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Interview: Brian Conley on why he's no Bear Grylls ahead of show at Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: May 21, 2014

By Jonathan Whiley

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Brian Conley

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BRIAN Conley can’t escape it. No matter what he does, no matter where he goes, it will always follow him.

The 52-year-old comedian – who bears an uncanny resemblance to Bradley Walsh – may have carved out a 40-year-old career but it’s his catchphrase that will live long after he’s gone.

“When my daughter was born there was just this blue blob and I didn’t know whether she was a boy or girl,” Brian says.

“I was saying ‘what is it? Is everything okay?’ and the nurse said ‘It’s a puppet!’

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“Another time in Jolson [the Olivier award-winning play] there was this really emotional scene – a mother was dying – and someone shouted it out then.

“I can be in make-up for 45 minutes and people will still shout ‘it’s a puppet’.” I just grin at them.

“It’s great really – how many people get the opportunity to have a catchphrase?,”

I admit that whenever his name surfaces I can’t help thinking of the puppet sidekick that he would regularly batter round the head in his self-titled show.

He’s more than a slapstick catchphrase though. In his heyday, Brian was one of the biggest names in television.

As well as multiple awards, he’s appeared on The Royal Variety Show an incredible eight times.

“The first time was in 1988,” he says. “The Queen Mother was there and we were all terrified.

“I did six minutes. They’re quite a tough audience and I was very nervous but I just about got away with it.”

The very definition of old-school entertainer, Brian has long been a seasoned pantomime performer (Buttons in Cinderella) and has also starred in numerous musicals.

“I think it was musical theatre and the stage that had the biggest impact,” he says, reflecting on the success of his career.

“I was in my late 20s and I ended up doing musicals.

“I thought Me and My Girl was going to be really twee but then I read it and it was about this cockney barrow boy and I just had to do it; I was begging them for the part.”

Born and raised in West London, he studied performing arts before hitting the road at 16 to make a living performing cabaret in nightclubs.

He began his TV career as a warm-up act for Terry Wogan, Noel Edmonds and Kenny Everett, but soon started appearing in front of the cameras with regular appearances in Five Alive and Live from the Palladium.

“I think for me it [fame] came gradually,” he says.

“Stage school fed everything else. It was a gradual process.

“I think with X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent fame comes easily but I don’t know about star quality.

“People ask how do I become famous rather than how do I get into the business.

“You don’t have to be talented to become famous now.

“I think people are feeding that too.

“Someone like Katie Price is feeding the papers but I’m happily married with two kids so they’ve got no interest.

“In my day Sammy Davis Jnr was the star and he was famous because he was talented.

“I’m not bitter about it and I’ve got nothing against these show.

“Ultimately, talent will prevail.”

Although no longer hosting a prime-time TV show, he has ventured back into the public consciousness with an ill-fated stint on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here in 2012.

Severe hunger forced him to quit the show – despite being favourite – and he admits it was a bad decision to enter in the first place.

“I didn’t eat for eight days – apart from chickpeas and rice,” he says.

“I had a great time but it was the food that was the biggest problem.

“Helen Flanagan just didn’t win any food in the trials.

“I’m no Bear Grylls. I’ve had my dabble into reality TV and it made me think ‘Brian, stick to what you’re good at’.”

Which means he’s back touring the country with a show at Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre.

“It will be a pot pourri of entertainment,” he says.

“It will be as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

Tickets for the show on Monday at 8pm cost £25. Call 01242 572573.

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