Before the event even starts, a quick glance at the number of metal t-shirts and leather jackets in the audience reveals this is not your typical Edinburgh International Book Festival event. Then again, Iron Maiden singer and metal legend Bruce Dickinson is not your typical Book Festival guest, either.
Tonight, he is here to discuss his autobiography What Does This Button Do?, with chairperson Olaf Furniss. The crowd are certainly geared up for the event as Dickinson enters the main Baillie Gifford Theatre to prolonged and rapturous applause, to the point that Dickinson jokes he can hardly think up on stage with all the din.
After the applause dies down, we open with how the book came into being. We learn that Dickinson was initially leery about writing an autobiography, but decided to do so after overcoming throat cancer – a subject he touches on again near the end, but first Furniss probes about the writing process. As it turns out, Dickinson (somewhat unusually) hand-wrote the entire manuscript, after which Dickinson amusingly describes the difficulty Harper Collins had getting someone to transcribe his handwriting.
Furniss then skips back to the beginning by asking Dickinson about his schooldays, which he colourfully recalls. Particularly funny is his tale of how he got kicked out of school for pissing in his headmaster’s lunch. During this section, we have a sudden power failure where all the lights and microphones cut out, which is made funnier by it happening directly after Dickinson made a Jimmy Saville gag. Thankfully this only lasts a couple of minutes before the Book Festival staff has everything up and running again.
The only other difficulty the event has is occasionally Dickinson and Host Furniss being drowned out by the fireworks from the Tattoo. Despite these issues, Dickinson remains unflappable throughout.
After his schooldays, Dickinson talks about how he got into music and his first band Samson. He also reads out a very funny embarrassing story from the book, one of several readings he does, describing his first meeting with one of his then heroes Ian Gillan. Somewhat oddly, it is only towards the end that we get a lot of Maiden stuff, although it is fair to say Maiden’s career is better documented than previous talking points. Dickinson does, however, tell us how he came to join the band and reads another funny passage of the book about him and Steve Harris competing for the front of the stage in the early days.
The event ends up overrunning by fifteen minutes, but Dickinson is a natural raconteur and you can tell those in attendance would have happily listened to him all night. The only minor disappointment for people being that there was no room for audience questions, but that does little to dampen this entertaining event.