Simon Callow, the writer, actor and director, talks about Oscar Wilde, poetry and his career.


Callow returned to the May Fair Hotel Theatre the very place his own career began – as part of the inaugural Mayfair & St James's Literary Festival.

“The theatre was the very first place that I worked on the theatre side of things,” he said.

“I was asked by the director Sally Miles to be the stage manager for a one-woman play she was performing.

“I had to sit by the side of the stage and provide prompts for her if she forgot her lines. But she never did. After a couple of days I was liberated from the job.”

But it was enough to ignite a lifelong career in the theatre.

At the festival last year, Callow gave a reading of Oscar Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

Wilde has been a huge figure in Callow's life.

He even gave a reading of the same poem outside Reading gaol on the anniversary of Wilde's release from the prison in 1897.

“It's an extraordinary poem and unlike anything else he wrote.

“It's forthright, popular and direct, and the language is deliberately pared down.

“It's a passionate cry of rage at the cruelty of prison life then and it's the last thing he ever really wrote.”

The actor has also written a biography of Wilde, performed his poem De Profundis at the Edinburgh Festival and appeared in the play The Importance Of Being Oscar.

The Poetry Hour

Poetry has played a huge part in Callow's life and career. He has read many poems as part of Josephine Hart's Poetry Hour.

Among his favourites are T. S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats and W.H. Auden.

Auden's poem Funeral Blues gained huge recognition when it was read by the actor John Hannah at the titular funeral in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Callow had an acclaimed appearance in the film.

“Soon after the film came out I went to Foyle's to buy a copy of Auden's poems and there were none at all on the shelf.

“The bookseller said: ‘Yes, and it's all your fault!'”

For the full article in the Mayfair Times, read here.