Alistair McGowan

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Alistair McGowan
Birth nameAlistair Charles McGowan
Born (1964-11-24) 24 November 1964 (age 55)
Evesham, Worcestershire, England
MediumTelevision, radio and stand-up
Years active1980s–present
GenresImpressions, sketch comedy
SpouseCharlotte Page
Notable works and rolesThe Big Impression
You Cannot Be Serious
WebsiteOfficial website

Alistair Charles McGowan (born 24 November 1964) is an English impressionist, comic, actor, singer and writer best known to British audiences for The Big Impression (formerly Alistair McGowan's Big Impression), which was, for four years, one of BBC1's top-rating comedy programmes – winning numerous awards, including a BAFTA in 2003.[1] He has also worked extensively in theatre and appeared in the West End in Art, Cabaret, The Mikado and Little Shop of Horrors (for which he received a Laurence Olivier Award nomination).[2] As a television actor, he played the lead role in BBC1's Mayo. He wrote the play Timing (nominated as Best New Comedy at the awards[3]) and the book A Matter of Life and Death or How to Wean Your Man off Football with former comedy partner Ronni Ancona. He also provided voices for Spitting Image.

He made his debut broadcast as a tennis commentator for BBC Sport at the 2011 Wimbledon Championships.

In 2012, McGowan wrote and hosted the ITV comedy sports show You Cannot Be Serious, in which his impressions included Roy Hodgson, Jedward and Louie Spence.

Early life and education[edit]

McGowan was born in Evesham, Worcestershire, to Marion and George McGowan. Although they knew that their father had been born in Calcutta, India, Alistair and his sister Kay were unaware that their father had an ethnically Anglo-Indian background until McGowan explored his ancestry on BBC One's Who Do You Think You Are? programme in an episode broadcast on 26 October 2007,[4] four years after his father's death.

McGowan attended the Simon de Montfort Middle School in Evesham, where he took lead roles in school productions, and went on to Evesham High School.[5] He graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA English degree in 1986.[6] He then went to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, graduating in 1989.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

McGowan was in a relationship for seven years with fellow television comedian Ronni Ancona. In August 2013 McGowan married his girlfriend Charlotte Page alongside whom he had performed in The Mikado.[7]

McGowan is a supporter of Leeds United, even claiming that he decided to study at Leeds partly because of its proximity to Elland Road,[8] and Coventry City, the team closest to the area where he spent his late teens,[9] and his interest in football forms the basis of his 2009 book A Matter of Life and Death.[10] On 17 December 2012 edition of Countdown, Susie Dent revealed that McGowan neither owns a car nor drives.

When asked about having children, McGowan revealed his dislike of children, and while he did consider starting a family after his father died, he ultimately decided not to.


McGowan found work as a comedian, and performed some of the voices for the ITV television series Spitting Image. His sporting impressions were showcased on the BBC 2 football magazine programme Sick as a Parrot. He also appeared as the recycling man in the BBC show Think about Science.

Later he took over from Stephen Tompkinson playing Spock in the Tim Firth comedy drama, Preston Front. In his early career, McGowan had minor roles in shows such as Children's Ward, and in the pilot episode of Jonathan Creek. He also was a series regular in the first season of Dead Ringers.

McGowan also appeared in the Scottish football sketch show Only an Excuse? from 1996 to 1998. He also hosted and starred in a sporting impressions show on Radio 5 live called The Game's Up in the late 1990s.

In 1998, McGowan provided all of the voice characterisation in the 1998 revival of James the Cat for Channel 5 and later in the 2000s, went onto provide guest voices for Yoko! Jakamoko! Toto! and Planet Sketch both for CITV (Yoko! Jakamoko! Toto! later went onto air on both the BBC and CBeebies in 2008).

Since 2 June 2012, McGowan has hosted and written ITV comedy show You Cannot Be Serious! Impressions include England manager Roy Hodgson, Eurovision Duo Jedward and TV personality Louie Spence.

