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Billy Connolly: ‘I’m not ready to go back on stage’

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Media captionBilly Connolly: “Nothing else will keep you going like laughter”

Comedian Billy Connolly says he would love to perform live again but he’s “not ready”.

The 76-year-old, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s six years ago, told the BBC: “I don’t know if I can do it with the state my mind is in.”

He added: “British comedy is in great shape now. I’d be scared to go on with these guys (current comedians).”

But the Big Yin said he would still “make it” if he was starting his career today because “it’s about attitude”.

He also said he was sanguine about the state of his health.

‘Just deal with it’

“I’m old, I’m 76 – my hearing, my eyesight, the way I walk, it’s all beginning to fail.

“It’s just about accepting what it is. You’ve got trouble getting into bed, trouble getting your socks on.

“Just deal with it. That’s who you are now. You’re a drooling, limping has-been! Get on with it. Enjoy it.”

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Connolly has recently written a book called Tall Tales and Wee Stories

In a recent documentary, Connolly said he’s not scared of dying: “It doesn’t frighten me – it’s an adventure and it’s quite interesting to see myself slipping away, as bits slip off and leave me, talents leave and attributes leave.

“It’s as if I’m being prepared for something, some other adventure, which is over the hill. I’ve got all this stuff to lose first, and then I’ll be at the shadowy side of the hill doing the next episode in the spirit world.”

Connolly announced he was being treated for the initial symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in 2013, admitting he had started to forget his lines during performances.

In the interview, he also discussed how the current political landscape in his home country of Scotland.

In an independence referendum held in September 2014, Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom. Connolly has previously expressed support for the union.

“Politically, [Scotland] is in extraordinary shape,” he said. “It’s beginning to stand alone, and they won’t take crap anymore. They don’t want to settle for whoever England votes for.

Asked directly if he would support Scottish independence in the event of a second referendum, he replied: “I don’t know. If Scotland would like it, I would like it.”

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Liam Payne on alcohol: ‘My family were very worried’

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“It was very erratic behaviour on my part – I was partying too hard,” says Liam Payne

In the offices of Liam Payne’s management company, just north of Soho in central London, there’s a bottle of Bacardi inscribed with his name.

It was sent as a gift, after the singer immortalised the drink in his hit single Strip That Down. According to the lyrics, which he co-wrote with Ed Sheeran, he mixes it with Coke and “sips it lightly”.

There’s just one small snag, says Payne: “I don’t think I’ve ever drunk Bacardi”.

“When I was younger, I went straight in on the whisky,” the star says. “I tend to pick my poison early, then I stick with it until it bores me.”

In fact, shortly after Strip That Down was released in 2017, Payne gave up drinking altogether after his lifestyle became “a cause for concern”.

“There were a couple of very dark years of me going through extreme peril with different mental health things,” says the 26-year-old. “I just didn’t know where I was going to end up.”

‘Reset button’

His drinking started to get out of hand while he was on tour with One Direction – the hotel mini-bar becoming a source of solace as he came down from the adrenalin high of playing for 80,000 screaming fans.

But even when the band went on hiatus, the habit continued. “It was very erratic behaviour on my part – I was partying too hard,” says the star, who’d always been cast as the “sensible” member of 1D.

“It was a tough little time. My family were very worried.”

Eventually, there came a point “where I realised I needed to hit the reset button and take a break,” he says.

“I was coming off the back-end of a break-up, so I was dealing with all sorts of emotions that I hadn’t dealt with in a long time because I was always covering them up – heartbreak, nerves, all sorts of things.

“I’d gotten too used to this rhythm of life; of using alcohol and different things to mask my feelings, or get me through. So I just needed to prove to myself that [drinking] wasn’t the issue for me.”

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The star dated Cheryl Cole from 2016 to 2018, during which time they had a son, Bear Payne

He doesn’t say it explicitly, but the switch to sobriety coincided with the birth of his first son, Bear, with fellow pop star Cheryl Cole in early 2017.

The star had always wanted to be a father, but says he struggled to adapt to his new role.

“I’d built it up in my head so much that by the time Bear was born, it was impossible for me to ever match the feeling I thought I’d feel – which is crazy,” he says.

His solution was to become a cook. “Thinking logically, I was going, ‘Right, if I’m feeding her and she feeds him, then I’m taking care of the family’. Because that’s what dads do.”

‘Success gets the better of you’

After months of rumours, Cheryl and Liam confirmed their split in July 2018, but they continue to share the responsibility of raising their son, who turns three in March.

