'Clock News fame, now a professional psychotherapist. The pair make plans for the Fringe shows they plan to catch over the next few days. Disco Pigs is high on the agenda. At a table nearby, a former media colleague is greeted warmly.
Ninety minutes later, walking across Lothian Road to the new Standard Life building that will house the press conference, I tell Connolly how a certain scene between him and the magnificent Judi Dench as Victoria brought tears to my eyes. He punches me lightly on the arm. ‘Yes. that’s it. Everyone gets something from it.‘
He spins off into praise for Dench. hinting that Britain’s respected theatrical Dame has an unexpectedly wicked sense of humour. ljoke that when in the film he strips off and runs naked along a beach. everyone will know why he’s nicknamed ‘The Big Yin‘. ‘Ayc. it’s the size of my arse.‘ he says. going one better. Then he admits he saw Mrs Brown in LA, the first time he has ever watched himself on screen; previously he‘d always felt weird. a bit superstitious maybe. about watching the back of his own head walk away into the distance.
It’s all smiles when he enters the room, and that friendly atmosphere continues right through the press conference. which grows from a question-and-answer session into a one-man comic masterclass. But it is worth dwelling on the film for a moment. Conceived as a television piece by BBC Scotland. Mrs Brown is now discreetly holding its own in America against the summer blockbusters and is tipped by influential distributor Miramax as a 1998 Oscar contender (they should know, having swept the boards with The English