Mark Steel – From Egypt to Crystal Palace!

Posted on October 24, 2016

I was reading an article by Mark Steel in The Independent on Friday, when I noticed a little note at the bottom saying;

Mark Steel is on tour across Britain now. For more information see

By way of coincidence, I discovered that Steel was appearing in Poole last night at approximately the same time I was returning my son back to his digs at Bournemouth University. So, on impulse, I bought three tickets, inviting his elder brother along too. Steel does not command the sort of audience Sarah Millican does for talking about Twix bars stored under her pillow, so tickets are relatively easy to come by.

I was quietly confident I would enjoy it, but uncertain how two lads of 18 and 20 would react to a moderately known comic who spends most of his time on Radio 4 or satirical quiz programmes such as Have I Got News For You. They weren’t to be disappointed.


Steel’s show is called ‘Who do I think I Am’ and is a fascinating and hilarious delve into his background (Steel is adopted) as he attempts to discover his mother, who gave him up to adoption after conceiving him in the late 1950’s to whom Steel thought, was a French passer by.

Steel was brought up in Swanley in Kent (a rough, white working class area) not knowing, or really caring, who his biological parents were; even though he was aware he was adopted, his curiosity about his being was rarely jolted.

Imagine then, as a socialist from tough roots, discovering that your mother was a Scottish model who mixed with the Beatles and your father was a multi-millionaire, world backgammon champion, who had recently bought the home of soul singer, Luther Vandross, for £12 million. Not only that, he was not French but an Egyptian Jew whose family had fled the country, moved to England, then America, where he became a Wall St financier to the aristocracy.

Steel’s father, it turned out, was also something of a playboy, spending the 1970’s and 80’s mixing with the likes of James Goldsmith, Tiny Rowland’s, Lord Lucan and Kerry Packer. This bizarre discovery was all the more fascinating as they were all individuals that Steel, an active socialist, detested, in particular, Kerry Packer, who in his mind, had destroyed cricket, the game he loved.

The show is not just about Steel’s life, it is about how we become who we are because of our surroundings as presumably, had he been brought up by his father, he wouldn’t have become an active socialist and avid follower of Kent County Cricket Club and Crystal Palace FC.

For me, it was two and a half hours of entertainment that was poignant, interesting and downright gut bustingly funny in equal measure; there were times when all three of us were snorting with uncontrollable laughter at Steel, who as well as being a great story teller, is also a great mimic; public figures as diverse as health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and football pundit Gary Neville, all came in for a hearty amount of stick.

Despite having little in common with his father and not remaining in contact after one strange meeting in a cafe, he does recall reading something about him in a gossip magazine that made him wonder if there were some traits of humour in the DNA.

His father and some friends were on a yacht in the Mediterranean when someone fell into the water, and he dived in to rescue him. Several years later, the man bumped into Mark’s father and said: “Aren’t you the former backgammon champion?” Quick as a flash, he said: “No, I’m the man who saved your life, you cunt.”

Apparently Steel’s wife said; “See Mark, that’s exactly what you have said!”

After finding his roots (sadly his mum refused to see him) Steel now describes himself as “a strange hybrid of Scottish Trotsky politics and Jewish humour, with a bit of Swanley thrown in.”

Whatever the case, it was the funniest and most poignant two and a half hours I have had for some time and a great night out with couple beers with my two lads, one my favourite stories being one about the Belfast murals that donned the sectarian housing estates in the 70’s and 80’s at the height of ‘The Troubles’.

Steel reminisced how he used to tell a joke in Belfast about it being a city full of Rolf Harris’s (“there’s a balaclava and a rifle, can you guess what it is yet?”) before pausing and saying….“Who’d have thought a joke about Belfast would become controversial because Rolf Harris was in it?”

Wonderful stuff.

*Mark Steel is in Farnham on the 25th November and Salisbury on 9th December.

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