Turn right out of Norwich railway station, take the number 12 bus, change at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, ride eight stops on the number 4 towards Swanton Morley, walk 1.1 miles, and you can’t help but spot the twin louvred conical towers of the oasthouse that Alan Partridge calls home. It is from this very oasthouse that Partridge – raconteur, national treasure, wit – broadcasts his brand new podcast, From the Oasthouse: The Alan Partridge Podcast, and to which Partridge has invited the Guardian.
Partridge bounds out to greet me in what appears to be an effusive show of hospitality. He offers a handshake before snapping it back into a more pandemic-appropriate wave. “I am so fine with social distancing,” he says. “Remember, I work in television where you’re forever mauled, hugged and leant on by over-pally floor managers or cackling makeup ladies. Now I can say, ‘Get your hands off me!’ without appearing in any way rude.”
He glances at my bag before lowering his voice. “I’d ask that you remove any sandwiches and if you’ve handled any such snack in the last hour, wash your hands quietly and well.” His dog, he explains – an enormous brown mastiff called Seldom – adores sandwiches.
“Less than 0.1% of mastiffs attack,” says Partridge as we sidle past the animal. “Unfortunately, Seldom’s the whole of that 0.1%. The kindest thing I can say is that he’s a statistical anomaly.”
Twenty minutes later, with the dog sleeping off a meal of ham and boiled eggs, we sit down at the kitchen table. Does Partridge trust the press, I ask? Was he involved in the phone hacking scandal? “I was concerned enough at the time to have a friend leave a fake message on my voicemail discussing the fact that a high oestrogen count had given me breasts that I was only able to hide with extensive strapping. I wanted to see if it got picked up by a paper. To this day there’s never been a story published suggesting Alan Partridge has tits.”
Alan Partridge in person is just as you’d imagine Alan Partridge off the telly. He’s managed his first post-lockdown haircut. “No longer having to worry about the volume and lustre of my hair, I became a hat man, something I’ve always wanted to try,” he says. “So I’d buy a hat online and then spend a day wearing it. It was only when I answered the door to a smirking Ocado driver while wearing a Jamiroquai hat that I had a moment of clarity…” He’s sporting a fetching pair of burgundy trousers. “They’re not burgundy,” he corrects me. “They’re ox-blood. Sometimes I’ll just see a colour and think, ‘I want to wear that.’ So I’ll pick it out of a Dulux colour chart and send my assistant to the shops.”
What’s the format of his new podcast? “Format is the death of chat,” counters Partridge. “Podcasts are strangled by format – talk about your favourite meal, tell us about the adverts you enjoy, tell us about the last time you cried, watch Doctor Who with me. Mine is different. I just yank back the curtain, drop the facade, peel back the warm hood of celebrity and reveal the real me, the raw me, the true me. A be-cardiganed, cuppa-tea-swigging, pair-of-slippers kind of Alan.”
This is one of half a dozen times Partridge mentions tea or cardigans, as if keen to project the air of a man at ease with himself.
“Five years ago, I was swanning around in a complimentary Kia, my name emblazoned on the side, the talk of Norwich – Johnny Big Bollocks,” he says. “Today…?” He nods outside to a silver saloon. What’s he driving, I ask? “Oh, a Vauxhall, but who cares really? After the year we’ve been through, there are more important things than how much you earn or what racquets club you’re a member of or how sweet your wheels are. And people say, ‘That’s the Insignia GSi, isn’t it? Nine-speed automatic with paddle shift? Keyless entry, e-boost hydraulic brakes, heated front seats with massage functionality?’ And I just chuckle. Some even peer through the window and say, ‘Tell you what, Alan, for a 40k car, this is specced to absolute buggery.’ And I just shrug and, again, chuckle.”
Has Partridge been inspired by any other podcasts? “Less other podcasts, more by the excellence we see all around us: a dog leaping to catch a stick, a ballerina doing a brilliant ballet, a forklift truck driver steering one-handed while smoking.”
Having said that, he admits to enjoying the true-crime genre (“Nothing beats settling down with a glass of wine and a plate of sandwiches to be entertained by the ins and outs of a man found battered to death in a hedge”) and is considering using a second series of his podcast to explore the disappearance of a friend who fell from a pier in 2013, never to be found. “I’m just waiting to hear from Audible as they’ve yet to say they definitely want a second series. I’m not worried. It’s just that they said they’d call and thus far they haven’t. It’s fine. They’ve not not called. They’ve just not called.”
Alan Gordon Partridge is allergic to shellfish and was born in King’s Lynn, Norfolk. At school he was nicknamed Smelly Alison Fartridge. “Bullying suggests weakness. I wasn’t bullied. I allowed some pretty dysfunctional kids to reveal their dysfunction through the medium of hitting me. And now everyone knows they’re dysfunctional and I’m clearing a six-figure salary. So remind me – which one of us was bullied?” Partridge found fame presenting the sports on Radio 4’s On the Hour and BBC Two’s The Day Today. Does he still have an interest in sport?
“Does anyone? Once upon a time, the theme from Grandstand by Keith Mansfield would waft through from the living room and every household in Britain would drift to the sofa, like a snake-charmed snake to a snake charmer. But as the BBC lost the rights to blue-riband events, the music developed a sarcastic feel, the bombast that had once led into, say, the Monaco Grand Prix jarring badly with live canoeing from Wiltshire or the Masters snooker from wherever the Masters snooker is from.”
