Bill Bailey: interview

Posted: Thu Nov 11 2010

Bill Bailey sounds off bout The X Factor, Richard Dawkins, his new live show and the cost of fame. Time Out tries to keep up.

How are the preparations for your new show, 'Dandelion Mind', going?
'Very well, in terms of the show. However, unfortunately, I've managed to do my back in, so I'm sort of in a permanent state of grumpy, curmudgeonlyness. I've also got a cold, which is the final insult. I'm like a bear with a sore head, back and a cold: unbearable. It's bad enough when you're writing a show anyway, you always go slightly mad. You become a bit obsessed by it, spend all night sitting there writing it and then you forget to do things like pick up the kids from school, pay bills, move cars when they're supposed to be moved… Life starts to sort of build up around you and it doesn't help being ill.'

So the mind is willing to create but the flesh is weak?
'The Hindus say that the true nature of existence is the acceptance of suffering. Or something like that, I'm paraphrasing a bit. It's something like that, something that's brilliantly bleak. Accept that there is less and you'll be fine. I like that. I want to go and see people that are non-motivational speakers, people who are de-motivational speakers. Don't get your hopes up, it might get better when you're dead. That's basically all religions, though, isn't it. Accept things are shit, but it will pick up after you die.'

Maybe that's why some people don't like Richard Dawkins. He doesn't even offer the option of happiness in an afterlife…
'He's also such an evangelical atheist as well. He's a religious atheist, which seems like an utter contradiction of terms. He's like the angry god of atheism. If he was a lot calmer and more chilled out it would have much more affect, but his voice starts to get higher and higher and he gets terribly upset with everyone. Don't get me wrong, I love his books. The irony is he's become a guru with his own followers. As a race we seemed to need to worship heroes, religious or otherwise. Freud would have said it was a projection of our fathers. We have to put people on pedestals.'

Like 'The X Factor' contestants…
'Well, that's about entitlement: everybody thinks they're entitled to be famous. We live in the age of entitlement, as opposed to enlightenment.'

As a musician, what do you think of programmes like 'The X Factor' or 'Britain's Got Talent'?
'I think they're very depressing. Programmes like that are deeply psychologically damaging to young people. It sends out so many wrong signals about talent, fame, celebrity; TV is such a powerful, insidious marketing tool. It bamboozles people into thinking everyone can be a star. And patently that's not the case. It also encourages people to be less individual, to sing songs that the judges might like, or look the way that they might like, rather than be themselves. Great music and great artists create their own music and look and are not manufactured. The contestants think it's their big chance to become famous, but really it's just another deal for Simon Cowell, just another few million in the bank. The kids might make an album but then some are dumped pretty soon after. I find it all very cynical.'

What is the biggest myth about fame?
'That somehow fame itself will solve your problems and give you a great life. If you become famous but haven't actually achieved anything, then your life has no real meaning - unless you're spectacularly shallow.'

What are the nice by-products of being famous?
'For me it's that I'm now in a position where I can chose the kind of work that I want to do. I'm really grateful for the fact that I have full artistic control over my career. I can choose what film or TV projects I'm interested in doing. I also have more freedom because over the years I've built up a live following of fans who are familiar with my stuff. They know me and what I'm like so I can keep moving forward artistically, tackling more interesting subjects.'

So what are some of the themes you explore in 'Dandelion Mind'?
'It looks at these new religions of idolatry and entitlement and the cult of celebrity. Doubt is also a big theme. I've become quite obsessed over the last six months with doubt: self-doubt, the history of doubt, how marketing companies use doubt as a way of selling products even if they've been proved to be dangerous. Smoking for example is a classic case. In 1938 people realised cigarettes could kill you, but the marketing people fostered this idea that there was a lack of scientific lack of consensus, to keep people buying their products. The same thing is happening now with climate change. They play on the fact that as humans we're not keen on absorbing new information. We like to know something and stick to it and if someone tells us that the opposite is true, it gives us a funny pain in our brain and we can't deal with it. Apart from that, my show will be the usual stuff. There's stories about life on the road, lots of new music and lots of new instruments. I also do a version of Gary Numan's “Cars” sung in French, which I'm pretty proud of.'

'Bill Bailey - Dandelion Mind' is at the Wyndham's Theatre, until Jan 8.