Bill Bailey looks back on a glorious career

Friday: Bill Bailey: Larks in Transit; (BBC One, 10.35pm)

Thursday, 16th September 2021, 5:00 pm

He’s an actor, a singer and a musician. But primarily, Bill Bailey is simply a very, very funny man – and that’s something he doesn’t take for granted.

“I thought I’d only be able to do comedy while I was young and daft and saw it as a way to avoid a boring office job,” he says. “I fully expected eventually to have to do something sensible, and never imagined sustaining it for this amount of years.”

Born Mark Robert Bailey in Bath in 1965, he was good both academically and at sport at school, but performing became his true love. He was given the nickname ‘Bill’ by his music teacher after he played the song (Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey, and after a brief spell studying for an English degree, decided to concentrate on developing a life on stage.

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Bill Bailey

Although he played in bands, it was as a comedian that he made his name, eventually mixing in musical parodies among the more traditional gags – something he continues to this day.

“Writing comedy’s just as much a passion as it was all those years ago,” claims Bailey. “It’s what gets me up in the morning.

“I still regard myself as learning this craft and love using humour to explore the big questions like ageing, attitudes to religion, the political process, the way social media changes people’s behaviour, and all the myriad events in the news.”

He adds: “The point is to draw in as many subjects as possible and make them accessible and funny, although I do sometimes have to check myself for the humour otherwise people will go: ‘Yeah, OK beardy, very interesting, but where’s the laughs?’”

Bailey also says he enjoys learning new things, which is perhaps what inspired him to take part in last year’s Strictly Come Dancing. He and partner Oti Mabuse eventually lifted the famous glitterball trophy; Bailey is currently the show’s oldest-ever champion. Although he’s had an army of loyal fans for many years, the series introduced him to a whole new audience – both sets of supporters will no doubt be pleased to see him back on their screens doing what he does best.

A few weeks ago, Bailey became the first stand-up to headline the Royal Opera House in London. The show he performed during an eight-night residency was recorded – and those of us who couldn’t make it now get an opportunity to see it. We’re promised a dazzling array of Bailey’s talents as he looks back on his years as what he describes as a ‘touring minstrel’. It’s another highlight from a career, which he never takes for granted.

“I had a moment of total bewilderment once when I was performing on stage at Wembley arena in front of nearly 13,000 people,” he says. “Suddenly I felt myself mentally transported back to playing a gig in a pub in Hull in front of six people and I was struck by the thought: ‘How did all this happen – how did I get here?’”

Don’t question it Bill, just keep going – you’re doing something right, so never change.

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