But there, click-clacking just ahead of me in a tunnel underneath Oxford Circus, his broad shoulders the only clue to his real gender, is the inimitable Eddie Izzard. “Eddie,” I stop him. “Fabulous to bump into you again.” I’d met Britain’s greatest stand-up comic a few times when I was editing Time Out in the ‘90s. “I wouldn’t expect to find you down here.”
Eddie raises a quizzical eyebrow above his shades and smiles: “Well, you’ve got to be using public transport if you’re going to be running for Mayor.”
I shepherded Eddie through his first self-penned magazine piece on his transvestism, and later put him on the cover dressed in a bowler hat and single false eyelash like Alex from Clockwork Orange. But when he told me at a party that he was off to crack America, I was dismissive: they might not “get” his surreal, free-wheeling humour. Ha! He not only became a huge stand-up hit, but a Hollywood and US TV star. This year alone he’s been in several episodes of Hannibal, taken the lead in a Gilles McKinnon movie about the pioneer of Radar, acted alongside Dustin Hoffman and Kathy Bates in next year’s Boychoir, and joined in with his beloved Pythons on Terry Jones’s new film Absolutely Anything.
And let’s not forget that, in 2009, he completed 43 marathons in 51 days for Sport Relief. So when he assures me now, of his political ambitions, “I’m a fighter, and we need fighters,” it’s clear that you have to look beyond the red nail polish.
“People often want a simple yes or no answer in politics,” he talks as we walk, “when the answers aren’t simple. The extremists are popular because they give simple answers, like ‘Everything will be fine if we just get out of Europe.’ But things weren’t fine before that, so why should that suddenly solve everything?”
And if Boris bows out as expected in 2016 [Update: Boris has just announced he will run for MP in 2015, standing down as Mayor in 2016], might Izzard run for Mayor then? “I couldn’t. I’ve always said it would be in 2020. I’ve spent time building this career, and anyway, politics is a fiendishly complex business and I need to learn.”
After a slight wobble on the escalator – those killer heels can be murder – we stand talking for a while above ground at Oxford Circus. “I might fuck up, at first. But the way I see it, everyone fucks up. Boris does all the time and it doesn’t hurt him; even Obama does. It’s the way you deal with your fuck-ups, your approach to fucked-up-edness, that counts.”
It’s endearingly Izzard, to coin a word like “fucked-up-edness”. It’s not a concept many politicians would admit to, let alone a term they might use. He takes off his shades, and it appears they are neither a style statement nor a disguise: he has a touch of red-eye. “I expect I’ll get raked over by the press, though, about the dress thing,” he says thoughtfully.
Really? It’s not exactly a secret. And besides, it’s a great look. In the early days Eddie resembled a trucker in drag; now he’s more Hillary Clinton than Anne Widdecombe.
“No, but apart from me, and then [the artist] Grayson Perry, there aren’t exactly many transvestite role models. That said, I did some campaigning recently in bright red lipstick, and no one turned a hair, no one mentioned it. It had to be bright red, for Labour! That was the only joke I was allowed to put in the speech,” he adds, a little ruefully.
Boris has his trademark floppy hair. Would lipstick and heels really be such a stretch for voters?
I shake Eddie’s immaculately manicured, surprisingly delicate hand, and wish him well. “Enjoy the sunshine,” he says cheerily, and strides confidently into the churning crowds of London’s busiest intersection, thin black heels clacking.
Eddie Izzard for Mayor? I was wrong about his chances once. I won’t be betting against him again.