Simon Callow: Live fast, live well – just don’t live too long

“Non, rien de rien, non, je ne regrette rien”

Simon Callow (Getty, EH)

What do you see in the mirror?

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I see a nearly 70-year-old man in good health and vigour, but with a finite amount of time left on this planet. Realistically, so many of my friends are dying and I don’t want to go on and on if it means taking vast numbers of prescription drugs.

You don’t want to live for ever?

But I’ve lived! Not to have lived would have been the worst thing. Though the subject is given more vivid importance because my husband Seb [he married Sebastian Fox last year] is 35. We haven’t had that conversation actually, but I suppose we shall.

You’re 68, he’s 35… how do you deal with the age difference?

We have very different energies. Seb is very lively and in fantastic physical condition, but he’s much more inclined than I am to sit down and just take things calmly. I’m always up before him, doing whatever needs to be done.

What needs to be done?

Lots! Parts I want to play, films I’d like to direct. Books that not only would I like to write, but I have to write because I’m contracted to. And I’ve been commissioned to write a play; that needs mental space, focus and concentration. Above all, it needs time, and where the hell am I going to get that from?

You could live like a millennial, and give up alcohol?

What’s going on with millennials? They remind me of what Field Marshal Montgomery said to Churchill: “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I eat moderately. I’m celebrating my 80th birthday tomorrow.” And Churchill said, “How?” Statistics say millennials don’t have very much sex, either.

Your character in The Rebel, Henry, is 70 and still likes sex…

Yes, the sex with his late wife was pretty damn hot and he still likes to cover the waterfront, sexually. I think Henry is just as interested in men as he is in women. Still, it’s hard on the knees… Even if the machinery isn’t so great, these things are possible!

As a biographer of Dickens, are your shelves full of his works?

I do adore Charles Dickens – he knew what it was to be poor and had an absolute engagement with the world. If he were around today he’d talk about the benefits of the EU. He’d say Britain was in the hands of a gang of ruffians. Dickens was determined to harness his fame to the cause of mankind.

Would you like to do that?

Well, I made a total fool of myself on Question Time. I went on to talk about the Arts Council cuts and once I’d done that, I was stuck! They were very disappointed with me, but David Dimbleby was lovely. I think he was quite amused that I had so little to say.

From your sofa, can you see any pictures on your walls?

Yes, but I wish that I could afford to buy examples of the work of my ancestor, William Callow, who was a wonderful watercolourist from the 1800s. Great, great, great.

But we thought you were rich?

You shouldn’t think that! I’m a financial delinquent and I haven’t spent my money at all sensibly. But non, rien de rien, non, je ne regrette rien.

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Simon Callow stars in series two of The Rebel, which begins on Wednesday 29th November at 10pm on Gold