Shaun Ryder is talking TV. As one of Gogglebox’s resident celebrity armchair critics, alongside partner in crime Bez, he’s happy commentating on the small screen.
The X Factor (RIP) had its place for family viewing, he reckons – it’s good if you “sound like Frank Sinatra and can do a dance”, although he knows Happy Mondays “wouldn’t have made it through auditions” – but he has no patience for Love Island: “I can’t watch a load of adults with minds of babies.”
Ryder also keeps up with the news, especially in the 18 months since COVID-19 first hit. “The problem is, though, I don’t retain stuff, like that’s just on and done, so I’ve got to be constantly told what’s going on. Otherwise, it’s just gone.”
At 58, Ryder now, finally, has discovered the reason for his short attention span, previously blamed on his well-documented years of excess as the Madchester era’s most recognisable party animal. He was diagnosed with ADHD earlier this year, which was “like a light bulb going on” in his brain.
“It explains everything,” he says in that unmistakable Mancunian accent. “I went and got tested because out of my four daughters I had two that had [been] diagnosed with ADHD. My youngest girl was finding difficulty with the education side of things and everything. And then I went and got tested and it’s all come from me.
“But as soon as I got the result… one, it told me why my life’s been so chaotic, you know, why I didn’t learn the alphabet till I was 28 years old. Why I find things like just paying bills difficult and lots of other stuff… why as a young man, a young kid, you know, when I took drugs, I felt normal. I didn’t feel like my underpants was on back to front, you know? I felt like I was in my own skin.”
ADHD is not the only diagnosis Ryder has received recently, having caught COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic in 2020. He thinks he is suffering from long COVID, although it is getting better. “I’d be guaranteed once or twice a week I’d go completely under and have to go to bed, but over the months and months now that’s got less and less,” he says. “I’ve not had another episode for quite a few months now but I do still get one every now and then I’ll just end up floored.”
He pauses before adding: “I could breathe, though. Main thing with me is I’ve got a fixation about breathing, so as long as I could breathe, it was all right… yeah, it’s not a good idea not to breathe, is it?”
Ryder has also had to deal with his hair falling out, the result of a change in his treatment for an underactive thyroid a few years ago. Now, it looks like it’s starting to grow back. “No, that’s a tattoo!” he says. “That’s called skin pigmentation, that, so are my eyebrows, same thing.”
The doctor told him the reason for losing his hair was stress, he says. “But to me, I’ve been the least stressful in the whole of my life.”
He certainly seems content, and has long extolled the virtues of clean living after his years of taking heroin and other drugs. He is still working with the Happy Mondays and his second band, Black Grape, and is also just about to release a solo album, Visits From Future Technology, which comes almost 20 years after his first, Amateur Night In The Big Top, which was released in 2003.
The songs on this album were actually written years ago, before he reinvented himself in the I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! Jungle in 2010, and then put on the shelf while he continued to build on the nation’s newfound appreciation. During lockdown they were discovered “down the back of a sofa” and he decided to do something with them. Did he have to rewrite much to bring them up to date?
Not really, he says. “I mean, I’m always writing about the same old crap. I write about the same stuff I did back in ’88, which is like anything, madness, what I see on television, or conversations with people, or escapades that Bez gets up to and, you know, all the same stuff that I’ve wrote about for years, really. Nothing really changes in my mind. I’ve got about a million things going on at once, they all get to come out in songs.”
Fittingly, the first single is called Mumbo Jumbo. There’s also a track called Popstars Daughters, which is a tongue in cheek warning, he says. “A long time ago when I was a good looking young pop star – I could have been called a pop star, I don’t suppose now – but I’ve got four daughters, and I’ve also dated a couple of pop stars’ daughters, so… the song really I wrote for my girls is a bit of a tongue in cheek sort of thing.”
“I know people have had a really bad time and people [have been] locked up on the 24th floor of the tower blocks and that, but I had an all right, er, lock up… what was it called again, when we all stopped doing it? Lockdown, yeah! I had a pretty all right lockdown. I haven’t spent that amount of time at home in the last 25 years. I got to spend a lot of time with the wife and the kids and the family.”
But now Ryder, and his family – “they’ve had enough of me now” – are ready for live gigs once again. He has a tour with Black Grape coming up and later plans to tour the solo record; the singer is double jabbed and ready to go, he says.
