Alistair McGowan on getting involved with the Mane Chance gala and his tour with Jasper Carrott
PUBLISHED: 16:30 15 October 2018 | UPDATED: 16:34 15 October 2018
The impressionist, actor, singer, writer and now pianist shares some thoughts on everything from music to the less welcome sounds of Heathrow before appearing in Berkshire
Hot on the heels of his Classical Chart-topping debut album and tour, Alistair McGowan: The Piano Album, and the acclaimed Sky One show, The Week That Wasn’t, the impressionist is coming to Windsor Theatre Royal for a very special night on Sunday, 28 October 2018.
The occasion is a gala comedy evening in aid of Mane Chance Sanctuary, the charity headed up by actress Jenny Seagrove which is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of horses. The horses then interact with disabled and disadvantaged children and young adults.
Appearing with him will be Joe Pasquale, Elio Pace, performing some of the songs of Billy Joel, plus our Windsor favourite Kevin Cruse and friends in a show which is guaranteed to be a feast of laughter and sheer entertainment.
Alistair chatted exclusively to us about his current tour, which voices he’ll be bringing with him to Windsor, and the campaign against a third runway at Heathrow.
How did you become involved with the Mane Chance Gala night? We know Joe Pasquale is a patron of the charity – is that the connection, or perhaps lovely Jenny Seagrove helped persuade you!
It was the latter! I’ve also never performed at the Theatre Royal in Windsor and it has such a great history and reputation.
Any clues to some of the voices we might hear during the gala night?
It depends who makes the team from my squad, but probably: Harry Kane, Gareth Southgate, Professor Brian Cox, Dr Michael Mosley, Frank Skinner, Jo Brand, possibly Idris Elba and many more.
You’ve just been on tour – including coming to Maidenhead’s Norden Farm Arts Centre – with Alistair McGowan: Introductions to Classical Piano, possibly the first ever mix of classical piano music and celebrity voices. So we’ve had impressions of Harry Kane alongside Gershwin, and Jacob Rees Mogg popping up between Grieg excerpts!
The tour was possibly the scariest thing I’d ever done but it became the happiest thing I’d ever done. I’ve only been playing in earnest for the last four years and playing in public is still very new to me and not easy for anyone but, after a few dates, the nerves decreased and I really enjoyed playing some beautiful pieces in front of people, several of whom at each show said that they had come to a classical event for the first time. And the blend of comedy and music seemed to work surprisingly well. I hope to do it all again next year.
The album was also about tempting people in to the world of the piano. The majority of the recorded pieces are fairly straightforward but beautiful. I hoped it would encourage a new audience to listen to and play those pieces.
It is a very relaxing album and covers a range of composers from Bach (1685-1750) up to Philip Glass. I couldn’t believe it reached the top of the classical charts!
My main aim was not to become the Florence Foster Jenkins of classical piano. I think I’ve avoided that. Norden Farm is a tremendous venue!
It must be a great feeling to have also encouraged more people to return to musical instruments they might have ‘given up’ in teenage years?
Yes. I met audience members at CD signings after the shows who said they’d been inspired to go back to or simply start playing the piano, and it was a huge thrill. Playing an instrument is incredibly satisfying. It’s not easy, but the hard work is very much worth it when you hear yourself playing beautiful music that you have only listened to before.
In November you are also touring for a second time with comedy legend Jasper Carrott. Is it right you first worked together by chance at Henley Festival and discovered that two different styles of comedy can be moulded in to one laughter-packed show? However it works, the reviews have been superb. And do you ‘do’ Jasper – himself?
I don’t do Jasper, no. I tried years ago but found his voice really hard to get. I don’t think anyone has done him! He is still a master of his art and I can’t quite believe I am now introducing someone who inspired me to go into this business in the first place. And, yes, Henley in 2014 was the first time we worked together.
You’re a keen environmentalist, don’t even own a car and were among those who stood up to be counted against the Heathrow expansion plan (locally that included Windsor’s MP Adam Afriyie who rebelled against his party). When 415 MPs voted for and 119 against the third runway plans, how did you feel?
I was quietly devastated but I have, sadly, long since given up the notion that any government will ever do anything for the good of the planet when they can put business first. It is incredibly depressing because we are already seeing the effects of climate change due to our abuse of the planet and thirst for progress. The fact that we now regularly refer to ‘countries’ as ‘economies’ tells you everything about our misplaced priorities. Mother Nature is a huge force and we play with her at our peril.
And what would you say to people who become dispirited when our leaders seem to override so many environmental campaigns and concerns?
That we can and should still take responsibility for our own actions. There is, after all, only so much governments can do. We are all, as the magnificent Sir David Attenborough once said, responsible for what happens in and to the world negatively because of our individual actions.
If we can turn negative individual actions into positive ones without government dictates then imagine the difference we could make for the better. In short, it’s up to us!
Perhaps you could give us an impression of Boris Johnson swiftly catching a plane to Afghanistan so he missed the Commons vote?
I’m not sure that impressions work in print!
And on the subject of politicians, have you stuck by your decision not to perfect a Trump impression because you can’t stand listening to ‘the awful man’?
Yes. I’ve also never really done many politicians. My audience has always responded more to sports stars and silly word play than me proselytising!