Sir Billy Connolly CBE, Scottish comedian, musician, presenter, actor and artist, chats with Kevin Cooper about the current state of his health, the forthcoming release of his book Tall Tales And Wee Stories, his dear friend the late Robin Williams and his movie The Sex Life Of Bandages.

Sir Billy Connolly, CBE, is a Scottish stand up comedian, musician, presenter, actor and artist. He is sometimes known, especially in his homeland, by the Scots nickname ‘The Big Yin’.

Connolly’s first trade, in the early 1960s, was as a welder (specifically a boilermaker) in the Glasgow shipyards, but he gave it up towards the end of the decade to pursue a career as a folk singer. He then made the transition from singer with a comedic persona to fully fledged comedian, for which he is now best known.

He made his theatrical debut in 1972 and since then he has regularly played the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as well as releasing numerous albums and DVD’s, the first in 1972 entitled Billy Connolly Live! which was a mixture of comedic songs and short monologues.

He has also had a career as an actor having appeared in thirty nine films including Mrs Brown with Dame Judi Dench and the successful The Man Who Sued God.

In 2013 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and prostate cancer on the same day, but has since been given the all clear from the cancer. On his 75th birthday in 2017, three portraits of Connolly were made by leading artists Jack Vettriano, John Byrne and Rachel Maclean which were later turned into part of Glasgow’s official mural trial.

Also in 2017 he was knighted in Buckingham Palace by Prince William for services to entertainment and charity.

Connolly has established himself as an artist, with a tour of British exhibitions to take place early next year. In October he will celebrate the release of his book, Tall Tales And Wee Stories, and on 10th October he will be coming to nationwide cinemas for one night only with a brilliant show from his final stand up tour recorded in Sydney in 2015 before he retired from touring.

Whilst resting at his home in Florida he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Sir Billy, good morning.

Hi Kevin, how you doing?

I’m doing very well thank you, how are you today?

I’m very well today thanks for asking. As the Americans would say I am as healthy as a doughnut (laughter).

Before we move on, let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

That’s not a problem, it’s my pleasure.

I must ask, how are things on the health front?

Well let me tell you that I have finally come to terms with the fact that my Parkinson’s is not going to go away, in fact, it’s going to get worse. I simply must face facts and accept that my life is slipping away. There is no denying it, I am seventy-five years old, I have got Parkinson’s and I am at the wrong end of the telescope of life. But I have medicine that I take three times a day, which keeps me okay and stops me shaking. I can still get around fine so in that respect I’m perfectly happy. But hey, enough of the humour, let’s move on (laughter).

(Laughter) we really must speak about your forthcoming movie, The Sex Life Of Bandages, which is being shown in selected cinemas nationwide for one night only on Thursday 10th October.

Yes, we must (laughter).

What can you tell me about the movie?

Well, apparently it is a riotous journey filled with outrageous tales and blistering observations of everyday absurdities. The producers and director are telling me that The Sex Life Of Bandages is a big screen tribute to an iconic funny-man whose sharp wit and anarchic storytelling is still as hilarious as ever, whoever that may be (laughter). All that I can say is that considering I tend to die in all my Hollywood movies, I’m delighted to appear in cinemas and be alive and well at the end (laughter).

Just where did the name come from?

Well, I really can’t take any credit for that, it was all down to the promoters of the film. They looked at my show, picked out bits of it and asked me to choose one of the sections for the title of the movie. And I have to say, that one was my favourite. Having said that, I would never have called the movie The Sex Life Of Bandages (laughter).

I must be totally honest with you and say that it made me laugh because many years ago I went for a job interview and I was asked to speak for two minutes on the sex life of the inside of a table tennis ball.

(Laughter) oh my god, I would have lasted about three seconds. That really is so very cruel (laughter).

When your very last tour was being recorded for the film, did you enjoy having the cameras onstage with you in a rather up close and personal manner once again?

