Phoebe Waller-Bridge: Fleabag ‘wouldn’t have seen the light of day’ without the Fringe

Phoebe Waller-Bridge has said she believes her smash hit phenomenon Fleabag "wouldn't have seen the light of day" if the Edinburgh Festival Fringe had not existed.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge visited the Space venue at the Royal College of Surgeons with a friend during last year's reboot of the Fringe.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge visited the Space venue at the Royal College of Surgeons with a friend during last year's reboot of the Fringe.

Speaking ahead of the Fringe's 75th anniversary season, the writer and performer, who was a complete unknown when she performed Fleabag as a one-woman show in the Cowgate in 2013, has hailed the event as "the biggest arts marketplace on the planet" and said there is "nowhere like it on earth."

She has praised the Fringe for offering new talent the chance to attract audiences "on a level playing field" and offering an alternative to "the hustling horrors of trying to get your work seen in this industry".

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Waller-Bridge, recalled sharing a two-bedroom flat with her team in Edinburgh after a crowdfunding campaign to take Fleabag to the Fringe.

She was speaking in an interview with the Fringe Society, which has secured her backing for a £7.5 million fundraising campaign to safeguard the festival’s future in the wake of the pandemic.

The original stage version of Fleabag, which was part of Underbelly’s programme in 2013, won a coveted Scotsman Fringe First Award in 2013 and transferred to the Soho Theatre in London and has since been performed all over the world. The TV adaptation, launched BBC Three in 2016, went on to be honoured at the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes and the Emmy Awards.

Waller-Bridge was also the showrunner and head writer on the first series of Killing Eve, was a writer on the most recent James Bond adventure, and has a starring role in the next Indiana Jones film, which she filmed scenes for in Scotland last year.

Waller-Bridge agreed to become a world-wide champion for the Fringe early last year after the 2020 festival fell victim to the Covid pandemic.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge is the first ever president of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. Picture: Faye Thomas

The first ever Fringe Society president, she visited last summer’s scaled-back reboot of the event to meet its staff, companies and performers, and take in several shows.

Waller-Bridge also joined forces with Edinburgh Gin to create a limited edition Fleabag bottle celebrating the character’s connections with the city and event.

The collaboration raised more than £150,000 for Fringe Society initiatives to support future festival hopefuls.

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Recalling bringing Fleabag to the Fringe, she said: “We fundraised with a Kickstarter, packed our bags, slept eight people in a two-bed flat and crossed our fingers that people would come to see what we had made.

Phoebe Waller Bridge won a Scotsman Fringe First Award for the stage version of Fleabag in 2013.

“Fleabag wouldn’t have seen the light of day if it wasn’t for the unique opportunities this festival offers young artists. It gave me and my creative team the freedom to put on work exactly how we envisioned – something rarely afforded to artists.

“As well as being an thrilling experience for the public, the Fringe is also the biggest arts marketplace on the planet.

“It’s where critics come to review, the arts industry comes to book work, artists come to meet each other, and audiences come to be inspired. There’s nowhere like it on earth.

“Artists, live performers and many other creative professionals have been left completely at sea by this pandemic. The Fringe is the island where they can finally share their work with their audiences, develop their skills, and create opportunities for themselves once more.”

Fleabag creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the first ever president of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, visit staff during last year's event.

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