Before the Strictly finale, the captivating comic talks about backstage nerves, Roald Dahl’s anti-Semitism and the cancellation of the cultural comedy

He Made It Bill Bailey is in the finale of Strictly Come Dancing – at the age of 55 He went for Blondie, for the good, the bad and the ugly and the heavy metal of Metallica He entertained us and Surprised He might even roll off with the glitter ball trophy (he’s the bookmaker’s favorite) So far, Joe McFadden was the oldest BBC ballroom contest winner at the age of 42.Bailey, the Telegraph’s staunch columnist, is on the verge of an amazing coup for the Oldies He’s written about having dreams of dancing at Stonehenge – if he wins he can probably skip becoming a national treasure and declaring himself a national heritage

It didn’t come easy. Bailey is way out of his comfort zone.On a gray Sunday afternoon, he tells me how it feels.If he performs live standing up, he can stand on stage and try to 12Making 000 people laugh, but still feels at home. He’s done it so many times that it’s hard to alarm even if he forgets what’s next. “I used to make a joke of myself sometimes got lost, such as, ‘What did I talk about? ‘”He’s going to put untested material in a huge arena show because, you know,” maybe “

Strictly speaking isn’t that Bailey made it through eight rounds and danced everything from cha-cha to Charleston with Oti Mabuse, his glamorous professional partner. Sometimes, Bailey admits, “the occasion comes up to me” Opening the show in week five was nerve-wracking “I was calm, slightly stunned, backstage. When you stand on a rotating cylinder that wants to dance in front of 10 million people, you really feel the pressure of” What he’s doing it with The closest thing to comparison is skydiving.Bailey surprised everyone: Not only is he consistently the funniest candidate, he has also shown considerable talent and verve. He has become a role model for older men – proof that there is no age limit, new ones Skills to learn and he refuses to see himself as “a slight relief” For “a person of my age”, he says, he loves to be in the long run: “You see, you doubter, you thought I was the joke candidate””

Most of the time he just got his socks off. He was already quite fit, a cyclist and paddleboarder, but Mabuse pushed him hard. The 30-year-old South African won Strictly with Emmerdale actor Kelvin Fletcher last year Rumor has it that she was paired with Bailey to make sure she couldn’t win twice in a row. But he thinks he knew the exact moment when she realized they might only have one try. “We started with what I now realize is, is the toughest, most feared dance of the competition, the cha-cha … and it was tough I struggled with the footwork And after that Oti probably thought, well, Bill doesn’t really know what he’s doing, he’s not a dancer, but it will be fun And then, in the second week, we took the quick step, and there is a step in there “

He pauses for a moment. We’re on a video call, he’s home in his conservatory, surrounded by lush green fronds. He’s about to introduce a technical term, he says, but he insists, “I’m not trying to give him the big one to give like, oh, get yourself, talk to all the dancers. “He continues,” There’s a certain step called the scatter chassé – it’s a three step step from side to side and it’s difficult to make it through Oti said, well, there is one thing you could do in a snap “She showed him” and I just said, “What so?” And she looked at me and she leaves do it again ‘”He has” And in that moment I could see her mind working like, “Wait a minute if he can ” Not sure how he was able to do this, “Maybe it was the musical part of my brain that understood the concept of a triple beat, so I could instruct my feet to do it”

It certainly wasn’t from previous dance training. He had the slightest inkling of it as a “lanky kid, 12 or 13” when his mother Madryn, a fan of the original Come Dancing TV show, had him take him for a lesson on the Dance school across the street booked from the family home in Bath where he lived with his mother, general practitioner father and maternal grandparents “I have this vague memory of being shown the basic steps of a waltz and I came back and thought : “That’s not for me”He went completely the other way, stopped trying his independent school, where he won almost every academic award, and became a little punk rocker with peroxide hair. He started playing in bands, even started a university course in English and theater and broke off after 36 hours. Before developing his way of gently shooting silly, surreal conversational comedies like an old friend, he was half a musical duo called Rubber Bishops

His routines still make fun of all kinds of music he really loves, from Kraftwerk to country to classical, but it was punk with its do-it-yourself aesthetic that inspired him the most, “Me always saw comedy a bit like it was like literally making a life of your own mind I didn’t think I was fit for a normal life, whatever that was He was an only child His mother died in 2005 I ask me if he thinks of her while dancing “I think when I’m at the end and look back I just think how much she would have loved it I’m sure this is true that of all the things I’ve done – TV shows, movies, panel shows, sketch shows, sitcoms, comedy, music, anything I can think of – that’s what she would have been very proud of beyond all measure ”

