It was back in his school days that a young Mark Bailey was first nicknamed ‘Bill’ by his A-level music teacher.
As a troubled teen growing up in the rural Westcountry, the intellectually gifted boy from Bath let his studies slip as he became entranced by the endless possibilities of making music.
He was so skilled at playing the early 20th century standard (Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey by Hughie Cannon that the name stuck.
Thirty years on and Bill’s incredible talent for all manner of musical instruments continues to play a central part in his award-winning stand-up comedy shows.
With a life membership in the ‘national treasure’ club already secured, he is now at the peak of his powers.
A giant of the circuit with a brain the size of a planet and a passion for activism – but also carrying a common touch that makes him a comic for all-comers.
As a boy, Bill harboured dreams of fronting the next great rock band and he often mythologises on stage about his formative years discovering the likes of Talking Heads, The Clash and Led Zeppelin.
In fact, the comedy songs he weaves into his shows are loved so dearly by fans that he has landed gigs at some of the country’s biggest venues.
Not only was Bill invited to work with the BBC Concert Orchestra in a spectacular performance at the Royal Albert Hall, he sang for the Queen at the 2012 Royal Variety and even headlined the Sonisphere festival in Knebworth.
But despite his life-long love of music, he was eventually drawn towards comedy as a means to engage more directly with his audience.
“There was something about stand-up that music wouldn’t give me, which was my love of the spoken word and the mercurial tendency of language to respond to what happens to you,” he said in a recent interview with The Scotsman.
“Language is more adaptable and I love to speak out. That side of me meant a music career wouldn’t do it.”
The 53-year-old returns to London this month to try out new material, following the success of his latest Limboland tour – a marathon run of shows he began back in September 2015.
Bill, who lives in Hammersmith with his wife Kristin and their teenage son Dax, will take to the Leicester Square Theatre stage – a popular haunt for stand-ups to screen test jokes – on March 28.
The star, perhaps still best known for his appearances on television panel shows Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Have I Got News For You and QI, has built a new life in west London after saying goodbye to the countryside some years ago.
He is a proud Queen’s Park Rangers fan and has made several appearances with local politicians to defend the NHS from government cuts and promote the cause of his beloved Labour Party.
He has described protecting the future of Charing Cross Hospital as “crucial” and lauded plans for the Hammersmith flyunder as a project that will make the borough “the envy of Europe”.
Bill’s other great passion in life is the natural world. An obsessive pet-owner with a house overflowing with weird and wonderful creatures, he is also a dedicated animal rights activist.
His stand-up is adorned with anecdotes and insights about wildlife and his curiosity for exploration and adventure has led him to all corners of the world in a series of documentaries for Sky, Channel 4 and the BBC.
Tales from the natural world cropped up again in his Limboland tour, which Bill described as a show about “the gap between how we imagine our lives to be and how they really are”.
“When I was a kid I thought [the future] would be a bright, shiny Tomorrow’s World – it isn’t,” he says of the show.
“That’s what I wanted to explore – as well as where we go from here. There doesn’t seem to be any clear path. When I was a kid Britain seemed to know its place in the world – now we don’t.”
In his early 50s, Bill Bailey still has many years left at the top of his field. But when he does step off the stage for the final time, he will be a tough act to follow.
Bill Bailey will perform at the Leicester Square Theatre on March 28.