For Eddie Izzard, a ‘99’ Ice Cream and a Waterloo Sunset Are Wondrous Things

Eddie Izzard, the British comedian-actor-writer-activist-endurance runner, tends to push herself to the limit. And then some.

“I do find — because I had my sort of 10 wilderness years before things took off — that I’ve tried very hard to stay four steps ahead of where I need to be,” Izzard, who is transgender, said in a video interview from London.

She performs stand-up in English, French, German and Spanish. She channels 21 characters in a one-person show of Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations.” She runs multiple marathons for charity — clocking 32 in 31 days in January, each followed by a comedy routine, for her Make Humanity Great Again campaign, which supports global unity and tolerance.

And still, Izzard found time to co-write, executive produce and star in “Six Minutes to Midnight,” set in 1939, about a teacher at a finishing school in the south of England whose students include the daughters of high-ranking Nazis. The film, out Friday, based on a true story she learned about from a museum curator in Bexhill-on-Sea, where her family is from, was a 10-year process: five to develop the characters and five to get her acting to a level where she could play a lead, alongside stars like Judi Dench.

Catch her while you can: Izzard hopes to go into politics in the near future as a member of Parliament for the Labour party, during which she’ll take a hiatus from performing.

With her career in high gear, the timing may not be perfect, but she’s not worried. “There’s the critical momentum you need when you’re going in,” she said, “but that will stick around for when you come out.”

Izzard channeled her trademark whimsy into her list of 10 cultural essentials — from the fantasy world of the Narnia books to the simple delights of an ice cream cone — which she wrote herself. KATHRYN SHATTUCK

1. Edward Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations My mum used to love to listen to classical music. My mum and dad were married in ‘Adan (Aden) in Yemen and Dad talked of her liking to go up onto the roof of a local hotel and play classical music from a gramophone record as the sun set. I think that, amongst others records, she would have played Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations, as it was one of the classical albums that was often played in the house. My mum died when I was only 6 years old, but I do remember hearing different albums played at home in the years she was alive, and this one stuck with me from an early age. The fact that he was called Edward, and so was I, didn’t hurt.

2. “30 Rock” “30 Rock” is just gold dust. If you have a brain and a sense of humor, just buy the first episode. If it grabs you then just do what I did and download the whole box set. The height of great comedy is to be as intelligent as it is bonkers, and this is it. It’s the kind of sitcom that probably only could exist in a post-“Seinfeld” America, and it probably had to fight just as hard as “Seinfeld” did for its own existence over its first few seasons.

3. “David Bowie: Finding Fame” The key thing in this documentary to take home to your brain is that it shows the 10 wilderness years before Bowie took off with Ziggy Stardust in 1972. One needs to know that he was in his first band in 1962, when the Beatles were just taking off. So the stamina that 10 years adrift taught him, and also the few times when it looked like things were taking off but then didn’t, must have informed the rest of his career. I didn’t realize until I watched this that he was at times, in the early days, way off course but he kept regrouping and coming back.

4. “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” by C.S. Lewis It is a great mystical adventure story to feed the imagination of kids. You have to understand that I’m dyslexic and so read very few books, but I read all of the seven Narnia ones when I was young. I later found out that Lewis was lacing in religion to the series, and this made every feel a little hoodwinked about the whole thing. But later, I realized you could just ignore the symbolism if you wanted to.

5. “The Great Escape” A classic war film and one I’ve watched many times. The fact it is based in truth, when a lot of war films in those days were not, makes it even better. I like the film so much, I’ve even watched it in German. As I do my stand-up in German, I was playing Berlin, and I bought the DVD of the film there. If you switch on the German audio track and just have English subtitles, it is a different film. Suddenly they’re all talking German, and so it just becomes a battle between an extreme right regime and people fighting for a return to humanity.

6. “Waterloo Sunset” Written by Ray Davies of the Kinks and performed by them. It’s a song that I’ve always thought was accidentally perfect for me as I knew exactly where to see a Waterloo sunset. Waterloo Bridge is my favorite London bridge (we have many). When I was a street performer at Covent Garden, I used to walk across the bridge to perform in front of the Festival Hall on London’s South Bank. And at some point soon after Covid, I will perform inside the Festival Hall. And then I’ll watch another sunset and I will play “Waterloo Sunset” again.

7. “Pogles’ Wood” If you search for “Pogles’ Wood: Honey Bees” on YouTube, you can see an episode of this early animated TV series that I was mesmerized by when I was about 5 years old. Normally if you watch back at TV shows that you found entertaining at that age, you will find them tired and old-fashioned in modern times. But “Pogles’ Wood” still holds up with its mixture of animated characters, weirdly beguiling music and short pieces of live-action documentary that showed and taught you things from the real world.

8. The “99” Ice Cream What did people do before ice cream? Nobody knows. But the “99” is a staple of the British ice cream world. It is just a basic wafer cone with soft white vanilla ice cream swirled on top of it, but the crowning difference that makes it a thing of genius is a chocolate Flake stuck diagonally (always diagonally) into the side of the vanilla ice cream.

Once you buy your “99,” experienced users will have their own eating ritual to perform. Mine is always to push the chocolate Flake with one finger so that you push it down into the center of the cone. Then you close the hole in the ice cream over with your tongue and carry on eating the cone as if it never had a chocolate Flake. Then, when you are down to the final handle part of the cone, you have a heady mixture of wafer, vanilla ice cream and flaky chocolate to feast upon.

9. “Great Expectations” Charles Dickens was born on Feb. 7, 1812, and slightly bizarrely, I was born on Feb. 7, 1962, 150 years later. Having never read a great work of literature, I thought I should start with a work of Dickens due to the weird link. I chose “Great Expectations” to firstly read and record it to become an audiobook (which I have now done), and then I thought I should turn it into a solo show. So I commissioned my older brother, Mark, to adapt it down from over 20 hours of book into a 90-minute solo performance.

Apart from it being one of Dickens’ more mature books and a great story of Pip, Magwitch, Miss Havisham and Estella, “Great X” is also interesting for me as it starts off down to the South East of London, along the river Thames towards the mouth of the river. This is the Chatham, Kent area of England and was where Dickens grew up, and the book starts here in about the 1820s, which is when he was there as a child. So you hear about “the marshes” direct from his childhood, a place that was barren in the winter and glorious in the summer.

10. The Parks of London I do find them a joy. Are they culture? I think so, for they can inspire. Two of our biggest are slap bang in the center of London. They are Hyde Park and Kensington Park. They are essentially one large park, but they have West Carriage Drive running between that separates them. The ancient Serpentine River runs through them, which was long ago turned into a boating lake. Speakers’ Corner, where anyone can pull up and hold forth on any subject, is in the northeast corner of Hyde Park — which is right by the beginning of the old Roman road of Watling Street. I encourage anyone to take a walk from the bottom corner of one park to the top corner of the other park on a warm and sunny day, and it will feel like a walk in the countryside.

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