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New Europe

Day Thirty-three: Sofia

Michael Palin - New EuropeWhen he was still a child she had what he calls 'sick ambitions' for him to be a mega-star like Elizabeth Taylor, but because he was Gypsy all the doors were closed. When I ask him who his audience is he says the underground world, prostitutes and gays.

'The free people,' he adds.

'And the Gypsies. Could there be others, inspired by his example?'

He shrugs his wide shoulders.

'They're still as dirty and miserable as they were. It'll never change.'

He's stubborn and patient and these are not Gypsy values.

'The problem with them is that they want something and on the next day something completely different.'

We talk about what it was like growing up in socialist Bulgaria. Did he have to join organisations like the Young Pioneers?

He grins less warily now. Yes, he was a Young Pioneer, but always wanted to wear the girl's uniform.

'I wanted to be the majorette rather than the football player!'

So what of the future?

Though he says he's a patriot and whenever he hears a Bulgarian song he's moved to shed a tear, he feels the country is now too small for him. Once his wild and raunchy transsexual persona shocked people here. Now they're only shocked when they see him in normal clothes. So he's contemplating leaving home to find fame and fortune elsewhere.

In America perhaps?

He shakes his head firmly. In America, he says, they'd probably throw stones at him. No, he'd like to work in London where, he reckons, you're free to do what you want and be who you want.

A bodyguard moves position at the door and I realise that this candid and engaging man is also a big star and we've outrun our allotted time. Patient to the end, he finds time to pose for a few snaps beside the rudest poster we can find.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Thirty-three: Sofia
  • Country/sea: Bulgaria
  • Place: Sofia
  • Book page no: 82

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