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Bailey’s return to normal

by Ethan Sills, NZ Herald

Few people would be able to argue they were as productive in lockdown as Bill Bailey was.

While most of us were hoarding toilet paper and trying to find sourdough recipes, Bailey wrote a new tour, finished writing a book, learned to play the mandola among other instruments — and won Strictly Come Dancing.

All his varied adventures during lockdown are the subject of the British comedian’s new show, En Route to Normal, which Bailey is bringing to 12 centres throughout New Zealand.

It will be the first time the 56-year-old has performed to an audience in more than a year — and speaking to The New Zealand Herald a few days after he left managed isolation, Bailey said he is not sure how stepping back on stage will go.

“I actually think it will be quite emotional to be on stage, that’s something I’m gearing myself up for. Just seeing that many people in one place that close together is so strange.

“Every day here is like a new experience. It’s like I’m relearning how to be in the world.”

Bailey has been based in England since the pandemic started, and despite taking part in a reality competition that was watched by millions, social interaction across his home country has been limited due to the lengthy lockdowns and restrictions it has slipped in and out of.

He said the UK’s response has been a “shambles”, what he describes as “the worst possible perfect storm of tone-deaf incompetent government, a lack of investment, (and) a lack of understanding with dealing with a pandemic”.

Coming to New Zealand and passing through MIQ — something England only set up a few weeks ago — has been like seeing what could have been, Bailey said.

“It’s staggering. A huge success story and indicative of a proper leadership, empathy, making tough decisions when they need to be made, and thinking about the country as a whole.”

The length and harshness of the English lockdown meant that Bailey’s most surprising turn during the pandemic — taking part, and winning, Strictly Come Dancing — took on a whole new relevance.

Thirteen-million people watched the final where Bailey and his partner Oti Mabuse won the Glitterball Trophy, which happened hours after it was announced the country would be back in lockdown over Christmas.

“It took on this emotional heft that hitherto would not have been associated with it,” Bailey recalled. “It became something that lifted the country — I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that’s what happened.”

His experiences on the show will be one of the many pandemic stories to be touched upon in En Route to Normal.

Bailey said the lack of human contact and how people coped during lockdown will be a key topic, alongside his usual music stylings — including “a dance upbeat house mix of Skype” as one the sounds of lockdown.

He cites French composer Olivier Messiaen, who transcribed tui and kakapo song into a string quartet for one of his final works, as an inspiration for this show, as the peaceful quiet of lockdown forced him to look for inspiration in what was in front of him.

Bailey doubts he will be the only one to find inspiration and creative freedom during lockdown — and while he may be one of the first international comedians to stage a show here in more than a year, he believes a wave of creativity is on the horizon.

“I think there’s a sense of this delayed celebration. There will be an explosion, hopefully, of celebration, creativity, all those things that happened after the roaring 20s and after the Black Death in the 14th century.

“There’s a kind of pattern to these things. These things will happen, we can’t stop them from happening, but as humans we have a kind of resilience and creativity that transgresses that and transcends it.”

Bill Bailey’s En Route to Normal tour kicked off last Saturday in Wellington.

Ticket information available at bohmpresents.com

BACK ON STAGE: Comedian Bill Bailey is touring New Zealand with En Route to Normal.Picture supplied