On his chat show Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge (KMKYWAP for short), Partridge accidentally shot dead a guest during a segment on duelling pistols. During TKMKYWAPCS (The Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge Christmas Special), he accidentally punched chief commissioning editor of BBC television Tony Hayers with a turkey. Partridge then pitched Cooking in Prison, Youth Hostelling With Chris Eubank and Monkey Tennis. Yet F*** Off I’m Fat, Anthea Turner: Perfect Housewife and World’s Craziest Fools, presented by Mr T, have aired on BBC Three. Is he bitter?
“It’s interesting,” muses Partridge. “I proposed those shows in strict confidence at a private luncheon with Tony Hayers. Somehow, the world and his dog now know about them so I know Hayers must have betrayed my confidence and told people. Does that mean he deserved to die in a tragic accident just weeks later? Yes, I think it does.”
Partridge then presented Up With the Partridge and Norfolk Nights on Radio Norwich (“A TV presenter claiming to prefer radio is like a Hollywood actor claiming their first love is ‘the theatre’ – a clear and obvious lie”), and Mid Morning Matters on North Norfolk Digital, the same radio station where he was later held hostage at gunpoint by fellow DJ Pat Farrell. He returned to live TV in 2019 to co-present BBC One’s flagship current affairs programme This Time, after host John Baskell died. Are there any broadcast media he’d still like to try?
“I’d like to have had a crack at voicing the government’s public information Covid campaign. Nothing against Mark Strong. He has competent delivery and an authoritative voice, but a glance at the numbers suggests Strong just hasn’t worked. I’d love to be considered for the second wave.”
So how does Partridge think the government is coping? “Something special is happening with the Conservative party right now,” he says. “I like Boris a lot, although I’ve never met him. He was going to be at a function I was at a few years ago, but apparently he’d just had another baby and was having a small gathering to celebrate hitting double figures. But he’s persuasive. We’re talking about a chap who’s managed to pass himself off as an energetic, sporty ladies’ man despite being morbidly obese with a kind of … I want to say collapsing face? Like that evil rabbit at the end of Watership Down. What can I say, I like the guy!”
So what was Norwich like during lockdown? “Norwich is used to repelling unwanted plagues – be they germs, people from Suffolk or invading armies. I remember when my kids were teenagers…”
(I interrupt to ask when he last saw his now middle-aged children. “Just before lockdown. They’re shielding so I couldn’t visit anyway. Fernando says he had head cancer and Denise says she’s sometimes diabetic…”)
“Anyway, we’d have an enormous Christmas breakfast then go for a big old walk while Carol cooked Christmas lunch. One year, the kids didn’t want to come – I’d bought them a chemistry set, so I get it – so off I set on my own in my new coat, a lovely warm thing. After several miles, I found a world war two pillbox. It was just fascinating to sit inside, imagine the Germans had invaded and picture British soldiers in here, shouting, ‘Take that, Fritz!’ and whatnot. Anyway as I say it’d had been a very big breakfast and this was a very warm coat and long story short, I woke up and it was 2pm on Boxing Day. I didn’t realise until I got home and Carol had taken down all the decorations. So mixed memories there.”
How’s his love life these days? “Varied. I signed up to an elite dating agency called Echelon, for high wealth/class individuals looking to encounter similar. It’s run by a couple called Wilf and Fi who provide a tightly curated list of potential matches. I was in a very happy sexless relationship for 12 months. We’d kiss, cuddle and talk about the garden. Very pleasant. Just nothing genital. Some of my mates said it must be like going out with a mermaid. They were right. Although one that can’t swim.”
He shows me round the house. Recent spoilsports in the oasthouse field have noted that this particular oasthouse does not possess the visible joints nor the vented fireproof floor required of a traditional 19th-century oasthouse and is more likely to have been a game larder.
“It didn’t used to be anything; it’s a new build, so they’re bang wrong,” he snaps. Meaning it never was an oasthouse? “That’s absolutely correct. In fact, if I come to sell it, I legally have to list it as an oast-style house. It only dates back to 2018. I read somewhere you can age brickwork by power hosing it with black coffee but it just made the house smell like a bank manager’s mouth so I had it cleaned off. Either way, it doesn’t look like a game larder and it’s never been a game larder.”
Partridge suddenly jumps up. “Bugger me, I have to collect Lynn from her physio.” Ah, yes. Partridge’s dedicated assistant Lynn, who has worked for him since the 90s. “She’s just started a 12-month driving ban, so I’m having to ferry her around and subtract the petrol money from her wages. She fell asleep at the wheel after an Irish coffee and crashed into a stationary St John ambulance – people you’d expect to be able to cope in the event of a low-speed collision – but their training went out of the window and they went to pieces. It was only when a second St John ambulance arrived that they were able to restore some semblance of order. The judge made an example of her, which I think she was quietly flattered by.”
Just one more question, I ask, as Partridge shows me the door. What’s the difference between an oasthouse and a game larder anyway? “You dry hops in an oasthouse. You mature dead animals in a game larder. Very different vibes. You might show a Tinder date around an oasthouse and kiss her up against the hops. Would you do that next to the corpse of a baby deer or a bunch of garrotted rabbits? I don’t know, maybe you would.”