The Big Issue: What made you want to do a Christmas album this year of all years?
William Shatner: Well I’m not sure how many more Christmases I have left! The truthful answer is I was given the opportunity to make a Christmas album and I thought, “Well, why not?” And why not try and find traditional Christmas songs and bend them a little to make them more, you know, fun?
Were the guest stars friends, or people you’ve come to know only through making this record?
I actually knew hardly any of them before I started making the album. But most of them jumped on when asked. In some cases they actually sought out the record company and asked to be involved. I’m not quite sure why.
Because you’re William Shatner!
That’s apparently the case, and it’s such a heck of a compliment it’s almost unimaginable.
If you were to sum up the unique William Shatner vocal style in a word, what would it be?
You were raised Jewish, so you presumably didn’t celebrate Christmas growing up?
That is right. But you know, the celebration of Christmas isn’t just celebrating Christ’s birth but it’s celebrating the passing of the years, and the music and the customs of the season. The giving of gifts and acknowledging that there’s a better part to humanity.
It’s a little-known fact that many of the all-time classic Christmas songs are by Jewish writers. You’ve recorded two of them – Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Johnny Marks and the biggest-selling song of all time, White Christmas, by Irving Berlin.
That’s a fact I didn’t know, so that’s funny. You know, whether it takes the form of Christ or it takes the form of the Torah or a rabbi or a priest or a cantor, faith is all an expression of the same thing – the desire to go beyond one’s self and give acknowledgment to the fact that we’re here so briefly and finitely.
Which song do you feel proudest of on the album?
Taking a poem that a friend of mine wrote after he came back battle-fatigued from war and putting it to music, that was extraordinarily challenging. Not being a musician, all I could do was tell the people who were going to write the notes down – here is what I see and what I hear, have the music reflect
that as much as possible. Have the pain and the anguish and the sadness of the battle and the militant part of it reflected in the arrangements.
You recently connected with a virtual reality company called Ziva who ‘digitally realised’ you using 240 cameras in order to recreate you on screen, even what you looked like 50 years ago. How do you feel about the virtual William Shatner existing beyond your lifetime?
In Roman days they made a statue, then later mankind started putting up monuments and gravestones. Now you can make a 3D version of you that’s not even just like you, it is you. You can be speaking and reach out and just about touch yourself. You may have to die one day, but you don’t have to just leave a memory. You can leave a part of you, electronically, that is so much you that people can revisit you.
Aren’t you concerned what might be done with the virtual you once you’re gone? What if they put Captain Kirk in Star Wars for instance?
It’d be a good laugh! There’s nothing like a good laugh. I’ll be leaving it all
to my children, and I hope they have good taste.
Perhaps the digital Captain Kirk might need an agent?
Yeah, there’s no telling where they might put me otherwise. I might be a seducer. Or who knows, they might even use me to try and sell Brexit!
I’m guessing that means Brexit’s not something you’re particularly in favour of then?
Definitely not. You’re all mad.
Does the future feel exciting and inspiring or is mankind going in a direction that makes you less optimistic?
I feel sad I guess. Because we are all going to disappear in the next 100 years. We are on the cusp of a great tragedy for humans. For animals and for insects and for non-vertebrates it’s all going to be fine. But humans have their head in the sand about this terrible thing called climate change which is rushing upon us, and there are some idiots in this world who think that it isn’t going to happen. Until they get hit by a storm or their business is under water because the ocean is rising. Reversing climate change is just one small step in a large race to save the planet, and even that is being questioned.
Have you taken any interest in space tourism? Surely if you gave Virgin Galactic or SpaceX a call and said Captain Kirk wants to reach the final frontier for real, they’d find room for you on one of their first flights?
Virgin Galactic actually did speak to me at one point, but they’re charging $250,000 a seat. I have no desire to put a bubble on my head and breathe air that could stop at any moment. So I said, “No, you’ve got the wrong idea – you pay me!” That didn’t sit too well. I said to them I could pay
my fee on return, and they said they couldn’t guarantee my return.
So I said, well maybe I should just do something else. Like make a Christmas album.
Shatner Claus – The Christmas Album is out now