Footie-mad new dad Frank Skinner promises he’s no baby bore and will even avoid talk of the beautiful game on his new Man In A Suit tour. Jo Roberts reports.
He’s stayed at the top of the comedy tree for well over 20 years and life’s changed a great deal for Brummie Frank Skinner in that time.
He’s gone from hard-partying, West Brom-loving new kid on the block to teetotal lad-about-London-town with David Baddiel, and is now embracing domestic bliss in Hampstead Heath with his partner Cath and two-year-old son Buzz.
Frank, 57, has even taken to wearing a suit in line with his upwardly-mobile lifestyle, a development that’s behind the name of his new tour Man In A Suit.
All that’s needed now is a holiday home in Whitstable and he’s even working on that, as he told What’s On ahead of two Kent dates this week.
Frank, your show Room 101 caused a bit of uproar in these parts when Whitstable celebrity resident Janet Street-Porter made a case for throwing in local newspapers like this one.
“She’s no stranger to causing a bit of a stir. Whitstable is really beautiful, I’ve been down there many times. David Baddiel had a place in Kent for a long time. He’s sold it now and got a place in Cornwall, which is where his girlfriend is from, she got all homesick. And I once spent New Year’s Eve at a nightclub in Maidstone, I remember getting up on stage and doing all the hand movements to Tragedy by Steps. I would say that was about 2001. It wasn’t the Millennium year... I saw the Millennium year in with Eric Clapton. He doesn’t drink, I went to a non-drinking Millennium party because it’s a bit easier. There was quite a bit of drinking in Maidstone that night, but not on my part.”
You’re famously teetotal, and you once said on Room 101 that you’ve filled the void that drinking left with different interests and hobbies.
“I basically think you should be having lessons in something at every stage in your life. I’m currently having ukulele lessons. I moved house recently and I’m close to the English Folk Dance Society’s headquarters and for many years I toyed with the idea of learning Morris dancing, so I think that might be my next project – for real, not for comedy purposes or on-camera or anything. I know people are very disparaging about Morris, but whenever I see it everybody looks incredibly happy and they all look like really nice people. It’s one of the more unusual hobbies.”
Is football still as much of a love for you as it ever was?
“I’m still a season ticket-holder at West Brom. It’s harder to go when you’ve got a two-year-old. If there’s a game on the TV it’s quite hard to justify being out of the house for eight hours when I could sit and watch it at home – in the old days that made no difference. But I still go and I absolutely love it. I think it’s important when you’ve got a kid and the domestic family life that you’ve also got some time away with the boys. Cath goes out for girls’ nights so I think I’m entitled to the football as well.”
Are you looking forward to the day when you can take your son, Buzz?
“Very much so, because that’ll solve all the problems. I can go to every game - Cath will be begging me to go to the football, because she’ll get eight hours off.”
Your dad, John, passed on his love of football to you. Was it also his belief in you that gave you the confidence to pursue comedy as a career choice?
“It’s an interesting question. My dad didn’t have that attitude ‘you should get a trade’, which is what most dads said in those days. I think he’d worked in factories for a lot of his life and didn’t like it that much, and he was all for me taking a risk and trying something else, which was quite unusual. None of my friends’ parents were like that – I remembered a mate who was very good at golf, and they offered him a job at this local golf club to train him up to be a pro, but his dad said, ‘No, no, you’ve got to get a proper trade’, so it didn’t happen. But my dad said, ‘Why don’t you go into showbusiness?’ which is odd advice.”
Chris Collins was your birth name and Frank Skinner you adopted as a stage name. Do your old friends still call you Chris?
“There’s a few friends who still call me Chris, but even some of those have started calling me Frank. I became Frank in about 1988 and now, if anybody asks me my name, I’d say ‘Frank’. That is how I think of myself, 99% of the people I know call me that.”
And I understand that your mum used to call you Graham, so you’re operating between three identities?
“That’s right. You make me sound like Spiderman! ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’, as they say. Perhaps it was easier to change my name because of having grown up with two different ones.”
What’s behind the tour name of Man In A Suit?
“I wear a suit now basically every day. I’ve acquired a lot of suits over the years from doing TV shows where you get to keep the suits. So I thought, I’m of an age now, I’ve got all these suits, why don’t I just wear a suits all the time! I’ve got a gardening suit, I wear a suit on the beach, I wear them for everything - I have become the man in the suit. I used to associate suits with authority and the middle classes, but now I’ve grown into them.”
Is the material about where your life’s at now?
“Every tour’s been that, really. The one thing I don’t talk about is parenthood. I remember when I wasn’t a parent and a comic started talking about their kids I thought, ‘I don’t really get this.’ The reason I don’t talk about football on stage now is because I just think that you lose half the audience when you start talking about something that’s specialist. Aside from that, any comedy tour is your current thoughts, interests and obsessions.”
You recently appeared in Dr Who; that’s a big deal.
“It is in my house! My girlfriend is not very interested in Dr Who at all, but she couldn’t help pick up on my mega excitement so we had people round on the night and they all applauded at the end. It was quite an emotional night. It was a party but they had to sit in absolute silence, let’s make that clear. It is very hard to describe it without sounding like a 10-year-old, really - I met Peter very early on, I was in make-up and he came in and said to me, ‘Come here, I want to show you something’, and led me up a dark corridor and we emerged in the interior of the Tardis. And then he started showing me all the various bits and levers - he knew what I wanted, he’s a bit of a fan as well. It was really special every day. It was also a bit terrifying, because I was working with a lot of proper actors and I kept thinking, ‘Oh, they’re all so much better than me,’ but I scraped through.”
You are an occasional visitor to Whitstable, I understand?
“Yes, we’ve got very good friends there - my son’s godmother lives basically on the beach at Whitstable. It’s one of those places that me and my girlfriend have talked about many times - I’ve actually looked at a few houses there in my time. Obviously I’ve been a bit put off by the crab, which we discussed on Have I Got News For You recently. I hosted it when Crabzilla was one of the stories.”
‘Crabzilla’ was the name given to a photoshopped picture of a 50ft crustacean seemingly lurking in the harbour water at Whitstable last month, which transpired to be a hoax created by local artist Quinton Winter.
Frank Skinner’s Man In A Suit tour comes to the Margate Winter Gardens on Friday, November 14.
Tickets to Margate Winter Gardens cost £27.50. Visit www.margatewintergardens.co.uk or call 01843 292795.