How does he feel about the idea of vaccine passports potentially being needed for nightclubs and gigs? “Whatever [the government] is gonna do they’ve got to do it quick and it needs doing now, whatever they’re going to do,” he says. “There’s no reason why it’s… if we’re all supposed to be vaccined up and everything then they should be opening up, stop messing about, open everything up.”
He thinks the government’s handling of the pandemic has been “a bit of hit and miss” but “I suppose whatever government would be in power, they wouldn’t have got it right, straight away”.
On the Matt Hancock affair scandal, he laughs. “Well, what’s new there? It’s always been one law for one lot of people and another law for another lot of people. I wouldn’t expect anything else.”
Ryder has performed two shows already since restrictions lifted, one with Happy Mondays and one with Black Grape, which were great, he says. Some people chose to wear masks, others didn’t. No one was “mithered about anybody else”. He has plans in place for touring and making music over the next few years at least. “I don’t have hobbies,” he says. “I get asked what my hobbies are and my hobby is making music and playing music and being involved.”
The only thing that will stop Ryder, he says, is “doing a Tommy Cooper or whatever”. (Cooper died on stage live on television in 1984). “Look at all the ones that I grew up with, like the Stones and Tom Jones and all those guys, and The Who and Roger Daltrey. I mean, Roger Daltrey is fit as a butcher’s dog. You seen him? If you enjoy what you do you don’t stop, you just do it.”
So that’s the plan for Shaun Ryder, along with Gogglebox and his other ventures, which continue to see him living his best life, reinvented as a national treasure. How does he feel about the term?
“Well, you know…” For just a brief moment he seems lost for words. “It’s better than n**head, isn’t it? So, you know… I can live with it.”
Richard Curtis on his new Christmas film reboot – and why he won’t remake Love Actually
Twenty years ago rom-com writer Richard Curtis brought out a Christmas film that went on to become a staple part of festive watching for many.
Love Actually didn’t necessarily win over critics but it was a hit with audiences and is a regular fixture on the best Christmas film lists.
Now Curtis has returned to the genre to write a re-make of his 1991 TV movie Bernard And The Genie – but says he has no plans to remake the other festive film he’s known for.
“No, I’ve thought about whether I ever want to do a multi [story film] – I love movies with lots and lots of characters in it,” the writer told Sky News’ Backstage podcast.
“But I think I’d be pretty sure to make sure it wasn’t set at Christmas this time.
“I think I’ve probably done my Christmas multi-stories story.”
His new film Genie is a comedy about Bernard – a man struggling professionally and personally who tries to make changes to his life with the help of a magical being.
It draws on the work it’s based on, but brings it up to date, and sees it set in a new location, and with one female lead rather than two men.
He says it was soon after 1991’s Bernard And The Genie came out that he thought about re-writing it.
“Funnily enough, I actually wrote my sort of first draft of this about five years after the original film, and then I let it lie,” he said.
“And I just thought I would love to do another Christmas movie, and so I took it out and refreshed it in many ways, particularly having a female Genie and moving it to New York.
“But it’s been in my head for a long time and I always think the best projects are the ones that have had time to stew.
Updating work for modern audiences isn’t unusual – Roald Dahl‘s books have seen changes made to them to reflect contemporary attitudes and Genie is by no means the only film being given a modern twist.
Curtis says it makes sense that work is refreshed as audiences evolve.
“I think in many areas tastes have changed and we’re more aware of things that we should say – we should talk about climate change all the time if we possibly can – and things that, you know, it’s no longer right or polite in any way to say,” he explained.
“So as I write, I’ve always got my 20-year-old daughter on my shoulder saying ‘Dad are you sure?'”
He says that updating the Genie to be a woman in his new film gave a new perspective to the character who is trying to help Bernard with his marital issues.
“My original version – like when I first wrote a script of this – had the Genie as a man again,” Curtis admitted.
“And so just to be able to come back to it and have to look at every line and say, ‘Is this the right one? Is this the right attitude? What would she know?’
“And I particularly love the fact that she’s trying to fix a marriage and she’s a woman who probably knows more about how Bernard’s wife feels than Bernard does.”
While Curtis may not have plans to update Love Actually, he perhaps hasn’t ruled out setting something during another holiday – joking that he could have some fun with Halloween.
