This is an uncut version of the interview I did with Billy Pearce for HowDo? magazine.
Panto without Billy Pearce is like turkey without the stuffing. If there is one thing you are sure to see at Christmas time in Bradford it is the broad smile of the local legend plastered across the front of the Alhambra. Bradfordians love him and we could think of no better person to interview for our first issue. Rehearsals had not yet started when I spoke to him but he was nevertheless working hard. Luckily he agreed to put the vacuuming on hold for a while to share his thoughts on Bradford.
You’re back in Bradford for the panto, am I right in thinking that this is your 13th time?
I think so, is that a bad sign do you think? I keep coming back, it’s not because I’m good, it’s because I’m cheap.
You must enjoy it here, have you built up a strong affection for the people of Bradford over the years?
Yes, of course I have, without a doubt…it’s become part of my life really and I’ve got to know a lot of names and faces. I get involved a little bit with what’s going on in Bradford and I’ve always felt at home here really. I am a Yorkshire man, bread and buttered. I know I’ve lost my accent since I went posh, but I’m proud of being from Yorkshire, and I’m proud to be associated with Bradford as well…I think it’s a very spirited place and I stick up for it.
Absolutely, what do you think the significance of the Alhambra theatre is in Bradford?
I’m obviously proud to be associated with the place…I feel at home going there. It’s a new adventure every year and I’m right proud that they keep asking me back. The theatre itself is a beautiful and I think they do a good job of running the place and keeping bums on seats, which is what it’s all about.
What do you like most about doing pantomime in Bradford?
First and foremost it’s being part of a team… All the staff are lovely…Adam Renton (The Theatre Manager) is brilliant…My son’s in it and so is my wife, it’s a family thing and I wouldn’t be able to do that anywhere else…100,000 people went to see that pantomime last year in seven and a half weeks, it’s mind blowing really and when I’m just in ASDA or the White Rose centre there are people smiling at me, which is great. I come out better in life for it.
How do you keep your energy levels up for the best part of two months?
I love it, and if you love something it’s not work. And when it is hard work I loose a stone and a half, which I need to do by the way. It is physical and some parts can be easier to play than others, it just depends how it pans out. This one looks like it may be fairly physical; there are a couple of sword fights and things like that.
What other projects do you have lined up? Are you doing your one man show in Blackpool again?
They have asked me back which is fantastic. Last year it broke box office records. It was a right good do and I was delighted with it… it was great to look out and see a big queue of people outside. I’m not on telly; I haven’t done any of that reality TV, or anything like that. I’m just a working act and fortunately people like what I do.
Would you ever consider going on a reality TV show?
Yes, absolutely. In fact I should have done. They rang me a few weeks go to do come dine with me, which would have been fantastic publicity but I couldn’t do it… If they wanted me to do something like ‘I’m a celebrity’ yes of course I would have to do it…At my age, if I could get a couple of years touring my adult show out of it then I’d have some money to put in the bank for when I can’t do it anymore.
Is that something you would like to do more of? The adult shows?
No, not necessarily. I wanted to do a play and I’d crammed all my dates so I had some free time after the pantomime to do one. I had a meeting with John Godber, who is putting together a new play and I really wanted to do it. But I couldn’t in the end because the rehearsals were during pantomime season. I would have loved to have done something a bit different like that. I have done other bits; I was the narrator for the Rocky Horror show and a Bosnian host for Eurobeat at the Alhambra, which was interesting. It’s hard now, there are so many actors and comedians going for each job, the opportunities don’t always come around.
Tell us a joke
I got stopped by the police the other night, two o’clock in the morning. They said ‘where are you going at this time of night?’ I said ‘I’m going to a lecture on how alcohol, smoking and staying out most nights of the week affect the human body. He said ‘who’s gonna be giving you that lecture at two in the morning?’ I said ‘my wife.’
You mentioned how much you get on with everyone and how it’s very much a team effort. Has anyone ever upset the applecart?
One bloke who I worked with, I won’t mention his name but he played Captain Hook. Right from day one, he hated being in the north, he hated the architecture of the buildings, he hated the accents, and he hated children…He was next door to me for two months, did my head in. What a bloody misery he was.
Any Final words?
Everybody who I’ve done pantomime with in Bradford, they want to come back. I don’t know anybody, apart from Captain Hook who wouldn’t want to come back to Bradford. Everybody who is in it this year can’t wait to come. I’ve worked with people who have gone on to do somewhere else and they’ve been texting me, ‘I wish I was coming back to Bradford’. It’s testament to Bradford and to the Alhambra that people love it so much. It all comes from the top down and credit where credits due Adam Renton does a great job of running that place, he’s not only a boss but he is a friend
Billy Pearce is appearing in Robin Hood at the Alhambra theatre from 17 December to 5 February. Tickets from £9.