Russell Brand, the flamboyant comedian turned actor, is best known for his sexual innuendos and his likeness to a dandy-highwayman. Irritating to many but adored by many more, this British gem will no doubt keep the hearts of many women racing for as long as his supply of black guy-liner lasts and his famous skinny jeans still fit.
Russell Edward Brand was born on 4 June 1975 in Essex, the only child to parents Barbara and Ronald, who separated when he was just six months old. Brand was subsequently brought up by his mother and rarely saw his father, with whom he had a difficult relationship. He remembers his father as what he describes as a ‘stereotypical Essex dad’, never turning up for the Saturdays they were supposed to spend together, and even his stepfather, Colin, looked on him as a ‘flouncy kid.’
Making his debut on the theatre boards age 15 as 'Fat Sam' in his school's production of ‘Bugsy Malone’, the attention he received led him to decide that he wanted to be an actor. He promptly applied to the notorious Italia Conti Academy and was lucky enough that Essex Council deemed it 'criminal' not to allow his talents to be nurtured - and funded his education at the school. Sadly, Brand had other plans other than to perfect his acting credentials and while at the school became involved in drugs, alcohol and also became bulimic. The final straw came when he smashed a glass over his head after a bad audience reaction to one of his performances and in his final year he was expelled.
A small part in ‘The Bill’ in 1994 would be his TV debut and he soon found his niche for comedy after performing stand-up on the London circuit with Karl Theobald, who he had met at the Drama Centre in Camden. Brand’s stand-up show reached its biggest audience yet when he got through to the final of the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year competition in 2000. He didn’t win but his act caught the attention of agent Nigel Klarfeld of Bound and Gagged comedy group and he was immediately signed up.
Following his stage tour he was given his own series by MTV – ‘Dance Floor Chart’ - where each week he chatted with intoxicated youths at nightclubs in the UK and Ibiza and then went on to present the tea-time show ‘Select’. But his heroin addiction would soon ruin his new-found TV fame and after coming to work dressed as Osama Bin Laden not long after the September 11th attacks, he was unsurprisingly fired.
In 2002, he found his feet again after featuring in ‘Re:Brand’ on the now defunct satellite channel, UK Play. The show aimed to look at cultural taboos (a perfect avenue for taboo-tastic Brand) and was entirely conceived by Brand himself with the help of his comic partner Matt Morgan. It was perceived as particularly daring for pushing boundaries and more worrying, he was often drunk or high while filming. Brand had also begun hosting a Sunday afternoon radio show with Morgan on London’s XFM at the same time but he was fired after reading out pornographic material live on air.
Soon afterwards he appeared in Channel Four’s adaptation of Zadie Frost’s novel ‘White Teeth’ and Steve Coogan's ‘Cruise of the Gods’ but was thrown off set for his drunken behaviour. Realising that his career would be dead unless he cleaned himself up, Brand’s agent John Noel forced him into rehab for his addiction to heroin – and sex. Noel’s reining in worked and since 2003, Brand has been proudly free of drug use and is now patron of addiction charity Focus.
Brand’s personal life antics were notorious. His sex addiction led to endless relationships with women and it was rare to see him out with the same woman more than once. His longest ‘attachment’ was pounced on by the press when he started dating Australian actress Teresa Palmer in May 2008 – their union lasted a whole five months.
From the moment he left rehab, Brand’s craving for fame became stronger and more focused, now that he finally had a clear head, and he reinvented himself into the flamboyant Gothic philander we all know him to be today, landing a job hosting Big Brother’s spin off programme, ‘Big Brother’s Little Mouth’ in 2004. It was here that he truly established himself as a comic talent and TV personality, receiving high ratings for the programme that would eventually lead to MTV forgiving his Bin Laden hiccup and inviting him to present the ‘1 Leicester Square’ chat show in 2006.
