Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
8 December 2021

Bill Bailey Q&A: “My earliest memory is the smell of nylon waterproofs in a hot car”

The comedian on Suleiman the Magnificent, Starsky and Hutch and why he should have been a town crier.

By New Statesman

Bill Bailey was born in Bath in 1965. An actor, comedian and musician, he is known for his TV roles in Black Books and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and his live performances. In 2020 he won the BBC competition Strictly Come Dancing.

What’s your earliest memory?

I would like to say it was watching the moon landings! But it was Weston-super-Mare. We used to go there as a family. I remember the sea air, the sand and the smell of nylon waterproofs in a hot car.

Who are your heroes?

As a kid I loved Starsky and Hutch. I thought Starsky was the cooler one; he was a bit of a dude, but also a wisecracker. In adult life I’d say David Byrne, because of his inventiveness and creative brilliance.

What book last changed your thinking?

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It made me think about who we are and why we are the way we are. It explains, brilliantly, how those little quirks – random evolutionary mutations – allowed us to have the skills for speech and cultivating food. We all should read this book at school.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Suleiman the Magnificent. I love long-distance walks and I’ve been looking further afield, at longer walks. Recently, a walk has been opened up from Istanbul to Vienna: it’s called the Sultan’s Trail. It’s the route that Suleiman took to try to conquer Austria. He was by all accounts a brilliant leader: thoughtful; benevolent; he did an enormous amount in terms of provision for ordinary people.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

The life of Alfred Russel Wallace, the Victorian explorer and naturalist. He was a self-taught biologist and chronicler of the natural world who went off around Brazil, and then Indonesia and what is now Malaysia, Borneo and Singapore. He, independently of Darwin, discovered the theory of evolution by natural selection.

Content from our partners
How to navigate the modern cyber-threat landscape
Supporting customers through the cost of living crisis
Data on cloud will change the way you interact with the government

What TV show could you not live without?

I can’t think of one I couldn’t live without. Though I haven’t missed Eurovision since I was a kid.

Who would paint your portrait?

Hans Holbein, who painted incredibly naturalistic portraits. He always made people look complex and moody.

What’s your theme tune?

The theme tune to The Professionals. It’s dynamic, with a bit of wah-wah guitar in it. It’s the sort of song where, as you walked into the room, everyone would look round, and you’d just take in the admiration.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I once asked Bob Mills what the secret of comedy is, and he said: “Keep saying funny things.” He was absolutely right.

What’s currently bugging you?

I’ve got a crick in my neck. I must have slept in a very odd way. I have to constantly stretch and activate my shoulders.

What single thing would make your life better?

Having slightly longer arms. It would be useful for reaching out for things, playing the triple-neck guitar…

When were you happiest?

Walking along the Ridgeway a few summers ago, with family and friends.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

A town crier. I like the idea of ringing a big bell, walking through the town, shouting out the news. It seems like a job that would make you popular: you probably wouldn’t have to pay for a lunch in any tavern.

Are we all doomed?

Probably. But we’ve got a while yet. We’ve got to make hay while the sun shines.

Bill Bailey’s “En Route To Normal” tour begins in Plymouth on 12 December. Tickets and dates at

This article appears in the 09 Dec 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special