How Simon Callow met Sebastian Fox: ‘I thought, gosh, he’s very attractive from behind’
Had their mutual friend been successful at previously setting up Sebastian Fox, he might never have introduced him – twice – to the actor Simon Callow. In early 2012, Sebastian was at a Prokofiev concert performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, at which Simon was the narrator. He had been invited by their friend Tim Walker, then the chief executive of the orchestra, who took him backstage afterwards to meet Simon. “It was very rushed,” remembers Simon. “It was really about one and a half minutes.”
But Walker persisted, and took Sebastian to see Simon’s one-man show, Being Shakespeare, a few weeks later. Afterwards, the three of them, along with another friend, went for dinner. At dinner, Sebastian seemed quiet, and the conversation, says Simon, “was sort of general, between the four of us. It was very enjoyable, but it wasn’t like we particularly managed to engage very much.” It was when they left, Sebastian walking purposefully ahead, that, Simon says, “I remember thinking, very vividly, how electric your energy was. I thought, gosh, he’s very attractive from behind.”
They exchanged numbers and Simon says he hoped Sebastian would text (he didn’t), but then a few days later, Sebastian sent a handwritten note to the stage door of the theatre where Simon was performing, inviting him to dinner. (That it was to Le Caprice, one of Simon’s favourite London restaurants, he took as a good sign.)
“I’d really just enjoyed the evening,” says Sebastian. “First of all seeing Simon on stage, it was a very moving performance and exhilarating. At the dinner, I really warmed to Si.” He smiles at him. “I really liked your vivacity. The note was really just to say thank you and that it would be lovely to see you again.”
Simon was about to go to Chicago for several weeks for work, but he came back for a couple of days to keep their date. “It was certainly worth it, because that supper was wonderful,” says Simon. “We talked about what we wanted out of relationships and we had exactly the same idea, which was, in a nutshell, total commitment, an absolute sense of exploration within the relationship, rather than merely a sort of domestic or sexual encounter.”
The next day, Simon invited Sebastian to Chichester to see Uncle Vanya – Sebastian loved the Chekhov play, though some time later, he admitted that he had thought Simon had intended to introduce him to a relation. They both laugh at this. “It has obviously become a running joke in Simon’s actorly circles,” says Sebastian. “I grew up with music, but not at all with theatre. At the point of meeting Simon, I had very little idea of his world.”
When they met, Sebastian was 29 and Simon was 63; Simon had been in the arts all his life, and Sebastian was a management consultant. Over four or five months, they got to know each other well. “When we finally went away together for a weekend for the first time, it was to Hay-on-Wye, where I was reading TS Eliot,” says Simon. “So culture has hovered over this relationship from the beginning.” Sebastian admits it could sometimes be intimidating meeting Simon’s friends, some of them very famous. “I’m suddenly being introduced to people I would only have known from the screen,” he says.
But their differences were a strength, Simon says. “One of the things I loved about Seb was that he adored his work, which is totally different from mine [Sebastian now works in tech]. Seb has masses of skills and analytical powers that I lack completely, and I have other attributes, which he lacks.” Sebastian says it works, partly because “we don’t want to be soulmates to each other”. Each has their own interests. “The defining aspect is that we’re living our lives on solid and shared foundations. That’s not to say we don’t have joint interests, because we do stuff together all the time, but we’re not necessarily living in each other’s pockets.” They are, says Simon, “radically different from each other, in many ways, despite this crucial thing, which is we have got this terrific sense of the meaning of commitment to each other”.
They say the age gap was never an issue for them. “I think you have this stigma still, in society, both around gay relationships as well as relationships between two people of different ages, where it’s common for people to attribute motivations or stereotypes,” says Sebastian. “For me, what was great was to see that the cliches broke down in the face of the actual experience of getting to meet each other’s friends.”
They moved in together that August, sooner than expected, spurred on by Sebastian needing to move out of his flat, but it felt right. On holiday in Mykonos, around the time it looked as though same-sex marriage would be legalised, Simon raised the possibility, in a low-key way, of getting married. “It had not been possible during most of my life; I hadn’t longed for it,” says Simon. “But when it did become possible, and Seb and I were together, it suddenly seemed inevitable, it seemed absolutely the thing we must do.” Sebastian said the idea that they could marry was “really profound. It’s not like [homophobia is] just suddenly eradicated. Not every place is going to be as liberal as London, for example. It felt like such a wonderful achievement for the country, and then to be a part of that was, for me, hugely touching.”
They planned a wedding in Mykonos in 2016, but first they had to do the legal bit in the UK – something they expected to be a piece of admin (one witness each, and Simon had rehearsals to get to in the afternoon). But it surprised them. “We were just ‘let’s get this over with’,” says Simon. “We’re there, we’ve got the vows in our hands, and started to say the words and suddenly, we’re so engulfed by emotion, so overwhelmed by it. The words meant something. We thought the big emotional climax would be on the beach in Mykonos, with all our friends – but it was in Islington, in that town hall.”
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