LANDING a role in the next Doctor Who Christmas special is not such much a career high as a personal one for Bill Bailey who describes it as: “like getting knighthood.” It’s fair to assume he’s always been a big fan of the show.
“Well, I was small for many years,” he quips then admits: “I was terrified by the Cybermen. For a long time I had an irrational fear of being in a lift in case the door opened and there was a Cyberman standing there. I’ve just about got over that now.”
So how did he get the gig?
“It was just one of those things. They phoned up and said do you want to do it. And I said ‘oh yes I do.’”
Any storyline for a Doctor Who episode is a closely guarded secret so one assumes he was given the third degree about no revealing any details?
“No they didn’t although I subsequently found out that that’s the prevailing culture. I did tweet about it saying that I was going to do it and there was this tsunami of tweets of people saying: “You going to be in it?” “Have the BBC said you’re going to be in it” - it went absolutely mental.
“I didn’t really realise how obsessive and fanatical people are about it. But I can see why.”
Prior to that Bailey is finishing off the remaining few dates on his Dandelion Mind tour that started 18 months ago and has since been across Europe, Australia and the US.
It includes a date at the Capital FM Arena on Thursday.
“I’ve played Nottingham many times,” says Bailey, whose debut at the Edinburgh Fringe 15 years ago earned him a Perrier Award nomination.
“I used to do Just The Tonic quite a bit and it was great fun,” says the West Country musical comedian and actor.
“I had some great gigs there. And I played the university a few times. I remember that for one of the university gigs my car broke down. And the accommodation I was supposed to be staying in was overbooked, so it was all going a disastrously wrong.
“We all ended up in some student digs drinking cherry brandy at three in the morning. So, you know, rock n roll! That’s what I say.”
Since those days he’s gone from Never Mind The Buzzcocks to Black Books to the Top 10 in Channel 4’s greatest stand-up of all time poll to a British Comedy Award. Along with his own shows for Channel 4 and BBC2 he’s appeared in Spaced, Jonathan Creek and Skins, been a regular on Have I Got News for You and QI and even presented wildlife programmes Wild Thing I Love You (Channel 4) and Bill Bailey’s Birdwatching Bonanza (Sky1).
On the big screen you may have seen appearances in Saving Grace, Hot Fuzz, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, Chalet Girl and Burke and Hare.
“It’s another world now,” he says of his current standards of lodging when on the road.
“I’ve got a swan carved out of ice; I demand that everywhere I go. I get a Toblerone, I’m carried to the gig in a sedan chair... it’s all changed.”
Bailey was one of the first UK comedians to play arenas and he admits it was initially a daunting prospect making the leap from the comedy club to the big stage.
“I learnt an awful lot about what to do and what not to do,” he says.
“I’d built it up in my head so much about what a big deal it was... and it was a big deal but now I’m a lot more relaxed about it. I just see them as gigs. It’s like doing a gig in a club except there are a few more people there.
“Initially I spent hours thinking how it had to be a spectacle and I was fretting for months about the number of pixels on the screen and where people would be able to see it, was the sound right?... I drove myself mad over it.
“I started from the point of it being for arenas and that coloured my judgment in a way. I was writing songs and material thinking I’M GOING TO HAVE TO SPEAK A BIT LOUDER! and punch the air at the end of each joke.”
He adds: “I wrote this show completely the other way. I started in the tiny venues in the Highlands of Scotland, in community centres and little halls and let it expand into arenas.
“Obviously there are bigger screens and more sound equipment now I’m playing arenas but nothing really that significantly different.”
He’s also taken it to Australia, the US, Canada and Europe.
But isn’t playing an arena a wholly different experience?
Peter Kay, John Bishop and Lee Evans have all introduced songs and dance numbers for their shows this year, as if conscious that they have to fill the space. And their shows lacked that interaction with the audience that can make each gig unique.
“Practically that is more difficult because if you ask: ‘Has anyone here swam with a dolphin? And there’s someone towards the back of the arena in another postcode going: ‘Yes, I’ve dad did a doldin’ you spend ten minutes asking: ‘What did he say?’ So it can turn in to a session of Chinese whispers.
“But you are close to the people in the front rows, so you can talk to them. You just have to be quite clear about what’s been said and relay the conversation to everyone.
“In fact, it was in Birmingham where I was playing this alpine horn and the end fell off. I picked up the end of the horn and there was the manufacturer’s number inside with a number to ring in Switzerland, so I phoned them up and put the phone to the microphone.
“I got the audience to shout: ‘the horn’s broken!’ You have to allow things like that to happen so it’s less formal, so the audience don’t feel so much that they aren’t involved and they’re just observing a spectacle.”
The same kind of ad-libbing found its way into the show the last time he was in Nottingham at the arena.
“I was on just before the Dalai Lama,” says Bailey, who played the venue four years ago on his Tinselworm tour.
“We ended up with a routine about the songs the Dalai Lama might end his show with, which was good fun.”
Aside from the ad-libs, this show will be significantly different from the live DVD of the same name that was released last Christmas.
“If you think up new ideas you’re almost compelled to put it in the show to see what the reaction will be. I can’t help myself. So it’s always changing.
“I’d say most of the material is different to when I started out in Scotland.”
Aside from the filming of the Doctor Who episode, which will be set during World War II and also star Alexander Armstrong, Outnumbered’s Claire Skinner and The Fast Show's Arabella Weir, the tour is Bailey’s only focus. That’s how he has to work.
“Sometimes I’ve got in to states where I’m doing a TV show, writing something, doing a tour... you just drive yourself mad.”
Bill Bailey brings his Dandelion Mind tour to the Capital FM Arena on Thursday starting at 8pm. Tickets are £29.50 from the venue, call 08444 124624 or visit www.billbailey.co.uk