Russell Brand has been many things in his 41 years: stand-up comedian, heroin addict, movie star, Andrew-Sachs-offending national disgrace, reality TV host and three-time winner of The Sun’s ‘Shagger of the Year’, to name but six. And just when it looked like he was set to spend the rest of his days fopping around Hollywood as the token English eccentric, he recast himself as a real-life revolutionary.
In October 2013, Brand used a Newsnight interview to call for “a socialist egalitarian system based on the massive redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation of corporations and massive responsibility for energy companies and any companies exploiting the environment”. It was a far cry from making knob gags on a Big Brother spin-off, but it struck a chord with a public who at the time could only tell the difference between the three major political parties by looking at what colour tie their leader had on. Brand threw himself into activism, writing a book called Revolution, launching his YouTube channel The Trews and getting involved in the successful campaign to save the New Era housing estate in Hackney from redevelopment.
The media, however, largely focused on just one aspect of the original interview: the fact he’d told Jeremy Paxman that he didn’t think people should vote. Then, on the eve of the 2015 election, Brand changed his mind and urged people to vote for Labour’s Ed Miliband – who promptly lost resoundingly, and resigned.
In the wake of the election, Brand retreated from public view. He enrolled in a degree while the tabloids mocked his decision to move to a £3.3m house near Henley-on-Thames with his fiancée Laura Gallacher, who last year gave birth to a daughter they gave the deliberately un-celebrified name Mabel. Having licked his wounds, Brand is resurrecting himself with a stand-up tour, Re:Birth, and a new show on Radio X. We meet him in the luxurious gardens of Danesfield House, a fancy hotel near his home that’s so decidedly un-insurrectionist that George Clooney had his wedding after-party here. He’s watching his “recalcitrant hound”, a German Shepherd named Bear, lollop through the gardens. The dog, he says, has “self-control issues… I don’t know where he’s picked that up from.”
While he can’t resist that knowing joke at his own expense, Brand in person now cuts a calm, sage figure. Wearing a Trews T-shirt and gym gear, hair tied up in a bun, beard flecked with grey, he’s more Zen yoga enthusiast than marauding sex pirate. He may be less vocal with his righteous ire, but he still believes, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, that society need not be so venal. He even recently filmed himself registering to vote for the first time, meaning Britain’s most notorious non-voter could be about to cast his first ballot. Which raises the question…
Cover story for NME, 12 May 2017.