He was an all-action Sherlock Holmes for TV and now he’s conquering Hollywood in Star Trek. Caitlin Moran joins the actor at his parents’ home for Sunday lunch
I don’t know if you remember, but some time last summer – between the end of the Olympics and the return of The X Factor – it briefly became the thing to have a go at Benedict Cumberbatch for being “a posho”.
However many times Cumberbatch tried to explain that he was “just middle class, really”, a sum kept being done, over and over: “Harrow education” + “called ‘Benedict Cumberbatch’ ” = “A man who wipes his bum on castles”. There was a series of catty columns about it, with headlines like “Posh off to America” and “Poor posh boy”.
The underlying presumption seemed to be that Cumberbatch was some dilettante princeling – stealing roles such as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock, and the painfully repressed landowner Christopher Tietjens in Tom Stoppard’s Parade’s End, that would otherwise have gone to working-class actors such as Danny Dyer, or Shane Richie from EastEnders, and that this was all a great pity.
Of course, as with all these things, it blew over quite quickly – not least because it was superseded by the news that Cumberbatch had been cast in the new Star Trek movie, and was, therefore, about to become one of the most successful British actors of the past ten years. But I am reminded of it all today, in the back of a cab, leafing through a pile of cuttings on Cumberbatch.
“What a load of balls that was,” I muse. “The whole posh thing. What a load of old balls. What a funny old world.”
It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and I have been invited to lunch with Cumberbatch at his parents’ house in Gloucestershire. Star Trek Into Darkness is now about to open and this is the only day he has free to talk. I have made the great sacrifice and taken a train to Swindon.
The cab driver drops me outside the house.
“Here you go,” he says.
I climb out of the car, and stare at a gigantic, honey-coloured mansion, with immaculately tended lawns. Parked in the driveway are a black London taxi and a vintage silver Rolls-Royce.
Last night, Benedict had offered to pick me up from the station, saying he has a “loooooooooovely car”.
“Yes – you have, haven’t you, Benedict?” I think to myself, staring. “You’ve got a lovely pair.”
I crunch up the drive, carrying a massive bunch of flowers and a bottle of wine, and shout through the letter box.
“Hello! I’m from London! I’ve come on holiday, to the countryside, by accident!”
Silence. I circle the house. The place is so big, I can’t work out where the front door is.
I decide to go to ask a neighbour for advice on how to penetrate the Cumberbatch estate.
I head towards a nearby crofter’s cottage.
Benedict Cumberbatch is standing in the doorway of the tiny cottage, in a pair of knackered navy corduroy slippers, watching my progress across the lawn – lavishly strewn with hyacinths – with some curiosity.
“What were you doing at Kate Moss’s house?” he asks, mildly.
Ah. Kate Moss. The working-class girl from Croydon made good. That mansion is her house.
The “posh” Cumberbatches, by way of contrast, live next door: three small rooms downstairs, three small rooms upstairs. Every available surface is covered in books, family photographs or owls.
- “That is a picture of my mother kissing my arse,” he confirms.
- Here’s what it’s like interviewing Benedict Cumberbatch: a bit like interviewing a waterfall. It won’t really answer any of your questions, but it’s fabulous to watch. It’s not that it’s trying to ignore or avoid your questions – God, no. It is endlessly, eagerly forthcoming, and shows a touching courtesy towards the whole notion of being interviewed. It will tell you a story about being stung on the penis by a sea anemone in the same breath as discussing the panic of entering the library at Harrow for the first time: “Because I thought, I probably won’t have a lifetime long enough to read the first shelf – let alone the first room, let alone the whole f***ing library. I’ve always been after the idea of betterment – to know exactly everything about that wine, and tell you about the birdsong I can hear, and to understand the world around me.”
- “I was a kid until I was 18, really. But the one grace of an all-boys boarding school is that you could lie about what you’d done on your holidays. Not like a mixed school, where you had to parade your girlfriend around the playground. I was a bit Hugh Grant around women. ‘Good gosh, er, do you mind if I, erm, touch, ah, it? Gosh, I feel funny now.’
- “S***. S***. It’s already half-past chaffinch. If we get to barn owl, I am never getting to Bristol tonight.”
- “It’s not even politeness. I won’t allow you to be my bitches. I think it sets feminism back so many notches. You are… Cumberpeople.”
- “I’m going to become… non-verbal now,” he says, owlishly. He oils onto the dancefloor, and busts a move to a series of Eighties gay anthems, right under the glitterball.
- “All the things we didn’t talk about!” he lamented. “The Simpsons, New York at new year, Iceland… I’ve seen and swam and climbed and lived and driven and filmed. Should it all end tomorrow, I can definitely say there would be no regrets. I am very lucky, and I know it. I really have lived 5,000 times over.”
And bonus Wanda Ventham:
- his mother comes upstairs, and interrupts in the way that is the birthright of all mothers. She addresses me with some urgency: “Can you just… find him a bird?” she asks. “You must be able to find him a bird. There must be someone in London who’s suitable. I want grandchildren. Please – find my son a bird.”
I love everything this Twitter conversation chooses to be.
Also? NEW Caitlin/Ben interview. I eagerly await this awesomeness, if only to find out if she coins anymore fantastic phrases like “jaguar in a cello”. Plus I want to know more about this Haggan Dasz tale…
One of the reasons I’m in love with Caitlin Moran, who writes Celebrity Watch~
Benedict Cumberbatch is very beautiful. He did break my heart when I interviewed him though. He’s brilliant to get on with and I really liked him as a person but 90 per cent of the reason that I fancy him - and the part that died a bit - was when he said he hated his hair as Sherlock Holmes. He thought they made him look like a girl and he preferred being blondey ginger. I want him to fancy himself as Sherlock but he’s too modest and lovely for that.
|—||Caitlin Moran for GQ (x)|
caitlin moran is sitting next to lara pulver
thEY ARE SPEAKING
THESE ARE TWO OF MY FAVOURITE FAMOUS PEOPLE IN THE WORLD
EXCUSE ME WHILE I DIE
AND I KIND OF SHIP THEM
Caitlin Moran fighting for Cumberbatch Part 2
She’s the greatest Cumberbitch in existence.
Caitlin Moran fighting for the Cumberbatch part 1.
I love you Caitlin.
“it should look like it’s borrowed from the man in your life,” Vogue explained, over shots of tweedy, boyish, single-breasted numbers.
This of course, would be fine if the man in your life is Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock, who rarely has less than a grand’s worth of hot and alluring tailoring hanging on the peg by the front door. Were I to wear a coat borrowed from the man in my life, however, I’d be pitching up to smart dinners in a bright yellow pac-a-mac, decorated with one of Thomas Yorke’s trademark of a sad, abused panda.
|—||Caitlin Moran, The Times Magazine 17.09.11 (via justnaance)|