A Tweet from Sir: Of @StephenFry, Oscar Wilde & secrets


By some chalk the proudest moment of my five-plus years on Twitter happened yesterday morning (Good Friday, 18 April 2014), when I was lucky enough to receive a tweet from Stephen Fry. I have loved Stephen Fry’s work, his words and his attitude to life for a great many years (and I even got to meet him once, very briefly – and via Twitter – as I shall recount below). I was and am overwhelmed to have received a tweet from Mr Fry. On reflection, though, I think Sir may have been toying with me in his tweet. But in the most delightful of ways. And perhaps the most artful…

A Bit of Fry and Laurie (Deceased)*
Stephen Fry is a true hero to me. I could bore you silly in particular about the marvels of the second series of A Bit of Fry and Laurie, and the influence it’s had on my own outlook on life and my love of words.

Via the wonders of Twitter, I had the opportunity to meet Stephen Fry in person, nearly five years ago.

Following a Twitter mention of the upcoming event from Mr Fry, I managed to get tickets to a talk on Oscar Wilde, which he delivered at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London on Friday 16 October 2009 (the 155th anniversary of Wilde’s birth).

In a quite pleasing way, much of this event appears lost to memory. I was only able to find a few snippets of video, filmed by audience members. Regard:

Mr Fry spoke at length, wonderfully, about Mr Wilde. He also read us Wilde’s story The Happy Prince (and brushed aside a tear afterwards) – an extract of which moment can be seen here.

There followed a signing session. Being terribly starstruck, I went to pieces when I was in The Presence, and only managed weakly to say:

“It’s an honour to meet you.”

To which Sir very politely replied:

“And it is an honour to meet you, too.”

The picture of Oscar Wilde
Mercifully, my other half does not get starstruck. She had a short conversation with Mr Fry, and got him to autograph a postcard of one of the greatest photographs of Oscar Wilde (which we’d picked up from the National Portrait Gallery on the way to the Bloomsbury Theatre).

Seeing this postcard prompted Mr Fry to tell us of one of his most prized possessions – a photographic portrait of Oscar Wilde, inscribed by Wilde himself. He recounted the inscription to us.

This in turn was one of the most prized moments of my life, that Stephen Fry would so generously share these words with us.

But this moment too was lost to the vagaries of memory. Somehow, neither of us can now remember the inscription. This in some ways makes the memory of that moment with Stephen Fry all the more special.

I was pondering that long-forgotten inscription this week, and trying to prise from my memory what it might have been. Yesterday morning, I saw that Stephen Fry was tweeting a delightful run of photographs of a deserted Bank Holiday Regent Street (zum Beispiel).

I thought I’d chance my arm and ask him what that inscription might have been. Amazingly, he replied. Here’s what he said:

“The secret of life is in art”…


A secret preserved?
I was delighted to hear back from Sir. And delighted to have the mystery solved. Or so I thought, for a short while. On reflection, however, I suspect Sir may have been playing a little game with me here. And this is almost more delightful.

“The secret of life is in art” is a wonderful Oscar Wilde quotation. But it is by no means an obscure one.

In a moment I am going to write the most embarrassing sentence of my blogging life. I am going to attempt to approximate the gist of what I think Mr Fry told us back then that the Oscar Wilde inscribed picture said. I am going to fail miserably. Through the fog of forgetfulness and inarticulacy on my part, I think Mr Fry said that Wilde’s inscription was along the following lines:

“I adore this picture. It shows my favourite subject.”

My goodness me, I ruined that one. But from what I think I recall of Fry’s words, what Wilde had inscribed on his portrait was succinct, of narcissistic allusion, and uniquely Wildean.

I am delighted to have received a tweet from Sir. I am now almost as delighted in my suspicion that, in the most artful of ways, Mr Fry was here preserving the secret of the actual Wilde quotation. The moment in 2009 that he was so kind as to share it with me and my other half remains as magical as before.

Thank you, Sir.

* At the time of writing, and to the best of my knowledge, neither Mr Fry nor Mr Laurie is actually deceased – I’m just referring to a fantastic sketch from Series 2 of A Bit Of Fry and Laurie (one of the pinnacles of human achievement, in the view of your humble correspondent).

Treat yourself and thank me later:

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