Yes, I did, but I have to say that it very soon goes away. The show was almost two hours long and after the first fifteen minutes, you forget about the cameras, you cannot afford to think about them. You get so wrapped up in the show that you forget that the cameras are there.

Why did you have them record the Australian leg of the tour and not one of your shows in Scotland on your home soil?

That’s simple, the shows in Scotland and the shows over in Australia are much of a muchness. The shows are just as good and just as meaningful to both an English audience and an Australian audience. It really was an international show. I don’t care about playing to my home audiences and all that; that really doesn’t appeal to me. It hasn’t appealed to me for many years now.

It must help having a huge number of ex-pats living out in Australia?

Yes, it does, it really does, but I moved beyond that many years ago. I have been touring Australia for over thirty years now, so I really have got rid of the ex-pat thing.

For the people who will unfortunately be unable to attend the showing of the movie at the cinema, will it subsequently be available on DVD and download?

Yes, it will and before you ask, I have absolutely no idea when that will be, but I imagine that it will be not too long after the cinema event (laughter).

You have toured the world for over fifty years to an estimated audience of ten million people; was it hard for you to walk away and say, “that’s it, no more”?

Being totally honest with you, I have to say that it was much easier than I thought it would be. I don’t miss it at all. I watch the TV now and see comedians doing what it is that they do, and believe me, I am so glad that I don’t do it anymore (laughter). They all seem to be a hell of a lot better at it than me.

You recently moved over to Florida. Are you enjoying life in the sun?

Yes, I did and yes, I am, I love it.

Are you also enjoying the privacy which Florida affords you?

It is brilliant. The few people who recognise me think that I am a movie star (laughter).

You are (laughter).

Okay, if you say so, but a hell of a lot of them don’t know that I am a comedian.

After you took your final curtain call and called time on touring you started drawing. How is that coming along?

It’s smashing; I am really enjoying it. I started drawing about ten years ago now, and it’s become such a part of me. I must tell you that my art bears no relation to comedy or music. It is totally pure and unjudged. What I am creating for myself is personal and private, whereas with a film, comedy show or music you expect people to be critiquing, watching, and assessing. I have found that art is totally different; in fact, it liberates you. The only downside to it all is that when the originals are sold a little part of my soul dies. That’s my entire fault and to be honest, I’m not sure if I should have allowed that to happen. The fact that people like them is a huge bonus.

I have been looking at your most recent works and I have to say that I really do love Walkies.

Thank you for saying that; I really am proud of that drawing.

Do you have any exhibitions on the horizon?

Yes, I have, in fact I am going to be doing a British exhibition next January which will come to most of the capital cities here in the UK.

Will Nottingham be on the list?

I imagine that it will be as I really do love Nottingham. I have spent quite a lot of time over the years in Nottingham, and you really do have a great Paul Smith’s shop down there.

Who or what makes Sir Billy Connolly laugh?

There are a whole load of comedians who currently make me laugh. I was recently watching Tonight At The Apollo and every single person who was on there was absolutely great. I think that at the moment the standard of comedy is very high.

Taking you back to 2017 when The Duke of Cambridge bestowed upon you a knighthood for services to entertainment and charity, at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. Just how did that feel?

It was absolutely lovely; it really is such a compliment. It would have been churlish of me to have turned it down.

A cup a tea, a cucumber sandwich and a knighthood at the Palace simply cannot be turned down.

Absolutely Kevin, absolutely (laughter). Nothing changes. The great thing is that people like calling me Sir Billy and that really is lovely.

I must ask you about your naked bungee jump in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Okay, if you must then go for it.

Why (laughter).

(Laughter) why not? It seemed like a good idea at the time and the people in charge of the whole thing really were extremely lovely people. As you know, I will try almost anything so when they suggested me doing a naked bungee jump, I thought ‘why not’ (laughter). The whole experience was sublime and the bounce at the bottom was incredible.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

To be honest with you, I couldn’t begin to answer that simply because the whole journey for me has been a highlight. My career started big and remained big. It remained in a growth state right up until I gave it up.