Because of the pandemic he’s only in Strictly He should have been touring Australia and New Zealand by now – they love Bailey’s sense of absurdity there – but instead he got away with exhaustion. The other day he told me, “My whole body hurt, I could barely get out of the car I was crouched waiting to cross the street to my house and a woman was pedaling past I must have looked like a wreck And she said, “Good luck!” I suppose she meant by Strictly, but the way I interpreted it it was “Good luck crossing the street””For weeks he came home and lay there, heart racing, thinking about the steps he had learned” Is it left over? Is it right? I would have dreams where I went left and not right, and a Abyss full of lava would open ”

The year of Covid turned out to be good for Bailey, however; he wrote a book, Bill Bailey’s remarkable guide to happiness, that is also a loving memory He will go back on stage to do stand-up whenever the stairs allow and he has a small but very entertaining role in Sky One’s Christmas Eve drama, Roald & Beatrix: The Curious Mouse’s Tail It is inspired by the true story of how Roald Dahl introduced popular children’s author Beatrix Potter in the 1920s as a young boy Bailey, who visited her home in the Lake District, plays the Polari-speaking train driver who, after Dahl’s introduction, becomes the Gobblefunk-spitting Big Friendly Giant (BFG)

I ask him after the news that Dahl’s family has apologized for the “permanent and understandable harm” caused by the author’s public anti-Semitic remarks, what should Bailey do when someone who has enjoyed their work so much who has such venomous views? “It’s very difficult. I think it depends on whether you can separate the man and the author and then you can never really read his works without seeing them through this knowledge of their personal views,” he says can understand why people want to cancel artists, but I find it more complicated, it’s not quite as black or white – especially with Roald Dahl I would imagine his work is completely free of the prejudices I think if you have a clear head you can separate them ”

Thinking about what happens to actors, he brings up Kevin Spacey in the House of Cards, who was removed from the drama after sexual assault allegations surfaced, “I’m watching this and he’s just brilliant, he’s a knockout in that role. But can’t we enjoy that now? ”Comedians often put themselves in the line of fire Ricky Gervais, for example, joked about disability, autism and trans rights, stating that it was a freedom of speech Hill on which he would die

Is it up to the comedians to be more careful about how they write their jokes these days? “I think sometimes there is a reaction to material because the material was written to get a reaction. That was the purpose of getting a bit of a stir. And I just think, well, but then don’t be shocked when people coming back about it don’t be surprised if you have to defend it I think you can talk about any subject at all, you just have to find the right way that’s the kind of quicksilver character of comedy It can allow you to talk about topics that seem taboo or too horrible to even think about, but there is always a way to ”

As someone who grew up in the West Country and has attended bands like the Undertones at Colston Hall, now renamed the Bristol Beacon, surely needs a look at the statue of slaver Edward Colston cast in the June in Bristol Harbor, for which four people were charged with criminal harm last week. “There is no one size fits all,” says Bailey, “and in this case it was pretty straightforward to my mind. I spoke to my father, bless him, who’s 88, and he said it should have been torn down by donkeys years ago It was just the fact that there was this tremor from the council, “His dad is likely to be missing at the family reunion this year Christmas chez Bailey, he says is usually.” “A big deal – lots of relatives, extended families, neighbors, friends. It gets very quiet at home. My father is careful coming to London, he was very, very careful. He still is in good shape, but vulnerable because of his age. We were careful ”

There will likely be Bailey, his wife Kristin who is also his PR, their 17 year old son Dax and his tour manager who, like Oti, is in his social bubble but they will be surrounded by animals Bailey keeps cockatoos and has several rescue dogs He has run out of cats As a bird lover, he says, “They are murderers,” and the last time he looked after a friend he was sitting on his chest when he found he was newly allergic to them: “Mine Eyes were just tiny slits “He has to decide if he wants to interfere warmly. His strict training regime has resulted in such a dramatic weight loss (one and a half stones) that his clothes no longer fit, but he doesn’t mind” It’s great it gives you a little boost “Surely there must be a blowout on the menu for Christmas Day. He deserves one

Strictly Come Dancing is on Saturday 19th December at 6 p.m. on BBC One; Roald & Beatrix: The curious mouse’s tail is at 8 a.m. on Sky One, 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve

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Bill Bailey

World News – GB – Bill Bailey on his rigorous success: ‘People thought I was joking’