EXCLUSIVE: Keith Lemon star Leigh Francis tells how to stay outrageously funny ahead of Leeds homecoming shows

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My First Tour will see the TV comedy icon bring his 24-date debut UK tour to Leeds Grand Theatre April 5, 6 and 7 - tickets links below.

BUY TICKETS: For all tour venues, dates and more visit www.gigsandtours.com and www.ticketmaster.co.uk

THERE'S no mistaking the familiar voice and infectious laugh as the comedy superstar and national treasure makes his way along the corridor towards the bar for our exclusive chat at Leeds Grand Theatre, writes Graham Walker.

He enters the room, all larger than life.

That ginger beard, those plaited pigtails, the wide brimmed black hat and flamboyant clothes - today's bold outfit including a Vivienne Westwood crazy-orb red cropped jacket and his own KIL Clothes black T-shirt with spectacles print.

This could only be over the top Keith Lemon. But it isn't.

Well it is, kind of...

Say hello to BAFTA-Award winning comedian Leigh Francis, the Leeds born married dad of two, who for years has convincingly stayed in character as his wacky creations, loved by millions, including Keith Lemon and celebrity superfan Avid Merrion.

Now he's turned 50 and decided it's time for the world to know the real Leigh so is embarking on his first ever UK tour, My First Time, with 24 UK dates which are selling out fast - including a show at the London Palladium and a homecoming finale with three nights at Leeds Grand, on April 5, 6 and 7, 2024.

In our exclusive interview he revealed My First Time is not stand up comedy, more a sketch show of greatest hits, inspired by his TV career from Bo' Selecta! to Celebrity Juice.

He says Keith Lemon will host 'Juice style' games and Avid Merrion will time travel from 2002 to discover a different world in 2024. The Bear will also feature.

Lots of new rubber masks, caricaturing celebrity favourites for Spitting Image type fun, will this time include Gogglebox brother and sister Pete and Sophie Sandiford, Simon Cowell, Joel Dommett, Amanda Holden’s fictional Gran Myrtle and even film-maker Louis Theroux. 

Also expect long time favourites David Dickinson and Ant and Dec, plus lots of audience participation.

Leigh reveals how Keith Lemon is the real name of his life-long best pal, now living in Halifax, who gave him the idea for his trademark hand-bandage - explaining how the real Keith wore one for sympathy, to attract girls on nights out in Leeds.

He also told how his former Leeds Jacob Kramer College art teacher, the late Lem Mierins, became the inspiration for Avid Merrion.

But the comedy landscape has changed. We're living in times where cancel culture looms large.

So, I ask, is it still possible to be outrageously funny?

"I think you can," says Leigh, who keeps wacky Lemon at bay while he gets all serious with me about the modern approach to comedy.

Leigh Francis preparing to make a spectacle of himself on stage with his first ever UK tourLeigh Francis preparing to make a spectacle of himself on stage with his first ever UK tour
Leigh Francis preparing to make a spectacle of himself on stage with his first ever UK tour | SJM Concerts

"I think most comedians read the room and you only set out to put smiles on faces.

"I've always thought I was quite mindful of what you can and can't do. And then suddenly, we're in cancel culture now - people will go, 'oh, you did this 20 years ago'.

"You can only apologise for what you did. And I did."

He explains his approach is different - this time he's even giving famous names a sneak peek of the masks he wears to lampoon them.

"What I've done this time around, with people that I know, I've sent pictures to them of the masks. saying I'm doing you on the tour," he said.

"Hopefully you get a lovely response.

"I bumped into Louis Theroux. And I showed him on my phone. I went, 'look, I've done you as a mask'. And he was laughing his head off."

Leigh Francis is putting his characters in the frame for debut UK tour My First TimeLeigh Francis is putting his characters in the frame for debut UK tour My First Time
Leigh Francis is putting his characters in the frame for debut UK tour My First Time | SJM Promotions

He said of the tour: "If I was in a band, this would be my best off album, which normally means you've run out of material, or you're finished.

"I do think I've reached a chapter where it might go a different direction from now, you know, especially when I'm doing me as me, it could go a different way.

"So I just wanted to do something that kind of like says, didn't we have a great time."

Leigh says some fans don't accept that Keith Lemon is not real.

It's what happens when you stay in character as your alter-ego for years on end.

But turning 50, Leigh said he decided to be himself to try new things because being Keith Lemon limited his opportunities.

He said: "There are things I couldn't do in character that I wanted to do.

"I don't think they would have asked me to do Portrait Artist of the Year in character. They wouldn't have asked me to do Bake Off.

"When I tell fans Keith is just a character they don't believe that. Not only am I not called Keith Lemon, he's a fictional person.

"My wife says it's my fault because I tried to convince people I am him."

He says wife Jill likes him as Keith but says he would never take the role into the bedroom.

" No way. She married me. If I had a bandage on and she felt my hand in bed, that wouldn't be right," he laughed.

He revealed how staying in character as Avid Merrion also caused issues - Channel 4 bosses thought he was a foreign worker and sent 20 per cent of his wages for Bo' Selecta! to foreign national taxes.

Leigh, now living in London, but born in Beeston, was brought up in Old Farnley. He qualified as a graphic designer at Jacob Kramer College, now Leeds Arts University and landed his first job as an ads artist, working on the Yorkshire Evening Post.

He joked how some may have thought he was stupid to leave a good job to be on the telly.

Of his YEP days he recalled: "I loved it. I'd have a night out in Leeds and might see a newspaper on the floor. I'd go, 'I drew that, I drew that'.

MY FIRST TIME 2024 TOUR DATES:

MARCH 

FRI 22 HULL, City Hall *SOLD OUT*

SUN 24 BUXTON, Opera House *SOLD OUT*

THU 28 NEWCASTLE, Tyne Theatre *SOLD OUT*

SAT 30 LIVERPOOL, Philharmonic *SOLD OUT*

APRIL 

LINKS

Tour merchandise: kilclothes.com

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