Like the parents of so many comedians, his too are Catholic. They were delighted when young Julian won a scholarship to St Benedict’s – they wouldn’t have been able to afford it if he hadn’t. The burden of his good fortune weighed on him, however, when life at school began to take an unpleasant turn. “School was very, very tricky.” Years later, he told them what really went on, although the truth could not have escaped them for ever. In 2009, Father David Pearce, the school’s former head, was jailed for eight years for abusing five students. Then, last October, it emerged that the Vatican had ordered an inquiry into similar allegations involving other staff. Father Laurence Soper, the now 80-year-old former Abbot of Ealing Abbey, was arrested, but jumped bail. He is still being sought by police.It is this kind of oppressive atmosphere which provides a cover for the crimes that Pearce and others committed.
Julian Clary lives, he says, “in a village”, but even in his Lexus 4x4 with blacked-out windows it would take ten minutes to reach the nearest pub. Which is fine by him. “I’m not one for mixing and mingling,” he says in his tart, poised, quiet drawl, a soothing voice honed over many months as a young teenager in defiance of some of the monks at St Benedict’s, Ealing Abbey. They used to come after Clary and his best friend, Nick, with canes and miniature cricket bats. “Each one had his weapon of choice,” he says, with quiet disparagement.
His schooldays were horrible. How satisfying it must be to see one of the monks, David Pearce, getting his comeuppance for crimes committed at the school – very serious crimes, of child abuse. We will return to the monks and Clary’s wretched schooldays later. Suffice to say for now that Clary believes the high camp of his act and, more importantly, his urge to succeed, was a retaliation: “It’s my revenge on being bullied at school and on the monks and on that repressive situation [to become] the most outrageous, amusing character, that people actually like.”
“Even though I was only 12 and I was never molested, we knew something funny was going on. We knew there was something strange about this monk [Pearce]. He used to sort of waft around and had this grin on his face. And he was always hanging around outside the boys’ toilets. I’m fascinated that it went on for so long. And the damage that has been done to these boys who are now men is… unforgivable.”
One can imagine that his immunity to all this lay partly in his angry exhibitionism. Quentin Crisp inspired the teenage Julian and his friend Nick to camp up their voices. They became deliberately provocative, effeminate, homosexual; “mincing around. And I quite enjoyed that.” The monks did not, and often said so. Clary’s tutor would frequently take him to one side and utter the ominous phrase, “You bring it on yourself.” “But he would never say what ‘it’ was.” What does Clary think “it” was? With disdain, he replies: “The persecution.”
Saturday, 14 April 2012
In an interview in the Times Magazine today (behind paywall), Julian Clary has spoken out about his time as a pupil at St Benedict's School.