“I wasn’t good at anything in school. English and Maths were my worst three subjects,” says star of screen and stage, Brian Conley.
“That’s a joke by the way. That bit there about the three subjects. You can have that one,” he adds quickly.
Brian Conley has become a household name in the UK, but his career started way back to his early years.
“I was dyslexic and throughout my childhood, I didn’t know what was wrong with me. To combat it, I’d try and make people laugh. My father had a strong singing voice and I’ve always been convinced that I was born to sing too. The first ever song I learnt was Santa Lucia and there was a lot of opera sung around our house. Because I liked to entertain people, I got myself into a show called the Yeoman of the Guard. My mother was told to nurture my talent so she put me in a stage school. We had a Welsh teacher, Mrs Davies who I met again many years later when I was caught by Michael Aspel for This Is Your Life.”
Today, Brian is one of the UK’s most versatile and popular performers. He has become a household name thanks to such diverse characters as Dangerous Brian, Nick ‘It’s a puppet!’ Frisby, Doug Digby and the legendary Al Jolson.
Born and raised in Paddington, London, Brian studied Performing Arts at The Barbara Speake Stage School and then at the age of 16, he decided to earn a living performing cabaret in nightclubs.
“Looking back, my childhood was the point in my life where I was learning and crafting my trade. Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to perform and entertain. I became a Blue Coat at the age of 16 and then a few years later, I fronted a comedy showband called Tomfoolery. I moved to Cardiff at this point. I lived in Grangetown, drank Brains Dark in The Cornwall and followed my Brains with these chasers called Pony. God knows if they still make it. I’ve got lots of other fond memories of Cardiff as I was in panto there a few years back.”
Brian began his TV career as a warm up man for Terry Wogan, Noel Edmonds and Kenny Everett. He soon started making regular appearances on shows such as Five Alive and Live from the Palladium. ITV spotted his talents and he was given his own show – Brian Conley – This Way Up which was followed by The Brian Conley Show.
“The magic of variety is that you never know what’s coming next. If I were to stand in front of an audience and just do a stand-up routine, that’d be boring. I like to keep people guessing. Variety performers like myself are now the new ‘alternative comedians’. There aren’t many of us doing it but we’re creating a tapestry that’s been built up over the years. Above anything, I want people to come and spend a few hours with me, forget their troubles, have a laugh and walk away, saying to each other ‘I’ve had a really wonderful evening.’ That for me, is what really matters in my career.”
On stage in the West End, Brian spent a year starring in Me And My Girl at the Adelphi Theatre. At the Victoria Palace he originated the title role, in the Olivier award-winning Jolson, which opened to rave reviews. The Mail on Sunday said it was ‘the performance of the decade’ and the Daily Express commented ‘it takes a star to play a star’. He is also gaining a reputation as a fine actor, starring in Circus with John Hannah and Eddie Izzard, Unconditional Love alongside Kathy Bates, Dream with Sinead Cusack, Arthur’s Dyke with Pauline Quirk and joined Sean Bean and Christian Bale in the cult film Equilibrium.
“I didn’t get into this business to become famous. I got into it to become good at what I love doing. Fame is a by-product of it. I get kids coming up to me these days asking me ‘How do I become a superstar?’ They’ve got it all wrong. You don’t do something to become famous. If you want to do it, you’d do it for free. For me, it’s in my blood to entertain. I was born to do it. If I wasn’t doing this, I’d probably be a cab driver, like my dad.”
Brian’s latest show, The Real Life of Brian Conley, reaches St. David’s Hall in Cardiff on Saturday 10th May, and Brian promises one hell of a night:
“It’ll be the most fun you can have without taking your clothes off,” he says. “We’ve got the award-winning Mat Ricardo helping us out and I’ll be singing some of my well-known songs too. All in all, I’ve worked out that you’ll be saving yourself over £440 by coming along to the show!”
“After this, I’ll be taking the lead role in Barnum for a year,” he adds.
If you’re wanting to see Brian at his variety-performing best in Cardiff, The Real Life of Brian Conley is the show to book.