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16 March 2022

Tim Key Q&A: “I consumed The Office like toast”

The actor and comedian on running the London marathon, Volodymyr Zelensky and the joy of the 1986 World Cup.

By New Statesman

Tim Key was born in Cambridge in 1976 and is part of the four-man sketch group Cowards. He is best known for playing Simon, the sidekick to Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge.

What’s your earliest memory?

Spinning round and round, falling down, cutting my knee, my dad bandaging it. My brother disputes this and says it’s his memory. But it definitely happened to someone.

Who are your heroes?

As a child my hero was my dad. I always wanted to be like him. As for now, I’m not so sure, though I like Kane Williamson. But I’m not 100 per cent convinced my adult hero should be the New Zealand cricket captain (across all formats).

What book last changed your thinking?

I loved Katy Wix’s book Delicacy. It’s a poignant and beautifully penned book about grief and cake. Together at last.

Which political figure do you look up to?

It’s difficult to look beyond the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky at the moment. In the face of unimaginable challenges, he is shining like a beacon.

What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

I’d be pretty OK with snooker, I imagine. In fact all sports. I spend a lot of time sitting here watching the stuff.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Oh, London in the Sixties, for sure. I guess it would have been similar to these days but with fewer complications. No phones, crucially. But pubs all present and correct. I think I’d have loved it.

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What TV show could you not live without?

Even to this day it has to be The Office. When I first moved to London 20 years ago, I was consuming it like toast, watching episodes again and again. I do still go back to it as a comfort sometimes.

Who would paint your portrait?

I have a friend called Daniel who works with clay. I wouldn’t mind him having a crack at a bust.

What’s your theme tune?

Weirdly I do have theme tunes, in the sense of walk-on music. “O Julissi” is the best I ever heard. It was the Belgian Eurovision entry in 2008 and I grabbed it for my show. Just beautiful. It didn’t even get Belgium into the final. I often think about that. There must have been something going on there.

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

Quite immediate advice: I saw the phrase “pain is temporary; quitting lasts forever” on the back of someone’s T-shirt during the London marathon. That got me through the last eight miles.

What’s currently bugging you?

“Bugging me” doesn’t quite cut it, but Vladimir Putin’s war is horrible to watch.

What single thing would make your life better?

I went to Tokyo a couple of years ago and I do think some months living in Japan might be a good plan.

When were you happiest?

I really enjoyed the 1986 World Cup. My dad woke me up and let me watch England vs Poland. Gary Lineker was an absolute predator.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I was once offered an internship with the UN’s refugee agency so that would have sent me in a different direction.

Are we all doomed?

I really hope not. But things are spinning out of control in most respects at the mo.

“The Witchfinder”, starring Tim Key, continues on BBC Two at 10pm on Tuesdays, and is available on BBC iPlayer

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This article appears in the 16 Mar 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Russia’s War Goes Global