Brand’s career went from strength to strength since he waved goodbye to his addictions but nevertheless, his trademark remained in the fact that he was never far from controversy or outrage. Always keen to push the boundaries beyond what is both politically or culturally acceptable, he was known worldwide for his outrageous statements and sexually illicit tendencies. Nevertheless, Brand’s popularity grew tenfold since his days on satellite TV and after the success of his Big Brother show, he made a welcome return to Channel 4 in October 2007 with his own show, ‘Russell Brand’s Ponderland’, a combination of stand-up and general discussion topics. The series was a huge success and drew in such high ratings that a second series was instantly commissioned.
But it was Brand’s penchant for hoax calls and pranks that again landed him in hot water. In July 2008, he came under fire when he made a hoax call to Northampton police during a stand-up act claiming he had spotted a man responsible for a series of sexual assaults over the previous few weeks. Needless to say the police failed to see the funny side of this prank and Brand’s comedic move was widely criticised in the press.
His Sunday morning radio show on BBC 6Music that began in April 2006 pulled in so many listeners that it was moved to Radio 2 just six months later, upsetting some of its more ‘traditional’ fans. But on 18 October 2008, his love of wind-ups was to go one step too far while presenting his Radio 2 show with guest co-presenter Jonathan Ross. On the show the pair made a prank call to actor Andrew Sachs, famed for playing Manuel in ‘Fawlty Towers’, leaving messages on his answerphone about sleeping with his granddaughter. Offended by the lurid and swearing content of the voicemail, Sachs contacted Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas demanding an apology.
The national press had a field day, with the BBC also receiving 1,585 complaints about the pre-recorded show. On Wednesday 29 October, both Ross and Brand were suspended from the BBC and later that day Brand responded by resigning from his radio show entirely. Much furore had been caused by the prank, resulting in Ofcom investigations and also the resignation of Radio 2 controller, Douglas and Radio 2 executive David Barber. Despite his public apologies, Brand found himself and his career under intense scrutiny and was seen boarding a plane to the US to apparently begin a film with Helen Mirren not long afterwards. In an ironic twist of fate, he won the Best Live Stand-Up Award at the British Comedy Awards of 2008, broadcast on 6 December 2008. Jonathan Ross had been due to present the awards but had to pull out after his BBC suspension.
Brand is something of a unique entity – with his radio career on hold, his acting talent has once again come to light after a successful turn in the US film, ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ (2008), in which to the surprise of many dubious critics, he received rave reviews. This success was followed by an appearance in family-fantasy-comedy film ‘Bedtime Stories’ in the same year, which featured Adam Sandler, Keri Russell, Guy Pearce and Courteney Cox.
He went on to take on a leading role in 2010 comedy ‘Get Him to the Greek’, a spin-off sequel of director Nicholas Stoller’s ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’. Co-starring Jonah Hill, musician Sean Combs and a number of celebrities appearing as themselves, the movie was a commercial success and helped to increase Brand’s bankability. The same year saw him have a role in ‘The Tempest’ alongside Helen Mirren and the hugely successful animation ‘Despicable Me’ and its sequel.
While his movie career was taking off, Brand’s love life was also going in a rather unfamiliar direction as his relationship with Katy Perry became serious following their engagement in December 2009. Apparently ready to ditch his womanising ways, Brand married the ‘I Kissed a Girl’ singer in a traditional Hindu ceremony, near the Ranthambhore tiger sanctuary in Rajasthan, India, in October 2010. Unfortunately they divorced in 2012.
In 2011, Brand was recognised by his peers when he was awarded a British Comedy Award for Outstanding Contribution To Comedy. He also worked with Jennifer Garner, Greta Gerwig, Helen Mirren and Nick Nolte on the comedy ‘Arthur’ (2011).
With a football column in The Guardian, another book deal in the pipeline and no doubt more headline-grabbing stand-up acts in the woodwork, there is no chance that Brand will settle for anything less than front-page news if he has anything to do with it.