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A lyrical path to better health

Submitted by on Wednesday, 14 May 2008No Comment

Sir Tim Rice, three-times academy-award winning UK lyricist and best known for his musical collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber, catches up with DAVID GEMMELL during a recent visit to SA.

When you were at your most productive…

…when do you mean – last week?

…did you keep office hours?

I’ve never kept office hours in any shape or form. Most of my writing from day one, even when I was very young, was from nine to five. That’s nine pm to five am. I can only really work when I’ve got no distractions and I look for distractions. If I know I’ve got to write something, I’ll just check what’s on television and I’ll look very carefully if there is anything more interesting I can do. Even if it is just, “I think I’ll sort out that desk, or I’ll rearrange all my books in alphabetical order”; anything to put off the moment of writing.

Then how have you been so prolific if you are always putting it off?

No – in the end you do it. You have to. But I do need deadlines. I don’t like routine.

What do you do during the day?

Being in this job if you have a high profile, which I do in England certainly, there is so much mail and other things to deal with, which I always moan about, but I guess I must really quite enjoy, because my PA and I spend a lot of time answering mail, organising things, fixing dinners I have to go to, running the cricket team, whatever.

What time does your day start?

What at the moment? Certainly in the last few years on my normal days I get up at about eight thirty, it depends – sometimes a bit earlier, but I would say eight thirty is about as late as it gets. But then I would stagger downstairs, my office is at the end of the garden, Eileen my PA who has been with me for nearly thirty years, turns up about ten o’clock. We then work in the office all day. If I’ve got a writing deadline I tell Eileen I can’t go in. I do most of my writing when everybody else is gone.

What do you do for breakfast?

Virtually nothing. I love breakfast, my favourite meal, but I can’t be bothered I need to watch my weight, so if I can skip any meal without effort, I will.

Do you watch your diet quite carefully?

No. I have done only lately; recently I decided I was getting too fat so since November 30th 2007 to today, I have managed to get rid of about 35 pounds – which is quite an achievement.

By doing what?

I gave up drink. I have just started again I started on April the 1st – I had four months without a drop which included Christmas, New Year and my daughter’s wedding and various other things.

Did, do you feel better for not drinking?

No. I feel better because I’m thinner but I don’t feel better for not drinking. I feel better I suppose having less weight to carry around and I look better. And if you look better, you feel better. But I don’t think I’ve postponed my death at all.

Are you an adventurous eater?

No – totally unadventurous. I’ve grown to like certain things that as a child I would not go near. I still will not eat shellfish. I don’t like the texture, I don’t like liver; I don’t like pineapple, coconut – there’s a lot of things I just won’t eat.

What would your death row meal be?

Bacon, fried eggs, chips, sausages, baked beans, fried tomatoes, all that – lots of fried bread dripping with fat.

Do you take any medication or supplements?

I take blood pressure pills. About ten years ago the doctor said I should take these pills.

What do you see in ageing that is good?

Nothing. Well I suppose you could say with ageing, and I’m only sixty three so I’m not old age yet, the cliché is that you realise a lot of things don’t matter. But I’m not sure how true that is. The consolation of ageing is you think ‘at least I got here; I wasn’t hit by a bus when I was eight’.

Have you become more, or less, religious?

About the same; I have never been religious. I can’t go along with any religion’s literal beliefs – but I think the metaphorical illustration of a philosophy for life, that Christianity offers, is as good as any and I object strongly to anybody who wishes to force their religion on anybody else. I don’t think I’m alone there. I find people who adopt religion to the last letter of the Bible, the Koran or whatever, on the whole, tend to be people best avoided.

When are you at your happiest?

Oh, I quite like waking up in the morning and thinking, ‘I haven’t got to do anything’. I’m very happy with my children. I’ve got two grown up children and a little girl and I’m far more concerned now, or happy for what they achieve, than for what I achieve. I mean if I wrote another hit show I’d be delighted, but if I didn’t then so what. But if they did something, like my daughter had a bestselling book in England, which was much more important to me than anything I might do.

What is the book?

It is a novel. Called the Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice, well worth purchasing, rave reviews, top five bestseller – it did very well. Sorry, proud father.

You are here to see the launch of your musical Chess, at Montecasino – do you actually play chess?

Yes – but I don’t play very often and I don’t play very well. The attraction for writing it was the Fisher/ Spasky game of 1972, and the politics and the Cold War being fought by proxy on a chess board – I loved all that.

If you weren’t a three times Oscar winner, the world’s pre-eminent lyricist of memorable songs of our time…

…Ah thank you – I like this question already…

hugely successful, universally famous and fabulously wealthy – what would your fantasy other job be?

And very good looking? It’s a corny thing but I would have enjoyed being a great cricketer. A serious job I would have enjoyed and I’ve dabbled in it a bit, would be book publishing. I would have loved to be a publisher of books. I love books. I love the shape of them, the look of them, the feel of them and what’s inside of them.

Are you an avid reader and if so what do you read?

Yes I read all the time; mainly history, social commentary and a bit of fiction. I feel I ought to read a bit more fiction and I tend to want to read old fiction. Because I’m sure there are some wonderful writers around, but as I haven’t read more than about fifteen percent of Charles Dickens, I think maybe I should spend my declining years, my twilight years, reading him. At least I know Charles Dickens is good, rather than gamble on wasting my time reading someone who might be great, but might not be.

Although there is a perception that famous people just lead glamorous lives and are perpetually on holiday – given that is not necessarily true, what do you do for holidays?

I think I lead a very privileged life, but I’m not sure if it is glamorous all the time. Holidays? I’m not very good at holidays. I love going somewhere for four days. I went on a boat last year around the Caribbean to follow the cricket, which was great and that for me was a long holiday.

If you could be stranded in any one place in the world where would that be?

Sydney Australia.

Who in the whole of history would you like to sit next to on a long flight?

Well Eva Peron would be interesting. King David – Jesus?

Do you have any sporting goals you would still like to achieve?

Well I would quite like to score 100 at Lords – but I don’t think that is going to happen. My brother Jo once scored 8 off one shot with a runner, which was extraordinary; there is an infinitesimal possibly that could happen to me. I have just recently completed walking the length and breadth of England, North, South, East points connected. We only did about a week a year, so it took eleven years, but I think that is quite an achievement. But do I have immediate sporting goals? No not really.

And immediate musical goals that are keeping you busy?

Well I’ve just done some songs for a film based on the Nutcraker with music by Tchaikovsky – so I’ve written some lyrics for him.

Was he happy?

He loved it. He never complains. He is the best guy I have ever worked with. He never rings up and he never wants to change the lyrics. My next project is a musical on Machiavelli – in fact I wouldn’t mind sitting next to him on a plane.

Tell me something about you that no-one else knows?

I keep chickens.


They lay eggs. I love eggs.

How many have you got and have you given them names?

About fourteen, but no we haven’t given them names, we tried that but they don’t respond, they’re actually quite stupid.

Do you ever eat them?

What a horrible suggestion.

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