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Funnyman Iain Lee talks Taste of Nawab, Mini-Mozart and Muswell Hill

Interviews Celebrity

By MyMuswell Team on 19 December 2011

He's local, down-to-earth, flipping funny and loves Muswell Hill. It is of course, Iain Lee. We sunk a beer with him in the Phoenix pub, where he told us all about his favourite curry house, his Muswell Hill villain, the bonkers world of Mini-Mozart and why he'll never play World of Warcraft ever again.

Hello Iain - how long have you lived in Muswell Hill for?

I’ve lived here for ten years this June. I’ve always kinda been in North London. I grew up in Slough, then I went to Middlesex University at Oakwood. I lived in Crouch End for a bit and Highgate for a bit - but Muswell Hill for the last ten years

Why did you end up settling in Muswell?

I just found a nice flat that I liked. The first place I bought was a flat on Colney Hatch lane. I was aware of the area as I had a lecturer that lived in Muswell and a friend who lived in Colney Hatch lane. I was looking to buy and couldn’t afford Highgate – and that was when I was earning TV money that I couldn’t afford Highgate!

It’s expensive isn’t it.

Its ridiculous. You’re looking at £300,000 more minimum for a smaller place just ½ a mile up the road. Originally I was put off Muswell Hill because it didn’t have a tube - only later did I realize that this is what made Muswell Hill so brilliant. Suddenly you’re a bit more isolated and that’s part of the charm.  Frankly, if you can’t get your head around the fact we don’t have a tube, then we don’t want you anywhere near us!

Do you have a Muswell Hill hot tip?

Let me think. I’m always out with the baby so I’m always finding baby things to do. The Quaker church - sorry, meeting house - is amazing! We go there for Mini-Mozart which is sooo North London and middle class.

What's Mini-Mozart?

It’s brilliant man. This lovely girl called Ellie who plays violin and this lad who plays piano host it and they tell stories and play instruments and then get the bubbles out. And the kids go absolutely mental for it! There’s like 20 kids and we’ve been taking him since he was like 3-months old. It’s on Thursday mornings. It’s mental.

Where else in Muswell Hill do you spend your time?

The main library is also awesome on Queens Avenue. Downstairs is ok, but upstairs, the kid’s section - now that's incredible. They have an amazing amount of books, loads of toys, loads of events like story-telling sessions and bonkers old ladies singing songs – it’s wonderful. When I was a kid you weren’t able to make any noise in libraries. I remember getting chucked out of a library when I was 5-years old in Slough for making too much noise. Turns out that rule doesn’t apply anymore. Now you can make lots of noise. If ever I’m at a lose end with the boy I’m like ‘You wanna go to the library?’ and we’re (both) like ‘yeah!’. We sit and read and play with toys or play with other kids. It’s the best place.

Where do you eat locally?

Muswell Hill is great for eating. The best place is Taste of Nawab 2. It was recommended to me years ago by an Indian cab driver. He was taking me to Colney Hatch Lane and he was like ‘oh you live in Colney Hatch Lane - Taste of Nawab 2!’. This guy was from South London he would come up to Muswell just to go to Nawab. It’s great. Actually, the drummer from Iron Maiden goes there too.

The guy who runs it is so charming. At Christmas he gave me and my wife a whole tub of Quality Street and we thought oh isn’t that sweet. Then we mentioned it to someone else who lived in Muswell Hill and they were like ‘oh yeah we got some too’ – turns out he does it for quite a few people. The owner remembers our names, shakes our hands, always gives us something free on the side – it’s great service.

Are you saying it's the best curry in Muswell Hill?

Another example of what makes it special. We took a Japanese friend their once. She really wanted to go for a curry and Nawab was the perfect place. We explained how it worked, with heats ranging across mild, hot, really hot and extreme. She said ‘Oh I’ll have the hot, I want the hot’. One mouthful in, sweat was pouring off her - she was so uncomfortable but so polite about it but we knew she was suffering.  The head guy saw this and said ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I think we’ve given you the wrong curry’ and went and brought a super mild one out instead, but pretended it was his mistake. Then afterwards he said ‘I did that for your friend because I could see that she was struggling’. Lovely. Lovely, lovely guy. 

You love Muswell Hill's eccentrics don't you. Who are your faves?

There are two. The 20p guy is brilliant. He’s a short black guy, always smoking dog ends and roll-ups and always asking ‘spare twenty pence’. He always says it like really fast - like ‘sparetwentypence’ .  Sometimes I give him 20p. Sometimes I blow his mind by giving him 50p. Then the other day I walked past him on the Broadway and he said ‘spareapound’. I went 'What! Where did you get that from? You’re the 20p guy’. He laughed because he knew he’d done something wrong. He’s brilliant.

And the other?

Then there’s this other person. There’s a weird phenomenon that takes place, where, if a kid, has lost a cat, they make up a little poster of their cat that says ‘Lost! Fluffy, 7 years old, diabetic, needs medicine. I’m only 12 myself. Call this number’. It's a heartbreaking cry for help which they pin on trees around Muswell Hill. What someone then goes and does is cross out the cats face and scribble on all of the posters ‘Don’t use pins - trees have feelings too!’. They do this all the time and they’ve been doing it for years. Trees aren’t going to die from a pin are they?! And there’s this poor kiddie out there, that lost their cat and they’re saying ‘Up yours’. It used to make me so angry!

But I have a plan for revenge. I'm going to pin a sign to a tree, take a picture of that sign pinned to a tree - and then pin that picture to a tree. Then I’ll write on it ‘Does this offend you? Email us here if it does. Hopefully the person will email in and we can sting them. I really want to get this person!

Hilarious. They could use the Fortis Green Residents Association notice board though, right?

