Dame Edna goes public

Keeping up appearances with Australia's grandest import.

I LOVE DAME EDNA with all my wicked soul. Oh, all right, you could protest that I'm merely distracted by the brilliance of character actor Barry Humphries, the man who created and has portrayed the dowager "megastar" since the '70s, but why ruin my fun? It's Edna Everage I love, thanks to repeated viewings of The Dame Edna Experience, the British chat show on which she quietly skewered her completely tickled celebrity audience members with sardonic politesse (as when complimenting Ringo Starr on his busy, busy music schedule). The Great Dame, a proud Australian, seems nevertheless a warm-blooded personification of that veddy British tea scene in The Importance of Being Earnest—as much a celebration of cunning propriety as she is a mockery of it. She's a housewife who, for dubious reasons, has been elevated to champion hobnobber, and now her rhinestone glitter and "wisteria" coiffure are coming to the Emerald City in a Tony award-winning entertainment billed as Dame Edna: The Royal Tour, in zealous anticipation of which I was granted the following phone conversation.

Dame Edna: The Royal Tour

Moore Theatre runs May 1-13

Seattle Weekly: For those of our readers who are not familiar with your work, could you describe what it is you do?

Dame Edna: I take over a theater—at my own expense—and I talk to the audience. I talk to individuals, whom I later reward with quite expensive presents. I import gladioli from my own gladiola farm in Australia, and I distribute thousands of costly gladioli at the end of the show to the audience. It is a total theatrical experience which you could never get on television or film. It has the excitement of a revivalist meeting, it has the beat of a rock concert, and it has the heart of, well, a Danielle Steele novel.

SW: I was wondering, since you're such a big celebrity . . .

DE: Oh, I'm a person, too. I'm fundamentally a housewife. I'm a housewife who has got lucky with a capital "L."

SW: Ever since Princess Diana's death, it seems like more and more celebrities have been complaining about their need for privacy. Has this been a problem for you?

DE: No, I can't bear privacy. If you're going to be a star, forget privacy. Privacy is the toilet, isn't it? It's the confessional, it's the toilet, it's the tomb. While you're alive, just go public, that's what I say.

SW: Is there an American personality with whom you most identify?

DE: I used to identify very strongly with Eleanor Roosevelt. Because I was her in a former life.

SW: You were?

DE: Yes, I'm very much into reincarnation. As a matter of fact, I put Shirley Maclaine onto that. I put her onto reincarnation, and, of course, she's made money out of it.

SW: Do you think celebrities should be political?

DE: Celebrities very rarely have any brains. They should keep out of it.

SW: Do you ever deal with political matters in your home country?

DE: No; I've been approached to become the Prime Minister of Australia, but I said no. I like my life. I really like traveling. I like exploring. And Seattle—I have absolutely no picture of Seattle in my mind.

SW: Are you planning on doing some sight-seeing?

DE: I'm definitely going to be around. Your readers will see me in shopping malls. They'll see me in churches. . . .

SW: What about at the Space Needle?

DE: Do you know, it is very unlikely that I will go up the Space Needle. I'm not interested on looking down at cities from a height. I don't see the point of it.

SW: Well, it's a nice view.

DE: Oh, well, I'll do it then. Do they have a restaurant?

SW: Yes. It's not a very good one, though.

DE: It never is, is it? The higher you go, the worse the food.

SW: Are you thinking of taking a walk?

DE: You'll see me strolling around. You won't think it's me at first, because I'll being wearing a rather old head scarf. It was a gift to me from the Queen. I said to the Queen once—I wasn't going on with this privacy thing—I just said, "Look, I really would like to go for a stroll and not have to sign autographs all the time." And she said, "Have this." And she unknotted this thing from around her chin and gave it to me. She doesn't give much away, the Queen. Just ask Princess Margaret—she'll tell you.

SW: Some final thoughts: There was some controversy recently because Eminem was up for several Grammys and . . .

DE: [A record company] called me up, I didn't know why—they wanted Elton John's private number. And I foolishly gave it to them. I think they were trying to give Eminem some credibility by getting him to hold hands with Elton. And they probably told Elton it was someone else. They probably said it was Barry Manilow, or I don't think he would have [done it]. I was very disappointed to see it, and I realize that I was responsible.

SW: Are you and Elton fairly close?

DE: Well, Elton and I are old friends. It was I who suggested that he make his rather puddinglike face more interesting by wearing glasses.

SW: Thank you so much for talking to me. I'm so looking forward to seeing you when you come to town.

DE: Keep looking out your little window, and if you see a remarkably well-preserved woman with her head almost totally enshrouded, it'll be me. You can take me up the Needle. We'd better bring our own lunch.


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