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Never mind the amazing buildings and great pubs, does anyone know where Phill Jupitus can find a really good fishmonger in Belfast?

When he's not appearing in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at Belfast's Grand Opera House this month, comedian and DJ Phill Jupitus tells Stephanie Bell he'll be calling into the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and making time for a visit to Lavery's Bar

Published 18/03/2016

Star turns: Jupitus in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, with Michelle Collins as Baroness Bombur
Star turns: Jupitus in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, with Michelle Collins as Baroness Bombur
Show’s over: with Noel Fielding in Never Mind the Buzzcocks
Critically acclaimed: Jupitus in Hairspray as Edna Turnblad

Most stars have such a tight schedule when they appear on stage in Belfast that they rarely get a chance to see what the city has to offer, but Phill Jupitus is not one of them.

Entertaining audiences for the next two weeks at the Grand Opera House in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Phill will be making himself at home when he is not on stage and don't be surprised if you bump into him wandering around the city centre.

A regular performer in the city, Phill opts to rent a house when he is here, rather than stay in a hotel. He also loves to discover new restaurants and bars and take in as many of our tourist attractions as he can.

A fan of Botanic Gardens, Phill won't leave Northern Ireland without visiting the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and his latest love, St George's Market.

He had only been here a matter of hours this week when he was on Twitter appealing to locals to recommend a good fishmonger in the city.

Phill became a familiar face on TV when he starred as team captain on BBC2's long running pop quiz Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

A man of many talents, he has enjoyed a varied career as a stand-up comedian, Radio DJ, author and TV quiz show regular.

His first foray into musical theatre, though, came in the autumn of 2009 when he graced the West End stage in the hit musical Hairspray, playing Edna Turnblad, receiving critical acclaim for his performance.

He went on to play King Arthur in the UK and Irish tour of Spamalot and he starred in Big Society for 19 nights at the Leeds City Varieties the following year.

The 53-year-old funnyman is currently playing Lord Scrumptious/Baron Bomburst in the much-loved Sherman Brothers musical production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which has just started an extensive UK-wide and Ireland tour. The show, which also stars Martin Kemp, Jason Manford, Amy Griffiths and Michelle Collins, opened in the Grand Opera House on Wednesday for two weeks.

It promises sensational sets and stunning special effects as well as the memorable score by the Sherman Brothers, which includes Truly Scrumptious, Toot Sweets, Hushabye Mountain and the Oscar-nominated title song Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Phill took time out before the curtain went up on his first show to share his thoughts on Northern Ireland, talk about his spider phobia, his varied career and, rather surprisingly, revealed that he has never seen the film of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which is based on Ian Fleming's classic story. He says: "It is an amazing show. I'd never seen the film and didn't know the story and was probably the only kid in my school that had never seen it. I knew about the child catcher and I knew the song, but I'd never seen the film.

"These things happen and it is just one of those things.

"I waited to see it on stage and it is a story that works really well in this environment."

The UK tour opened on February 10 and one of the biggest surprises for this seasoned performer was his largely young audience.

Phil is used to performing live for adult audiences in his stand-up act and readily admits that he is still getting to grips with having so many children watching his every move on stage.

But as a father, he says he loves the energy which the kids bring to the theatre: "I am trying to get my head around the kids. It is my first time ever having children in the audience and it is completely different. It is much higher pitched and has a different energy about it and it has been really, really different for me.

"I've always had a very adult audience and when we were performing in Dublin half the audience was kids and that was 1,000 kids in the theatre and the energy was amazing.

"I think it's fantastic. We have 16 Belfast kids in the cast playing the sewer children and I think being a dad too, it is nice to have kids about the place. It feels less like work and more like being part of a big family."

These days he prefers not to talk about his wife and children in interviews. Home for most of the Jupitus clan is Leigh-on-Sea in Essex and previously Phill has let slip that his wife is a librarian and he has two grown-up daughters, one of whom has just emigrated.

When touring, he takes time out to get to know the places he performs in and says Belfast is one of his favourites. "This is my third time in the Opera House and I have a few mates from Northern Ireland.

"There is so much to see around the town.

"Last time I went to St George's Market and Titanic Belfast and I will not miss a visit to the Folk and Transport Museum. It is just one of those places where you just have to go; it's weird but I just like mooching around there.

"I haven't been to the Giant's Causeway yet but we are here for two weeks, so I hope this time to get up there.

"Belfast has some amazing architecture and there is a lot going on at the minute. You have these really modern buildings side by side with great old places.

"St George's Market just blew me away and I spent a whole day in it the last time I was here. People here are so friendly. I've already tweeted asking for a good fishmonger and someone has pointed me in the direction of the Mourne Seafood Bar, so I will be going there for my smoked haddock.

"The first place I went to when I first visited Belfast was Lavery's Bar, so I can't not go there, and next door is the Woodworkers Bar, which has great food.

"I also like No Alibis and I love Botanic Gardens. The great thing about Belfast is that it is not too big and that makes it easy to walk around, which is good for the legs as well as keeping me fit.

"I always try to find new places as well and get a steer from the local crew or the audience after a show about where to go."

As well as enjoying sampling the hospitality of local pubs and restaurants, Phill chooses to rent a house while staying in the city so that he can cook for himself.

Phill has enjoyed a successful and varied performing career, which began in 1984, when he quit working in a job centre to become a ranting poet, quickly rising to prominence supporting such bands as The Style Council and The Housemartins.

In 1995, he began his radio career hosting his own show at BBC Greater London Radio and in 2002 was the first broadcast voice on BBC6 Music when the station launched and continued to host the Breakfast Show until 2007.

In 2010, his critically acclaimed book was published, Good Morning Nantwich - Adventures In Breakfast Radio, where not only does Phill discover the answer but finds out what really makes the listening nation tick first thing in the morning.

His highly successful television career began in 1996 when he became team captain on BBC2's pop quiz Never Mind The Buzzcocks, which the BBC cancelled last May after 18 years.

He also appears as a regular guest on BBC2's QI and in 2012 returned to television stand-up for the first time since 2000 with an appearance on Live at the Apollo.

On BBC Radio 4, Phill is a regular member of the award-winning News Quiz and The Unbelievable Truth and was resident curator on The Museum of Curiosity.

Now a star of the stage, he says there is no one job which he can put above the rest as his favourite: "I have done a lot of different things, but not intentionally so, I have a short attention span," he jokes.

"When new opportunities come about I will try most things and certainly have done. I couldn't call it when it comes to a favourite and I think about this all the time. What I would miss is the variation if I was only doing one thing.

"With live performing you have an immediate connection with the audience, as you are in a room full of people and that is something which TV and radio doesn't give you, although there is an intimacy on radio too."

In his stand-up show he does a hilarious sketch where he shares details about his spider phobia with his audience.

He is still terrified of house spiders, although he says being a dad has helped as he is more terrified of passing his phobia on to his children.

He has some good advice though for fellow arachnophobes: "It is odd, but I am less bothered about them now than I used to be. This time of the year is fine; it is in September when they are coming in out of the cold that it a problem.

"We evict them, we don't kill them. They are so big now, can you imagine the mess?

"Conkers are brilliant. Go out into the woods and gather big piles of them.

"I don't know what it is, but spiders don't like them.

"Also, if you have got a stereo put the speakers on the floor, they don't like the vibrations."

If you don't see Phill out and about around Belfast in the next two weeks you can always catch him at the Grand Opera House in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang runs until March 26 at the Grand Opera House. To book tickets please visit http://www.goh.co.uk/chitty-chitty

Belfast Telegraph

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