If you can lie on the floor without holding on, you’re not drunk

Review: Vivien Horler

Windswept and Interesting: My autobiography, by Billy Connolly

Scottish comedian, musician, film star – and welder – Billy Connolly said he realised, when he became “windswept and interesting”, he could write his own rules.

One was: “If you can lie on the floor without holding on, you’re not drunk.” Another was: “Seek the company of people who, when left alone in a room with a tea cosy, will always try it on.”

I was married to a man like that, and I have a son like that. How could I not love him?

Billy Connolly is outrageous. He’s rude. He has been known to punch people – he was born in Glasgow. And now, after years and years of comedy on stages around the world, always adlibbing, never preparing a script, he has written his life story.

Well, as he points out in his acknowledgements, he didn’t actually “pen” it himself. “I dictated my thoughts and memories into my phone. It wasn’t as easy as I imagined because my phone turned out to be none too bright… Unfortunately the fucking dictation software I used couldn’t understand a Glaswegian accent…”

If repeated use of the word “fuck” unnerves or offends you, you won’t like this book. If you’ve ever tried on a tea cosy, if you think it’s funny that there are always diced carrots in your vomit no matter what you’ve eaten, if you believe in blistering honesty and kindness, you probably will.

Today Connolly lives in Key West in a house on the water, with his “wifey”, the psychologist Pamela Stephenson – whom some might remember from the brilliant UK TV series Not the Nine O’Clock News  – who clearly shares much of Connolly’s sense of humour. According to Wikipedia, in 1987 she stood in the UK general election as a candidate MP for the Blancmange Throwers Party. She didn’t get in.

Connolly is 79 and not well – he has Parkinson’s Disease, he’s deaf, and has various other aches and pains associated with age – but his sense of humour and his fury are undiminished.

And his life has come a long way from his origins in a Glasgow tenement, which his mother left when he was four, an aunt he lived with was chronically cruel to him and his father sexually abused him.

Somehow he survived all this, leaving school early to become an apprentice welder in the Clyde shipyards (and completing the apprenticeship) before leaving to start playing folk music on his banjo.

He was a member of a band called the Humblebums with Gerry Rafferty and then moved into comedy and film. He talks about money – and the lack of it – when he was growing up. And then after gigs working as a welder on an oil platform off Nigeria and in Jersey, he was fired.

He decided, since he had a bit of money saved up, he was going to go professional as a musician until his cash ran out. “And it never did.”

Which is the last time he refers to money in the book. But you realise there has been a fair bit of it. (A clue is having a house on Malta, a castle in Scotland, not to mention the house on Key West.)

Yet he seems to retain the common touch – very common, some might say. But very funny.

He has opinions on a lot of things, like babies (he loves them and has had five with his two wives), beach sand, aircraft loos, healthy food, wombats, ageing, art (his own) and sex.

Here’s an idea of the sort of sex he has. “My wife’s a sexologist – a rather limiting subject, I think. How can you study something that only lasts seven seconds?”

In this age of cancel culture, he cares not a jot for political correctness. He heard a great story that he wanted to tell on stage, he told Stephenson. “It’s about this wee dwarf.”

She said. “You can’t say that!”

I said “What are you talking about? It’s ABOUT a dwarf.”

She rolled her eyes.

Then I asked her: Well, how should I say ‘dwarf’?”

She said, “They prefer to be called ‘little people’.”

I said: “No, they’re dwarfs. Little people are little people. If you get a little person and dwarf standing side by side you can easily tell one of them’s a dwarf. And they both know which one that is.”

You get the idea.

A couple of days after I’d finished reading Windswept and Interesting, I came across it lying on a table. And I smiled down at Connolly’s face on the cover. It felt like seeing a picture of a friend.

*Windswept and Interesting was published in 2021.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *