With so many strings to his bow – comedian, musician, actor and naturalist – it’s difficult to know where to begin a conversation with Bill Bailey.
Take this weekend, for example; as he launches his massive UK tour, which pretty much takes him up to the end of the year, he will also be seen presenting the second part of his TV documentary about the Welsh Victorian explorer Alfred Russel Wallace.
But Bailey has such an approachable manner that it doesn’t seem to matter a jot which way our chat flows, as he’s as eloquent and passionate about his love for the planet and appearing in Doctor Who as he is about providing audiences with a good night out.
While he may be best known as a former team captain on cult music/comedy panel show Never Mind The Buzzcocks and for the black comedy Black Books, you get the impression that the 49-year-old’s first love is the great outdoors.
He can currently be seen presenting the two-part BBC Two documentary Bill Bailey’s Jungle Hero, which ends tomorrow.
He spent several years working on the programme for which he literally followed in the footsteps through Indonesia of Usk-born Wallace, who jointly discovered how species evolved with Charles Darwin, but whose role was overshadowed somewhat.
“He was such a fascinating character and a lot of things I would aspire to be – an adventurer and naturalist,” admits Bailey, who was born in Bath.
Wallace’s Indonesian journey, during which he collected and studied species, lasted from 1854 to 1862.
“His story got under my skin as I was working on it for five years. Our time and budget meant we couldn’t do the full eight years. But we covered a lot of ground and made a pretty decent stab at it. We started in Borneo and saw some amazing wildlife along the way. It gives people a flavour of what it would be like to be a Victorian naturalist.
“Some of our wildlife encounters were quite magical. For me, one of the highlights was seeing the birds of paradise in Eastern Indonesia. They are the most extraordinary looking things, with long white feathers.
“They put on an amazing display every morning at dawn. Hardly anyone’s ever seen them so it was a rare privilege.”
As the second part of the documentary is screened tomorrow, Bailey will be preparing to travel to Derby for the third and fourth shows of his Qualmpeddler 2013 tour, which opened last night in Plymouth and continues tonight in Torquay. His Welsh dates include Cardiff, Llandudno and Rhyl.
Audiences will see how Bailey’s doubts about the modern world have now grown into qualms. He will be channelling these feelings of unease and apprehension with the help of religious dubstep, his folk instruments, a re-appraisal of some of the world’s greatest works of art and perhaps a dub version of Downton Abbey.
He looks at the consequences of lies, the unending search for the Higgs Boson and the hiding skills of dentists. And he tries to confront his qualms of living in a time of spectacular ignorance and rare planetary alignment.
The show features classic Bailey elements, trademark musical mash-ups, multi-lingual riffs, songs, philosophising and silliness.
“My main inspiration for the show has been travelling during the last year,” says the father of one.
“I’ve done a lot of travel to places I’ve always wanted to go to like China. It’s a global player and a dominant force in the world now.
“Confidence has been bourne out of its huge expansion. You can only understand a place by going there and getting a feel for it. Elements (from the trip) have worked their way into the show.
“It’s also about my own experiences of dealing with modern culture. What constitutes culture? There’s also a lot of politics in it as well as a lot of music.”
Bailey likes to involve his audiences.
“I ask them questions – I don’t want them passive viewers. But I don’t want to humiliate them – I’d rather get the best out of people.
“I want people to sit in the front row and get involved.”
As far as touring’s concerned, Bailey tries to get home to London as much as possible between gigs but when visiting different parts of the UK he makes the most of his new surroundings.
“The novelty of the mini bar, the trouser press and the tiny kettle in the hotel room wore off a long time ago. But what I have learned over the years is you have to be active. I tend to take my binoculars and get out there and look at the birds and absorb as much as I can of the country.”
Bill Bailey’s Jungle Hero is on BBC Two tomorrow at 8pm. His stage tour visits St David’s Hall, Cardiff, May 28; Venue Cymru, Llandudno, June 12-13; Rhyl Pavilion, September 21 and Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, October 16