It means he has to jet “in and out of the country as much as possible”, but he seems content to divide his time between super-stardom and domesticity.

Is that why it took two years to translate the success of Strip That Down into a debut album?

Actually, no. It was that song’s phenomenal, and unexpected, performance (it’s still the biggest-selling solo song by any of the former One Directioners) that threw Payne’s plans into disarray.

“Strip That Down was such an amazing thing to happen – but sometimes success gets the better of you,” he says.

“It took the best part of nine months to get to number one in America – and for that whole period, people wouldn’t put any other songs on the radio. So it was a really weird time. We got stuck with one song for so long that it really prolonged the process of making the album”.

It was especially strange for someone who was used to writing and recording entire albums in six weeks or less.

“Writing for One Direction was a different process because you knew what the kids wanted,” says the star, who co-wrote about 50% of the band’s last two albums.

“I love those songs – don’t get me wrong – but I knew why I was writing them and I knew what I was writing them for.”

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One Direction were the most successful act to emerge from X Factor, despite coming third in the competition

Ultimately, Payne realised that getting more time to work on his debut album was “a luxury” and he allowed himself to “sit back and enjoy the process for once”.

Recording sessions took place around the world, with A-listers like Ed Sheeran, Ryan Tedder and Charlie Puth. In total, the album credits a staggering 72 composers – and Payne likens the writing process to “speed dating”.

“Sometimes it was difficult because I’d get one or two days in the studio with someone that I don’t know and I didn’t really want to share an awful lot of private stuff with them,” he says. “It’s almost like the first day of school every day.”

His experiences in One Direction helped him be more assertive during sessions; and he turns out to be a studio geek, marvelling at piano sound on Selena Gomez’s Lose You To Love Me, (“they’ve recorded it so close, you can hear the hammer hitting the strings”) and the textural painting in Billie Eilish’s Everything I Wanted (“when she sings ‘I’m underwater‘and they tweak her vocal so it sounds like she’s disappearing, it’s like Disneyland”).

But as the album came together, he gravitated towards the albums he grew up with – Usher’s 8701, Justin Timberlake’s Justified and Chris Brown’s self-titled debut – shaping his solo career around a sleek, efficient brand of R&B.

There’s a thread of sadness running through the album – “Heart meet break, lips meet drink / Rock meet bottom, to the bottom I sink,” he sings at one point – informed by his recurring bouts of depression, and his high-profile split from Cheryl.

“I’m an absolute expert on heartbreak, it would seem,” he says. “I think, for me, it was easier to write from a sad place, because the feelings were a little bit more raw. Happiness is hard to fathom, I think.”

‘My sexuality is not your fetish’

But it’s one of the album’s more explicit songs that generated headlines – and for all the wrong reasons.

Both Ways is a late-night slow jam that details a sexual encounter with two women. “My girl, she like it both ways,” Payne sings over a ringing trap beat. “She like the way it all taste / Couple more, we’ll call it foreplay / No, no, I don’t discriminate.”

Within hours of its release last week, the track was being criticised for reinforcing harmful stereotypes that bisexual women’s sexualities exist for the gratification of men – a fetishisation that can have violent, real-world consequences.

“I’m sick and tired of people thinking my sexuality is made for threesomes,” one person wrote in a tweet, adding: “Bisexual women are NOT for your sexual fantasies.” Another Twitter user simply declared: “My sexuality is not your fetish.”

So far, Payne hasn’t responded – but when we spoke last month, before the furore erupted, he said Both Ways was his “favourite song” on the record.

In his explanation, the lyrics are about being open to new experiences and different sexualities, as we emerge into a new “world of ‘love is love’ and people becoming much more understanding about the way love is – and rightly so”.

Payne indicated that the song had originated with one of his co-writers, adding: “I don’t know who in the studio had actually been in this situation, because I certainly haven’t, but it was an interesting song to write.”

Whether or not he addresses the criticism, the song is a blot on his copybook; and a rare mis-step for a singer who’s always strived to be on the right side of public opinion.

For a self-confessed perfectionist, its bound to sting; but several times during our discussion, Payne says he’s trying to learn from his mistakes, rather than punish himself for making them in the first place.

“My life is super-complicated,” he says. “I’ve got a two-and-a-half year old son, an ex-missus and all sorts of different things kicking off, so I have to drill these messages into my head.”

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The star says he’s planning his first solo tour for 2020

All things considered, would he prefer not to have auditioned for the X Factor all those years ago?