“The happy version of Halloween or just killing off most of the cast?” he queried.
“I’d like to kill off Hugh Grant in one of my films – that would be a real joy.”
Genie is out on Sky Cinema and streaming service NOW. For more on the film listen to the latest episode of Backstage, the film and TV podcast from Sky News.
Could Snapchat have a solution to the Elgin Marbles row?
Rishi Sunak is known to love tech, so could it offer a way out of his awkward diplomatic row with Greece over the Elgin Marbles?
The augmented reality (AR) boffins at Snap think it could.
The creators of the app most people associate with wearing silly filters have branched out into culture and the arts, offering new ways for visitors to experience history at some of the world’s most illustrious museums and galleries.
The museum’s department of Egyptian antiquities now features 3D reconstructions of long-lost artwork and other historic monuments, viewable on phones via QR codes or the Snapchat camera.
If it’s good enough for the Louvre, could it be good enough for the British Museum, and allow the Elgin Marbles to return to Greece?
History in your hands
“We have initiated discussions,” jokes Donatien Bozon, director of Snap’s AR studio in Paris.
His 14-strong team was formed last year with the mission of bringing AR to art, culture, and education, proving Snapchat’s tech can go well beyond putting virtual dog ears on your friends.
Cultural institutions showed interest in tapping into the app’s audience of 750 million users, he says, as well as bringing new experiences to regular visitors – all without needing any extra physical space.
“We were convinced we could not only leverage the front camera of the phone,” he says, referring to Snapchat’s common use case as a selfie-driven messaging app, “but also the back camera.”
“You can augment the world,” he adds. “And open up so many opportunities.”
Also at the Louvre sits a digital twin of the 222-tonne granite Luxor Obelisks. Built for Egypt’s Luxor Temple during Ramesses II’s reign, one was later moved to the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
But it had initially been considered for a spot in the Louvre’s courtyard. And so in their own bid to rewrite history, the museum worked with Snap to “remove the constraint of physics” and have one installed virtually.
Point your phone’s camera towards the spot where it could have stood, and so it appears.
Where tradition meets technology
Not that AR could ever truly replace the real thing.
“It’s in the name,” says Bozon. “It’s augmenting the experience, not replacing it.”
Probably not actually a satisfying solution to the Elgin Marbles row, then.
But the British Museum has dabbled in AR. Primarily aimed at children, it lets guests embark on AR-driven tours through the Roman Empire and Parthenon using Samsung tablets.
The British Library has also leveraged the tech for its own exhibitions, as some of the world’s oldest institutions, proudly steeped in tradition, look to keep up with the times.
Qi Pan, Snap’s director of computer vision, says AR lets them “do things that were not possible before”.
His London team is responsible for how the firm’s tech actually works, both on phones and in a hypothetical future where millions of us walk around wearing futuristic spectacles.
“A lot of AR today is on mobile, where we’re limited by seeing it through a small rectangle,” he says.
“AR glasses will let you see it directly in the world around you.”
Despite previous attempts at such lenses from the likes of Google and Snap itself having failed to achieve a mainstream breakthrough, Pan is confident AR is on the cusp of a “hardware paradigm shift”.
Apple’s upcoming mixed reality headset may help prove him right, though likely not while priced at £2,800.
For now, the appeal of AR artwork is its accessibility – not just for users who just need a phone to experience it, but also the creators behind what they see.
By teaching himself how to create AR art at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, British artist Doddz went from school struggles to a six-figure salary.
Traditionalists might cry foul, but his success seems testament to a fresh take on artwork that people can view anywhere and take with them too.
Bozon says: “Ten years ago you wouldn’t bet on being a YouTuber as a real job.
“Ten years from now, building in AR will be a real job for thousands of people.”
Let’s hope the marbles row is over by then too.
The Crown: The secrets behind multi-million pound Netflix production
The second instalment of the sixth series of The Crown is set for release on 14 December.
Seven years on from its initial release, the programme has been a smash hit for Netflix and has seen some of the UK’s greatest acting talent – including the three queens Claire Foy, Olivia Colman and Imelda Staunton – take on the challenge of portraying some of the most recognisable people in the world.
Behind the glitzy multimillion-pound production is a vast production team working on the finest of details to capture each decade of the Royal Family precisely.
