Sir Billy Connolly: I was lucky to escape Glasgow's 'death trap' shipyards

Sir Billy Connolly has shrugged off his health problems in a new autobiography - by revealing how lucky he feels to have escaped working in “death trap” Glasgow shipyards.

Sunday, 10th October 2021, 11:42 am
Updated Sunday, 10th October 2021, 1:08 pm

Connolly, who was diagnosed with both Parkinson's disease and prostate cancer in 2013, insists his health could have been “a lot worse” due to the number of shipyard workers who suffered from asbestosis in later life.

Glasgow born Connolly, now 78, was in his early twenties when he turned his back on the Clyde shipyards to pursue a career as an entertainer.

Connolly, now 78, who gave up touring in 2018 due to the impact of Parkinson’s, says he is loving life in Florida, where he moved after his diagnosis.

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He insists he is "rather jolly" because he his still able to make TV shows and draw with his family around him,

Connolly has also opened up on the impact a drinking problem and chaotic lifestyle had on his first marriage, to Iris Pressagh, and how his second wife, Pamela Stephenson, persuaded him to give up alcohol 35 years ago.

Born in 1942, Connolly first started performing as a folk singer and formed the band The Humblebums, who also featured the singer Gerry Rafferty. After they split, Connolly found huge success with his solo records, which featured his now-legendary earliest comedy routines.

In an extract of Windswept and Interesting, published in the The Mail on Sunday, Sir Billy writes: “The diseases they talk about now due to welding weren’t known when I was there. The main killer was asbestos.

Sir Billy Connolly has written his first ever autobiography. Picture: John Devlin

"Just like coal miners got silicosis – black lung disease – shipyard workers got asbestosis.

“We’d be working in the engine room – deep penetration welding – and our lips would become all black and yellow.

"We’d come out for a smoke and they’d be cladding the pipes around us, so it would be snowing asbestos. I remember it being in my hair. The place was a death trap.

“I was very lucky that after I did my five-year apprenticeship, I stayed on as a welder for only two or three more years and left in my early twenties.

Sir Billy Connolly's autobiography will be published this week.

“But many men were there much longer and got asbestosis in their forties or fifties. I remember older welders spitting up all kinds of nasty black stuff.

“They were wonderful people and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. They were real patter merchants, those men, and it was through them I first understood you could be incredibly funny without telling jokes.”

Recalling being diagnosed with Parkinson’s by a specialist in New York, where he was living at the time, he writes: “It was a huge shock, and quite frightening. This thing wasn’t going to go away. It was a big unwelcome aspect of my life that was going to have to be dealt with.

“After a while, the symptoms came crashing in. It became very scary once I started having trouble getting out of chairs because I thought I was going to be condemned to that for ever.

"Eventually the scariness diminished, I just accepted it. You can’t stay scared for ever. There was no pain, just a sort of doom that came with it, but you soon got used to it. You just carry it around as another wee burden.”