Interview with Adam Hills: SU2C 2021

Category: Press Pack Article

Why is SU2C so important to you?
It always has importance to me. My dad died of cancer in 2012, and it was just as The Last Leg had started to hit over here. We did the Paralympic shows, there was an offer of it possibly becoming a regular series, and me having a career here. And so one of the last things he said to me, when I told him all about that in hospital, was “Good luck in London.” That was literally the last full sentence he said to me. So to have ended up in London, it kind of felt like he was saying that meant I was here for a reason. So to be doing The Last Leg, but then to have the opportunity to co-host Stand Up to Cancer, it felt like that was the right path to be on. So, in a way, I’m doing it for him.

Will he be in your thoughts on the night, or do you have to block all of that out?
Usually, on a night like that, and in fact even today for the photo shoot, I wore the watch that he used to wear. So every now and again when I’m doing something in London and I feel like taking him with me, I’ll put the watch on. I’ll have that on, on the night, definitely. But the night itself then becomes about everybody else. The videos and the packages and the guests. I spoke about him at length a few years ago, but it’s still really raw. I’m doing it for him, every time. Doing a promo with the line “We’re going to kick cancer’s arse” reminds me of him, because his saying was “I’m going to kick cancer in the dick”. So even just saying that line on camera makes me feel like I’m doing it for him.

I know details are vague, but can you talk about anything that will happen on the night?
I don’t. I just go by what’s happened in the past. It’s going to be really, really emotional, there’s going to be a line-up of guests that is just unbelievable – I mean, like you genuinely can’t believe that they’re all in the same room – and hopefully we’ll raise an enormous amount of money. It’s such an incredible night, and we’ll be drained afterwards. And personally, there will be moments when I’m watching videos in tears, and then having to do jokes five minutes later, and mad things will come up last minute, and it’ll be a scramble. But it’s an incredibly worthwhile night to do. And weirdly, having done four of these now, it feels like the family all coming back together – Davina, Alan and Maya, and also the producers, the people that feature in the video packages. And sometimes you come back one year and find out that someone’s no longer with us, and it’s like losing a family member. And other years you’ll see a video package of someone who’s kicked on. Or you’ll see them backstage, and it’s like a little reunion that you didn’t know you were going to have. So it feels like the Stand Up to Cancer family coming back together.

Are there any of those videos that have stayed with you?
Yeah. I remember the husband talking about losing a child and a wife to cancer. That one in particular was just heart-breaking. One of the biggest eye-openers for me was the first year that I did it, standing next to Davina. There are two ways that you can make brilliant television in the UK, as far as I’m concerned. One is to stand next to Davina McCall, and the other is to stand next to Clare Balding. Either way, you will look like you know what you’re doing. I remember the first year, Davina and I having to do a link, we were up on the roof, and there was one little monitor, and she said, “Have you seen this video?” And I said, “No I haven’t.” And she said, “You’d better watch this, because I don’t think we should make jokes off the back of it.” So we both stood there, tears streaming down our faces, and we got to the end, and Davina went: “Throw the script out the window, just go with me.” Because she was right, you couldn’t make jokes after that. Moments like standing on stage, in front of however many hundreds of people are there, watching a video, and being in tears, is a really raw moment. So when I think of the videos, I think of that moment, with a whole bunch of people watching a video, and then looking to me off the back of it, going “Well, now what?” In a weird way it’s like feeling the weight of a nation and the sadness of a nation, or at least the sadness of all the viewers, all at the same time.

What’s striking, though, is that you guys don’t hide your emotions. It’s good to for audiences to see how invested you are, isn’t it?
Yeah, you can’t not show your emotions. On a purely objective level, you can’t, it would just be bad television. To come off a clip like that and then go “Hey! Let’s have some fun!” There is that. But, also, the job of what we’re doing is to be the conduit between the clips and the people who are watching, so you have to feel what they are feeling. And on top of all of that, you’re not human if you watch those clips and don’t feel anything. You’ve kind of got to balance this feeling of “I need to hold this show together and I need to move it along” with “I’m also really affected by what I’ve just seen, and I can’t just block that out”.

The show really cleverly strikes the balance between sadness and joy and comedy, without it ever jarring. That’s a real skill, isn’t it?
Yeah, I think if it was just a joyous night, people wouldn’t donate anything. You need to touch people emotionally, but you also need to celebrate life at the same time. Otherwise why are you fighting cancer, if not to celebrate life? The two things have to go hand in hand. So it is a rollercoaster of a night for all of us, and there’s a little bond between Alan, Maya, Davina, and I, and we all know what’ ahead of us. There will be moments when the autocue fails, or where the next person has changed and we have to go somewhere else, and you take a little bit of all of the people featured, you take a little bit of them with you, you take it home, and you take it to the next one.