Martin Childs, a production designer, and Alison Harvey, a set decorator, have worked on all six seasons of the show and produced almost 2,500 sets in that time.
The pair say the “luxury of time and money and people” that the Netflix production affords allows the detailed and spectacular sets we see on our screens.
“We did go through the schedule quite quickly,” Harvey said.
“We did have people devoted to certain things like drapes. [I’m] on a job at the moment – we’ve got no people and no money and no time. So we’re very lucky to have those facilities available to us on such a great well-received project.”
The abundance of resources allows Childs and Harvey to capture not just the familiar castles and regal settings – they were excited to capture the royals’ private interiors as well.
“It’s a kind of a slightly imagined film version,” Harvey said.
“We research and research and research until the research runs out,” Childs said.
“I think it might be Peter Morgan who coined this phrase ‘informed imagination’ – and it’s one I like very much because it helps describe what we finish up having to do,” he added.
The first four episodes of the sixth season were released on 16 November and captured the last eight weeks of Princess Diana’s life.
While many of the scenes from the 1997 crash and its aftermath are seared into the public’s imagination, Childs was averse to recreating many of them.
“My consideration [for] all the scenes that led up to [the crash] was not to have any prior knowledge of it, because the audience does. So I didn’t want to load it with 20-20 hindsight.
“People know what happened. People are familiar with the footage so we didn’t really want to recreate much of that.”
Portraying Diana faithfully was also a major consideration for hair and makeup artists Cate Hall and Emilie Yong. It took around 30 hours to transform Elizabeth Debicki into the late princess.
“It starts with this very archaic wrapping of their head in clingfilm and sellotape and marking the headline with a sharpie. The wig maker we work with is very, very detailed in terms of hairlines, crowns,” Hall said.
“The hair is all knotted hair by hair, we will go through thousands of different colours to find the four or five colours we’re going to use in a wig. Then once the wig is made, we start cutting.
“Then the wig comes off the head and is set and dried, put back on again, cut, highlighted, roots shaded in. And then the makeup fittings start.”
Like the production designers, the pair said they “live and die by” getting the details right.
“Otherwise what you get is something that feels sort of generally in the region of [the decade] but not necessarily robust.
“The whole point when you’re recreating period television is trying to create this world that the viewer can watch and really immerse themselves in. The last thing you want to do is bring them out of that.
“So for me, if I’m watching a TV show and the textures are really modern and chemically sophisticated and illuminated, things like that immediately take me out of the show. So it’s those kinds of details.
“One way of saying we’re in the 1960s [is] about the textures and what was available to the people at the time. Glitter was not. We have every foundation colour under the sun now. But in 1960 you were probably dealing with four different shades if you’re lucky. It’s about sophistication that helps you tell the story,” Hall said.
So the actors have undergone their transformations into their characters and the stage is set but something’s missing.
Alongside a historical research team, the actors spend a significant amount of time preparing with movement coach Polly Bennett to prepare for filming.
“When you meet new actors playing the characters, it becomes about actually trying to throw all of that information [from past seasons] away and starting again.
“The best thing about working with the team this time around was that we’d already done season five, so they kind of lived in their bodies,” she said.
“I think the biggest thing physically that I had to consider was that they had been around being famous. Being famous was a new idea.
“The sort of thing that Diana was experiencing is a very particular physical change in her body. So that was the major preoccupation I had.”
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A huge body of research, like the production designers and hair and make-up artists, informs Bennetts’s work.
She describes working with 21-year-old Meg Bellamy who is playing a young Kate Middleton as she attends university with Prince William.
“A lot of our first sessions were just providing the space to go – who is this person? What has she been around? What has she grown up around? What clothes is she regularly wearing? What food does she eat? What are her relationships? Who has she seen growing up?
“We look at footage that we have, we look at photographs, and put it together in the kind of private investigator type way,” Bennett said.
“And suddenly when you start looking at different pictures, you notice little things that Kate does in her life, like she wears a handbag always on the same side of her body and she clutches it. Now, that’s something that then became an inpoint for Meg.
“The idea that they’ve got something very practical, but they’re keeping it close to them and then you can take that feeling into their whole life. Whether or not that’s actually what Kate Middleton is doing, that becomes gold dust as a practical idea for an actor to play.”
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