He only has to open his mouth for John Bishop’s roots to become obvious.

His thick Scouse accent immediately identifies him as a Liverpudlian.

But many of the turning points and crucial moments in the comedian’s life have taken place in the Midlands.

It was here that he proposed, stark naked, to his wife.

It was whilst visiting a friend in Solihull when he picked up a hitchhiker who gave him the idea of cycling halfway round the world.

It was thanks to Midland film director Ken Loach that he got his big acting break.

And it was while playing football for a good friend, former Aston Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov, that he received his biggest laugh – from 65,000 people when he missed a penalty.

He also says his best gigs have taken place in Birmingham, where he is to return to the NIA next year on tour.

“Birmingham has always been brilliant for me,” says John, 46.

“The gigs I did at the NIA last year were absolutely electric, as good as any I’ve ever had. The audiences are so up for it.

“There isn’t a difference in humour between the north and south, people will laugh at the same things if it’s funny, but there are differences in the warmth you get back from the audience, and in Birmingham it’s second to none.

“The Midlands is like a junction in the country from where you can go north, south, east or west. And it has changed the direction of my life, as a lot of big decisions and moments have happened in the Midlands.”

Many of those moments are chronicled in his autobiography, How Did All This Happen?, published this week.

John will be signing copies at WH Smith in Union Street, Birmingham, on Sunday, and at Waterstones in Merry Hill on Saturday, October 26.

He recalls how he was enjoying a weekend break at a guest house in Buxton in Derbyshire when he proposed to his wife of 20 years, Melanie, while naked on one knee after a shower.

A more public emotional moment came last month when he played football for the Petrov XI at Celtic Park.

He was introduced to ‘Stan’ Petrov, who is recovering from leukaemia, by mutual friend Kenny Dalglish.

John turned out for him in a charity match, which included celebrities Louis Tomlinson from One Direction and footballers Gabby Agbonlahor and John Terry.

John says: “It was one of the most emotional experiences of my life.

“To hear 65,000 fans singing You’ll Never Walk Alone was so powerful. I was stood next to Jamie Redknapp and we were both welling up.

“Stan is such a warm, genuine person. I said to him afterwards ‘You got that reception not because you are a footballer, but because you are who you are’. The love people have for him is wonderful.

“But, yes, I did miss a penalty. Nobody else wanted to take it, and I thought I’d do it for a bit of fun – I’m a comedian, no-one expects anything from me!

John Bishop’s family welcome him home after his amazing feat of endurance for Sport Relief, which raised more than £4m.
John Bishop’s family welcome him home after his amazing feat of endurance for Sport Relief, which raised more than £4m.
 

“But I missed and everyone laughed at me. That is the biggest laugh I’ve ever got, maybe I should incorporate it into my act.”

John is known for raising more than £4 million for Sport Relief with his extraordinary feat of endurance last year. He cycled 185 miles from Paris to Calais, rowed across the English Channel, then ran 90 miles in three days from Dover to London.

But that wasn’t his first mammoth charity fundraising experience. In 1992 he flew to Australia and then cycled home (with a few flights along the way), raising £30,000 for the NSPCC.

He got the idea while visiting one of his best friends, Jimmy, who then lived in Solihull and now lives in Stratford-upon-Avon.

On his way home he picked up a hitchhiker, Tim Sumner, who had just returned from cycling the length of South America. His enthusiasm gave John the idea of his own epic trip.

In another Midlands connection, Nuneaton-born director Ken Loach gave John his acting break when he cast him as one of the leads in his film Route Irish.

John says: “That was something I could never possibly envisage. I’m genuinely a huge fan and I just went to the audition because I wanted to meet him. I never expected to get the part.”

There’s another Midland project that John can’t enthuse about. He is vehemently against the £50bn HS2 rail line.

The high speed rail link is designed to release space on crowded lines, create thousands of jobs and generate investment, as well as bring London to within 45 minutes of Birmingham.

The line will then be extended from Birmingham to Manchester and will come within a mile of John’s house in the Cheshire countryside.

He says: “We won’t be able to see it, so it won’t really affect us. But it does affect my neighbours.

“My wife went to a meeting in the village and a woman in her late 60s held up a letter she had received, saying her house is on the line and might have to be knocked down in 15 years.

“She has lost everything, as she can’t sell the house now. They have steamrollered people like her.

“I think I’m the type of person they are building the line for, but I don’t want it.

“I regularly get the train down to London, in fact I used it three times in five days and never saw the carriage more than a third full, so I don’t know how they can say it’s overcrowded.

“And how fast do we really want to go? It takes me two hours to get to London and I haven’t even finished reading the paper by then.

“There are so many other things we could be spending this vast amount of money on, like education and health.

“And in 15 years’ time, I don’t think people will be travelling to London so much for meetings, as they’ll be using technology like Skype to communicate.”

John’s life story is a funny and fascinating one, and the book is all his own work.

“I typed every word myself, it was painful,” he remembers. “But I thought I’m only going to get one chance to do this and I want to make it my book.

“The first 30,000 words were the worst, trying to make out what from my early life was important and what made me the person I am today.”

He recounts how he fell in love with Melanie and they had three sons, only for them to drift apart. They were separated and on the brink of a divorce when John got into comedy as a hobby – it was something to occupy his lonely nights alone when he didn’t see his children.

A few months later, Melanie was a surprise member of the audience at one of his gigs. She said the man on stage was the man she had married, they got talking and eventually got back together again.

Melanie supported John’s decision when he gave up a high-powered job as head of marketing at a pharmaceutical company for the UK and Europe to concentrate on comedy. His agent even advised against it, as he was earning almost £70,000.

He certainly wondered if he’d made the wrong decision when he played to just 17 people at Leicester Comedy Festival in 2009. To thank them for turning up, he bought them all a drink.

But that was just two weeks before he was thrust into the spotlight by appearing on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow TV programme.

By the time the year was out, he had also been interviewed by Jonathan Ross, acted in a film, started a sell-out tour and been nominated for the main award at the Edinburgh Festival.

Now he is one of comedy’s highest earners, raking in more than £4 million a year.

So what does he spend it on? There’s the five-a-side pitch in the garden of his luxury Cheshire home where he plays with his mates and his sons Joe, 19, Luke, 17, and Daniel, 15.

But apart from that, he hasn’t gone in for much conspicuous spending.

“If we go on long haul flights, I like to upgrade to first class,” he says. “I love having a flat bed on a plane, that’s my indulgence.

“We flew back from Dubai recently and when I landed at Manchester I said ‘I don’t want to get off the plane, I just want to fly back!’. To sit there in my tracksuit, watching films with no phones ringing, that’s brilliant.

“Mind you, we go on holiday to Majorca and the only way there is with budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet. Every time I go on them, people call me a tight git!

“I live a life that I often think is someone else’s, but I don’t want to lose the magic and become too used to it. As a family, I think we have kept as normal as possible.

“I think if it all stopped now, I would be happy. Actually, it if had stopped three years ago I would think I’d done a lot more than I thought possible.

“I’d like to try more writing and directing, but I’ll always do stand-up, I become grumpy if I don’t.”