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Gavin Mitchell talks to Mill Magazine ahead of his gig in Paisley

on 8 April 2024 0

From Still Game to Tutti Frutti and beyond, Gavin Mitchell discusses Boaby, John Byrne and a whole lot more ahead of his show at The Bungalow in May

Gavin Mitchell, your current tour is a retrospective of thirty years on stage and screen. Did you ever think you’d reach this milestone?

Well, actually it’s more (laughs). Officially, I got my equity card in 1990 so it’s nearly 35. So I’m just trying to kid on my age (laughs). But aye, it’s quite unbelievable. Years ago, I was doing a sitcom called Snoddy with Gregor Fisher and during a break, we were talking to one of the prop guys. He said something like, ‘jeezo, I’ve been doing this for 28 years’ and I thought that’s outrageous.

Now, I’ve surpassed that. People I work with now weren’t even born. I was doing panto a while ago and I suddenly realised I was the oldest guy in the cast. You cross these invisible lines where you go from a newcomer to the old veteran. It’s quite weird.

You mentioned Gregor Fisher there and it’s funny that people often forget you were in things like Snoddy and Rab C Nesbitt because you’re so synonymous with Boaby in Still Game. 

Well, a lot of people do that and I do it myself. The interesting thing about these shows is that I get reminded of things I’ve done and the people I’ve worked with. Whether it’s Rikki Fulton, Gregor, Gerard Kelly or other comedy greats.

I’ve worked with various different Time Lords over the years too, David Tennant, Sylvester McCoy and Tom Baker and musicals like Priscilla Queen of the Desert with Jason Donovan. It’s been varied if nothing else. Most recently, I played a bit of asparagus [in the animated show Roots & Fruits], so you never know! (laughs). 

How was it working with a panto legend like Gerard Kelly? 

I learned a lot from Kelly, we were in the trenches together. He taught me a lot about the craft and just giving 100% to every single performance. Everyone’s paid their money, so that’s what you do.

He was just phenomenal, the last of a breed and he really was the king of panto. I had to replace him that year and they wanted me to continue, but it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. It was more of a tribute and thank you from me to take over. He was great, great fun too. 

Gerard is regarded as a national treasure for his contributions to comedy. How do you feel that because of the roles you’ve had, you’re arguably in that bracket yourself? 

We live in a society where things like legend are thrown about a lot for everything and everybody. ‘Our postman’s a legend’ and all that, so I don’t think of that. I was just a cog in a wheel of things as a jobbing actor, so I find that hard to relate to. But, I’m always taken aback when people come up to you and tell you what you mean to them or the place your work inhabits in their lives.

Or even just what folk remember you for, as it’s not always Still Game. But, that show gives people such fond memories or they found it a great help when they were struggling. So, that’s a huge honour to be in peoples’ lives in such a way. 

Now that it’s on Netflix, it never fades. During the pandemic, I was sitting round the fire pit with a pal and these student doctors came down to join us. This woman kept looking at me and eventually said ‘are you Boaby?’ and I said yes. She was like ‘oh I knew it!’ I asked where she was from and she said Zimbabwe, so I asked if she’d just discovered it since coming here. She said no, no, I watched it in Zimbabwe!

She said it was good clean humour, so who knows what it is they watch in Zimbabwe! There was another guy from Japan who I was put in touch with by comedian Gary Little.

He was staying in Springburn and spending Christmas going around seeing the different sights from Still Game. I ended up drip-feeding six or seven videos to him from the cast and he was in tears. On Boxing Day, I realised it was time to unleash Isa. He was in tears.

At the end of my video, I thanked him in Japanese. Then he sent me one back saying ‘two pints ya prick!’ (laughs) Even Japanese people insult me now. I’ve even had that one in Barbados. 

Recently, you’ve been paying tribute to John Byrne on Instagram. Was he a friend of yours? 

I admired John hugely. I can’t remember if his art or the man came into my life first. But, he was a living work of art. The first time I met him was in the eighties in the city chambers. He cut a dash in this amazing double-breasted mustard suit and had this wee Van Dyke beard.

I thought ‘check him out’, he looks amazing! Then as he came close to me, he winked. Little did I know, our paths would cross so many times. I did Slab Boys, the stage version of Tutti Frutti and even did an adaptation of his children’s book with him. We became good friends and I saw him almost right up to the end. I adored him and I had the huge but very sad honour to conduct his funeral afterwards. 

You mention things like national treasures, John Byrne is someone who truly is. A Paisley boy too! Sometimes, we don’t value these people enough or cherish them while they’re here. For a working class guy from Ferguslie to achieve that while still staying true to his roots is really important. 

It’s because of people like John that I’m currently working on a project I’m trying to get made about libraries and how they are an escape route for so many. People like John, Billy Connolly are pretty much self-educated people and the library saved us.

Working class escape routes are traditionally known to be sport, but the library can be where your dreams are. That’s the tunnel. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that these things for self-improvement and advancement are in some of our working class areas. 

John is a great person to look up to in that and I hope the Paisley Museum retains the lovely bust they had of him when it reopens. 

For those coming along to the show at The Bungalow, what can they expect from the evening? 

I purposefully don’t make it too scripted, it’s kinda whatever comes out. There’s plenty of stories and recapping the jobs and people I’ve worked with, whether it’s people like Robert Carlisle or Glenda Jackson. My favourite part is always the Q&A though. You can ask me whatever you want, within reason (laughs). It just goes off and you never know where it leads. It can be fascinating. 

Gavin Mitchell on Bowie

David Bowie superfan Gavin Mitchell recommends some underrated gems from ‘The Starman’

I love the soundtrack to Buddha of Suburbia. It’s very underrated and people don’t think of it as a Bowie record. I think a lot of that is great. It’s become quite popular recently, but Wild Is The Wind is one of my favourites. The instrumental ‘A New Career In A New Town’ from Low is also incredible. Even today, I go back and listen to things like Diamond Dogs, which I never really liked, and realise it still sounds so fresh!

An Audience With Gavin Mitchell will take place at The Bungalow on Friday 17th May with tickets available from their website.

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