What have been your favourite moments from SU2C in the past?
In no particular order: Me playing the drums on John Legend’s butt. I couldn’t even tell you why, I just know that we did it. Every time I see him singing a really poignant love song, all I can think is “I played drums on that guy’s butt!” The first year of Stand Up to Cancer, I ended up doing a Last Leg segment about a testicular cancer mascot from Mexico called Senor Testiculo. It was a person inside a giant testicle costume, and for some reason we thought it would be funny to recreate that, so we had a giant testicle costume made up and shipped to the venue -which, of course, is like a Presbyterian Hall. So there was great consternation that we’d basically brought a giant pair of testicles into a church. Standing on the stage next to Davina and Alan when the autocue whacked out midway through one of Alan’s jokes, and he didn’t bat an eyelid and remembered the rest of the joke, finished it off and moved on to the next piece. I’m sure if you look back you can see the fear in Davina and my eyes, but Alan just nailed it. Liam Gallagher giving a speech. Filming a video package where I talked about my dad, and the response of people to that.

Is it terrifying, fronting something that is live and, by nature, quite chaotic? I imagine it’s very much like The Last Leg in that respect.
Yes, and very much like doing stand-up comedy. Alan and I have done enough stand up to cope with that, and Davina’s hosted so much live TV. Maya did her first Stand Up to Cancer last time around and was just absolutely on it from the get-go. It’s a bit like losing control of a car in the middle of a motorway and realising there’s not much you can do about it, so you just have to relax and see where it ends up. The people behind it clearly know exactly what they’re doing, and put together an incredible night, but things go wrong, people don’t turn up, things change last minute, and you just have to be on your toes. I remember one year, I was doing some hosting stuff but also doing some Last Leg bits, and there was one bit where Davina and I were just in tears, and the cameras stopped and both just walked away, empty and broken, and the producer of The Last Leg came up to me to talk about the next segment we were doing, with a big a smile on his face and went “That went well!” I went “What did?” “That. That last bit.” So I said, “Did you see it?” And he went “No!” [Laughs] On top of all of that, there’s the moment at the end when you go into the Green Room, and you see all the people, whether they be the people that were in the video packages, or nurses or doctors, and there’s a real coming together and a feeling that we did something good. So yeah, it’s scary as hell, but that’s what we do.

SU2C has become a hugely recognised brand and is now a TV staple. Are you proud of the role you’ve played in that?
I feel completely honoured and lucky to be a part of it. My mum is always like “Come home. You’ve done enough over there, come home.” And I can’t explain to her what it is that I get to do over here, and how important it sometimes is. Yes, sometimes it’s just telling jokes, but there’s nothing like Stand Up to Cancer. There’s nothing like this show in Australia. To be an Aussie in the UK and to be entrusted with something so important, I want to take really good care of it, and when the time comes, I want to hand it on to the next person in good condition. I feel like I want to do my best for the show.

The programme is about raising awareness as well as funds. Last year, you took a particularly brave step to raise awareness about prostate cancer, didn’t you?
[Laughs] Last year, without Stand Up to cancer happening, we did a Stand Up to Cancer edition of The Last Leg. I had a prostate exam live on camera. At this point I’ve got no dignity left when it comes to television, but the point behind it was to show people that it’s not that big a deal. The amount of messages I’ve had on social media since then, from people saying, “Thanks to you I went and got myself checked out.” Just blokes who watched it and thought “That’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be.” And there was even one person where they discovered something, but it was really early on, and it might actually have saved his life. And having gone through it with my dad and seeing it first-hand… cancer is one of those words that people don’t want to say, they shiver when they say it, and understandably so. But if we can use what we do to try and explain it to people and demystify it, so much the better. So as well as raising money, if we can give something for people to take away, whether it’s understanding, or a way of changing your lifestyle, or taking the fear out of having a prostate exam, all those little things make a difference. It’s educational, it’s raising awareness as well as raising money.

How will you prepare for the night?
I’d like to think, in the days leading up to it, by getting lots of sleep and decent rest, but it’s usually not the case. By watching all of the videos – I learned that that is really important. By looking at the whole script and getting an idea of what all the show is about, not just the segments that I do. Knowing what Davina is talking about, knowing what the experts are saying. Getting a feel for the whole night. Otherwise you’re just presenting your bit. So getting my head around the whole show, and a feel for the people that are in it.

How will you wind down, at the end of it?
I’m off the booze at the moment, so winding down is a tricky thing to do. It’s good to catch up with everyone afterwards, especially the people you’ve hosted with, to go back over the show and have a proper debrief. But it’s such an emotional night, so then I’ll go home and have a long bath. And probably not go to sleep until way too late. That’s my plan!