Billy Connolly: I punched a photographer and The Herald caught me

What happens on tour stays on tour has been the mantra of artists from Sinatra to the Rolling Stones. Not for Billy Connolly though, who lifts the lid on some of his wildest moments in a new TV series starting tomorrow.

The Scottish comedian has toured with artists like Elton John, Elvis Costello and Led Zeppelin. But his most candid revelations in all seven parts of Billy Connolly Does… fall closer to home.

Sir Billy, 79, who has Parkinson’s disease, moved to the Florida Keys with his wife Pamela Stephenson and their family in 2018. It was there that he spoke to filmmaker Mike Reilly about topics including his regret partial for hitting press photographers; the night he saw Gerry Rafferty take control of an SNP campaign car; and the all-too-brief friendship with Keith Moon that left the actor unprepared.

Although hailed as a national treasure today, Connolly’s relationship with the media has not always been so friendly. Reilly reminds her of “a brilliant photo of you slapping a member of the paparazzi.”

The photo comes from The Herald archives and shows Connolly catching photographer Stuart Bell outside the Drury Lane Theater in London in September 1981.

“You give it a good old-fashioned shot,” says the filmmaker.

“I beat a few of them,” Connolly said. “I was going through a divorce and my children and my wife were in Scotland and I was with Pam in London. It was impossible to stay sane while being chased by the paparazzi, so I lambasted.

“It’s always a huge mistake to hit them. They adore him. When you hit one, the others take pictures of you doing it. You cannot win.

In his stage show, Connolly once said of his run-ins with photographers, “That’s what they’re here for. I’ll stop hitting them when they start splitting the money.

Happier memories come from his early touring days with Gerry Rafferty, who founded The Humblebums with Connolly.

One night the Humblebums played Gourock. The booker was “a kilty”, says Connolly, “a great Scottish Nationalist Party pusher”. He took them home in the early morning. When they arrived just outside Johnstone, Rafferty noticed the car speakers and turned on the microphone.

“People of Johnstone,” Rafferty announced. “You’re in big trouble tonight. A truck carrying a load of snakes, poisonous snakes, crashed just outside Johnstone. We last heard they were heading for Johnstone.

“Get out of your house, up the steps of the town hall. The elderly can be carried on your shoulders. Don’t bother with your valuables. They will be brought to you later.

“Gerry was a shoutout,” Connolly says. “He used to have me on the floor, on my hands and knees. Every time anyone saw Gerry he was deadpan, playing these beautiful songs. Great melodies he had composed. They would never think he was capable of it.

In the first episode, titled “Bad Behaviour”, Connolly recalls an evening with John Hurt, the actor, and Keith Moon. He had met the Who drummer for the first time that night.

“He was very funny and chatty and I was like, ‘God, what a nice guy. What a great new friend to have. I got up in the morning and flew to Australia, got to my hotel room and turned on the TV, and he was dead. I was completely heartbroken.

“I had only known him for a few hours, but I was devastated, because I was really looking forward to having him as a friend, looking to the future with him.”

The end of the alcoholic tours came when he met Pamela. “Marriage to Pam didn’t change me, it saved me,” he says. “I thought I might lose my savagery, and then I thought, ‘Well, that’s not savagery. It is imaginary savagery. You know how to turn it on, and it won’t go away. And it hasn’t gone away. »

Billy Connolly does…Thursday, 9 p.m., gold

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