Alan Davies: 'I was the black sheep of the family'

alan davies
As a child Alan Davies dreamed of playing for Arsenal Credit: Andrew Crowley

We asked comedian Alan Davies, 50, what his younger self would think if he could see him now... 

I had quite a traumatic childhood and a problematic home life. Mum died of cancer when I was six, leaving Dad to raise me and my older brother and younger sister. None of us really liked each other, which was rather difficult. 

Playing for Arsenal was such a pipe dream, I had more chance of being an astronautAlan Davies

We were a bereaved family and terribly affected by my mother dying, yet no attempt was made to talk about it. My family would use me as a scapegoat for their feelings. I became the black sheep, while the elephant in the room was that we were all in terrible pain and failing to deal with the situation. But the badly behaved person they perceived me to be was completely at odds with the person I was out in the world. I was quite happy as soon as I got out the front door. I was up for a laugh. 

I remember that getting a laugh out of my mum made me feel good, but it never occurred to me to perform or do comedy or anything else until I started doing it aged 16 at college. Before that I wanted to be a sports reporter and write about football. Arsenal were my team but the idea of getting on and playing for Arsenal was such a pipe dream, I had more chance of being an astronaut. I wasn’t good enough to play for any team, never mind the professional teams. I tried to play for Loughton Boys when I was 13 and went to training every Wednesday, but in the whole season they never gave me a game… not even as a substitute. 

Alan has few happy memories of his childhood 

But once I got started on my college course, which included drama O-level, my path was set. It was a complete revelation. It was really nice to find what you wanted to do and have enough aptitude that you could legitimately pursue it without seeming crazy. 

I was working on sitcom ideas when Jonathan Creek’s producer spotted me. I always think you get your lucky break because you’re putting yourself in the place you want to be anyway. 

Without Jonathan Creek, there’d be no QIAlan Davies

Still, it’s incredible that it’s still going, 20 years on; I hitched my wagon to a good one there. And if I hadn’t done that, then I wouldn’t have been offered the Abbey National commercials (which were something of a poisoned chalice that I took purely for the money in 1997, thus severing all ties with the alternative comedy circuit in that moment). After 18 commercials, they were so successful they had to change the name of the bank once I finished! 

The best thing, though, is the adverts were all directed by John Lloyd, who became a friend and someone I’ve a lot of admiration for. While we were doing the adverts he came up with the idea for QI. So without Jonathan Creek, there’d be no QI. All these things join up.

Once Alan discovered drama at college, his path was set

Starting a family wasn’t something I thought about until it happened. When you’ve lost your mother, you have serious issues around loss. It can be very difficult to be with someone you feel close to and then leave; it kicks up a lot of stuff. So sometimes I was unable to extricate myself from relationships that weren’t good for me. That was certainly the case before I met my wife, Katie [Maskell]. But you are the person that you are. There’s no point beating yourself up about it. Still, it’s a useful tool in life to be able to identify parts of your personality rather than just crash through a series of unexplained actions without understanding them. Once I met Katie it all felt different. 

Then a baby seemed like a good idea, but even until it was born I hadn’t thought it through properly. Now the strength of feeling I have for my three children is absurd. It’s at this point in my life that I think I might be closer to the kid I was before my mum died. As a little kid I was always mucking about and I liked joke books, comedy shows and funny people. I still think funny people make the world go round. I can’t read a novel without humour and I can’t understand how people speak out loud without trying to tell a joke.

I think my younger self would really like QI. It’s like an unruly classroom full of anarchic people wilfully bending the rules. He’d get a kick out of that. He might like Jonathan Creek. The stand-up? It’s harder to say. I don’t know if he’d be impressed by any of it, though. If I was playing centre forward for Arsenal and scoring 30 goals a season, then I think he’d be really impressed. 

Alan Davies’s new stand-up DVD, Little Victories, is out now. The Jonathan Creek Christmas special is on BBC One at 9pm on Wednesday December 28