Life & Culture

Hugo Hamlet: The Multi-Talented Musician Bringing Back the Art of Clowning

After burying his greatest hits at sea, this musician, painter and clown is set to make the world his stage with a new tragicomic cabaret

With a back story spanning Sweden, Australia and England, Hugo Hamlet is a self-styled international bunny. Not limiting himself to being a clown, painter and musician, Hamlet also models as a side hustle. And, between the upcoming group shows planned for galleries in London and LA, a song coming out called Allergic to Noir, training with Cirque du Soleil, and string of solo gigs, he somehow crowbars in rehearsal time for his latest project: Voo Le Voo, a tragicomic cabaret with poet Lily Ashley.

Introduced to the performing arts at a young age – both parents were ballet dancers – Hamlet was destined for the stage, especially after being seduced by the “energy, conviction and naughtiness” of rock and roll. And, while his influences include larger-than-life characters, like Boy George and Pete Burns, he finds his inspiration in the mundane, people watching in cafes over a mocha and prepping himself for a new audience. “I’ve been in lots of bands in the past, but I’ve stripped all that away,” he says. “Now I’m out here in the real world, ready to expose myself.”

On set for the latest issue of Another Man, Hamlet divulges more about his theatrical past, at one point risking treason with some kinky comments about the Queen.

“This year I’ve promised myself to release more music. I used to keep everything too separate, recording the same song but in different genres – hard rock, acoustic, pop, electro – and keeping them on individual hard drives. I threw them all into the ocean in a bag weighed down with bricks, because I was so angry about doing nothing with them. My biggest fear is balance, but I love it too, so I fuse everything together to create something fun now instead.

“Every day is really dramatic, full of big ups and downs. I turned over a tarot card recently and it said, ‘to be liked and playful while multitasking is your virtue’ and I remembered it, so it must mean something to me. I like to be loud, fierce and romantic in my music, and with a piano I can really explore that. Then, when I look at my electric guitar every night, I think about how happy I am just to be in the same room as it – there’s something about the look of an electric guitar that I love.

“My parents were ballet dancers and exposed me to performing at an early age. I’d watch shows in the West End every night. I learnt that you can practice your craft and slave away, finessing it, but as soon as you perform you must be there, you must have pleasure, you must give something. Today everything I do is for the stage, and when I perform, I do it for you. I think that vulnerability engages the audience – imperfection makes the perfect performance. When I make paintings or write songs it brings me joy. But when I show or perform them, they’re no longer mine. 

“Everyone loves to watch people laugh and cry. Seeing them fail is joyful because it’s so human and mundane. It’s a way to find ourselves”

“We change the aesthetic, sound and atmosphere for every Voo Le Voo gig, and for those reasons it’s more like an art show than pure cabaret. My solo Hugo Hamlet show, on the other hand, is more intimate and feels like a standup show, but with music. I used to sing in the choir at St George’s School in Windsor and we would perform for the Queen, and that really was a unique live experience. The Queen can be awfully grumpy, but very naughty; she has a glimmer in her eye. One would like to see her with trousers down.

“Clowning is forgotten in pop culture. I studied in Paris and just joined the Cirque du Soleil. My uncle is a clown. Everyone loves to watch people laugh and cry. Seeing them fail is joyful because it’s so human and mundane. It’s a way to find ourselves, that’s why we make YouTube compilations of people falling off trampolines and cats falling into fishbowls. I’m just trying to bring new light to that on the stage, so it wows me when people tell me that they can connect with what I do. It moves me. Because if it brings a smile to their faces, it brings a smile to mine. I love comedy, tragedy, tears and laughter. To evoke happiness is my goal.

“There is a saying in French that means there are always flowers for those who want to see them, written by Henri Matisse, and I think about that every day. Recently I heard someone say something very similar, ‘Hugo, you can either water the weeds, or water the flowers’, and I like to look for the flowers.”

A version of this article appeared in the S/S19 issue of Another Man.