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Bill Bailey at the O2 review: Strictly star charmed with his unique mix of music, mirth and 24-carat whimsy

 (BBC/Glassbox/Marilyn Kingwill)
(BBC/Glassbox/Marilyn Kingwill)

Bill Bailey recently recalled in an interview how he once performed to a solitary fan. Last night was very different. The O2 was filled with more than 12,000 admirers relishing his latest show Thoughtifier, a unique hybrid of music, mirth and 24-carat whimsy.

The neatly bearded 59-year-old finds himself in an enviable if unusual position career-wise. His fanbase is a mix of loyal early followers who adore his esoteric references and those who discovered him following his primetime 2020 Strictly Come Dancing win. It is a mark of his genius that he effortlessly strikes a balance that delights both demographics.

While some of his material, such as exploring his preference for melancholy minor chords over cheery major chords, harked back to his pre-Strictly era, he was also on trend, introducing AI backing singers on the screen behind him and donning white gloves to play funk on a dazzling green laser harp.

Even when things did not quite land, Bailey possessed enough gentle charm to style it out. Another innovation was a set of bluetooth-enabled percussive balls which he invited audience members to play. Needless to say they did not have his musical chops and their Phil Collins drum roll went comically pear-shaped.

His other love, apart from music and, of course, dancing – there was some crowdpleasing shimmying just before the interval – is nature. There were jokes about badgers, quips about bees, and a plaintive refrain about crabs having regrets: "My life has gone sideways".

Few arena acts are quite as genial as this national treasure. Whether bemoaning the fact that HMRC latterly investigated his tax affairs (he was in the clear) rather than those of major corporations, or relating how his death was mistakenly announced online, he could always see a funny slant. Would his actual demise prompt so many social media likes, he wondered.

This was a set that had everything. Coldplay in Turkish, a Wurzels-meets-Oasis mash-up that would be a surefire hit if released and guest turns from opera singer Florence Hvorostovsky, particularly effective on a bleak, Brechtian birthday ditty. In a minor chord, of course.

It was a touching night too. He finished an anecdote about stoicism – complete with namecheck for barrel-dwelling thinker Diogenes – by revealing that his late friend, fellow comic Sean Lock, had introduced him to this ancient philosophy. “Bless you Sean,” said an emotional Bailey. And bless you Bill.

O2 Arena, on tour; www.billbailey.co.uk/live