Upon greeting cultural icon Dame Edna Everage, one feels they’ve just got to bow, kiss her hand, curtsy even. Beyond mere entertainer, Edna is virtual royalty on Australian shores if not just a brilliant ambassador for our nation when she is abroad. And a broad, for no one cares much for Barry Humphries’ misogynist alter ego, Sir Les Patterson. Nowhere near as much as they adore the Dame, anyway.
The morning I met with Dame Edna for tea and scones, in a posh hotel suite in the heart of Perth CBD, I brought her a gift of a pair of pointy typical Edna-like glasses but with minimalist white rims and dark lenses. She loved them but said the shade, unfortunately, didn’t go with her dress: a vivid purple and royal blue number dripping in sequins and beads.
That’s the thing about Edna. For a great dame, she’s strangely entitled to throw social decorum out the proverbial window, and the wit that comes crashing down is so darn funny, the person on the receiving end of the sarcasm doesn’t feel the slightest bit offended. She’s also quick to change tact, or at least the subject, to soften any possible blow.
“What an interesting implement you’ve got there!” exclaims the Dame, pointing to a Zoom video recorder my assistant (and very own ‘Madge’), Moli, is holding so as to record the interview for full posterity (well, for YouTube). The instrument does indeed look like the sort of thing one would hide in the lower drawer beneath the lingerie, but the fact it has a flash coming out of the top of it has this old-fashioned gal in a tizz.
After some serious posing for photographs in front of a tall vase of gladioli, she in her purple pointy specs, me and my plus-one donning the white pairs of sunnies we’d brought along, we begin our tête-à-tête.
Interview by Antonino Tati
Dame Edna, it is an absolute pleasure to be speaking with you.
I know it is, thank you.
Basically, Dame, you pioneered flamboyant dressing in Australia, which was once so ocker.
I don’t call it flamboyant; I call it expressive.
Expressive to the degree that we now have butch football players on television daring to get into flamboyant dressing. Or ‘expressive dressing’.
Actually, don’t you think they’re overdressed, these footballers these days? And the bright colours of cricket people. And they wear those cages over their faces…
It’s all a bit ‘Silence of the Lambs’, really.
It is! It’s very Silence of the Lambs! [Laughs hysterically].
“So I went to Brazil and I had some crow’s feet put in. And a little double chin. Just to make me a little more like my age.”
On that note, have you seen any of the more ‘expressive’ performers in places like Kings Cross, Sydney?
[She puts on that look a mother might express when she discovers a Playboy magazine beneath her son’s mattress:] I never go there.
Have you seen it from a distance, or on film? Say, ‘The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’?
Oh yes, I saw that one, and I enjoyed that one. I went with Kenny, my son. He loved it, of course.
Does Kenny realise his Mum pioneered ‘expressive fashion’ in Australia, and that you really opened the floodgates for dressing up?
[The word ‘floodgates’ has her in hysterics again:] I don’t think Kenny does. My son is a couturier, though. He designed this lovely dress that I’m wearing now. And look at this. [Here the Dame lifts the hem of her dress then lightly strokes the embroidery on her chest; I’m losing it with laughter now].
The detail on that thing is phenomenal. It must be a bitch to dryclean.
Look, when it comes to taking something to the drycleaners, it’s not a task I perform. I leave it to one of my… people.
These people [I presume she means the help], do they have to put up with a lot in the life of Dame Edna Everage?
No, they are privileged. The people who work for me are the luckiest possums on the planet.
When you introduced international fans to Australiana, such as calling people possums, did you have a lot of explaining to do? Particularly with our colloquialisms, like ‘shrimp on the barbie’.
Well that was something that Paul Hogan did, really: the shrimp on the barbie, forgetting that we actually call them prawns. But he lost track of his Australian roots very early on. What happened to him? [Coming across as forlorn now:] Where is he, Hoges?
Tax exile, I think.
And not one of cosmetic surgery’s successes.
“I like to burn up as much energy as possible. I have a huge carbon footprint. I wish it were bigger.”
On that subject, are you pro cosmetic enhancement?
No. I have had a little cosmetic surgery.
Really? You wouldn’t know it.
I was just too young-looking. I looked too young. So I went to Brazil and I had some crow’s feet put in. And a little double chin. Just to make me a little more like my age. The doctor found this piece of flesh at the bottom of his deep freeze. I said, ‘What is that, by the way?’ and he looked at the little label on the plastic shrink wrap, and it was Elizabeth Taylor’s love handle. [Pregnant pause]. It came off Elizabeth Taylor’s tummy, this. And there [pinches the left of her chin], can you see a little half-moon? Well that’s Richard Burton’s fingernail moon there. It’s historic. My double chin is historic!
Fantastic. That’s genuine recycling. How are you in a domestic sense? Are you very modern? Do you have separate recycle bins and use low energy?
No, no. I like to burn up as much energy as possible. I have a huge carbon footprint. I wish it were bigger.
Well it’s the only way to get the economy rolling, really.
You know, I must tell you, and this is a scientific fact: the ozone layer above me is the thinnest in the world.
Dame Edna’s ‘My Gorgeous Life’ national tour commences in Canberra next Tuesday 17 September and then travels to Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Geelong, Newcastle, Melbourne and Perth (see full tour dates below). Tickets are on sale through www.tegdainty.com.
Also, you really ought to check the interview as it was shot live, below.
Dame Edna My Gorgeous Life national tour dates:
Canberra Theatre Centre
Tuesday 17, Wednesday 18 & Thursday 19 September
Darling Harbour Theatre, ICC Sydney
Saturday 28, Sunday 29 September & Saturday 5 October
Concert Hall, QPAC
Tuesday 1 & Wednesday 2 October
Adelaide Convention Centre
Wednesday 9 & Thursday 10 October
Deakin’s Costa Hall
Saturday 12 & Sunday 13 October
Thursday 17, Friday 18 & Saturday 19 October
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
Wednesday 23, Thursday 24 & Friday 25 October
Riverside Theatre, Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre
Wednesday 30 October