This book takes a couple of hours to read, thus about the same duration as a West End show. And it is a show, a riotous tour de force by one of Wales’ most energetic entertainers and producers.
I have to confess I’m not the laugh-out-loud sort of reader but I most certainly did guffaw, fit to spill my tea, while reading about the night Parri surreptitiously saw Tom Jones’ private parts and, more than that, those of Dame Shirley Bassey as well, or the testing circumstances in which his beloved mother wet herself.
It’s a real romp, this tale of a kid from Rhosllanerchrugog – a village of “highly dramatic women and silent men” – who produced his first school production at the age of three, an augur for a future which would see him take lead roles in ‘Les Miserables’ and stage the opening ceremonies for both the Wales Millennium Centre and the Ryder Cup, where he managed to embarrass himself by not knowing who Arnold Palmer was. In front of American golfers!
There’s a fair bit of toilet humour and a modicum of indiscretion, although he seemingly keeps the good stuff for his one-man show, away from the libel lawyers. Teasingly, he does tell us about the fellow pantomime performers he got on with, such as ‘Marti Caine, Anita Dobson, Derek Griffiths and John Inman. There are more name I could mention but I’ve got nothing nice to say about them.’
But there are plenty of fellow stars and celebrities about whom he does have nice things to say, such as Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas, Siân Phillips and weather-woman Siân Lloyd. She chased after him before finding out he was gay but they remained the firmest of friends, even to the point where Stifyn can tongue firmly in cheek imagine their starting a family, cautioning that ‘with the size of our mouths our child would have a gob like a flip-top bin.’
There are plenty of good lines like that, not least the reference to the way people react to the point of fainting on being in the same room as the Queen. He, on the other hand, has ‘been in a room with countless queens and never even felt lightheaded.’
And there’s a fab story about the death of his pet terrapin named after the Welsh “Queen of the short story” Kate Roberts and the effect of Chinese whispers about the dearly departed amphibian had in his school.
And, being a Welsh performer there is plenty of fun to be had with material such as nicknames: there was the unfortunate man in his village who was once caught with a Purple Heart and earned the sobriquet Hugh Drugs forever after. Then there was George on Order, the local hardware shop owner who never had much stock. And, more affectionately, Marilyn the Chip Shop, his mother.
A close relationship with things in batter led to Parri being overweight early on his life, which led to cruel kids calling him ‘Fatty.’ Later he was branded ‘Poof’ and soon these were conflated as ‘Fatty-Poof.’ Yet Stifyn shrugged off the insults, built inner strength and resolve against such slights.
One of the most devastating moments in his life came as a teenager, when his father died, a man who had gifted him his sense of humour and this made him more custodial about people around him. His mother is tenderly portrayed in the pages of ‘Out with It’ and her warmth, zest and rare enthusiasm for life seems to have been passed on in the DNA.
So there will be readers who find it a shock to find out that Stifyn didn’t come out until he was well into this twenties and then did so in the most public way possible, whilst addressing a protest demonstration against the then Government’s homophobic Clause 28 legislation.
Marching alongside Sir Ian McKellen and some 18,000 protesters on the streets of Manchester led to a moment when Stifyn took to the stage to address the crowd, delivering a speech which culminated with the line ‘Don’t worry, ladies and gentlemen, who the hell is gonna find a closet big enough for all of us?’
The crowd lapped it up even as the TV crews recorded it and then came the realisation that he would have to go home to tell his mother he was gay because the fact would be broadcast on the news. Happily, it led to their relationship becoming even closer and more open. To the extent that he now describes it as a double act.
The book reads like a sequence of golden opportunities for a singer who can’t read music, or an actor who never finished his studies at the Guildhall in London. But faced with opportunities in the real world, and the serious cheques of television Stifyn clearly made the right choice, plumping for roles in ‘Brookside’ and the long-running S4C drama series ‘Coleg.’
And his steely work ethic, not to mention boundless reserves of stamina are very much on display as you turn these pages, not least when one reads about the daily commute from London to Plymouth, rehearsing at the West End by day and performing on stage at night, a gruelling, taxing schedule.
There are accounts of nerve-shredding recalls and the hell of touring, and of stalkers and pet mice and famous actors who couldn’t remember their lines to the extent that half the performance was prompted.
I’m not sure about the bilingual production of the book – published back to back in two languages – and would have thought that two editions, one Welsh and English would have worked better, not least because Stifyn clearly has so much more material at his disposal and so a brisk 120 pages of the English version leaves one wanting more.
But that’s maybe the “Mr Producer” in him coming through, knowing just how to work the audience, goad them towards that next enthusiastic encore. Bravo Mr Parri. Here’s to volume two. And a tad more indiscretion.
Out with It!/Allan â Fo by Stifyn Parri is published by Gomer, http://bcosts £9.99 and can be bought here.