Resplendent in heels, lippy and pink beret, Eddie Izzard preached peace, prosperity and progress at a remain rally in Londonderry in a former Presbyterian Church, now run by Irish language activists, An Gaeláras Ltd. with the outlines of a roseate Union Flag #StandUpForEurope banner as a back drop.
The comic, actor and pro-Europe Labour party activist is no stranger to Londonderry, the home town of his long-term friend and collaborator Sarah McGuinness/Townsend, and he told the rally in Great James Street that he remembered being stopped and searched at the border here back in the 1980s and early 1990s and not particularly enjoying the experience.
He talked about inclusion and thinking big and told an audience of fellow-travellers that they should encourage their peers and families to vote for the United Kingdom to remain in Europe as no-one wants to see physical customs and border posts ringing Londonderry again.
“For Northern Ireland, for yourselves right here, in a city - the border’s back there [motions with hands] - a lot of you, I look at the ages here, will remember those borders,” said Mr Izzard.
“I remember those borders. I used to chat to the soldiers, and I used to say, ‘oh no, what are you doing?’ coming across with a different accent...and they’d be looking in your car and stuff going through the borders, so I’ve been through those borders, and you do not want to go back there.
“The Brexit side says they may not go back, who knows? There will definitely be customs, there will definitely be proper bureaucracy. The potential of it coming back...You just don’t want it. I say, ‘Come on.’ Especially for Northern Ireland.”
Mr Izzard, though born in the Yemeni city of Aden, when it was occupied by the United Kingdom, spent some of his formative years in Bangor, and made it a point of principle, to always come back, even during the darkest years of the Troubles, including 1993.
“I enjoyed my time in Northern Ireland and I would always come back and when there was the Greysteel killings I was touring in Dublin and my tour manager said, ‘I’m not going up. People are going to shoot me.’ And I said, ‘No, that’s not how it works.’ I came up and did two gigs. One in Belfast and one in the Rialto, what is it 1,000 seater? And the guy was saying, [over the phone] ‘Don’t come, there’s only 50 or 60 people,’ but I insisted on coming and I remember we got everyone down the front and it was a good gig. It was fun.
“So I insisted on coming...I think that’s a good thing. It’s positive. Go for your dreams. I want all the kids in Northern Ireland to be thinking: What can I do? Where can I go? How far can we go?
“Rory McIlroy, the world champion golfer. It’s great...think big. That’s what we want our kids to be doing.
“That is distinctly the reason we should be part of Europe. Part of Europe, thinking big, and just doing positive things.
“Surely, Northern Ireland is the place where things have been very tricky for a long time.
“If we’re heading forward and the borders have come down, surely that’s a good thing.”