JULIAN CLARY: feeling absolutely fabulous at 50

IN HIS 25-year career, Julian Clary has done prime time TV, made a cameo appearance in Neighbours and played panto in Crawley. He s also written one autobiography, two novels, and been the target of a Daily Mail outcry for that Norman Lamont gag at the 19

IN HIS 25-year career, Julian Clary has done prime time TV, made a cameo appearance in Neighbours and played panto in Crawley. He's also written one autobiography, two novels, and been the target of a Daily Mail outcry for that Norman Lamont gag at the 1993 Comedy Awards.

Now at 50, he's returned to where he started, with a stand-up act that includes his trademark audience banter, smutty double entendres and camp costumery including a ringmasters outfit. (A jokey sartorial innuendo in itself.)

Although he's hung onto his Camden Town flat, his main residence is in the Kent countryside (coincidentally next door to Paul O'Grady) with two dogs and a steady boyfriend.

Much of Lord of The Mince's material makes mock of his midlife state - although it has to be said his German genes are standing him in good stead, he looks great.

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"It's really a tribute show to myself by myself," he says with unabashed immodesty.

"Looking at the things I have done in my 50 years, and the things I shouldn't have done. There's a bit of end of the pier to it, I wear top hat and tails and do a psychic experiment with the audience."

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The Surbiton-born comedian marked his milestone birthday last May with a "big garden party" in Kent with family, friends and lots of champagne.

"You've got to have a party. There's no shame in it. If anything there's a sense of achievement and survival. Some of my friends didn't make it to 50."

Approaching 50, he made a self-conscious decision to own a country house.

"I knew that's where I needed to arrange myself to be," he says.

"Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don't. I've still got my place in Camden so I can run away. It's a lovely quality of life but the biggest drawback I can find is the mud."

It's hard to imagine Clary striding across a boggy field with his dogs, one of whom appears to be called "jism".

Clary laughs: "That's just his stage name, he's really called Albert."

When he first hit our radars in the 80s with his stand up act the Joan Collins Fan Club, the English and Drama graduate blew away dodgy memories of camp comedians like Larry Grayson and John Inman.

With his glam make up, outlandish clothes, outrageous innuendoes and dry, cutting asides he was the first "alternative" gay comic and was soon hosting TV shows like Trick or Treat, Sticky Moments, and All Rise For Julian Clary.

Perhaps the projects weren't all great, or he was overexposed, but his career has lately been eclipsed by the likes of Graham Norton and, oh the irony, O'Grady, who were arguably enabled by Clary's trailblazing.

"I have been around the block a few times," admits Clary, who refuses to be seen as "some kind of John the Baptist" for gay performers.

"I don't think anything is my doing, things evolve of their own accord. The biggest change is that audiences are more tolerant of homosexuality and educated about the nitty gritty of gay sex. The things I was talking about have been demystified so they are not liable to cause a sharp intake of breath. My motivation these days is to make people laugh."

Does that mean his motivation before was more political?

"Well everything's political isn't it," he says. "I was never on some great crusade but I did feel a bit self righteous about being there at all.

"My material was never that shocking on the club circuit but when you get on TV and find yourself performing in front of a different audience they might be shocked and I might've quite enjoyed that."

Clary clearly doesn't feel bitter about other performers stealing his limelight "There's plenty of room for everybody".

And although he has drawn the line at reality TV "where you are filmed 24 hours a day, sleep in a dormitory and there's an element of humiliation," he's happy to return to live performance.

This Christmas there was panto where his innuendoes had to be "carefully crafted" for a family show. "But where there's a will there's a way."

Now there's the stand-up tour.

"I like the variety of all the different things I do but there's a certain buzz you get from being on stage that you don't get from doing Just a Minute or writing a book. It's what I started out doing. It's the most thrilling thing because there's always something unexpected when you are messing around with the punters. It's a perilous activity but it allows you to improvise and ad-lib. As long as there's an audience there I will oblige."

o Julian Clary plays the Leicester Square Theatre from March 18-21. www.leicestersquaretheatre.com

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