Bradley Walsh: On my tombstone it will say 'At last a day off'

Game show host, actor, presenter and singer Bradley Walsh talks to Joe Nerssessian about his second album in as many years, twelve months after he became the UK's biggest-selling debut male artist.

Thursday, 16th November 2017, 5:51 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 12:38 pm
Bradley Walsh in the studio

Last month, Bradley Walsh sat on The Jonathan Ross Show sofa alongside arguably the biggest British breakthrough artist of the past 18 months - Stormzy. At one point Walsh turned to the young star, swung one leg over the other, raised a finger as he found the right chord and sang the opening verse of the star's Blinded By Your Grace.

Delighted, the unlikely pals embraced. But it was not the first time they had accidentally collaborated to create a moment of magic. In February at The Brits, Stormzy had interrupted Walsh during an interview on the red carpet and a hilarious bromance was born.

While the younger of the two has enjoyed a whirlwind 2017 - performing at the EMAs, releasing a number one debut album, and picking up a Mercury Prize nomination - Walsh, the all-rounder, has not had a bad year himself.

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Bradley Walsh

He was on The Jonathan Ross Show promoting his new album, which arrived 12 months after he released the most successful debut album from a British artist of 2016 - it went gold and outsold the likes of Zayn Malik's debut and Skepta's Mercury-winning Konnichiwa.

Some know him as the hilarious presenter of ITV's The Chase, others recognise him as the former owner of the Coronation Street underwear factory, Danny Baldwin. He has also been DS Ronnie Brooks in Law And Order UK, a professional footballer, a pantomime favourite and a regular compere of Tonight At The London Palladium.

And earlier this year the ubiquitous Walsh also bagged one of the most desired jobs on TV as Doctor Who's assistant.

A self-confessed fan of the sci-fi series, he will star alongside the show's first ever female Time Lord and was brought on board by the series' new showrunner Chris Chibnall, with whom he worked on Law And Order.

Jenny Ryan, Bradley Walsh and Cast of The Chase with the award for Best Daytime pictured backstage at the National Television Awards 2016

Sitting in his publicist's office in central London, Walsh admits that juggling his array of gigs can sometimes be tough but a busy schedule is helped by feeling much younger than his 57 years.

"I don't think I can plate-spin, I've turned loads of things down because I just can't get the time to do it. I can't devote the time and it's preparation," he says. "If I'm doing a job I'll give it 100% and that job gets my absolute focus and everything else goes to the side. Then that job is finished, I'll concentrate on the next job.

He continues: "I'm two-and-a-half years off being 60 but I feel 35. I run up stairs, I'd still play football if my knees could handle it. I'd still do all that stuff. It's just the way it is. I'm enjoying this time of life, I think it's fabulous."

Despite his near-effortless ability to turn his hand to anything remotely entertaining, Walsh laughs off the suggestion that he is on a one-man mission to bring back the showbiz all-rounder.

Bradley Walsh

He certainly knows his field though, as he breaks into a gushing speech about the wonder of Sammy Davis Jr and Bruce Forsyth.

"(Davis Jr) was a tap dancer and singer and actor and comedian and impressionist," he says. "And If you follow that through, the man who adored Sammy Davis the most was Bruce,"

"Talk about triple-threat," Walsh says of the late presenter, actor, dancer and singer. "You've got to go some to beat the great Bruce."

Stopping midflow to count Forsyth's talents on his fingers, Walsh does the maths and decides he "probably had about nine strings to his bow".

Jenny Ryan, Bradley Walsh and Cast of The Chase with the award for Best Daytime pictured backstage at the National Television Awards 2016

"He could do it all. He was the most amazing talent."

However we're here to talk about Walsh's talent and, most importantly, his recent musical prowess.

He had no expectation of the reception the first record, Chasing Dreams, would receive, and is excited by the likes of Jason Manford and Nick Knowles joining the party with their own recent debuts.

Unlike his first album, the new release, When You're Smiling, features an original track Walsh co-wrote, You Know Best. His son, Barney, also pops up on the piano for a cover of Sinatra's One For My Baby.

But his personal highlight on the record is When Do The Bells Ring For Me, a song he's been determined to cover since 1988 when he saw the great Tony Bennett perform.

"I was mesmerised," he says. "This tune was unbelievable. And I just kept it under my hat all the time. You never hear anyone sing it, ever, other than him (Bennett).

"It's quite a poignant song and I quite liked and I always thought If I ever do anything I'll do that tune."

This Is All I Ask, another Bennett track, is intriguing for the presence of a crack in Walsh's voice on the recording.

"I got quite emotional as I was singing with the orchestra and they actually kept the break in it," he says as he begins to sing the first few lines across the table.

"As I approach the prime of my life, I find I have the time of my life. Learning to enjoy at my leisure, All the simple pleasures."

After a pause, he offers context. "It's about a person reaching the autumn of their years ... it's quite emotional."

"I've seen a couple of friends of mine recently who have been very ill and not made it," he adds.

This sombre side to Walsh is not often seen and passes quickly. Responding to a question about his thoughts on mortality, he says he never thinks about it.

A short pause. He adds with a contagious cackle: "On my tombstone it will say 'At last a day off'."

Even death can make Walsh entertain. So what's next for the man who has already done so much?

"The only other thing I've got left to do is probably headline a show in the West End," he says, scratching his chin. "That'll be the last thing on the agenda or a run at the Palladium."

What about festivals?

"Glastonbury?" he quips. "Yeah, main stage, me and Stormzy," he adds with a familiar grin.

:: Bradley Walsh's When You're Smiling is out now.