The British comedian and musician on aurora borealis hunting in Iceland, his dream car and why every teenager needs a road trip
Are you a good driver?
I’d like to think so. You couldn’t be a stand-up comedian if you didn’t enjoy driving. Manchester one night, Bristol the next. I’m not sure how many miles I’ve clocked up over the years, but it must be getting close to three-quarters of a million.
How many times did you take your test?
Passed first time at 17. Back then, I was more interested in music than comedy and I was desperate to get a licence in case my band got offered a chance to tour Europe with Black Sabbath.
What was your first car?
Sadly, the tour with Black Sabbath never happened, so I bought a Citroën Dyane 6 from the classifieds in the local paper. Everybody knows the Citroën 2CV, but the Dyane is the even more basic model. Can you imagine something that’s even more primitive than a 2CV? Top speed of about 18mph and you can take it apart with a Swiss Army knife.
First time you drove abroad?
Some mates and I decided to take the Dyane over to Europe. And you know what? It never let us down once. We barrelled down through France, swept past the Alps and ended up in northern Italy. We lunched on a baguette, a slab of cheese and a tray of peaches. A European road trip should be a rite of passage for every teenager.
Kimberley, Western Australia
Your favourite road trip destination?
I’ve just come back from Western Australia where I was filming a documentary, and that was something special. It’s the same size as Europe, with a population of about 2.2 million. Roads go on forever and you might pass one car every hour. There are huge stretches of dirt track that have no phone or satellite signal. It was one of those trips that needed serious planning: food, water, couple of spare tyres, spare fuel and a map.
Have you ever crashed?
Driving for me is a meditative experience, so I’ve never been what you’d call a ‘boy racer’. Having said that, I have been caught out by speed cameras a couple of times. Some years ago, I used to own a five-litre Mercedes that was so quiet and smooth you often didn’t realise how fast you were going.
Prone to road rage?
Nah – plan your route, set off in plenty of time, put some music on and you’re golden.
If you’re driving through a thunderstorm across the dramatic Highlands of Scotland, you need a bit of Nordic folk metal
What’s your ultimate driving album?
Ah, now that’s a very complex question because it depends on where you are. On that trip to France, we found a radio station that played 1930s Parisian café music. But if you’re driving through a thunderstorm across the dramatic Highlands of Scotland, you need a bit of Nordic folk metal like Wardruna. It’s the musical equivalent of being at an eighth-century Viking ritual.
Most dramatic road trip story?
I met this bunch of nutters in Iceland and they asked me if I wanted to go aurora borealis hunting with them. Obviously, I thought it would be a rather genteel, spiritual experience. No! We all jumped into a Land Rover, hurtled across the country until we could see the northern lights, then they cracked open the vodka and rum and started screaming at the sky. It was brilliant!
What cars do you own now?
I have a functional, hybrid Volvo MPV for work and a 1971 Citroen DS21 that I bought from a second-hand dealer in Marseille.
A Citroën DS21 Pallas from 1967 (Alamy)
What’s your dream car?
My DS21. It took ages to restore it, but it’s a thing of rare beauty. In French, déesse [DS] means goddess, which seems very apt.
Describe your relationship to driving in five words or fewer
Leave enough time to get there. Damn, that’s six. Let’s try again... Leave nice and early.
Bill Bailey’s Thoughtifier UK tour runs from 9 February to 11 March, followed by a European tour that begins in Barcelona on 1 April. To book tickets, visit billbailey.co.uk
Interview by Danny Scott