Time and Place: Ed Byrne: I made a mess of it
"The house at No 76 Sydney Road, Muswell Hill, in London remains a bit special to me because it was the first property I ever owned. I moved into it in 1998, and before that I’d rented places in every part of London — north, south, east and west. Back further again I’d lived in shared flats in Glasgow, where I played the comedy clubs, after dropping out of the University of Strathclyde.
The house marked the point in my career when I was coming off the club circuit and starting to play bigger venues: the theatres and arts centres. My stake in the house grew with the size of my audiences. It was a broad, Edwardian house, and at first I just bought the top two-bedroom flat, 76a, for £139,000. Then, four years later, I bought the downstairs for £200,000, with the intention of knocking them both into one desirable residence. But it never became quite as “des res” as I’d hoped.
Other comedians, such as Dara O’Briain, Glenn Wool and Andrew Maxwell, were forever stopping over at the house and, if the truth’s to be told, the place was a tip. That wasn’t just my opinion: people on the street would say so, too. Once I was on tour in Australia for a couple of months and I left my younger brother, Paul, to look after the house. He had parties most nights, and when I returned, complete strangers would come up to me, saying: “I was in your house. That’s a terrible mess you live in there.” That’s not to say I didn’t try to improve the place — it was just that none of my projects worked out. For example, I decided to change the loft into a master bedroom. In theory, that was fine, except there’s a little known law of construction which states that when you extend upwards in a loft the floor elevates itself to make sure the ceilings remain too low for comfort. I was forever knocking my head on the beams.
Then there was the bathroom. It was before I met up with my girlfriend, Claire, so I made a bid at turning the house into a Playboy mansion by putting in a tsunami whirlpool bath big enough for three glamour models. That never happened, though. Girls would look in the bathroom and say: “Mmm, yes, nice try. But your house is still a tip.” Then they’d vanish for ever more.
The joining together of the two flats was a disaster, too. All it meant was, you’d come in the front door and there’d be a pristine living room on your right, with nothing in it whatsoever except a brand-new sofa. The reason this living room was unused was that we never moved from the one in the flat upstairs. And the reason we never moved from there was we couldn’t move the plasma-screen television off the wall.
This upstairs living room was the messiest room in the house. It had wallpaper that I’d made a botch of putting up myself, wonky shelves packed with DVDs and a horrible green couch. You’d drop something in that room and it would disappear: I’d lose an iPod, buy another, then find the one before last that I’d lost.
Curiously, I found it virtually impossible to insure the contents of this house, even though those contents weren’t worth much. I’d phone companies, they’d ask my name, and at the other end of the line there’d be: “He’s Ed Byrne, you ever heard of him?” “Yes, he’s very funny.” “Yes, Mr Byrne, you’re very funny and no, you can’t have insurance.” It was due to my being a comedian. Their reasoning was that burglars would always know when I’d be out by looking at the theatre billboards.
This was mainly a party house. One night, Dara O’Briain came back after we’d had a fearful amount to drink. I told him he should sleep in the spare room, but he was determined to hail a taxi. So I went to bed and left him to it. Out Dara went to the kerb, but he mistook a police car, with its pretty, flashing light, for a cab. It stopped, Dara got in the back seat, twittering on happily to these nice people in uniforms and expecting a ride home. It was then the police noticed that the door to my house had been left open so, not without reason, they suspected Dara of being the world’s most confused burglar. The next thing I know is I’m being woken by a police officer standing in my bedroom. “Do you know this man?” she says, pointing at Dara, who has a look on his face that’s a mixture of roguish charm and apology. I thought about telling her this was the bloke who’d been presenting Have I Got News for You? on telly the previous night, but she wouldn’t have believed me, so I let it be.
I sold the house just last September for £530,000, and now I live with Claire in the Essex countryside. It’s great here. I have a real country cottage with a sit-on mower, and I do real country things like chopping logs and screwing up paper to make fire-lighters. But sometimes I miss the old house."