“I wouldn’t change it,” he says decisively. “I know it’s where I’m supposed to be in the world now.

“I was very confused about fame when it all happened; and learning to be a person outside of your job was difficult. But now I feel like I get it. I’m a lucky boy.”

Liam Payne’s debut album, LP1, is out now on Capitol Records.

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Peter Handke receives Nobel Literature prize

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Peter Handke was applauded by the attendees at Tuesday’s ceremony in Stockholm

Austrian author Peter Handke has received his Nobel prize for Literature at a ceremony in Sweden.

The choice of Handke was controversial because of his support for the Serbian side in the 1990s Yugoslav war.

The ambassadors of countries including Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo and Turkey boycotted the ceremony in protest.

Olga Tokarczuk, who is considered the leading Polish novelist of her generation, also collected her belated 2018 literature prize.

Handke, 76, was recognised for “an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience”, the Academy said when the award was announced in October.

But a 58,000-strong petition called for the award to be revoked.

And as dignitaries arrived in limousines for the awards ceremony, about a dozen protesters waved placards with slogans such as “No Nobel for Fake News”, reported Reuters news agency.

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Olga Tokarczuk, pictured with Peter Handke, received the literature prize for 2018

“The problem with Handke is his refusal to admit genocide on the Bosnian population in the 1990s,” said Adnan Mahmutović, one of the organisers of Tuesday’s demonstration in Stockholm.

“As a serious, established writer who has a lot of clout in European literature, Handke has been used in the narrative of genocide denial in the Balkans,” said Mahmutovic, who fled to Sweden as a refugee from the war in Bosnia in 1993.

Protest resignation

The choice of Handke came as the Academy struggled to recover from a sexual assault scandal that resulted in the 2018 prize being postponed and awarded this year to Polish author Olga Tokarczuk while Handke was named the recipient for 2019.

The assault controversy involved the husband of a former member, the poet and writer Katarina Frostenson.

French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, who ran a cultural project with funding from the Swedish Academy, was accused by 18 women of sexual assault.

Several of the alleged incidents reportedly happened in properties belonging to the Academy. Mr Arnault denies the allegations.

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The Nobel Literature Prize winner receives a medal, a diploma and £740,000 in prize money

One external member of the Nobel literature committee resigned earlier this month over the choice of Handke.

Gun-Britt Sundstrom said the choice of Handke had been interpreted as if literature stood above politics and she did not agree.

Another external committee member, Kristoffer Leandoer, said he had left because Academy reforms following the sexual assault scandal were taking too long.

In a 1996 book, Handke cast doubt on the Bosnia Serb massacre of men and boys at Srebrenica and accused Bosnian Muslims of staging attacks.

In a TV interview in 1999, he compared Serbia’s fate to that of Jews during the Holocaust – although he later apologised for that “slip of the tongue”. In 2006, he spoke at the funeral of Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic, who was accused of genocide and other war crimes.

However, the Academy quoted a 2006 article in which Handke said the Srebrenica massacre was the worst crime against humanity in Europe since Word War Two.

‘It’s literature’

At a press conference in Stockholm on Friday, Handke avoided questions on the Balkan wars.

“I like literature, not opinions,” he said.

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Alfred Nobel Museum in Stockholm holds the records for the Nobel Prize and its winners

But in an interview with German weekly Die Zeit in late November, Handke defended his writings.

“Not one word I have written about Yugoslavia can be denounced, not a single one. It’s literature,” he said.

He said that at the time “reporting about Serbia was monotone and one-sided,” Handke told Die Zeit.

‘Deserving winner’

One Nobel Committee for Literature member, Henrik Peterson, has argued that Handke is “radically unpolitical” in his writing, and his support for the Serbs has been misunderstood.

Mr Petersen is not the only committee member to defend Handke.

Rebecka Kärde said she didn’t want to “apologise for the hair-raising things that Handke has undoubtedly said and done”.

But she continued: “The Nobel committee must read the texts on Yugoslavia among another 70 works written over a period of 50 years. Which we did.”

They concluded that the author of books including Repetition, My Year in the No-Man’s-Bay and Die Obstdiebin “absolutely deserves a Nobel Prize”.

She added: “When we give the award to Handke, we argue that the task of literature is other than to confirm and reproduce what society’s central view believes is morally right.”

Handke himself reacted angrily to the response to his win, telling journalists: “No-one who comes to me says that he has read any of my works, that he knows what I have written. It’s just questions like how does the world react, reactions to reactions.”

He said he would never speak to the media again, according to Austrian broadcaster ORF.

