On Tuesday night Philip Patston went to Parliament to collect the inaugural Arts Access Accolade. His trophy, a wonderfully dotty piece by ceramic artist Robert Rapson, was on the coffee table when we arrived at his place in Westmere. It fits pretty well in his house which is full of interesting things: Books, a large dog, a wooden block which reads Mental Block and is upside down, an artwork of Batman and Superman embracing, his Queer of the Year award, a Maori musical instrument he was also given at the Arts Access awards night which he claims to have thought was "an Olympic torch". His surname, on his latest trophy is, much to his amusement, spelled wrongly. It often is, he said. Not to worry. He'll just get a marker pen and fix it. It is, actually, rather appropriate. What he does is fix perceptions - about access to the arts and perceptions about disabled people in general - which is the reason for the Accolade.
He had a good time at the ceremony, where his trophy was presented by Dame Rosie Horton. "She said: 'I'm in awe of you', and I thought: 'Well, I'm a bit in awe of you, Rosie!"' I'm a bit in awe of both of them and having Rosie present the award was an inspired choice. They are both do-gooders par excellence, which I mean absolutely sincerely. They are both, in very different yet strangely alike ways, awesome.
He was also honoured with a haka, performed by two chaps which he found "quite overwhelming". I thought he meant emotionally but he said: "It was quite confronting, really, having two men shouting at you! I kind of didn't know where to look. Do I look down? Do I look them in the eye? Do I look at the cute guy's chest? So I sort of went from eyes to the chest!"
He is pretty chuffed with his award, which was the trophy and $500 and an assortment of other things including a free pass to the zoo, and a dinner for two and "a surprise package for your greyhound companion ... "
"And, wait! There's more! So it was a bit like winning X Factor!" But he also regards it the way he does the world, really - with amused and bemused ambivalence. "Well, it's funny ... I feel quite ambivalent because I've gone from being the victim of a society that didn't give access to disabled people to the arts, to the hero! So I feel honoured, and ambivalent. There was a running gag at the awards that it was kind of like a lifetime achievement award, but I'm still alive. So before I die, I hope that this award won't be necessary because, well, it would be nice to live in a society that doesn't need people like me to ... go through, as Rosie Horton said, the bigotry and discrimination in order to achieve."
He was born with cerebral palsy and just in case you think his mild complaint about the very existence of awards like his is a "poor me" lament, forget it. He gave up any bitterness and such laments in his 20s when he was living in a less than lovely Housing New Zealand house in Avondale and was unemployed and his car was "crapping out" and he was stoned and drunk and miserable. Then he decided, well, at least he had a house and a car and an income, if limited, from his benefit and that this made him a hell of a lot better off than people who had none of the things he did. So he changed his thinking and became positive. He is interested in "how we create our own reality".
He can't remember what he was reading at the time but he's always reading things which send him off in different directions. At the moment he's reading about Singularism, which has appeal, because he's decided he's no good at relationships. He's too independent and gets to a point where he goes "nah", and that's that. He tried, he said, to stop saying "nah" but that was no good and so he's given up on the idea of having a long-term relationship. He prefers being on his own but he can't live on his own without help, so he has four staff who help him get up and dressed and keep the house clean and tidy, and a PA at work, at the Aids Foundation where he works in communications. So while he might prefer to be on his own, he can't be. "It just is," he said.
Of course because he is an activist at heart - he used to be a "rebel without a cause", he said, now he has plenty of them - his interest is also in discrimination against single people.
"It's like all the other 'isms'. Being single is seen as this thing that's wrong with you in society and society has things that discriminate against single people."
He has fewer friends these days because, he said, he no longer needs to be liked. This is related to another of his current "isms" interests: Narcissism. This is also related to his "being on my own, really. I don't need approval from other people". He thinks most people are narcissistic, including him, and acknowledging it is a sort of freedom.
I asked, faintly (I was thinking that it must be fairly exhausting being him) whether he had just added these two to his list of cases and he said: "It's all part of my work now, I guess. Being a voice for those parts of society that are hidden from us. You know, these sorts of veiled realities."
It would be easy to make him sound impossibly earnest, but he isn't, truly. He has an irrepressible air of mischief about him and he's funny.
