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Tuesday, 24 April 2012

William Regal


It's 3pm on a cloudy Monday afternoon and I'm sitting in a Wagamamas in the shadow of the O2 arena. Sitting outside, and standing, and generally larking about over-excitedly, there are wrestling fans. They range in age from kids (most), teenagers & students (many) and adults (more than you might think), and they are easily identifiable by their hoodies, wrestling T-Shirts ("Hello", says one bespectacled girls shirt, "I'm AWESOME!") and occasionally by their replica world heavyweight championship belts (I watch a boyfriend take a photograph of his girl holding hers aloft in an aggressively triumphant manner with the O2 in the background), but mostly I can identify them easily because I am one of them.

I am here to hang out with and interview professional wrestler William Regal, and I'm excited for two reasons - mainly because he's William Fucking Regal and I've been a fan of his since the 90's, but also because, as I have discovered over the last few months as we have found ourselves talking more and more on the internet, he's a massive comedy and variety geek. We're almost exactly the same age and I think, in many ways, very similar in terms of personal journeys. I guess today I'll find out if I'm right about that.

I finish my food and spend a happy couple of hours wandering around the O2 people watching. The plan is for Regal to call me when he's available, so until then I get to hang out, eat snacks and make use of the tickets he got me for the show tonight. As we get closer to showtime the hardcore fans start to arrive - they wear vintage wrestling shirts, or Japanese ones, to prove the depth and longevity of their fandom. Whole families pass me - every member wearing the exact same green John Cena shirt - he's the current family favourite - big with kids and mums, but hated by the hardcore. A group of CM Punk fans sit outside the Harvester restaurant - whenever an adult in a Cena shirt goes past, they taunt them mercilessly. It's hilarious.

Gangs of happy dudes pass other happy dudes wearing the same shirt, and happily yell their guys catchphrase at each other, like a code that says "This is fun, huh?", "Yes, this is fun!" - and they're right, fun it is.

If you're not a wrestling fan, all of this might be a little confusing and annoying. Calm down. I'm not going to spend too much time explaining it to you, but I'll answer that one question you'll have. Yes, it's fake. Just like Macbeth, or Spiderman, or Eastenders. And just like any of those things, to focus on the level of its reality, is to miss the point completely. It's fake and not fake at the same time. But more importantly, it's like street performing, or cabaret, or most niche forms of live entertainment - it's deserving of a closer look. Because the more you look at it, the more you understand it, the more you realise that there's some really clever, nuanced, high-level theatre going on here. And some amazingly gifted, skilled, talented and charismatic performers.

Which brings us back to Regal. I'm sitting in the stands watching the opening matches when my phone buzzes and I get invited backstage. Out through door G, then back in through door H, and I'm waiting in the media room, and all the WWE staff are being lovely. Do I want a drink? Something to eat?

And then with a warm handshake and a big grin from us both, he's here, and we're off backstage to go and sit - literally - in a broom cupboard, on folding chairs. The interview lasts about an hour, and covers everything - from his start at the age of 15 wrestling on Blackpool pleasure beach, to what it feels like to work in front of twenty thousand fans who love you, and of course we talk a lot about what he learned from the comedy world and applied to wrestling, and what I learned from wrestling and applied to comedy.

And then we go back out to the media room and I shoot the portrait at the top of the page, and then we sit for another couple of hours and just talk about comedy - he tells me his favourite jokes and some stories from the road and I tell him mine. And we talk about our comedy heroes - Les Dawson, Morecambe and Wise, etc - he recommends a couple to me, and asks me which new comics he should be watching. And it's great. And then he gets a call saying that all the other wrestlers are on the bus back to the hotel and they're just waiting for him, and he has to go.

And then the next night, my wife and I are in the crowd for the second live show - a TV show taping - and he appears on screen and does an Eric Morecambe impression. Live on an American wrestling show. "Do you think that was for you?", asks my wife, "Might have been", and I grin like a child.

You can listen to, and download, the interview here, or - better still - go to the iTunes page and click subscribe to be sure of getting the next episode as soon as it's released.

Oh, and if you like it, please do rate the podcast and leave a review on iTunes - it really helps.

And don't forget, if you live in or around London, you're going to want to come to the monthly live show recording - it's the best variety night in London, and the next one is May 10th - details here.


Anonymous said...

Great photos

Anonymous said...

Great photos....well done