BAFTAs: Billy Connolly opens up on Parkinson’s after award win
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Tonight, Mrs Brown, the tale following how Queen Victoria transformed her life following the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert, is set to air from 9pm on BBC Four. Starring Dame Judi Dench as the monarch, it sees Scottish comic Billy Connolly play John Brown, a favourite riding companion of Prince Albert, who attempts to lift Victoria from her depression. It was a career defining role for the comedian, who earned BAFTA Award nomination for his portrayal of Brown, losing out to Robert Carlyle for his performance in The Full Monty.
Connolly remains one of Britain’s most loved funnymen, having transform stand-up comedy in a decades-long career which started out in the mid-Sixties.
In more recent years, much of Connolly’s work has revolved around his struggles with Parkinson’s disease, something which has forced him to stop enjoying what were once some of his favourite pasttimes.
During an interview with The Guardian in 2013, he opened up about the condition, at a time when the Glasgow-born star admitted he was beginning to forget his lines during performances, something which paved the way towards his retirement some years later in 2018.
Now 8 years old, back then, Connolly talked of how he was “p****d off” with his health and the way it had forced him to change his life. He said: “I loved writing letters, but now my writing is illegible. My collection of fountain pens and ink is redundant. It’s a pain in the bum.”
The interview marked Connolly’s upcoming appearance at the Edinburgh TV festival, where he was set to be honoured with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
He said he hadn’t prepared for the speech, reflecting on this more relaxed approach to work and how this had in itself become a “new challenge”.
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He said: “The challenges lately have been medical. They’re getting worse. You’ll notice I’ve been holding my left hand – it’s starting to jump around. I have to weigh it up and see how bad it gets.”
Though his health has become worse in recent years, Connolly has remained positive, and has on many occasion discussed how he continues to be optimistic about life.
Speaking to BBC Radio in 2019, he said: “It’s up to yourself. You manufacture it [optimism]. You either look at the world one way or another. It’s the old half full half empty.
“It’s up to you. The world’s a great place, it’s full of great people. The choice is yours. [Pessimism] is a luxury you can’t afford.”
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Earlier this year, Connolly was “deeply honoured” after being recognised with the 2022 BAFTA Fellowship Award, expressing his gratitude after receiving the title.
He said: “I can’t remember how many TV shows ‒ as well as my stage comedy ‒ added up to something that’s a joy to look back on.
“A lovely thing. I have no regrets at all. I had no idea the Fellowship existed, but I’m told it’s a big deal!
“It’s lovely to be recognised and to become a jolly good fellow.”
Emma Baehr, Executive Director of Awards and Content at BAFTA, added: “We’re honoured to be awarding Sir Billy Connolly with the 2022 BAFTA Fellowship Award.
“He has made a remarkable contribution to our industry from his first appearance on Parkinson in 1975, through to becoming a national treasure on stage and screen, adored by fans around the world.
“BAFTA is looking forward to celebrating this award with Sir Billy in due course and thanking him again for his phenomenal career in television.”
Mrs Brown airs at 9pm on BBC Four.
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