When Bill Bailey sang a hilarious surprise duet with hero Robin Williams for Prince Charles' birthday

20 November 2020, 16:10

Bill Bailey and Robin Williams
Bill Bailey and Robin Williams. Picture: BBC/YouTube

By Tom Eames

Bill Bailey and Robin Williams may have come from totally different backgrounds and comedy beginnings, but they once joined forces for a unique live performance.

Musical stand-up comic Bill Bailey once collaborated with the late Robin Williams at Prince Charles' 60th birthday celebrations at the New Wimbledon Theatre in November 2008.

The pair sang an original ditty called 'Royal Birthday Blues', a song they wrote together in a very short time frame.

Strictly star Bill spoke of the surreal experience of working alongside one of his comedy heroes soon after Robin's death at age of 63 in 2014.

"I’d already been asked to do the gig but hadn’t planned any material, and I was dealing with something mundane like ordering a skip for a rubbish clearance and waiting for them to call me back," he told the Express.

"The phone went so I answered it quite abruptly, expecting it to be the skip firm, then this American voice said, ‘Hi, this is David Steinberg'. I’m Robin Williams’s manager and he wants to do a song with you.’

"I was like, ‘What? What?’ It was totally out of the blue and it was extraordinary."

He continued: "We’d never met but I’d admired Robin for decades and I was in awe of his lightning-quick mind, his improvisation skills and his irrepressible onstage persona.

"We met a couple of days before the show at his central London hotel to rehearse and hit it off immediately. In between doing impressions of the Queen, Robin was very kind and welcoming and we had such a laugh rehearsing.

"We decided on a blues number – he was actually a great singer – and, after knocking some ideas around, came up with a funny line about the Queen having two birthdays and Charles only having one.

"On the day itself, the whole venue was locked down for security so we and loads of other comics, including John Cleese and Eric Idle, were holed up all day and there was a slightly giddy Gang Show mentality."

Robin Williams passed away in 2014
Robin Williams passed away in 2014. Picture: Getty

Bill went on to explain how he ended up doing a one-on-one gig for Robin Williams.

"The most surreal moment was during the warm-ups, which are normally very quick," he said. "During mine, I noticed Robin was in the audience watching me and he started saying, ‘Go on, do some stuff,’ and I suddenly found myself doing an impromptu private gig for Robin Williams.

"Unlike some comics, who can be very critical of the competition, he was so warm and supportive."

He added: "He was also exactly the same offstage as he was on it: firecracker wit and a razor-sharp mind. He was riffing, coming up with ideas, making jokes but not in a way that he was trying to cut you out.

"He was trying to add to what you were saying and keep the flow going. He was a brilliant foil and constantly buzzing.I loved his relentless energy but I can’t imagine being like that all the time and I suppose it’s inevitable that there’s another side to that."

Bill Bailey and Robin Williams
Bill Bailey and Robin Williams. Picture: BBC/YouTube

On Robin's passing, Bill also paid tribute, saying: "When I heard news of his death in August 2014, I was so sad and shocked. I thought, ‘What a terrible waste.’

"Creatively, it felt like he was enjoying a second wind – and as a comedian watching another comedian he was so obviously loving what he was doing. It’s such a shame to see that brought to a premature end.

"I will never forget the sense of spontaneity and joy he exuded and my time with him reminds me of why I went into comedy in the first place. He’ll be greatly missed.”