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Show featuring a Billy Connolly run-in at Aberdeenshire petrol station set for HMT

Writer and performer Gary McNair said the show is a love letter to the beloved Big Yin and he has a strange hunch about the Aberdeen show...

Gary McNair in Dear Billy
Gary McNair's Dear Billy is a collation of stories on the Big Yin. Image: Sally Jubb.

Whether he was on the bus, staying at a B&B or pounding the streets, one question was never far from Gary McNair – “Do you know this guy Billy Connolly?”

It is a question that has become very familiar to the Glaswegian writer and performer.

Especially since he and a team of fellow creatives have been asking people it for the last seven years.

The lengthy project has been the direct inspiration behind his new show, Dear Billy, a production of Scottish stories forming a “love letter to The Big Yin”.

And Gary revealed a tale from Aberdeenshire – where Connolly formerly held his estate – is featured in the show which has been nominated for four major awards.

Dear Billy promo shot of Gary McNair with lots of Billy's
Dear Billy is coming to Aberdeen and Inverness this month. Image: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Dear Billy – a love letter from Scotland to Billy Connolly

The production written and performed by Gary is one of the most nominated productions in the prestigious Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland (CATS) Awards this year.

It has been shortlisted in four categories: Best Performer, Best New Play, Best Director (Joe Douglas) and Best Production.

The lauded idea first formed after Gary received many comments during his years of touring that compared him to Billy Connolly.

While he joked it was maybe more to do with his “big curly head of hair”, he started thinking about the possibility of doing something on the comedian and actor.

He had put together shows on other people before such as in his McGonagall’s Chronicles based on the poet William McGonagall but the creative thought a play on him or a biopic would not be right.

The right idea struck when he saw the way people reacted to speaking about the Scottish legend.

Billy Connolly
People appeared to light up when talking about Billy Connolly.

He said: “They would all have their own little take on him.

“I knew it was something different…they just lit up at the idea of getting to share their experience of him.

“Something was happening. It was opening up people more and more.

“Some people literally credit him with saving their lives. I don’t think you could find anyone else who could have that much of an impact or a sense of connection with so many people.

Photo of Gary McNair smiling in front of a mural of Billy Connolly
The writer and performer gathered stories on Billy Connolly for seven years. Image: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

“I thought ‘what if we tried to get more of these stories?’

“And that would be the show. It would be a mosaic of all these different testimonies and attributes and loving tributes to him.”

Aberdeenshire tale features in the show

Using a mix of anonymised tales about The Big Yin, it is a form Gary is familiar with, albeit with darker material.

In Locker Room Talk, a response to Donald Trump’s notorious remarks, he gathered a range of men’s opinions on women from strangers and volunteers to speak openly about opinions they usually kept private.

At first, Gary worried the stories for Dear Billy might feel a bit broken and scattered.

But then he remembered who he was talking about.

Gary McNair in Dear Billy
Gary McNair sometimes adds new stories straight into the show the next night. Image: Sally Jubb

“What are Billy’s shows like?” he said. “He starts one story, he gets sidetracked, and he starts another one.

“And so by the time you start to piece together all these beautiful testimonies, it starts to take on something in the way of how he does his shows.”

All the stories in the show are anonymised, rarely mention geography and new ones keep being added, sometimes the next night after being told.

Gary did reveal, however, that one of the tales featured is from a man at an Aberdeenshire petrol station.

After going to see Dear Billy in Wick, the Shire resident spoke to Gary and shared his story.

Billy Connolly at the Lonach Gathering.
Billy Connolly at the Lonach Gathering. Image: DC Thomson.

Not wanting to give too much away, Gary added: “He met him at a petrol station in Aberdeenshire and he just could not get it together but then Billy just absolutely nailed the moment.

“That’s the beautiful thing about when you meet Billy Connolly, that’s a story in itself.

“There’s a sense of greatness with him…he’s just connected to ourselves in a way that’s quite profound…and I should mention the fact that he’s very very funny as well.”

Could Billy Connolly be visiting Aberdeen?

Since running the show, Gary has performed before a whole host of audiences – including the Pet Shop Boys.

But there is one person who he leaves a seat for in every show that would make him sweat.

Apart from a a shock encounter in Kilmarnock which turned out to be a Billy Connolly impersonator, Gary said he does not think the man himself has attended a show.

Gary McNair in Dear Billy coming to Aberdeen and Inverness
Gary said he could not deal with the pressure if he knew Connolly was in the audience. Image: Sally Jubb

But he admitted, he has a funny feeling about Aberdeen when they arrive at His Majesty’s Theatre on Thursday May 16. 

Somewhere Connolly himself has performed. 

Gary said: “I kind of get the wee sneaky feeling that Aberdeen would be the spot but I don’t know, I think he would quiet about it….It is just a hunch.

“But if he was ever to come, I’ve told the team I cannot know about it until afterwards because I would be in bits.

“I’d love more than nothing else for him to come by. I’d love more than nothing else for me not to know he was in until after.”

Dear Billy is at Aberdeen’s His Majesty’s Theatre from Thursday May 16 to 18 and Eden Court in Inverness from May 28 to 29.