Frank Skinner and Prince William discuss his hit
it’s not especially festive, but Three Lions, the hit single Frank Skinner wrote with his friend David Baddiel and The Lightning Seeds’ Ian Broudie, is the gift that keeps on giving. Apart from reentering the charts whenever England play a major tournament, having become their unofficial anthem, it’s also won the West Bromwich-born comedian some famous fans.
Not least Prince George, the eldest son of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and third in line to the British throne.
Having met William and Kate at the Royal Variety Performance earlier this month, Frank was stunned to discover the six-year-old future King was obsessed with the song.
“I said to William, ‘I think you’re the first Aston Villa fan I’ve ever shaken hands with’,” reveals Frank.
“He laughed and said, ‘I listen to your football song every morning.’ I said, ‘No you don’t.’ He replied, ‘Honestly, George plays it every morning, ever since the World Cup. I thought it’d fade away and it hasn’t. He still plays it every day.’”
Speaking on the phone from his north London home, Frank continues: “I was the first in the line-up and William didn’t pace himself properly. I got about five minutes but I think by the time he got to the end of the line he was just doing a high-five and moving on.
“Kate was a bit cleverer. She did about a minute-and-a-half with everybody.”
Fortunately, he laughs, Prince Andrew was not among the Royals at the London Palladium this year.
“It would have been a slight elephant in the room during the conversation, but at least you wouldn’t have got a sweaty handshake.”
Prince George is a fan of Frank Skinner
At the age of 62, after more than three decades in the business, he is enduringly popular.
“I’ve been doing stand-up for over 30 years. You’d have thought it would’ve dipped a little. It is like flying, it feels a bit supernatural. Nothing compares with that afterglow of a great gig. That lives with you until the next gig. It’s a beautiful, tickly, warm feeling.”
Having finished more than 100 dates on his Showbiz tour – his first in five years – Frank is returning to the West End in the New Year.
The former factory worker, who found fame aged 30 at the Edinburgh Festival, laughs when asked if being away leaves him unable to boil a kettle or feed himself, joking: “People have been doing that for me for about 25 years. I’m already completely hopeless.”
That said, he admits his schedule is less rigorous since he became a dad at 55.
Buzz, his son with talent agent girlfriend Cath Mason, is now seven.
“He’s named after Buzz Aldrin which, would you believe it, was his mum’s idea, not mine,” he explains.
“Everyone assumes it was the guy who came up with the spaceman name!”
The couple would have liked to have had more children but left it too late, says Frank, who has spoken previously of the volatile nature of their relationship.
“The single thing that’s kept me and Cath together for what is now, with the odd break, 19 years is that we are incredibly honest with each other. The honesty might not always be good to hear.”
But wouldn’t his girlfriend prefer it if he talked a bit less about their relationship?
He considers: “I said very early on, ‘If you need to go away and talk to your friends and absolutely slag me off, and completely give your side without any balance or fairness, I’m okay with that’. That’s better than you feeling it’s all bottled up and you’re going to explode.”
Although he has toned down some of his more explicit content on stage, his family doesn’t come to his shows.
“When I worked in a factory, no one ever asked to come to work with me,” he says.
Frank Skinner and his girlfriend
“It’s like those people who take their dogs to work just because they can.
“I worked for a production company once where they used to send the runner out to take the dog for a walk every day. Then one day when the owner didn’t come in, they sent their dog to work in a taxi so that the runner could take it for its normal walk!”
That is a classic Frank Skinner anecdote: entertaining, thoughtful and mildly anarchic.
He has never been especially interested in luvviedom, or having famous pals, he says.
Having given up alcohol at 29 after drinking Pernod for breakfast, he’s never been much of a party-goer, either.
“I like the trappings of success. It’s better than being completely ignored which is what I was for the first 30 years of my life,” he says.
“But I don’t have many showbiz friends. I’m not off to someone’s French villa.
“If you don’t do drink or drugs, it really is like being the new boy at school!”
Despite the laddish persona of his BBC heyday, hosting Fantasy Football from 1994 to 2004 with David Baddiel, he never drank.
“I think it took me about 15 years to sober up,” he laughs.
Frank Skinner and David Baddiel
“Lots of people used to say, ‘Oh God, you two really put it away on Fantasy Football.’ But I just drank from a water bottle.”
He denies playing the “lad card” under false pretences: “I am a recovering alcoholic and I did take full advantage of my celebrity as far as sex was concerned.
“I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive. You can read poetry and still go to the football and sleep with a stranger. They can all fit into the same Venn diagram.”
There was only one moment, he believes, when he was in serious danger of relapsing.
As with many of his real-life experiences, he has subsequently turned it into a self-deprecating yarn.
“They gave me deep-fried scorpion in vodka accidentally on The One Show. I had a mouthful of it and most people would be horrified by the scorpion.
“But I bit into it and asked if there was alcohol in it. I thought, if I end up on waste ground shouting that I used to be on television, the fact I got back into drinking by eating scorpions in vodka would at least be a great anecdote.”
Asked whether fame ever went to his head, he pauses for a moment: “I became someone who wanted to hold on to success as long as I could. If I thought people around me were not taking it seriously, I was pretty unforgiving.
“In telly, if a programme goes wrong it tends to be the on-camera talent who get dobbed in and the people who produce and direct just go on for ever. It’s hard being the person in the room who cares the most. But I was also the one getting all the glory – or most of the glory – so it kind of makes sense.”
Unlike some comedians, Frank is not overly concerned about pulling his punches to avoid offending the so-called “woke brigade”.
“It’s not like there’s anything I’m desperate to say that’s going to offend people,” he says.
“When I first started, I did a few working men’s clubs in Birmingham and you wouldn’t have liked the material that I was hearing there.
“It was out-and-out racist stuff. Obviously that’s got to be a good thing that it’s gone.”
Frank, who says that he voted Remain, mostly avoids politics in his live show.
“Because I live in north London and the sort of places I go, you get the impression if you talk about Remain that everyone will be on your side,” he says.
“That is an error. Once you get out of that small area it’s very different. But I have found the Brexit thing probably the most interesting I’ve ever found politics. I became a bit of a Brexit junkie.”
Today, his major regret is not having been able to share the spoils of his success with his parents.
His dad John, a former semi-professional footballer, died in 1990 shortly after Frank became a full-time performer; his factory worker mother Doris a year earlier.
“I had a dream my mum said she wanted to go to Spain.
I asked, ‘Why haven’t you mentioned this before?’ Then when I woke up I thought, ‘Of course, that’s why I haven’t done it, because they’re both dead.’ My mum would give me her last fiver. Payback would’ve been nice.”
Now he has the challenge of bringing up his own son with a “few bob in his pocket”.
“You start worrying, is life going to be too easy? This was not a worry that my dad have,” he says.
“But I’m sure he had lots of others I probably wouldn’t want to swap him for.”
Asked if he has anything to add, Frank deadpans: “I’m doing a show that seems to be consistently funny. People are loving it. I’m keen to get as many witnesses as possible.”
Well, he has got the Royal seal of approval.
• Frank Skinner brings his stand-up show Showbiz to London’s Garrick Theatre, January 13-February 15. For tickets, visit www.frankskinnerlive.com