I see this come up, so as I go forward, with a wider western audience, of which I’m very appreciative, I’d like to be totally open about this, as with everything. I went to Dundee University between 1998 and 2001, majoring in philosophy, graduating in 2001 with a Masters of the Arts, BA degree.
In my time as uni, I got involved with student theatre, performing, and in 2000 put on a stand-up show at the Edinburgh Fringe ‘The Road from Dundee‘ with my friend Benni Esposito. Deciding to take stage names for this, Benni took Ben Darcy, and I came up with Brandon Reed, not exactly sure why, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Well, our show ‘Road from Dundee‘, done for a budget of about a hundred pounds, was a huge success, five-star reviews, packed houses even a little tour, media attention, and on. I probably got a bit caught up in this, started going under the name ‘Brandon Reed’ even, and planning on a future career in theatre, television. I even changed my name at Uni to this. You know, I was 21, took it seriously, etc, and actually all that even took, to, as I recall my slight surprise, was asking the secretary in the Dean’s office.
Anyway, come 2001 at the Edinburgh Fringe, I’d done my finals, decided I wanted to leave uni, move to London, in any case. And Benni had decided he didn’t want to be involved in the shows this year. I’d taken on a solo show, taking material from a trip all around the US in September of 2000, and had also decided to write, and take the lead role, in a 7-person-play. Youthful enthusiasm and all that – I’d stay up all night alternating between revising for finals, and writing my productions.
Well, how did they go? Not well at all, it must be said! Scathing reviews, sparse audiences, 2001’s fringe was a spectrum opposite of 2000. And it certainly brought a few things home, having watched a lot of other productions I realised, I’m no actor, and a career in the theatre was not to be for me. And Brandon Reed, yeah, that was also going to go the way of what everyone confused it for anyway ‘Brandon Lee‘. It was over.
I’d had an amazing 2000, putting on a play which had worked out really well, with my best friend. 2001, however, was the proverbial back to earth, with a bang, bringing a lot of things home in the process. I called Dundee University to ask if they could change my name back, but, too late, I’d sat my finals as Brandon Reed, so I graduated in that name – albeit with a special letter explaining that actually, I’m Graham Phillips.
I moved to London in September of 2001, and while I continued to do a bit of stand-up for little while, it was more of a social thing than anything, new in London, getting out meeting people, and so on. I wound it down, and early 2003 saw my final ever performance. It just wasn’t for me, but I’d tried it, done it.
With the media industry laying off staff en masse at this time, I’d found it impossible to break into the journalism – at university I’d been accepted on a programme by the Guardian, and had also started freelancing, writing several articles for the Scotsman newspaper – such as here, here, and here. I started a different career path, spending most of my working life in London at the (now defunct) COI.
As for Benni, unfortunately there’s a sad end to that story, that got a bit worse years down the line. He was a hugely talented artist, had been in a successful band, a gifted writer, performer. And perhaps with all of that, creative DNA and all, a tendency to not always do things in moderation.
Anyway, as I say, he’d been my best friend at university, we put on shows together, did fun things like a project for David Hasselhoff to be rector of Dundee University –
Spoofed Morecambe and Wife for posters for upcoming shows –
Got dressed up for show, fancy dress nights –
We’d gone out chasing girls. Drunk too much, on occasion. Hitch-hiked. It was uni, it was young, it was fun.
I moved to London in 2001, as I say, and saw Benni then only intermittently over the years. Sadly, I saw Benni succumbing, rather than overcoming as he wanted to, to his vices. Whether this was a factor or not I can’t say, as his death, on January 3rd 2005, was from a long-standing medical condition. This portrait of him, the last, by Jackie Anderson.
We’d kept in touch, seen each other just months before. His passing, at the age of only 33, was a huge shock to me, something I was sad about for a long time, still am if I think about it.
So, I was hardly gratified to see the Ukrainian gutter press splash all over a story in 2015 that I was ‘gay’ on the basis that they’d found online somwhere that old Morecambe and Wise photo of Benni and myself.
Not only is that claim totally incorrect, it was completely insensitive to the memory of my best friend. But, then, having decided I’m some sort of a ‘Kremlin propagandist‘, because they don’t like the news I report, I guess some people think they have the right to do anything, including attacking those who can no longer defend themselves, in the case of Benni.
It’s amoral, and I even consider it pretty inhumane, more so given the mass amount of rank homophobic abuse which was directed at me by ‘pro-Ukrainians’, call them as you will. However, I’m not going to go off screaming ‘infamy‘, I can take it, and I’m pretty sure Benni would have found it hilarious.
So, that’s that. And as for ‘Brandon Reed’ being brought up against me, I’m actually proud of the show we did ‘Road from Dundee‘. As for the rest, well, that was what told me that kind of career wasn’t for me, but I’d encourage anyone of 21, and not only, to try out a few things before deciding on what’s right for them!
Anyway, Benni mate, to you. And you can see more of Benni’s incredible paintings here. All my uni photos here.