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Home / Latest News / King of the jungle Bill Bailey on following in a Victorian Welsh explorer’s footsteps

King of the jungle Bill Bailey on following in a Victorian Welsh explorer’s footsteps

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

 

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