Do you ever sit back and think that it could very well have been a career in music?

(Laughter) no, it couldn’t have been despite me having worked with some smashing musicians, the likes of Gerry Rafferty and Ralph McTell, people like that. So I really do know exactly what a good musician is and let me tell you, I’m not one of them (laughter).

Do you have any regrets?

No, none at all. Regrets are an absolutely waste of both time and energy. If you do have any regrets, then fix them. If you think that there is something that you should have done, then do it. I have got no problem with that at all. Having said all of that, looking back I think that I could have done more to help my dear friend Robin (Williams). He really was a joy to be around and in all the years that I knew him, I never got tired of him. He truly was a one-off, a warm and kind human being. Sometimes, in quieter moments I do sometimes think that perhaps I could have done more to help him. Show business is such a lonely life. You spend a hell of a lot of time on your own, and if you dwell on these things you can really hurt yourself, as Robin eventually went onto prove.

On 17th October your book Tall Tales And Wee Stories will be released. It is a book that explores the very best of your storytelling for the first time and includes your most famous routines including; The Last Supper, Jojoba Shampoo, Incontinence Pants and Shouting At Wildebeest. Did you enjoy putting that together?

Yes, I did, I really did, but I must tell you that it was very strange. The publishers approached me to do it, and then they sent me the stories that they wanted me to do for the book. Obviously, I then had to read them all which really was very strange as I don’t write my stuff, I never have. I just make stuff up as I go along (laugher). So, as you can imagine the stories are weird because the people who write that stuff have a beginning, middle and an end. My stuff doesn’t. They are just ideas that crash on top of one another, so they often go nowhere. So, it was very interesting for me to read just how other people work, and how they pull all their ideas together.

Will we be seeing Sir Billy Connolly on our TV screens anytime soon?

There will be a documentary that I did over in America on your TV shortly. They let me travel throughout America and I got to talk to some very interesting people.

Talking of America, I really did enjoy watching you travel along Route 66.

That’s great; I am so pleased that you enjoyed it. I really do love meeting people who have ridden along Route 66 on their motorbikes because of that TV show.

How was it with the trike, did you enjoy riding it?

It really was colossal. It really was amazing; I loved every second of it. In total, I covered two thousand four hundred and eighty-eight miles from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California. It was so immense.

Despite the enjoyment, you were left scarred for life, weren’t you?

Yes, I was, indeed I was, in fact I managed to break two ribs when the trike rolled on top of me. I found myself in the hospital after breaking a couple of ribs and gashing my leg. We had come to the end of Route 66 and there was a steep incline which was covered with gravel. I was using the cruise control on the throttle and it jammed on, so I slipped the clutch. The bloody trike came over on top of me and broke my ribs. I was in agony and was forced to spend a week resting in hospital and my hotel room. Anyway, as the saying goes “no pain, no gain” (laughter).

What was the first record that you bought?

That was What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For? by Emile Ford & The Checkmates, who had a number one hit with the song back in late 1959.

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

That would have been Charlie Gracie who was a Rockabilly artist from Philadelphia. He had a massive hit here in the UK with a song called Butterfly.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

I was recently watching the movie Dreamgirls which, as you no doubt know, was loosely based upon the life and times of The Supremes. There is a song in the movie called And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going, and as soon as I heard that song I simply burst into tears.

I must tell you that you are the second Sir that I have interviewed.

Really, go on then, who was the first one?

An old friend of yours, the late Sir Roger Moore.

Really, Roger really was a very nice man.

He persistently called me ‘young man’ throughout the interview (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) that’s Roger for you. He spent pounds and pounds in an attempt to get those little brown spots removed off his hands.

I can’t possibly let you go without asking you to tell me one of your favourite jokes.

Okay, here goes; never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cosy, doesn’t try it on (laughter).

(Laughter) Sir Billy, on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been delightful.

Thank you so much Kevin, it’s been nice talking to you. You make sure that you pop into the gallery to say hello when we get to Nottingham. Bye for now.