Stephen Fry: Heroes

Stephen Fry: Heroes

Stephen Fry (Author and Broadcaster) gives expert video advice on: Who are your heroes?; How do you make big decisions? and more...

Who are your heroes?

I think all the people I admire, are themselves, people who admire others. I have very little time for people who don't have heroes. I once heard someone-quite well known, I won't tell you who it is- say "no I don't have any heroes,". I said, that's naff, having heroes. I'm unafraid of worship of others, I mean not unconditional worship; very often, they're faults. My heroes are quite obvious, they're very common to people of my age and culture and generation. People like, Winston Churchill, and Oscar Wilde, if you like, they're hard to avoid. The more surprising ones, I suppose would be, I've always admired enormously, and I met her once and it sent me into a slight shiver; Martina Navratilova. I'm not quite sure why, it's certainly not sexual, I can assure you. It's not because I'm an avid tennis fan, it's something to do with her mixture of competitiveness... I'll tell you what it is, I'll tell you that my heroes are human beings who are a hundred percent themselves all the time. My heroes don't have that self conscious look about them where you think they know someone's watching them, and they're, in that sense more like an animal. A tree frog spends all its time being a tree frog, it doesn't wake up in the morning saying "am I a good tree frog, or a bad tree frog? Do I do well? Gosh, I wish I were a walrus." They just get on with being a tree frog. And Martina Navratilova is a supreme example of just someone who is herself at all times. She brings herself to the party.

What qualities do your heroes have?

I like heroes who are generous. It always saddens me when you find a great artist who is also a son of a..., because it seems naive to say so, but you always expect a hero who's capable of great art or great achievement to have the insight to know how to deal with other people properly and be generous. You read of Dickens beating his wife, you think, "how could someone who exposes the folly, vanity, wickedness and weakness of others so brilliantly, not be more generous and behave better? How bizarre. If he was a character in his own book he would hate himself. How can that be? Why can Wagner be such a great artist? He produced the most perfect art of the nineteenth century, but he was a pig". It's really annoying to me, that.

Where does your inspiration come from?

I suppose because I was not, physically very adept at school, and because I was not musically very adept, the one thing that I felt was my domain was language, and I drew inspiration from it. I loved words, not necessarily the power or the knowledge or even the reason that one could employ them to impart and to generate, but actually the physical texture of words, and the dance words led on the tongue, the way words could be used to seduce, to amuse, to entertain, I'm naturally talking of Wilde- I remember seeing a film of the Importance of Being Earnest, and the character of Algernon saying "Would you be in any way offended if I said that you seem to me to be the visible personification of absolute perfection?". I was about ten; I remember thinking 'Good God! I did not know that language could do that. That you could do that with words. You could make something so beautiful.' That it was like a dance coming out of the tongue. It was just the most seductive and beautiful thing. So I set myself to the pleasure of language; poetry and reading, and being amused by the sheer rhythms, just the sound of words hitting the tip of the tongue. And so my greatest influences and inspirations were people who used language magisterially and brilliantly, sometimes lightly, like P.G Woodhouse, but with exceptional skill and caused great wonder.