Bill Bailey reflects on ‘tough’ Covid stories from NHS workers in new BBC show

Bill Bailey in the Extraordinary Portraits studio (BBC/Chatterbox)
Bill Bailey in the Extraordinary Portraits studio (BBC/Chatterbox)

Comedian Bill Bailey has said that Covid was “still fresh” in the minds of the NHS workers who spoke to him about how “tough” they found the pandemic in a new BBC show.

On Extraordinary Portraits, NHS workers sit for portrait artists who sketch, paint and sculpt, and the show will be released this month to coincide with the service’s 75th anniversary.

Bailey, 58, fronts the new show and discussed what it was like to work with NHS staff, who he says are still dealing with the after effects of the Coronavirus pandemic.

He told the PA news agency: “Every one of them would talk about it and how tough it was, and it was really sort of, all hands to the pumps, because they were run off their feet.

Bill Bailey watches Adebanji Alade sketch
Bill Bailey watches Adebanji Alade sketch (BBC/Chatterbox) (Chatterbox/BBC / Chatterbox)

“I think that it really was quite a stark reminder of how hard it was for people on the front line.

“It was quite sort of surreal sometimes that we were in our own homes, we couldn’t go out, we were not really aware of what was going on, unless you were quite seriously ill or you had to be hospitalised, you wouldn’t have seen any of that.

“Really, you were kind of kept at home ready, and we were almost insulated against all that, whereas all of these frontline workers were just flat out, throughout the whole of it.

“A lot of them talked about that. It was still quite fresh in their minds, you know, how hard it was.”

He added: “It was unprecedented, this pandemic that’s never happened really in any of our lifetimes, and so it was overwhelming I think for a lot of them.

“What they saw, what they had to do when they got involved, every aspect of the NHS everyone was flat out, and so they were talking about it, like it had only happened last week.

Bill Bailey sitting in studio with sculptor Nick Elphick, and trauma surgeon Martin Griffiths
Bill Bailey sitting in studio with sculptor Nick Elphick, and trauma surgeon Martin Griffiths (BBC/Chatterbox) (Chatterbox/BBC / Chatterbox)

“Of course, it’s still kind of going on, we’ve got to go back to normal, whatever that is, but it’s still out there.”

The six-episode series starts with surgeon Martin Griffiths who reveals that he often operates on the victims of violent crime.

Mr Griffiths sits for sculptor Nick Elphick and tells him that the hospital he works at sees roughly two patients a day who have been stabbed and two a week who have been shot.

Bailey is also fronting a new Sky Arts series called Bill Bailey’s Master Crafters: The Next Generation, which follows a group of young crafters who specialise in pursuits that include silver smithing and wood carving.

Bill Bailey's Mastercrafters: The Next Generation
Bill Bailey’s Mastercrafters: The Next Generation (Sky UK Ltd) (Spungold TV)

Talking about the show and the importance of preserving heritage crafts, Bailey said: “We have this history of making, particularly in Britain, because it’s been a place where makers have come from all over the world.

“So we have this very rich history of skill that goes back hundreds of years, and I think it’d be a shame if that was lost.

“I think it would be almost like, sort of putting a full stop on history and it would be a shame if it was lost because once it’s gone, once people stop doing it. That’s it. You know, it’s kind of lost forever.”

Bill Bailey’s Master Crafters: The Next Generation airs on Sky Arts on Thursdays at 8pm.

The six-part BBC series Extraordinary Portraits starts on Monday July 17 at 8.30pm on BBC One.