x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Scottish comedian Billy Connolly is on an Arctic roll

Connolly fulfils his childhood travel dreams with a coast-to-coast Arctic adventure across Canada's fabled Northwest Passage.

Billy Connolly traversed the Canadian Arctic in Journey to the Edge of the World. Courtesy ITV Studios
Billy Connolly traversed the Canadian Arctic in Journey to the Edge of the World. Courtesy ITV Studios

When Billy Connolly decides to take the scenic route across Canada, he doesn’t fool around.

In Billy Connolly: Journey to the Edge of the World, first broadcast in 2009, the Scottish comedian turns intrepid explorer as he
embarks on a rare and remote journey through Canada’s Arctic Archipelago – the treacherous Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, attempted and failed by hundreds before him.

One has to wonder what “The Big Yin” (The Big One), as he’s affectionately known at home, ate for breakfast on the morning he got the gumption to boldly go and hang out with colossal icebergs and mingle with the Inuit communities that dot the bleak terrain.

“The outstanding thing about Canada is that there is hardly anybody there,” says Connolly. “The first impression you get is: ‘My God, there is nobody here.’ Canada is just staggering in that respect, they all seem to clump along the border and there is this huge bit at the top, a lot of which is snow-covered – but a lot of it isn’t.

“There are many mountainous lake-filled areas, forest areas, just the most breathtakingly beautiful place and it’s a wonderful thing to show the world, that there is space, there is room, because people think we’re all living shoulder to shoulder and there’s no room and we’re eating all the food – it just simply isn’t the truth.”

“It’s a journey straight out of a boy’s own imagination,” says the executive producer Bill Jones.

“It’s a journey by seaplane, by icebreaker, on precipitous narrow-gauge railways, on dirt-track roads, on a Harley, in helicopters and on foot through the remote wilderness. A journey along a coastline jewelled by icebergs and across wild landscapes that represent the final Northern frontier of the inhabited world, for both man and beast.”

Connolly will meet Inuit, fishermen, hunters, cowboys, aboriginals, lumberjacks, hikers, bikers, Mounties and bush pilots — all real people in real situations.

He admits to taking a few changes of clothes with him.

“Well, I smelt pretty bad at some points but that’s OK, I don’t mind, and I am sure the moose and bears don’t mind. But in the wild, it was lovely. You know that leafy smell, that leafy muggy smell that you notice right away in the country.”

As he embarks on his journey in this four-hour documentary series, Connolly discovers that the New World isn’t all that different from the Old World, as he encounters familiar traditions in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, two of Canada’s easternmost provinces steeped in seagoing lore.

As a lad who grew up in the grim tenements of Glasgow, Connolly recalls how reading adventure stories set in Canada gave him a form of escape. Now 70, his journey allowed him to go in search of his childhood dreams. In intimate conversations with the camera and during his animated gabs with the people he meets, his winning personality shines through.

In next week’s second episode, Connolly heads north to Baffin Island, where he samples Inuit food, is kitted out for a sealskin suit and learns about the local trades and hobbies on the edge of the world.

Expect some eye-popping scenery as he flies a helicopter into a national park above the Arctic Circle and goes on a stomach-churning seal hunt.

Says Connolly: “I mean to show people something, hopefully, they never saw before and are entertained and delighted by, maybe even horrified by, but to present them with something they didn’t know existed or in a way they that they never knew existed.”

Billy Connolly: Journey to the Edge of the World is broadcast at 9pm tonight on ITV Choice HD

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