Tom Allen is Completely committed to comedy... and 'Auntie Glo'

David Roy chats to top comedian and TV presenter Tom Allen about bringing his new stand-up tour to Ireland this summer, discovering Gloria Hunniford is a long lost cousin and why he finally feels like he's a 'complete adult'...

"I THINK what what I really love about stand-up shows is that it's a live experience," enthuses comedian Tom Allen of being back on the road with a new stand-up tour for the first time since 2019.

"You've got to be in the moment with it, responding to whatever you've experienced that day. So many of our interactions are online now, so it's nice to sort of try and do something that feels a bit more kind of 'alive', I suppose."

With his last comedy tour Absolutely having played to packed houses through 2018 and 2019, Bromley-based Allen (39) is also a familiar face to TV viewers thanks to prime presenting gigs like The Apprentice: You're Fired, The Great British Bake Off: Extra Slice and being master of ceremonies for the recent National Comedy Awards which were broadcast live on Channel 4.

However, it seems the comedian is always drawn back to that 'one-off' quality that the live comedy experience thrives upon.

"It's a unique thing," he tells me.

"You will never have that same evening again and the people who are there will probably never come together again. So you sort of want to be open to that and see how it pans out."

Of course, live comedy also requires plenty of travelling – indeed, when we speak, Allen is preparing to commute from the home he shares with his partner Alfie to a gig in Wales. However, it seems that the dapper comedian doesn't mind racking up the miles, especially if someone else is looking after the driving.

"I don't mind it," he offers.

"Because I go with my tour manager, I don't even have to worry about driving. I'm not a very good driver. If I was doing it myself, it would take about three weeks to get anywhere.

"And I get very upset when people beep at me. I take it very personally, people getting angry on the roads – I sort of have to pull over and cry. So travelling with the tour manager and him driving makes things a lot easier."

The comic is looking forward to returning to Ireland this summer, particularly his first headline gig in Derry where he has long known of his family roots through his maternal grandfather.

"I have a lot of cousins in Derry and Co Donegal," explains Allen, who also has family in Co Mayo and may well make a pilgrimage across the border during the upcoming trip – well, at least as far as Donegal town anyway.

"They have a great cake shop there, right on the square," he says.

"I had some amazing chocolate cake when I was over with Joel Dommett doing DNA Journey. He has, like, an eight-pack or something and eats very healthily, but of course I just couldn't resist scoffing all these cakes."

Indeed, the upcoming Completely tour will be the comedian and presenter's first live outings here since being delighted to discover that he's cousins with Gloria Hunniford. The pair were introduced for the first time on camera during the Joel Dommett-presented ITV series last year, and it seems Allen and the veteran Co Armagh broadcaster – whom he affectionately refers to as 'Auntie Glo' – have definitely hit it off.

"We were at the Chelsea Flower Show together," he tells me, "and we're going for lunch with my mum at some point soon.

"She's such a nice person and I've always looked up to her, because she was always on television when I was a kid. She's one of those broadcasters that really knows the industry and knows what they're doing.

"It was really lovely, when she found out we were related on the DNA programme, she's such a professional that she just immediately started presenting the show and started asking questions. And she sent me a lovely message when my book came out."

However, it seems that Allen's mum, Irene, isn't convinced that the TV show have got their genealogy quite right.

"Gloria is from Portadown and my family are from Derry," he explains, "but Mum is convinced that [the DNA link] is not on her dad's side in Derry, but on my grandmother's side in Mayo. So we'll have to find that out."

In any case, Allen is no stranger to audiences here in the north.

"I have done lots of stuff around Northern Ireland, in Ballymena, lots of times in Belfast and even Seaforde at one point. I supported Sarah Millican in Derry, but this will be my first time headlining.

"I'm looking forward to it and it will be nice to spend some time over there. When I was doing the DNA show we had really beautiful weather and went swimming in the sea in Donegal. It was lovely, so hopefully we'll have some nice sunny weather again this time."

As for Completely itself, the show finds Allen grappling with the major life changes he has had to  negotiate over the last couple of years: shortly after he finally moved out of his parents' house (his new home is only five minutes away), Allen's father, Paul, died suddenly of a heart attack – an experience documented in the comic's best-selling 2022 memoir Too Much. 

"The book allowed me a bit of space to talk about losing Dad and the emotions around that, but the stand-up show talks more about me," he explains.

"I've called it Completely because I finally feel like a complete adult, or like I'm at least trying to be one.

"Because now I've got my own place, I've got to worry about things that I never used to have to worry about. Like taking the bins out and dealing with foxes coming into the garden, for example. I have to bang a saucepan to scare them away. The neighbours don't know if I'm scaring away a fox or thanking a nurse.

"And then I'm also talking about being in a relationship for the first time as well, So it's been really nice to sort of explore it all, actually, as I go through it. I thought, well, I should just talk about it all. 

He adds: "What I love about stand-up is that you can be honest about whatever your experience is, and chances are, however peculiar or stressful you found it or whatever your feelings are, someone will have felt the same.

"I think the best sort of laughter is when people relate to what you're talking about. They go, 'oh, I've had that experience, I thought I was the only one' and then you're able to laugh about it together. 

"It just helps us feels like we're not so alone in this world."

Tom Allen, June 8, Millennium Forum, Derry / June 9, The Ulster Hall, Belfast. Tickets via millenniumforum.co.uk and ulsterhall.co.uk. Too Much is available now, published by Hodder Studio