The Fortis Green Residents Association do a wonderful job.  I always go and talk to them at their stall at the Muswell Hill festival. One of the guys wrote a book about the notice board outside Rymans! I nearly proposed to my wife on that notice board. I had it all formulated in my head, a sign saying ‘Will you marry me?’ - but then I proposed to her in Japan, which was way cooler.

 A lot of celebs, presenters and broadcasters live in Muswell Hill – are you friends with any of them?

I know MacKenzie Crook very well. We used to share a flat together in Manor House – a really scary flat in Manor House where we had to kinda leave at midnight one night  because the landlord was bonkers. We had to escape. MacKenzie lives just down the road from me now. He popped round about a month ago to help me dig up my front garden. Where do you live?

Queens Avenue.

Ah nice. Quiet street, good properties - weird hotels though! I’m obsessed with the Monkees - the pop group not the animal – and years ago, I went to a Monkees convention in one of those hotels.

Really? Do go on.

Yeah it was a very low-key affair. I would have been 22, 1995. It was a lifetime ago.

Who was there?

No one from the Monkees. Haha. Lots of nice middle aged women. And some geeky blokes like me kind of excited to be with other Monkees fan.

And what did one speak about – other than the Monkees?

Juuuust Monkees. I did a bit of stand up I think. I was there as a punter but the guy knew I was doing stand up and asked me to do some. We all traded tapes and records and it was all very nerdy. I’ve seen a couple of those people again this year for some reason and they are all lovely. Absolutely bonkers but lovely.

So you're a Monkees Superfan?

Yeah I am. I’m obsessed with the Monkees. Like really obsessed. I won Mastermind with my specialist subject as the Monkees. I was up against Scott Mills, Bernie Nolan and Jimmy McGovern – I beat the guy who wrote Cracker. I beat him!

Muswell Hill has great musical heritage. Ray Davies. Carl Barat. Why do you think it attracts people like that?

I’m always seeing Ray Davies; I’ve seen him three times in the last couple of weeks. I interviewed him about six months ago at Absolute Radio and I kind of heard stories about him being hard work. The start of the interview was quite tough, he didn’t want to talk about The Kinks and he only wanted to talk about his new record. 15 minutes into it I said ‘By the way, do you ever get back to Muswell Hill?’. He was like 'yeah, I was up there having a curry the other week'. It totally won him over. Muswell Hill was my way in and the interview was great after that.

So you’re a fan of his then?

Totally. We’re living in rock and roll history here man. We’re a 10-minute walk away from the house where heavy metal was invented, the house where he wrote the first heavy metal song ‘Ya Really Got Me’ in 1964. It’s down the road, on Fortis Green. And Muswell Hill Billys too.

Can we clear something up - I hear that you might be presenting the new Gamesmaster?

That’s not true. I don’t think the new Gamesmaster is happening. When I was linked with it Channel 5 were going to be doing it. They had just relaunched Gamesmaster magazine and Danny Wallace was going to be hosting it. My part, was to go to japan for four days and record loads of VTs, that’s how it was sold to me. Then, the next I heard Dave Gorman was going to be hosting it. Then I’ve not heard anything since. That was like a year ago.

It’s definitely resurfaced recently – why won’t the channels buy into gaming shows?

They don’t get it. I’ve pitched video game shows and they say – 'yeah ok, what else have you got’. I’m not sure how you would do a good video game show today though. Gamesmaster wouldn’t work now. It was perfect for the time. I did two video game shows – I did Thumb Candy which I’m really proud of – I got to go round the world meeting the guys who invented Space Invaders and Pacman. Then I did Thumb Bandits which was a series and it was rubbish. They were like: we’ve got four hot girls, lets get rid of two of the hot girls and get a lanky bloke in, that’ll win the audience over! And it didn’t work.

Are you still gaming?

It’s tricky since the baby. I’ve got the new On Live box which is this little box from BT which you plug into the phone and the TV and you play games on. Nothing is stored in the box – it’s all in the cloud – so you don’t even need to go and get the game. Its £70 for the box. It could be the future. I’ve been playing the new Batman game but haven’t had a chance to have a proper session. It looks brilliant. I  loved the last Batman game, I thought it was awesome – this is more of the same but bigger and more violent.

Are you a World of Warcrafter?

I have only played World of Warcraft once. I logged on, got my character ready and everything and appeared in this town. I got sooo lost, so I went up to some guy and said ‘Look. I’m lost. I’ve got no idea how to play this game.’. He said ‘Of course I will help you, but you’ve got that leather tunic on so your gonna get killed with that. Come round here, I’ve got a suit of armour, I’ll give you my suit of armour’. I thought this was wicked. He took me up this little alley way where it was dark and he said ‘Look take all of your clothes off and I’ll give you this suit of armour.’ I was like ‘thanks man, this is really, really cool, thanks so much’. I did what he said and took everything off and gave it to him – then he buggered off! Basically I was mugged. I was literally just stood there in my pants and was like – I’m never going to play this game ever again. What a horrible experience. So that was the end of my WOW days.

When and where can we see you performing next?

I run a night with my friend Dougie Anderson called Clip Joint. It’s a tiny night, where me and Dougie show clips of things we really like. It’s two or three minute clips, proper obscure stuff. At the last one we did Dougie showed a clip from Bird On A Wire, a Leonard Cohen documentary where this hot, sexy, seventies woman, is basically going to Leonard Cohen ‘Do you want to come back to my room and have sex?’ Leonard is going ‘That’s very kind but I’m gonna stay with my friend’. It’s so brilliantly uncomfortable, so awkward. It’s at The Camden Head and we feature guests like Josie Long, Miles Jupp, Iain Morris, MacKenzie will do it, Danny Wallace will do it. We have a Facebook page - /clipjointclub   Come on December 21st.

Thanks Iain. It's been a pleasure.

Thank you too.

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