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A Curious Calling: Peter Forrest, Doggy-Man

If you're not careful, it'll all go to the dogs

Written by . Published on October 31st 2011.


A Curious Calling: Peter Forrest, Doggy-Man

TALKING dogs are not all doe-eyed, Disney-fied, Labrador puppies with nothing in their heads but honour and licks. Imagine how you’d feel if you met a talking Doberman on a dark evening whilst lost in a marsh. Luckily there is a semi-tame middle ground, existing solely at the mouth of Covent Garden during the height of its weekend chaos.

Doggyman will not soothe your pride or lick away your tears. He is there for a different purpose, spattering the crowds with canine wisdom and a serious dose of leg pulling. A lick from him is not to a Kodak moment. Although he is partial to a biscuit. In the eerie calm of early morning Covent Garden, I went to meet Peter Forrest, the man beneath the fake fur and nose, to ask what it’s like to be Doggyman.


How long have you been Doggyman?

About four years. I spent twelve years as a care worker at a day centre for the homeless in Bedford. They employed a rather mad woman who got rid of us one by one. Eventually she got booted as well. I’d never been sacked in my life. For me it was a vocation. I came here the next day – I won’t ever be knocked down. I’d been doing a bit of busking as a Shakespeare statue. If you’re creative, there’s a need to keep improving. I came up with this. It’s an old trick of putting your head in things. I can sit cross-legged for hours because I used to do yoga. I was looking in the Argos catalogue and I saw these dogs in boxes - looking depressed, on the way to the vets. I tried it and the first day somebody gave me a tenner.

Is it difficult to get a pitch in Covent Garden?
We’re a community. We got it organised. The council allows us to be here but there are guidelines. There are only five pitches, no violence, no drinking. You can’t sleep on the streets to get there. So I’m always here early. People ask if we’re homeless but I’m just a normal bloke. I used to be a coal miner, a care worker a park keeper. I’ve done everything. In 37 years of work I may have had two years unemployment.

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Does performing make you nervous?
I’m a great believer it takes two years to do anything properly or to get used to a situation. That’s my theory. I used to have palpitations. I’m talking all the while. Now it just flows out.

Have you taken Doggyman to other countries?
I’m not a traveling man. By nature I’m like Basil Faulty. I’m a neurotic. The other performers will go anywhere at the drop of a hat. I’d be moaning. These are only things you learn later. For instance, I read an awful lot of books, but at school, I left with nothing. I’m addicted to information. But you put me in front of a paper full of questions that I know the answer to, and something goes wrong. I went to my first festival last week in about 30 years. Because it was raining, I went into panic mode and I couldn’t get my tent up. I know how to do it! That’s what happens.

How do you find so much to talk about whilst you’re performing?
If I’m reading something in the paper that I find appalling, that you just think how can that happen? That comes into the act. I’m good at guessing things about people. I don’t know where it comes from, maybe I’m psychic. I wouldn’t put a label on it. I said to this couple the other day ‘you look like the sort of man who would be a church warden in a nice little village in Hampshire where Jane Austen used to live.’ And the wife looked at him and went, ‘Do you know him?’ And he was! He was a church warden in the village next to Jane Austen’s.

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Have you ever offended anyone?
The whole thing with me is I’m cheeky and comedy and a bit saucy. If you insult people properly they can see through it. They can see you’re not a bad person. Sometimes women are a bit touchy with their clothes. You got these trousers these days and I say ‘you’ll never get in Tesco’s with them, you know – they don’t allow pyjamas,’ and most people laugh. Some people are fragile. But you’ve got to get over it. I always tell the truth. There are so many fantasists around here. I’ve never met so many nutters as there are in London. They tell blatant lies that if you’re kind you’ll nod your head. Back in the midlands we go ‘oh fuck off!’

How similar are you and Doggyman?
It’s only when I put my make-up on that I get in the mood. You have to be cheerful everyday. They do say clowns are always sad. I don’t think I fit into that category. I’m too interested in life. But there is a side of me that is aware of that dark side in myself and in everything around me. I’m always aware that you can’t achieve perfect happiness in this world. You might get peace of mind. But it is an enjoyable experience making people laugh. I get people coming back every time they come to the theatre. I’ve got little girls now who were babies when they first saw me.

 

 

 

 

 

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