■ The comedian, 61, talks about the Three Lions song, review mania and why he’s not in his first play Nina’s Got News
Who is Nina and what’s her news?
I can’t tell you as it would be a huge spoiler — but she’s just dumped her boyfriend and has some big news she wants to tell her friends. She’s concerned by the amount of disbelief she’ll be confronted with.
Are you concerned audiences will come along thinking it’s about ITN newsreader Nina Hossain?
I’d be happy with that as long as they pay. I can convert them when they get there. I had an idea for a play the other day — there’s an Elvis spiritual where he sings, ‘My steps may falter, my eyes may grow dim, but he’s my Gibraltar, I’m counting on him.’ So I wondered if I could write a play about the discussion in the studio when Elvis didn’t know what Gibraltar was and people had to explain its significance.
Why aren’t you in it?
I think it’s the way forward. The human face gets harder to look at as it gets older. I usually write things so I will appear witty and interesting. I used to write sitcoms and it was basically people feeding me lines and me knocking them out of the park. That’s not a good way of writing.
Will you read the reviews?
I don’t usually. I was in an audioplay recently and a review described my performance as ‘near perfect’. The use of the word ‘near’ kept me awake for several nights. It’s better if I don’t read reviews but I feel I have to with this — it will be difficult. I run them over in my mind and find them torturous. I read reviews of other plays and they’ll say, ‘I love it, amazing’ and it gets four stars. What do you have to do to get five? My partner sent me a picture a couple of years ago of our child standing next to a poster for one of my stand-up shows. She said, ‘Look at this picture of him looking up at his dad.’ I thought, ‘Hold on, they’ve put four-star reviews on the poster,’ and my immediate response was to phone my management and say, ‘Take down the four-star reviews, I only want five up.’ What was a beautiful moment turned into showbiz hysteria.
Are you surprised your Three Lions song reached No.1 again?
Totally gobsmacked. I wasn’t totally sure what a meme was before this World Cup and now there’s 93 ‘It’s coming home’ memes. When we made it I thought it would be a hit — and it was. I didn’t expect it to be No. 1 again in 2018. It’s very unlikely. And apparently we had to sell twice as many songs to get to No.1 than all the other songs in the chart. They put a handicap on older songs — because otherwise you’d never get a new Christmas No.1 because Slade and Wizzard get the most downloads and plays each Christmas than anything else. But we broke through the handicap.
Does this mean you’ll get a nice cheque in the post soon?
I’ve never made a secret of the fact I have a few bob. I remember getting the cheque for the total Three Lions run in 1996 and it was something like £31,000. I thought if you had a No.1 record it would be more. I knew the singer Nick Lowe, and his agent once phoned him to say, ‘I’ve got a cheque here for £1million because your song (What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding is on The Bodyguard soundtrack.’ That’s what I thought it was like. It was much less than I expected. And this time I imagine it will be even less. I only get 25 per cent as well — Ian Broudie wrote the music on his own and David Baddiel and I wrote the lyrics together, so we get a quarter.
What are your memories of doing it on Top Of The Pops?
The Bee Gees were on and so was Celine Dion. People mimed on Top Of The Pops and I not only mimed to the singing but also to the French horn — I love the idea there’s a person in Britain who thinks I was playing the French horn on Top Of The Pops.
What Room 101 arguments have you found difficult to relate to?
There are some I’m categorically against. Fern Britton tried to put science fiction in there and I couldn’t be party to that. I like it when people go for more obscure things, especially if I think they mean it. The trouble with comics is I often think they’ve decided to suggest something for Room 101 because they’ve got a bit of material on it. Sarah Millican came on and suggested chicken kievs that don’t have enough ‘kiev’ in them. I really believed her when she talked about the difference between a flat, dry chicken kiev and those that ooze life. That’s the sort of thing I like.
Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
To do a second play — but maybe not if this bombs. This has all been a bit fast-tracked. Someone phoned and said, ‘If you write a play, we’ll put it on at Edinburgh.’ It’s usually more difficult for people than that. You have to turn up to theatre green rooms with dog-eared scripts and talk about crowd-funding — but someone from the BBC phoned me up and here we are.
Nina’s Got News is at Pleasance’s Queen Dome as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from August 1 to 26. edfringe.com