Bill Bailey's Britain: "In the sunshine there’s no better place on the planet"

As his epic tour finishes, the comedian/national treasure Bill Bailey talks about life on the road

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ESQ: How do you spend your time when you're on the road?
Bill Bailey: I’m a bit of a gadget man. I like to watch films and I read a lot. I always like to have a physical book in my hand so I always bring a big bag of them. And I try to swing a golf club in anger now and then and go walking. I’m a bit of a speed freak as well, so occasionally we’ll get the whole crew together and go karting or quad biking.

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ESQ: After travelling all over the country, what do you make of Britain right now?
BB: Britain is a place that is endlessly fascinating. Particularly in the sunshine there’s no better place on the planet. You also find that as you burrow into it a bit more, you realise what an extraordinary and diverse place it is. It's quite a unique country in many ways.

There’s so many people packed in. It's only when you come back from other countries that you realize there’s a huge amount of people in just this much space. It’s crazy! You go to Estonia and 61% is forest. You go out of the city and it’s just bears and wolves!

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ESQ: What are your favourite bits?
BB: I spent quite a bit of time in Yorkshire – it’s just beautiful. Up near Harrogate and Whitby, I did a lot of gigs in that area. Orkney is another particular favorite of mine. You shouldn’t have favourites, but it’s just lovely. Lilting, rolling greenery and beautiful Neolithic stone circles and shimmering seas. It’s probably pretty bleak in the depths of winter, but when I was there in the spring it was stunning.

ESQ: And what if you were benevolent dictator for a day?
BB: I do sometimes get a heavy heart, when I’m driving somewhere and all you see are, like, carpet warehouses, or, you know, giant metal sheds selling stuff.

The soul of the place is there somewhere but first impressions can leave a long impression. A lot of British towns are not great when you first arrive. You think, “Jesus, is this it? How many carpets do you want?", you know?

Another thing that strikes you - and I’m not moralizing here - but my God, there’s some drinking going on! "Really?", I’m thinking, ‘did we drink like this?’ 

ESQ: Are you a city or country man?
BB: I suppose I’m both. If I’m out in the country for too long, I start to get a bit twitchy. I like a bit of hustle and bustle, a bit of, city, you know, aggression! Like getting barged in a chip shop. I’d miss that.

I like the solitude sometimes in small doses. Then I get up and go “right I’m bored of this”. I love the natural world, I love to  be amongst cliffs and sea and you know, looking up at clouds and sea birds, it’s all good for the soul. And then it’s also good to, you know, queue for something.

ESQ: You used to live on a houseboat in Hammersmith. Do you miss it?
BB: It’s a fantastic place to live and I lived there for three years. The Thames is such a great resource, people don’t realize there’s stuff happening on it all the time. Then I started being quite busy - you have to be quite a boaty person to live on a boat. You have to know your different types of nuts. I’m not good with nuts. So I hauled myself on to dry land.

ESQ: Could you see yourself living outside of London?
BB: There maybe a time when I’ll move out but I can’t see it, to be honest, just because of the people I know who’ve moved out to the country and say “oh, it’s great” and then after a few months they phone up and say "can I come up and stay with you? I’m a bit bored down here".

ESQ: Where do you like to travel?
BB: We go to SE Asia and Indonesia a fair bit. It's a country with about 17,000 islands and once you get off the main drag it’s an extraordinary place. It has all kinds of different habitats – mountains and rivers and lakes and beaches and jungles. And the people are just very warm and happy for you to be there.

ESQ: Anything us Brits could pick up from them?
BB: Indonesians are very, very practical, self-sufficient, resourceful people. And that’s something we could learn, certainly. You can be in the middle of the jungle and suddenly a bunch of locals will turn up with machetes and they’ll just knock out a little house. Then they’ll catch some fish. Then knock up a little smoking rack. And you realize, you know, this is how we’re sort of meant to live.

Bill Bailey's live stand up DVD 'Qualmpedder' is out now - buy it here 

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