Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

‘I like talking about obscure things’

Post Thumbnail

Every time comedian Bill Bailey speaks, a loud shrieking ensues, threatening to drown him out. He simply shrugs.
“Parrots,” he says laconically, by way of explanation. “What can you do? They’re very affectionate but noisy and always like to have the last word.” Enduring the cacophony and creature chaos – there’s a menagerie at his London home, including four cockatoos, five dogs, ducks, chickens, and frogs – is worth it to meet the stand-up comedy icon.
A regular on shows like pop quiz, Never Mind The Buzzcocks and QI, he has had huge success with world tours and stadium shows, and is instantly recognisable with his bald head, neck curtain of flowing locks, and goatee beard, like a real-life Hobbit.
As is so often the case with comedians, he’s far more quiet and serious in private and confesses that his enduring success – he turned 50 this year – is a surprise to him. “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. I fully expected eventually to have to do something sensible, and never imagined sustaining it for this amount of years,” he says self-deprecatingly.
“Actually I had a moment of total bewilderment eight years ago when I was performing on stage at Wembley arena in front of nearly 13,000 people. Suddenly I felt myself mentally transported back to playing a gig in a pub in Hull in front of six people, in those days, believe me, that was a crowd, and I was struck by the thought: ’How did all this happen – how did I get here?’ I wrenched myself back to reality pretty quickly and carried on, but it was a surreal moment.”
His act could also fall into that ’surreal’ category with its mix of facts – he soaks up obscure knowledge like a sponge – and humorous, convoluted stories which never contain one-liners because he can’t abide them. Music is integral to the mix, he often struts the stage with his guitar, and he’s an accomplished musician, able to play virtually every instrument apart from the violin and cello.
His prowess is a legacy of his childhood when he excelled at school in Bath, Somerset, but rebelled and dropped out of university to travel the world for a decade, supporting himself through comedy, playing in bands and working in theatre companies.
After returning home, he doggedly persevered for years on the stand-up circuit before, aged 31, eventually winning a Time Out comedy award in 1995 and the following year making the shortlist for the Perrier Award.
“Writing comedy’s just as much a passion as it was all those years ago. 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,” enthuses Bailey, who clearly relishes the intellectual rigour of his job.
“I also like talking about all sorts of obscure or random things, like learning mandarin, the history of language, or musical influences. 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?!”’
Having a family – he and his wife, Kristin have a son, Dax, 11 – he says has not only honed his humour, but heightened his motivation. “When I was single, this job was just for my own amusement and maybe in the early days a bit self-indulgent, but now it’s about supporting us, and that makes me keep striving for higher and higher standards so it continues as long as possible.”
He met Kristin, who’s responsible for his business affairs, at one of his gigs in 1987 and courted her by sending her a letter a week for a year until she finally agreed to live with him. In 1998 they married in Indonesia where they have a home.
“I feel hugely supported by my wife and it’s fantastic having someone by your side who knows you so well. She’s brilliant if I’m starting to feel nervous before a tour and she’ll say, ‘Hang on, don’t you remember you felt worried before and it was all fine’. She’s so very calming and down-to-earth and understands the pressures. I never understand that whole thing about ‘we’re in a rut because we’ve been together so long’ that you often hear. For me this is the longest time I’ve ever been with someone, so I view every day as a new adventure and our levels of understanding of each other deepen as time passes.”
Fatherhood, although longed-for, was a shock when it happened. “We’d tried unsuccessfully for years to be parents before giving up and deciding just to travel and have rich and interesting lives. When we had Dax we realised having a child was even more extraordinary than we could ever have imagined. He’s a wonderful boy,” he says with obvious feeling.
“When he was young we carried on travelling and took him with us because we resolved he’d have to fit into our lives, rather the other way around. So at 15 months he was living with us under tarpaulin in the Sumatran jungle and loving it.
“Performing’s in his blood really, he’s always in school plays, and he’s grown up in the wings of shows when I’ve been working. He came to recordings of Never Mind The Buzzcocks in his baby car seat and has even come on stage with me a couple of times at the end of shows and done a dance.”
Family life increasingly features in his comedy material. “For a long while I was reluctant to talk about my personal experiences of marriage and fatherhood because I’m a very private person and not one for revelations about myself,” he says.
“I can’t think of anything worse than being on something like Who Do You Think You Are? but these days if I have funny experiences I relate them because they’re things shared by other people, and through sharing and laughing about them you get insight into life. That insight’s the real spice of comedy and what makes it so satisfying. It’s not all about the present though – recently in a show I recalled being 20 and dating this girl and revisited all the gaucheness and gut-wrenching awkwardness which were all so clear with hindsight.”
While comedy dominates Bailey’s timetable he’s also acted, with roles in cult Channel Four comedy, Black Books alongside Dylan Moran, and 2011 film Chalet Girl with Felicity Jones, but it’s his knowledge of and devotion to animals which has led to presenting roles on numerous wildlife and nature programmes, most notably Baboons With Bill Bailey and Bill Bailey’s Birdwatching Bonanza.
He’s currently supporting Be Lungworm Aware, a campaign to raise awareness of the parasite which can be fatal to dogs.
“I’ve had pets all my life and couldn’t live without them, especially dogs who are so intuitive to their owners’ moods,” he says.
“This horrible lungworm parasite is carried in slugs and snails which dogs can eat accidentally or on purpose and it’s literally killing them. I’m very committed to warning people about it.”
Walking his beloved dogs is part of his thorough exercise routine, which includes gym sessions, running, cycling and tennis. “I’m quite conscious that although I still feel 25 I am now 50 and it does give you pause to consider your own mortality. I’ve got a busy life with the family and performing and being fit is vital. I’m also determined to stick around a lot longer because there’s so much more comedy material I still want to discover. I don’t think I’ll ever get to the end of that journey.”

  • Bill Bailey is supporting ‘Be Lungworm Aware’ to raise awareness of the lungworm parasite which can be fatal to dogs. To find out if lungworm is in your area, visit or speak to your vet.