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From Nina Simone to Hugh Laurie: 8 songs Stephen Fry couldn't live without

Stephen Fry is a man who needs no introduction. He is one of the rare breeds of human beings who seems to be respected by almost everyone. Fry is an incredibly intelligent, humourous, and captivating individual. He exists as somewhat of a shining light to humanity, an example of the best parts of the human condition, someone that we could all learn a thing or two from. 

In many ways, he is the full package. An actor, broadcaster, comedian, director and writer, Fry has left no stone unturned on his cerebral journey. He has starred in the historical comedy series Blackadder, heist romp A Fish Called Wanda (1985) and was even nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Actor for his portrayal of his idol, Oscar Wilde, in 1997’s criminally underrated biopic, Wilde. Alongside his work as an actor, he is probably most well-known as the original host on the hit BBC panel show, QI.

A noted humanist, Fry also endeared himself to the public in 2006 with his frank and open discussion about his struggles with bipolar disorder in the documentary, Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. This came during a period of time when people were only really starting to address mental health issues, so it was widely accepted by audiences as a great step forward. Accordingly, he won an Emmy for his efforts.

Cambridge-educated, Fry is of a dying breed with flecks of Hellenism and Bertrand Russell inherent to his character. The old, educated mind who is always tactful follows the deductive Socratic method to always land on his point precisely. He is a breath of fresh air in comparison to the other broadcasters of our day, your Clarksons, Morgans and Neils. They are concerned with the connived spectacle, featuring live walk-offs and ample narcissism rather than a measured, old-fashioned discussion. If you want to catch a glimpse of the man’s temperament, his bewitching effect on Hollywood star Nicole Kidman on the Graham Norton Show is rather telling. 

Being such a British national treasure, it was about time that Stephen Fry made his appearance on BBC Radio 4’s flagship programme Desert Island Discs in 2015. The programme has been a cornerstone of British culture since Ray Plomlye created it in 1942. Everybody from Prime Ministers to Hollywood A-Listers have sat in the hot seat at Broadcasting House to reveal the eight songs they would choose for their company if stranded on a desert island. 

For a man who called music simply “the dog’s bollocks”, Fry’s episode was fascinating. His first choice was the gigue from Johann Sebastian Bach’s ‘Partita No.1 in B flat major’, performed by “marvellous and eccentric” Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. He then went on to reveal to the audience that he believes memory to be the “mother of all the arts”.

His second choice is a piece by esteemed Austrian composer Franz Schubert, “who he absolutely love(s)”. The piece is his ‘Trout’ quintet. He then talks about this version of the work, which features on the piano his friend Thomas Adès, who Fry called “one of the great British composers and conductors and pianists.”

His other picks to accompany him on a desert island range from Nina Simone’s ‘I Wish I Knew how it would feel to be Free’, to Wagner’s grandiose ‘Tristan and Isolde’. The other picks are Arthur Wood’s iconic ‘Barwick Green’, and Ella Fitzgerald‘s unmistakable 1956 classic ‘Do I Love You?’. Fry being Fry, he also couldn’t resist including his best friend Hugh Laurie’s song ‘Changes’.

When host Kirsty Young springs the age-old question upon Fry of which of his tracks he would choose to accompany him on the titular island above all else, in a steadfast manner, he responds: “I know it sounds pretentious, but well I couldn’t contemplate living without Beethoven‘s late quartet”. It comes as no surprise that a man schooled in the classics should choose one of classical music’s most enduring pieces.

Check out the full playlist, below. 

Stephen Fry’s eight favourite songs:

  • Johann Sebastian Bach – ‘Partita No. 1 in B flat major’
  • Franz Schubert – ‘Variations 2 & 3 from Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A’
  • Ludwig van Beethoven – ‘Presto –Quartet Op. 131 in C-Sharp minor’
  • Nina Simone – ‘I Wish I Knew how it would feel to be Free’
  • Richard Wagner – ‘O sink hernieder , Nacht der Liebe’
  • Hugh Laurie – ‘Changes’
  • Ella Fitzgerald – ‘Do I Love You?’
  • Arthur Wood – ‘Barwick Green (The Archers’ Theme Tune)’

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