Harry Hill: ‘TV’s turned me into a weirdo!’
It’s a few days before the shock Great British Bake Off shake-up, and Harry Hill is discussing an altogether different cookery programme – but one that also involves Paul Hollywood.
“The first time I met Paul Hollywood, he was dressed as a silver fox,” says the 52-year-old comedian, erupting into a laugh.
“I was surprised he was such good fun, because he’s a bit scary with that stare and those blue eyes, but he was great. He hit Stavros Flatley on the face with a custard pie, which I don’t think you can see on any other show.”
Flying baked goods, former Britain’s Got Talent contestants and Bake Off’s steely judge in a fluffy animal suit might not be usual TV fare, but such anarchy is the hallmark of Hill’s output, not least his madcap new Sky 1 cookery offering, Harry Hill’s Tea Time.
Over the course of the series, expect to see chicken a la Tom Jones being whipped up in the kitchen, Dragon Den’s Deborah Meaden moonlighting as a wedding cake baker – crafting a special dish for two male dachshunds who are marrying in the back of a caravan (“I think that’s a first for Sky”), and of course, food fights.
There might be two spots for the taking on Bake Off, now Mel and Sue have stepped down, but even before the furore about the changes in store for the much-loved show, Hill says he couldn’t imagine appearing on it.
“I think that’s quite unlikely,” he reasons. “I think people are nervous of me. They see me as a bit unpredictable.
“It’s not really my thing,” adds Hill, who famously trained as a doctor before deciding to switch to a career in comedy. “I could do a funny show about Bake Off, but I don’t know that I’d want to be in Bake Off…
“But if I got asked, of course I would do it – if the money’s right!”
Right now though, the challenge is to keep dreaming up those high-flown sketches, which is a source of stress.
“As a series finishes, I always think, ‘How am I ever going to do that again?’, but somehow you manage it,” says the comic, who lives in London with his wife, artist Magda Archer, and their three daughters.
“I did over 100 shows of TV Burp and I developed this way of thinking which unfortunately, I can’t use in any other walk of life.
“I’m walking down the street and I see a cucumber on the pavement that’s dropped out of a shopping bag, and I’m thinking, ‘I wonder where that cucumber is going? Oh I know, how about a sketch where people get attacked by cucumbers?’ You never switch off… It’s turned me into a weirdo!”
He can tell when his ideas are grating on his family.
“It’s quite tiring for my wife,” explains Surrey-born Hill, who made his drama debut in BBC festive film The Incredible Adventures Of Professor Branestawm in 2014.
“She does say to me, ‘Look, do you know what it’s like living with somebody who is constantly saying, ‘How about this for an idea?’ It’s a bit wearing.
“If it gets really bad, she tells me, ‘You need to go and get a gig’, so what I do is go to some comedy club and take it out on the audience to get it out of my system.”
Unfortunately for Hill’s wife, there are set to be many more impromptu brainstorm sessions, as a pressing TV schedule, including a second series of Tea-Time slotted in for 2017, means touring – and further acting roles – are off the cards.
“The great thing about showbiz is that you never know what’s going to come in,” Hill says, adding that he’s not chasing any more acting roles.
“I used to say I wanted to be in Holby City, but they never picked up the phone. If I was offered the job of ‘visiting brain surgeon’ in Holby for two weeks, that would be fun, but I’m not really cut out for the life of an actor. A lot of acting is sitting around waiting. I like to be in amongst it and annoying people about props.”
He says he’s become more ‘relaxed’ as he’s aged.
“When I was younger, I used to think, ‘All the work’s going to dry up, what am I going to do when I’m 52?’ But actually I think you have to embrace it. You can’t live like that.”
Though the success of TV Burp means he’s been a mainstay on the small screen for two decades, he’s at odds with his fame.
“I’m not mad about all of that to be honest, I prefer being anonymous. What you really want is for people to like your stuff but not recognise you, and unfortunately that’s not a circle you can square. But I think it’s more the people around you who find it a drag.”
Part of the appeal of his wide collars and oversized specs then, are that when he’s not wearing them, he can pass unknown.
“I wear glasses anyway but I wear slightly different ones, and when I’m not working, I tend to grow a bit of a beard or stubble,” Hill explains.
“I very rarely get spotted, but if I’m shaved and I’ve got a suit on, then I do. But there are ways of not being recognised, just by not catching people’s eye and walking fast,” he explains.
“But I’m not Elvis Presley, I’m just some comic and I haven’t been on TV for a while. When you’ve just finished a series, you find everyone is, ‘Harry!’, but after about three months, they’ve moved on to someone else!”