I’m sat at my desk, nervously waiting for Bill Bailey to call.

I’ve wanted to interview him for years but am worried as just three days earlier his tour bus was stolen, throwing his carefully scheduled journey across the UK into disarray.

But when the phone finally rings Bill is just as affable as ever, if a little cross with the culprits.

“This threw a right spanner in the works,” sighs the 51-year-old, “we were scrabbling round trying to get a new van and bits of kit and the crew lost their bags and personal possessions.

“It’s a bummer because when you are on tour you haven’t got time for this s***, you barely have time to sleep and eat.”

He’s been making a concerted effort to help police catch the thieves and says of their punishment: “I would lock them in a room with Chris de Burgh albums playing 24 hours a day, like they did with Noriega.”

Fortunately his Limboland shows have been “going ahead serenely” and he is due to arrive on time in London this month, as his numerous pieces of musical equipment, including a drum given to him by Peter Gabriel, were not in the van. And Bill is grateful it wasn’t worse.

“I have had all sorts of things happen to me on tour, people get ill, my tour manager had a stroke, much more serious things. You turn up at the hotel and there’s a fire and you have to evacuate and then the roof of the venue caves in and water ruins all the gear.

“I feel for Bob Mortimer who was just about to go on tour and found out he had to have a triple bypass.”

I aim to lighten the mood by asking Bill about the highlight of his year and he begins telling me about recording a spoof pop video for the BBC with Emma Thompson.

“That was a joyous few days. We filmed in our production office in Hammersmith, which is a lovely old building.”

He pauses briefly and continues: “The other downer of this year is I got a letter from the council saying our building was going to be demolished. It’s an old 1920s building and its been bought by a big construction company who are going to turn it into offices or something.

“It was a great letter, it said ‘Your building is scheduled for demolition. You may be affected by this.’”

There is a hint of sadness in Bill’s voice as he talks about how he has filmed, recorded stuff and written shows in there. He even wrote much of current show Limboland there - its theme the idea of life not turning out the way you expected.

It was inspired by a disastrous family trip to the Northern Lights with his son Dax, wife Kristin and their parents.

“It was terrifying. Everyone kept getting flung and pinged off these sledges. My wife fell off and then my dad got tipped out," he says beginning to laugh, “then my wife’s parents got tipped out the back. It was a disaster. It was only after a while I was able to talk about it without a twitch appearing in my eye.

“With the benefit of hindsight I realised it was actually quite funny and a good story to indicate when you have great expectations for something and it is a completely different experience.

“Then I started thinking about how our lives turn out and the person we end up with and the expectations we have as kids. And also how the world was supposed to be now. Things were supposed to be better according to Tomorrow’s World, we were supposed to be in hover cars with no disease and all living in harmony, holding hands and singing Kumbaya but it hasn’t happened.”

Bill says his life is nothing like he imagined it would be but he never had a real plan.

Born Mark Bailey in Bath and nicknamed by a music teacher, he excelled at many things at school.

“There would be conflict all the time and I was torn between the different subjects and didn’t know what I wanted to do. Actually I’m still counting up my options now, “ he chuckles. “Every time I’m on stage I think ‘how did it end up like this?’ I’ve always had this nagging suspicion that it was a temporary thing and I would one day have to get a proper job.”

He moved to the big smoke as a young man to study English and drama at the Westfield College of the University of London.

“I was there about four weeks when I realised it was a terrible mistake. I react very badly to those kinds of institutions. I just thought it was a waste of time fiddle a**ing around pretending to be a lion and learning about meter.

“So I got a job working for a French theatre company acting in French and performing French O-Level texts for schools. That was great and then I won a prize to go to Avion and realised that was it, I was out of there.”

He then moved back to Bath and started doing stand-up and has gone on to tour the world, star in television series Black Books, on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Have I Got News for You, QI and in 2010 was voted the 7th greatest stand-up comic by Channel 4 viewers.


East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Bill's tour bus was found last week a few days after our interview


But I wondered what he would have done if it hadn’t worked out?

“I did a diploma in music and one more exam and I would be a piano teacher so I could have done that. And in fact I was very briefly employed by GLC to teach kids how to record their own demos and I loved it and thought maybe that was something I could do.”

He admits to being very single-minded in his ambitions, the latest of which is to learn to play the accordion by the end of this tour in July but his one failure is DIY: “I’m utterly rubbish at that. I tried to make a postbox once for the back of the door but it was so big the door wouldn’t open. So we buried the cat in it. I made a cat coffin.”

At home in Hammersmith Bill is surrounded by nine chickens, a couple of ducks, pigeons, starlings, some hanging parrots, cockatoos, a snake, some turtles, praying mantis and more but he says he loves it and misses home comforts when away.

“I get annoyed by hotels. A minority understand that what you want is something quite homey and not to be pampered. You don’t want a ziggurat of blackberries or your bed folded a certain way or a chocolate on your pillow. You just want a toaster and some bread, butter and Marmite.

“I like quirky odd places where the owners will come up to you and go ‘I made you a ham sandwich’ and then the dog wanders in.”

He’ll be coming home soon though to start his five week run at The Vaudeville Theatre and to give some pointers to one of his biggest fans- his son Dax.

“He said to me the other day ‘boy, you’ve got a great job, you just think up jokes’. I started trying to say to him it was a lot harder than that but then realised he was right.

So he writes jokes now and he’s good and says it’s what he wants to do which I think is great. If he wanted to become a hedge fund manager then I might have a word.”

I can’t think of a way to subtly ease my final question into the conversation so I just blurt it out- how much money would it take for him to shave off his famous flowing hair and beard?

“Not very much at all. I got my hair stuck in a tube door and thought ‘it’s time for it to go’. So if it happens again it’s off. It could well be off by Christmas.”

But would people still recognise him?

“Hopefully not! It’s part of the job you can’t avoid and I try to be as polite as I can to everyone.

“It is funny sometimes. I had some friends staying over the summer and I took them up to see Tower Bridge and there was a walking tour going passed us. This guide with his bunch of tourists said ‘and on your right’ and then turned and I was right there and he said ‘it’s Bill Bailey!’ and all these Chinese tourists clearly didn’t know who I was but took pictures of me anyway.

“I like the thought they’ve all gone home and are looking at it with no idea who that strange man is.

Bill Bailey brings Limboland to Watford Colosseum on November 20 and 21 and The Vaudeville Theatre from December 10 to January 17. Details: billbailey.co.uk