Keith Allen Q&A: “I’m in love with corrugated iron chapels and churches”

The actor talks a universal wage, Starbucks’s croissants, and Roy Rogers.

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Keith Allen was born in Wales in 1953. A man of varied talents, Allen is known for the Eighties comedy series “The Comic Strip Presents...”, his turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham in “Robin Hood”, and the 1998 football song “Vindaloo”. He is the father of musician Lily Allen and actor Alfie Allen.

What’s your earliest memory?

Looking for my tortoise, Bill, in the back garden. He had a big bee painted on his shell, in white paint.

Who was your childhood hero? Who is your adult hero?

My childhood hero was Roy Rogers. My hero in adulthood would be Michael Bryant, who’s dead, bless him. His memory lives on. He was an actor at the National, and a wonderful man.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

None, no book’s ever changed my thinking! Hah. That sounds awful, but it’s true.

Which political figure, past or present, do you look up to?

Tam Dalyell. He was a wonderful MP. He had such integrity: he was as honest as the day was long, and everything that he said you believed in, and he believed in.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

It’s weird you should ask. I got invited to go on Mastermind, and I said my specialist subject would be corrugated iron manufacture and design in the Caribbean from the 17th century onwards. I’m in love with corrugated iron buildings, especially chapels and churches. Anyway, they sent back an answer saying their researchers couldn’t find enough questions!

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I would have loved to have been in Hong Kong, or China, in around the 18th century.

What TV show could you not live without?

Mayday: Air Crash Investigation.

Who would paint your portrait?

Lucian Freud.

What’s your theme tune?

“Some Enchanted Evening” performed by Mantovani and his Orchestra. How pathetic! But it’s beautiful, I love it.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Did you follow it?

Yes! It was, “Go on stage when you’re not ready.” I think Harold Pinter told me that.

What’s currently bugging you?

The croissants in Starbucks. They’re shit.

What single thing would make your life better?

A universal wage.

When were you happiest?

I was just thinking about how you celebrate your past, and how important your past is. A friend of ours – mine and my brother’s, and the group we hung out with in the Seventies and Eighties – recently died by suicide. It puts into perspective how treasured those times are. Somehow, the time when you’re happiest has to be related to innocence. I think it would be when I was about nine or ten.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

God, I’ve done so many! I really don’t know, and I don’t know what that means. Does it mean I’m really satisfied, or the opposite?

Are we all doomed?

Wow. That’s a ridiculous question. But the answer would be yes, we are. Yes. 

Keith Allen plays painter William Hogarth in “Hogarth’s Progress” at the Rose Theatre, Kingston upon Thames, from 13 September

This article appears in the 31 August 2018 issue of the New Statesman, How politics turned toxic

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