Sunday 26 March 2017

Waking hours with comedian... Bill Bailey

Bill Bailey (51) is a comedian, musician, actor, TV and radio presenter, author and documentary maker, as well as a supporter of many charities and a committed feminist. He lives in west London with his wife, Kristin, and their son, Dax

Bill Bailey performs in Dublin, Galway, Belfast and Cork later this year.
Bill Bailey performs in Dublin, Galway, Belfast and Cork later this year.

Emily Hourican

The day begins usually around 7am. I get up, and the first thing I do is make coffee. I have to have coffee and it has got to be good coffee; life's too short for inferior stuff. I spend a good five or ten minutes fussing around with that. Then the animals have to be dealt with. The dogs go out and have a run around - we have five rescue dogs; they're a mismatched bunch of feral mutts. Then it's getting the lad up for school, with maybe a bit of last-minute homework to be sorted out. We walk round to the school. If we're late, we'll go on the bikes and fly round.

Once that's done, when the weather's good, or even when it isn't, I like to get out and start the day with something active, preferably a cycle, for an hour before I settle down to work. It gets your head straight and the blood pumping.

I have a little studio in the garden where I sometimes work, and if not, we have a production office at the end of the road, so I go down there and go through what needs to be done: offers, things to do, charity requests, gigs, panel shows, TV ideas, the usual round of things.

I can't say yes to everything or I would never do anything except charity work, so I have to filter it carefully. I choose things that mean something to me, that I have direct personal experience of, or that my immediate friends and family have gone through. I suffer from asthma, so I have supported the asthma charities. I've lost people to cancer, so I've supported cancer charities. I'm very aware that a lot of friends have gone through mental-health issues, so I support them. Other things that I feel strongly about are conservation and animal welfare, so they'll get a fair crack of the whip as well.

I get a lot of people who write to me, so I try and write back as much as I can. All sorts of things - from simply, 'Hello, I like your stuff, can you sign this photo?' to, 'My son suffers from Asperger's and can't get out very much. He likes your stuff, can you write to him?' Sometimes I've phoned a couple of these people out of the blue, because I feel these are the people you have to spend time on. I'm not worn down by the level of requests. I know what it's like. I remember when I was a kid, I used to write to people on the telly, and when they'd write back, it was exciting. Someone from Dad's Army once wrote to me, I still remember that.

There are days when I say, 'This is going to be a writing day,' and I just do that. I like the act of writing, of physically putting pen to paper, so I have reams and reams of notebooks and paper. At the end of the day, everything has to be transferred to the laptop, because I know what I'm like - a bit of paper will get stuck to some rabbit food or something. If I'm writing music, I have a rehearsal room where I'll set all my gear up.

Where we are in west London is brimming with all manner of cuisines from around the world, so for lunch you can have a Lebanese falafel, Vietnamese wraps, Caribbean salad - any amount of stuff. I don't have a big lunch, or I'll go to sleep. I prefer something light that doesn't anchor itself round your heart. Then in the afternoon, it's usually more writing, although that depends what stage a show is at. If it's writing mode, I'm around a lot. But when I'm touring, I can be away for six months of the year. There are film and documentary projects as well, and theatre, and it can be difficult fitting those in.

I like to go and pick my son up from school, usually about 3.30pm. Then we might go for a kick-around in the park, or a bit of a cycle. I organise a five-a-side football match for him and his pals, so I'll go along to that. Writing is pretty sedentary and doing comedy can be quite unhealthy - you have to offset all of that sitting around in airport lounges, and sitting around writing at a laptop, with other things. Otherwise your body starts to spread and shut down.

My wife is an excellent cook - she makes delicious Thai, Indonesian and Cambodian food. We have dinner together, the three of us. It's a family rule. Regardless of what we're all doing, we all sit and eat at the table together at night. After that, I might have a gig to do, in which case I'd go off. Otherwise, I'll do a bit of work. I don't really watch TV, but we like playing games, so we'll play cards, or I'll read.

The dogs need an evening walk, and there are a couple of nice places on our street where you can sit down, with maybe a glass of wine. If it's a fine night during the summer, we might all go out to the park, or I might get on the river and go paddle-boarding on the Thames. It's my new favourite thing. You have to be careful, because the Thames is very tidal, with lots of currents. But you can go with the tide upriver for about 10 miles, stop somewhere, have a pint, wait for the tide to change, then paddle back.

I can fall asleep in a standing position. That's from years of doing tours. But it's hard to get up at 7am if you've been up late, so school nights tend to be early, unless somebody comes round, or I get engrossed in a book, or working. If that happens, I just keep working until I can't string another sentence together. Sometimes you have to do that, if you've got something in your head; you have to get it into some kind of shape before you go to bed. That can be a tricky one, and I can end up going to bed at 2am, and then you've got to get up at 7am, all bleary-eyed, and do the school run. If that happens, I keep the sunglasses on and hope everyone thinks I'm very enigmatic rather than ridiculously tired and not making sense . . . But I have no desire to slow down or do less.

Bill Bailey brings his brand new show 'Limboland' to the following venues: Black Box, Galway, September 30; Olympia Theatre, Dublin, October 1-3; Ulster Hall, Belfast, October 4 and 5; Cork Opera House, October 6. Tickets are available via Ticketmaster, see ticketmaster.ie

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