Eager to Cleese

20 December 2001 by
Eager to Cleese

Ed Wells might not be strictly in the hospitality business, but he has impersonated TV's bad-tempered hotelier Basil Fawlty character at a variety of events for the past six years.

One of the biggest challenges I have faced was pacifying a group of angry hotel guests in Holland. I was doing my impersonation of Basil Fawlty, but they thought I was the rude and unhelpful manager of the hotel hosting the event. Perhaps Basil was better characterised than I had originally thought.

There's precious little that is "usual" in this business, so I don't really have a typical day. As most of my gigs are evening events, I have become a bit of a night owl, which means I like to sleep until about 10am.

I like to eat a decent breakfast before leaving for long gigs as I never know when I will next get something to eat. I take snacks with me and often stop at service stations or fast-food outlets for lunch.

I generally travel to events by car as I prefer to rely on myself to get there. Living in North Wales does have its disadvantages, but my favourite pastime, sailing, and the beautiful and relaxing scenery keep me here.

I usually travel on the day of a gig, unless it is impossible. I have done some work in mainland Europe and have even had interest from across the pond. Believe it or not, they do understand the humour.

I try to get to the venue about two hours early, which leaves me with enough time to go through the running order, meet the organisers and familiarise myself with the layout. I can get wound up with nerves beforehand, but once I'm in full costume and out there, everything just comes together.

Before getting into this business I was an interior designer, and the nearest I had come to Basil Fawlty was a job for a local hotel. I have always had comments about my similarity to the Torquay hotelier. I am even the same height (6ft 7in) and I have always loved the Monty Python humour. After seeing an advert asking for lookalikes I decided that following it through would be the dream job.

A typical gig would be a corporate event where you would find me meeting and greeting guests at the reception, acting as toastmaster and sometimes doing a few improvised sketches, especially if Manuel or Sybil lookalikes are there.

I also do a lot of weddings and events for hotel groups such as De Vere and Hilton. They tend to be the most receptive audiences, perhaps because they can identify to some extent. I was even once told that the series was not so much a comedy as a documentary of the industry.

Watching the guests realise who I am is the best part of a gig. Many of them don't know I have been booked and I love seeing their faces when the penny drops. I have to be very careful with the material I perform as not all the guests appreciate Basil fully.

After one of my most embarrassing moments, when I unwittingly performed the "Don't Mention the War" sketch to a table of guests from Germany, I now make sure I check with organisers to see whether there are any guests likely to be offended.

I often entertain through dinner, providing hospitality table to table. I usually get a meal, sometimes eating with the guests.

Once the event is over I will either drive home or stay at a nearby B&B. It does take a bit of time after an event to come down, but I find that plenty of sleep is the best way to relax.

interview by Lorraine Arnott

Just a minute…

Have you ever met John Cleese? I met Andrew Sachs, the original Manuel, at the Acorn Club Ball earlier this year, and he was impressed by my likeness to Basil. We did a few sketches together.

I have never actually met John Cleese, although he is aware of me and has even seen my Web site. I hear he is also quite impressed by the likeness. If I were to meet him, I am not sure what I would say. I don't think I could think of a question suitable enough beforehand - it would have to be something spontaneous.

What do you most fear happening in your job? People not "getting" it, and offending people.

Who would you invite to a dinner party? It would have to be John Cleese, Andrew Sachs and Connie Booth.

What is your message to Tony Blair? Don't mention the war.

Ed Wells

01492 596870www.johncleese.co.uk
Charge: between £350 and £400 for a personal appearance

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