In 2014 Handke called for the Nobel Literature Prize to be abolished, saying it conferred a “false canonisation” on the laureate.

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Roxette singer Marie Fredriksson dies, aged 61

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Roxette sold more than 80 million records worldwide

Roxette singer Marie Fredriksson has died aged 61, her manager has confirmed.

The Swedish star achieved global success in the 1990s with hits like Joyride, The Look and It Must Have Been Love, from the film Pretty Woman.

A statement said the singer had died on Monday, 9 December “following a 17-year long battle with cancer”.

“You were the most wonderful friend for over 40 years,” her bandmate Per Gessle said. “Things will never be the same.”

Fredriksson was first diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2002, after collapsing in her kitchen following a workout.

The tumour cost her the vision in her right eye – but after three years of treatment, she returned to public life and toured successfully again with Roxette from 2008 to 2016.

However, the cancer eventually returned: Fredriksson’s family said she had died following a recurrence of “her previous illness” earlier this week.

‘Magical live performances’

“Thank you, Marie, thanks for everything,” said Gessle in a heartfelt statement.

“You were an outstanding musician, a master of the voice, an amazing performer. Thanks for painting my black and white songs in the most beautiful colours. You were the most wonderful friend for over 40 years.

“I’m proud, honoured and happy to have been able to share so much of your time, talent, warmth, generosity and sense of humour. All my love goes out to you and your family.”

“Marie leaves us a grand musical legacy,” added her manager Marie Dimberg.

“Her amazing voice – both strong and sensitive – and her magical live performances will be remembered by all of us who were lucky enough to witness them. But we also remember a wonderful person with a huge appetite for life, and woman with a very big heart who cared for everybody she met.”

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Hailing from Halmstad, Sweden, Roxette first met in the late 1970s, when Fredriksson was a member of the pop outfit Strul & Ma Mas Barn and Gessle was playing with Gyllene Tider, one of Sweden’s biggest groups.

They teamed up in 1986, becoming huge stars in their homeland with the single Neverending Love, followed by a hit album, Pearls of Passion.

Despite their popularity in Scandinavia, Capitol Records declined to release their records in the US.

It wasn’t until an American student studying in Sweden brought a copy of their second album home to Minneapolis, and persuaded a local radio DJ to play The Look, that they achieved international fame.

That song became the first of four US number ones for the band, while its parent album, Look Sharp!, went platinum.

They achieved their biggest success when their 1987 Christmas single, It Must Have Been Love, was re-written for inclusion on the Pretty Woman soundtrack in 1990. It topped the charts in more than 10 countries, and gave the band their biggest UK hit, reaching number three.

‘Full of fear’

Roxette continued to tour and release albums throughout the 1990s – eventually selling more than 80m records worldwide.

Known for breezy pop hits like Dressed For Success and power ballads such as Listen To Your Heart, they cheekily summarised their songwriting philosophy in the title to their 1995 greatest hits album, Don’t Bore Us, Get To The Chorus.

After a brief hiatus, during which Gessle reunited with Gyllene Tider, the duo scored further hit albums with 1999’s Have a Nice Day, and 2001’s Room Service.

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The singer retired from touring in 2015

Fredriksson’s devastating cancer diagnosis came the following year. She spent three years receiving treatment, and later wrote about the “fear” she’d experienced in a solo record, called The Change.

Suddenly the change was here,” she sang, “Cold as ice and full of fear / There was nothing I could do / I saw slow motion pictures / Of me and you.”

In 2005, Fredriksson told Sweden’s Aftonbladet newspaper her treatment had been successful, saying: “It’s been three really hard years [but] I’m healthy.”

The singer took up painting during her treatment, but surprised Roxette fans by making a return to the stage with Gessle in Amsterdam in 2008.

The band later mounted a comeback tour that sold out venues across Europe, and released several new albums but, by 2016, Fredriksson’s health was failing and doctors advised her to stop touring.

‘Beautiful colours’

In her autobiography, the singer wrote about the impact cancer had on her life.

“At last, it feels like I have reconciled myself to having a radiation injury to live with. That this is how it turned out,” she said in The Love Of Life.

“I have lost many years through the disease. And it is also a sadness to age. But every day I think I’m grateful to be sitting here. And that I can still sing.”

In her final single, 2018’s Sing Me A Song, the star appeared to address her mortality, singing: “The love I had and gave / Makes it hard to say goodbye” over an elegant, mournful jazz backing.

Fredriksson is survived by her husband Mikael Bolyos and their two children.

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