Life has been good for Sue Perkins. Already one half of a successful comedy duo with Mel Giedroyc, she had also carved out a TV presenting career on her own.
But appearing with Mel as one of the hosts of Great British Bake Off – one of the biggest TV hits of recent years – has taken her profile to new levels.
Mary Berry is the nation’s sweetheart. I love her – so much so, I’ve been trying to get her to adopt me for the past seven yearsSue Perkins
She is now hitting the road with a new stand-up tour, Live! In Spectacles, which comes to the Kings in Southsea later this month. So why the tour now?
‘Well, having spent the past seven years crammed into a tellybox shouting the word “bake!” I think it’s high time I got out and stretched my legs on the UK stage.
‘And it’s a good time to look back on my life so far. I fully intend to live to the age of 92, so this is half-time. Essentially this tour is handing out the orange segments.’
Her autobiography, Spectacles, was published in late 2015, and she sees this tour as a natural follow-on from that.
‘Writing a memoir begins a process that doesn’t necessarily end with publication. You begin to think about family life and stories and relationships, and those are ongoing. Once the book was published, I thought, “There is so much more still to say without necessarily writing another book. Why not animate the book with a live tour?” It’s like a companion volume, I guess. A big, technicolour puke of thoughts. Perhaps I should put that on the poster…’
And she relishes live performance. ‘I really enjoy playing with an audience. At book events, I do Q&As, and it’s often then that the madness starts. It often feels like an anarchic version of Question Time.’
What do you particularly like about interacting with the audience?
‘It enriches me. Performing live challenges you to be more engaged. And the great thing is, each venue is completely different. What I have done lately has been TV-based, so I haven’t had the same feedback as I get live, and that’s what I love.
‘I adore the raw surprise of someone asking a question you would never have expected. I love the spontaneity of it. I don’t encourage hecklers, but sometimes a heckler is the funniest person in the room – why not embrace that? The audience is a big pool of fun you can swim around in. But remember – no petting.
‘A gig is a two-way street. It’s not about me broadcasting. It’s not “this is what I’ve got to say about this”. It’s as much about how people respond to the material.
‘My memoir is a story of family and childhood, and everyone has had one of those. Mine is not the definitive version of childhood, but it’s a great way to start a conversation. I love it when someone says, “It’s weird. I lived next to an electricity substation for 20 years as well.” Or, “We had a cat that dragged our turkey across the room at Christmas and we had to eat boiled eggs for our lunch instead.” The book is a recorded history of my life so far, but the tour brings extra stuff to it. The audience adds so much on top of that. It’s important to have that double act thing going on.’
With that in mind, Sue intends to cover a pretty wide range of subjects, from the perhaps expected births and deaths to lemon drizzle and getting fondled by a Cambodian hermit. She’s also going multimedia – there will be slides.
‘Yes, there will be lots of slides. There is only one picture of me in the book and I have this horrific haircut in it. People say “surely that was just one bad haircut day.” But I’m afraid I have 150 slides of myself at different ages, all with the same haircut!
‘My mum had someone round to cut my hair who, it transpired, had only done dog grooming before. So I had a low Dougal-style fringe that was perfectly straight. It swayed like a trimmed, bearded collie! A bowl for all seasons. Perhaps that should be the title of the second volume…’
Of course, she can’t get away without talking about Bake Off . What do fans want to ask her about the show?
‘They always want to know what Mary Berry is like. Well, Bez is the best. End of. She’s the nation’s sweetheart. I love her – so much so, I’ve been trying to get her to adopt me for the past seven years.’
What does she think is the secret behind the show’s success?
‘I think the chemistry between the four of us – Mary, Paul, Mel and I [pictured right] – works so well. We’re all big kids at heart. We’re all very playful. We don’t approach it as a job. We approach it as a day out at a country fair! But the real reason why the show is so successful is the 12 people who come to bake every year.
‘Although we four have received a lot of attention, I really do believe that the bakers are where the magic is.’
Finally, do you believe that a sense of humour is vital?
‘Of course. Life is boring without the punctuation of punchlines. If you laugh at a joke, it’s because someone has put something you already know in a way you hadn’t thought of before.
‘You’ve always been aware of that idea, but it’s the expression of that idea that catches you. The other person encapsulates it or puts a new twist on it. It illuminates and cheers in one fell swoop. Without humour, what’s the point? Life would simply be one long argument with a man from the BT helpdesk.’
Sue Perkins Live! In Spectacles is at the Kings in Southsea on Monday, February 27. Tickets remain for the gallery at £20.50. Go to kingsportsmouth.co.uk