Stephen Fry, on embracing uncertainty, the importance of community and moving the needle on environmental responsibility.
As a writer, actor, comedian, director, librettist, quiz show host and seasoned award ceremony compère, Stephen Fry has risen to that special place in British hearts known as “a national treasure”.
Though a rebellious schoolchild, he went on to attend Cambridge University, where he joined the renowned Footlights dramatic club. Having met Hugh Laurie, the duo went on to write and star in TV programme A Bit of Fry and Laurie and later, the rip-roaring Jeeves and Wooster, based on the books of P.G. Wodehouse.
Since then, Stephen has appeared in countless television programmes and films, turned his hand to quiz show hosting, and written five novels and an autobiography alongside his work for stage and screen.
Stephen was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1995, and he recently recovered from prostate cancer. He is now passionate about raising awareness of the challenges that both illnesses present.
Tess McLeod, Quintet’s Head of Client Experience, talked to Stephen about what a Richer Life will mean to him post lockdown.
Stephen, you are now into your sixth decade! What advice would you give to a young adult today who was just starting out on their own independent life?
Difficult to answer. They are entering a world that is wildly different from the one I entered after university. But the fundamental attributes of humanity are unaltered in all historically recorded time, so there are some things worth remembering. Your journey of life will take you (perhaps surprisingly) from certainty to doubt, from being crammed full of knowledge to being aware of the depths of your ignorance. But that is a wonderful thing. Only foolish people think they know. Wise people, those with fulfilled and exciting lives, are always curious, questing, uncertain and filled with wonder and doubt.
When you look at our Richer Life framework, and see those 8 factors – what do you think you will focus on in future?
Development is important even at my age. I think however, especially in a post COVID-19 world, community is the one to focus on. Even if one was philosophically disposed to individualism, the coming years will compel us all to be more aware of our interactions. This pandemic proves the interconnectedness of humanity, and our responses to it have only worked by triggering that part of being human that is social and communitarian. You don’t have to embrace dialectical materialism, Leninism or even full-blooded socialism to recognise this. Business, finance, commerce, art, communication… None of these work in a humanity of discrete atoms, only in a humming holistic human organism. It’s messy, it’s often confusing and frustrating - but the result of attending to the group is the welfare of the individual.
At Quintet we feel a strong responsibility to helping protect our planet and are soon to launch our sustainable impact ‘zero carbon’ portfolio. Stephen, how do your choices reflect your values in life?
What can one person do? It is a reasonable cry. It’s very hard to be certain, to audit the effect of individual behaviour on something as complex as a biosphere. But one thing you can be absolutely certain of, and that is that doing nothing will achieve nothing. Spreading the word, doing one’s bit, being aware of one’s footprint, subscribing to initiatives, being more attentive to the trail of one's investments and consumption, supporting politicians who recognise the urgency of the issue - all these are incontrovertibly better than doing nothing. Oh, and fight the logical and moral corruption of those who shout “hypocrite” at someone who cares about plastic in the ocean but happens to own a biro.