He said, about one of his digressions: "I'm sorry. I'm just a comedian. I'm tangential."
He said about his much-loved, retired greyhound, Meg: "She is deeply narcissistic." The dog was having her picture taken at the time. The angle the photo was being taken from gave the appearance that the picture would be all Meg and very little Patston. Earlier, when the photographer said he'd like Meg in the picture, her adoring owner said: "She's not very photogenic. She looks barking mad. Or evil."
I have met him before, years and years ago, when he was a comedian and then he had bleached hair with mad colours through it and a stud through an eyebrow and tatts and much-pierced ears. He might have looked a little like a narcissist. He still has the tatts, obviously, and he still wears two bulky silver hoops in each ear, but he's now 46 and has let his hair go grey. He gave up dyeing it some years ago. "I'm too old. I realised that dyeing my hair made me look like I was old and wanted to be young."
He was making a joke about his own vanity but he has long been given to these sorts of severe examinations of self and motive. When he was a comedian (he still is but he has given up doing it for a living) he billed himself as a disabled, gay, vegetarian comic. Then he decided he was an ex-gay, ex-vegetarian, ex-comedian. Now he is a "creative", a "social entrepreneur", a "change consultant" and a sometime poet. It's hard to keep up with him. I think he gets bored easily, mostly with himself, and so he invents new things to be and reinvents himself along the way.
He gave up performing comedy in public in 2010 when he was doing a gig at a conference and "I suddenly realised that what I was saying was shit and that I didn't think I was funny any more".
He'd been a comedian for 15 years so I thought that this must have been a fairly devastating realisation to come to but, no. "It was a real relief! The best thing I ever did was to decide to perform. The second best thing I ever did was decide to stop performing. The glamour of showbiz wasn't glamorous at all." Which makes it sound as though he was hankering after some of the glamorous life but, again, no. "Not particularly. I became a comedian because I was at the Human Rights Commission." This might be his funniest line yet. It certainly made me laugh like a loon because you can imagine that working at the Human Rights Commission might drive you to want a bit of comic relief. "Yeah, well," he said, "I just wanted to do something creative so I thought I was going to do performing arts and I found comedy - short and cheap, just like me."
I'm not sure whether he's still gay, or whether he has stuck with "ex-gay" or whether he's currently "questionably gay". He said: "The ex-gay thing is when I look at gay culture, I don't feel part of that in terms of partying and clubbing. I can't bear the Pride Parade. I shouldn't say that but I just find it too ... " Gay? "Yeah. Too gay. You know, I think we need to grow out of this need to be so gay!"
Which really is pretty funny given that he won Queer of the Year in 1999. Did he want to be Queer of the Year? "Well, it wasn't something I grew up wanting to be! What do you want to be when you grow up? Queer of the Year!"
He said: "I don't support gay marriage." Was that surprising? Not really. He is against all marriage. "I think marriage is an outdated, patriarchal load of bullshit."
He left home, at 17, before he left school because he was sick of arguing with his parents (no doubt it was mutual!). He now gets on well with them and is very grateful to them because, as he likes to tell them, it's all their fault that he's a rebel. "I've often said to Mum and Dad: 'You created the rebel because you gave me this image of myself that was quite different from the stereotype that society would have of me." He has a twin brother, Jeremy, who is a corporate lawyer, and he says that they're like "negative images of each other. So, if you invert a photo in Photoshop, that's us. He has a huge sense of social justice. He just expresses and experiences that in a different way."
He expresses and experiences things from what he calls "the margins". The most obvious reason for that is his disability, and, obviously, his personality.
I was trying to think of a way to ask whether, if he could, he'd have chosen not to be on the margins. It's a bit of an odd question - and obviously a rather pointless one - but I did wonder whether he'd ever spent any time contemplating it. He contemplated it now and said: "I mean, if I chose that, I would have to become unaware of everything that I've spent 30 years of my life becoming aware of. I would have to become ignorant. I couldn't choose it without becoming a completely different person."
It crosses your mind that it would be easier to be a different sort of person - a less challenging and stroppy one, say. But it would also be a lot less interesting, for him, and for anyone fortunate enough to meet him.