“At first I thought it was a mistake, but then I realised that L’Oreal wasn’t looking for models but for people with strong personalities, who are worth it… and who aren’t afraid to proclaim that using cosmetics can be a very masculine decision after all.”– Hugh Laurie.
L’Oreal’s new middle-aged poster boy Hugh Laurie — or Hugh L’Oreal as he shall henceforth be known — used to attend the same gym as me in the 1990s, in Tufnell Park, North London, before he moved to the bright lights of Hollywood. He was an incredibly determined gym-goer, working up a terrific sweat and going quite beetroot red in the face while those famously goggly eyes stared fixedly into the distance.
A distance that turned out to be transatlantic stardom and lucrative men’s anti-ageing cosmetics endorsement deals. That sweaty determination was a surprising contrast with the foppish, Woosterish, posh idiot characters this Cambridge-educated thesp was famous for playing on British TV up until then.
He seemed to be aiming for a very much more ‘toned’ appearance than the largely working-class, younger lads that used the gym, most of whom who wanted ‘vulgar’ big muscles. He would also work out alone, and rarely speak to anyone (noticeable because it was a very chatty, sociable gym – or at least, I was forever chatting to the cute, vulgar lads). There was almost a kind of religious, monkish quality to his workouts. But perhaps that was less a class issue than a celebrity one.
One day though he brought along his considerably less toned, but equally posh gay chum and comedy ‘other half’ (very much the top half) Stephen Fry. Who was very chatty and flirty. But entirely ‘in character’. After patiently waiting for the face-down leg-curl machine I was hogging, he clambered onto his stomach and hurriedly moved the pin up to a much lighter weight, saying: “Oh, I couldn’t possibly lift that kind of weight! I don’t have your thighs!“
You won’t be too surprised to hear that was the only time I saw Mr Fry in the gym. Mr Laurie, on the other hand, was always there.
Because, I suppose, he was ‘worth it’.