Bill Bailey

Bill Bailey

Real name: Mark Bailey
Date of birth: 13-01-1964
Born and raised in the West Country, Bill Bailey showed an early passion for music, forming the school band Behind Closed Doors.  It was also at school that he acquired the nickname Bill, thanks to a geography teacher who was a fan of the song Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey?

He seemed destined for a career in music; being the only pupil at his school to study the subject at A-level, before attending the  London College of Music.  In his early years, he performed with an 'enthusiastic if unsuccessful', four-piece band called The Famous Five. But he says he always felt the urge to slip jokes into the set.

Bailey also had a passion for theatre, and he spent much of the Eighties touring with a Welsh experimental theatre company, which he combined with a job as a lounge pianist and a keyboard player in a jazz trio. But one night Bailey saw comic poet John Hegley, who inspired him to combine music and comedy.

In 1986 he formed a double act, the Rubber Bishops, with Toby Longworth, who was replaced in 1988 by Martin Stubbs.  Around this time he was also performing with  London topical comedy team Newsrevue.

Once the double act dissolved, he formed the pub band Beergut 100, and started performing stand-up solo.  In 1994, he performed  at the Edinburgh Fringe with Sean Lock with the show Rock, about an ageing rockstar and his roadie

The following he returned with his debut solo show, and in 1996 earned a Perrier nomination for his show Cosmic Jam. The show was later recorded for TV, but it took until 2005 for it to be released on DVD.

His Perrier success landed him several TV appearances, including a captaincy on the ill-fated Channel 4 sci-fi panel game Space Cadets. But three years after his Perrier success, Bailey was writing and starring in his own BBC Two show Is It Bill Baile?y, featuring  musical parodies, surreal sketches, and stand-up.

He continued to tour and  won the Best Live Stand-Up award at the 1999 British Comedy Awards. In 2001, he toured with Bewilderness and in 2003, he took to the road with Part Troll, following its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe. In 2007 he made the move to arenas, with the live show Tinselworm.

In 2000, he took the role as long-suffering Manny Bianco in Dylan Moran's sitcom Black Books, which cemented his burgeoning TV fame.

Now he is probably most famous as a team captain on comedy pop quiz Never Mind The Buzzcocks, taking over from Sean Hughes in 2002. Bailey has also appeared regularly on QI, Spaced, and as a guest on the likes of Room 101 and TV Heaven, Telly Hell.

Bailey has also been a straight actor. During the 2003 Edinburgh Festival he starred in a production of Twelve Angry Men, alongiside other comedians and two years later appeared opposite Alan Davies in an Edinburgh Fringe producton of The Odd Couple. He voiced the sperm whale in 2005's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie  In 2007, Bailey appreared in a West End revival of Harold Pinter sketches, Pinter's People, which he helped bring to the stage.

He is also a wildlife campagner and presented Wild Thing I Love You which began on Channel 4 on October 15, 2006.

He became a father in 2003, and named his son Dax after the Star Trek: Deep Space 9 character.

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Cabaret All Stars with Bill Bailey

Gig review by Steve Bennett

Bill Bailey’s been offered all sorts of gigs since winning Strictly. This is the third time I’ve seen him in six weeks: on the main stage at Latitude, in the opulent Royal Opera House and now at mastering the ceremonies in a plush new cabaret venue in the most unlikely of places: beneath Waterloo Bridge in central London.

Yet Proud Embankment oozes underground decadence from the moment you cross its threshold. You’re taken to your tables by girls in showgirl plumes and glittering, barely-there outfits as a sultry chanteuse with a Louise Brooks bob rasps seductive torch songs from the central stage. The elegant venue has the air of an illicit speakeasy where the hedonistic elite parties as the world burns outside.

That singer is Miss Ritzy Crackers, who hosts much of the first section cheekily teasing the audience for their reserved British reaction to the spectacle on offer, including her own party trick of mixing a martini into the glass in the most unusual way.

The licentious pageant she introduces is heavy on the burlesque. A bit too heavy, truth be told, as even stripteases suffer diminishing returns, however dramatic, acrobatic and well-choreographed each act is. Much of the show involved performers of any gender you could think of, and possibly some you can’t, getting their kit off in variously artistic and entertaining ways.

Pi The Mime started with an inventive black-and-white movie homage, with dreams of romance crushed by working life, before erupting into a techno-powered strip. Double act J’Adore La Vie’s style is diaphanous gowns and 1950s undergarments, while MisSa Blue combines sword-swallowing with a grittier form of burlesque. Jake DuPree is probably the stand-out of the form on this bill with impressively powerfully acrobatic moves … and an even more impressive torso. DuPree is a protégé of Dita Von Teese, whose kinky look certainly inspired Marie Devilreux, another burlesque turn on tonight’s bill.

Bill Bailey makes his appearance just before the interval strumming The Good, The Bad and The Ugly theme – fully-clothed, it should be stressed, as a guitar-toting Southern US preacher. With typical wry resignation, he notes how varied his career is: ‘One minute you’re making a documentary with David Attenborough, the next you are under a bridge with some strippers.’

His MCing might not always be slick, but he’s never less than charming, and his down-to-earth approach offered a winning contrast to the glitzier elements of the night. We could have seen more of him, but

Perhaps counterintuitively, his whimsically offbeat musical numbers fit right in, including Old MacDonald in the manner of Tom Waits and Led Zeppelin on bells. Sometimes raunchy dancers back him, Hot Gossip-style - them acting out his lyrics about a tense encounter with devil giving them all the more impact – while an aerial act enhanced his grandiose ballad.

We could probably have seen more of him, but his stage time was limited as the carnal carnival continued with acts such as Isabella Bliss, channeling Marilyn to sing Happy Birthday. However, her later role as Boudica in a showdown with Thor was a bit cheesy.

If you think you don’t like fire-eaters, Shade Flamewater may have you change your mind, bringing original techniques and inventive showmanship to what can be a tired trick. As another alter ego, Dipoy The Clown, he also put a new twist on walking on broken glass, performed in mesmerising, poignant silence.

And a frenetically acrobatic aerial act, Katrina Louis, proved an energetic and jaw-dropping climax, spinning and twisting suspended by her hair.

All this is performed in close quarters, and overseen by the most diligent stage crew, all part of an impressively slick and welcoming operation that makes every aspect of the night feel special: from waiting staff that treat customers like royalty to delicious food, better than it really has a right to be.

With its mix of burlesque, circus, drag and comedy, the Cabaret All-Stars more than fills a La Clique-shaped hole in London’s nightlife. While a little more variety in the types of act might be welcome, it’s a big night out that’s classy, indulgent and louche – and filled with memorable performers that do cabaret proud. Pun very much intended.

Bill Bailey is back at Proud Cabaret on September 15, 16, 22 and 23. Other hosts include Denise Van Outen and Duncan James. Tickets

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Published: 2 Sep 2021

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