Alan Davies, 48, remembers his life, from his early love of Arsenal to his hilarious QI shenanigans.
…Buying my first Arsenal shirt, aged five
Our house (in Loughton, Essex) was very sportsorientated. My dad was mad keen on everything from football to motorcycle racing. Both he and my older brother were Spurs fans, and my brother couldn’t handle me supporting the same team as him.
When we went to the shop, he said, “Why don’t you support Arsenal? They’re great.” It was 1971 and Arsenal were, indeed, a great team. Like any five-year-old, I did what my brother told me and chose an Arsenal shirt. Little did I know it would lead to a love affair that’s lasted 40 years!
As I kid, I was convinced I was going to play for Arsenal and, even today, I occasionally dream that they’ll pick me for that all-important cup tie.
…Going on holiday without my mum
When I was six, we went on a family holiday to Lyme Regis. The strange thing was that my mum didn’t come with us, which I found very shocking. She was in hospital, but what we didn’t know was that she was dying. Although she had leukaemia, the doctors decided not to tell her. They didn’t tell my dad, either—nobody knew she was dying and we weren’t going to see her again. Well, apart from the f*****g doctors. Pretty crap, really.
These days, you’d quite rightly complain about something like that, but I don’t think we did. I can’t remember if we were actually still on holiday or we’d just got back…but my mum died on August 22, 1972.
…My dad struggling to bring up three kids
Like a lot of blokes in the 70s, he didn’t know how to deal with emotions. There was so much sadness and pain in our house—a huge sense of loss. To this day, it’s something that has never really been talked about as a family. Losing a parent at such an early age leaves a hole that never really gets filled.
My coping mechanism was, basically, to turn into an annoying little b*****d! It started off with me mucking about, pulling faces and always looking for attention. Then, I started fighting with my brother and dad. Once I started nicking stuff, things went downhill very quickly. All classic signs—I was missing my mum.
Photo credit: Fflint
…Going to my first Arsenal away game
At 13, I was allowed to go to Arsenal home games on my own—travelling all the way from Loughton. I loved getting away from the house, and I didn’t mind the violence—I never got involved, but I found it all quite exciting. At 15, Dad let me go to away games, travelling by train with the Arsenal Supporters Club.
It was the first time I’d really been out of London on my own, seeing places like Liverpool, Nottingham and Newcastle. And what I soon discovered was that the police in all these places hated Cockneys. I remember trying to explain to one copper that I wasn’t really a Cockney, but he was having none of it, so I just ran off. The police didn’t muck around back then, so I didn’t mess with them!
…Discovering punk rock
Let me just clear up one very important point: I never had enough style to be a punk. No matter what I wore as a teenager, I always looked a bit of pillock. There were only two real punks at my school. One of them once came into school wearing suede boots, skin-tight animal-print trousers and a leather jacket, with his hair dyed green. I thought he looked brilliant, but the teachers threatened to send him home!
Even though I wasn’t a punk, I loved the music. First it was The Stranglers, and then I discovered the Jam. I saw both of them, as well as U2 and the Pretenders. Not a bad line-up for a teenager’s first few gigs!
…My 18th birthday party
Birthdays were always a bone of contention in our house. On my seventh, I was allowed to have a party and invited a load of my mates over. The idea was that we were going to have some games and build Lego, but I decided I didn’t want to play with anyone. Dad said, “Look, you have to play with your friends.” He wasn’t best pleased, and told me I could never have another birthday party again. He stuck to his guns, too, right up until my 18th. I was surprised he actually said yes because, by then, we were barely on speaking terms.
…Going to Uni
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a footballer. In my teens, I fancied becoming an MP or an actor. Then, I set my sights on sports journalism. In 1984, I went to the University of Kent in Canterbury to study drama and media, which probably wasn’t a bad choice. I was pleased to be away from home and among other people who thought the world was crazy, but a lot of the students just couldn’t handle the freedom. They spent most of their time cleaning up sick after getting drunk on three pints of cider.
In 1985, I bought a copy of the speech Neil Kinnock delivered to the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth; I was now a fully-fledged lefty! It all started with punk and its association with organisations like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Anti-Nazi League, Rock Against Racism and Amnesty International—but my politics were also partly formed in opposition to my father.
Dad (an accountant) was a conservative with a big and small “C”. If I was ever unsure about where I stood on a particular issue, I’d just ask my dad what he thought about it. If he liked it, I hated it. If he hated it, I became a passionate supporter. Looking back, I probably joined the Labour Party just to p**s my dad off. These days, we get on great, but I wonder if it still annoys him that I’m still a member of the Labour Party.
…Doing my first comedy gig
Eddie Izzard has this theory that he got into comedy because he lost his mum at an early age and needed the love of an audience to make up for that. For me, things were a lot simpler. I adored comedy shows like The Two Ronnies and The Good Life. They made me laugh, so I wanted to do the same. Even though me and Dad were always at each other’s throats back then, I remember we used to have a great time watching The Two Ronnies. Comedy was one of the few things that brought the family together.
My first gig was at Whitstable Labour Club in 1988 and...people laughed. I was funny. That was it, really. I was completely hooked.
Photo credit: Liverpool Echo
…Suddenly having money
I come from a fairly well-to-do, middleclass family, but I’d never had any cash of my own. Dad bought everything. But, after I started getting well known on the comedy circuit, I finally started earning my own living. A good living! If you were on at Jongleurs and the Comedy Store in the same weekend, you could come away with almost £600 in your pocket—for two days’ work! That meant I had enough money not to work for the rest of the week. Most of my university contemporaries were struggling to get work, but I seemed to be wallowing in it. Like any young man with a pocket full of fivers, I felt like I was king of the world!
…Deciding I didn't want to be famous
Around the time that Jonathan Creek started (1997), I seemed to be everywhere. All of a sudden, I was being recognised. About 99 per cent of people were lovely, but there was always that one per cent who wanted to give you some s**t.
Keith Richards once said, “Everybody wants to be famous, until they are.” He’s right. I wanted to be able to turn fame on and off when it suited me, but it doesn’t work like that. I think it’s even worse today. I recently Googled myself and was amazed at how much vitriol and anger was being directed at me, just because I was on telly—even before the Hillsborough incident (a comment Alan made about Liverpool’s refusal to play football on the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster that caused controversy). I’ve never Googled myself since, and I never will.
…Laughing til I cried on QI
I don’t think any of us had any expectations for it. In effect, it’s a bunch of people talking about very obscure stuff, all presided over by a ridiculously clever man who makes fun of us…but it seems to work. My favourite shows are the ones where I end up laughing even more than the audience. There was one where Julian Clary was telling a story about needing the loo when he met the Queen that had me in stitches. At one point, it got so bad that we had to stop the cameras!
…Proposing to my girlfriend on the shores of Lake Starnberg in Germany
Up until the day I met Katie (Maskell, a literary agent) in 2005, my relationships had been fairly disastrous. So much shouting! So many rows! I’m sure a lot of people think it was all to do with losing my mum, but, personally, I think my relationships didn’t work because (a) I didn’t meet the right person and (b) I wasn’t the right person.
I did eventually spend quite a bit of time in therapy and it really helped on that front. It helped me become…me. By the time I met Katie, I wasn’t such a k**b. I took her to the World Cup in Germany in 2006, and we went on a sightseeing trip to Lake Starnberg. As we sat at a little cafe in a place called Tutzing, the dreadlocked guy who ran the place offered me some snuff. I’d never had it before, so I tried it. Five minutes later, I proposed to Katie. Must have been really good snuff!
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