McGowan was a part of the BBC TV series 24 Hours in the Past, along with Colin Jackson, Miquita Oliver, Ann Widdecombe, Tyger Drew-Honey and Zöe Lucker. The four-part series was aired from 28 April till 19 May 2015 on BBC 1.

The Big Impression[edit]

He is best known the TV show The Big Impression, formerly Alistair McGowan's Big Impression.

His celebrity impressions include David Beckham, Sven-Göran Eriksson, Gary Lineker, Nicky Campbell, Richard Madeley, Tony Blair, Prince Charles, Robert Kilroy-Silk, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Angus Deayton, Terry Wogan and the fictional characters Ross Geller (from Friends) and Dot Cotton (from EastEnders).

McGowan and Ronni Ancona are probably best known for their portrayal of Posh and Becks with McGowan exaggerating David Beckham's perceived lack of intelligence[citation needed] and Ancona exaggerating the role of "Posh Spice" (Victoria Beckham) with pouting lips. As the Beckhams' style of dress regularly changed – in particular David's changing haircuts – McGowan adapted his costumes and style accordingly. In later years he developed his portrayal of Beckham into a brainiac infuriated by Posh's lack of intelligence.

Return to acting and radio work (2005)[edit]

He made a return to dramatic acting in 2005, appearing in the BBC's adaptation of Charles Dickens's novel Bleak House. He also appeared at the Chichester Festival Theatre in two plays; the first was a new translation of Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector by Alistair Beaton, the second was a new play called 5/11, which was produced to mark the 400 year anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot. In 2006 he starred in the detective series Mayo. He also presented an episode of Have I Got News for You on 20 October 2006. He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company for the Christmas 2006 season playing Mr Page in Merry Wives: the Musical (a version of The Merry Wives of Windsor) opposite Judi Dench, Simon Callow and Haydn Gwynne.

Despite his acting commitments, he continued to appear on BBC Radio and television as an announcer and as an impersonator. He has re-voiced video footage of BBC Sports Personality of the Year and Match of the Day.[11]

In 2007 McGowan starred as Orin Scrivello (and other, smaller characters) in the West End transfer of the Menier Chocolate Factory's revival of Little Shop of Horrors, and filmed My Life in Ruins, an American comedy film set in the ruins of ancient Greece. In 2008 he made his directing debut at Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Noël Coward's classic comedy Semi-Monde.[12]

In January and February 2008 McGowan starred as the eponymous protagonist of The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan, in a revival by the Carl Rosa Opera Company. On 21 April 2008 he took over the role of Emcee in Cabaret at London's Lyric Theatre. In July of that year he appeared in a revival of They're Playing Our Song at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

In March 2009 McGowan starred as the Duke in the stage version of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure.[13]

Alistair appeared as a host on one episode of the fifth series of Live at the Apollo, which aired on 1 January 2010.

McGowan appeared in Skins in February 2011. He played Nick's coach in the fifth episode of the new series. On 12 March 2011 he played the part of the Pirate King in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, at the Barbican Hall, London.[14] and, later in the year, took over from Rupert Everett the part of Henry Higgins in Pygmalion at the Garrick Theatre, opposite Kara Tointon as Eliza Doolittle. In April 2011, he took to the stage at the Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside Arts Centre at the University of Nottingham in David Mamet's controversial drama Oleanna. Also in 2011 he co-starred in the CBBC series Leonardo as Piero di Cosimo de' Medici. On 9 June 2011 he was unveiled as the newest addition to the BBC Wimbledon commentary team.

In 2013 McGowan embarked on a fifty-date stand-up tour in his show Not Just A Pretty Voice. He also took part, with Eddie Izzard, in the first ever stand-up show performed by two English comics totally in French in Sheffield.[15] His voice appeared in the film The Unbeatables.

From 10 June to 11 July 2015 McGowan starred in An Audience with Jimmy Savile, a play about Jimmy Savile, written by Jonathan Maitland, at the Park Theatre in London.[16][17][18][19]


In 2013 McGowan explained in a piece for The Guardian that he had "... hero-worshipped the French composer Erik Satie for many years. Not only was he a hugely innovative and visionary composer – but he was also a man with a passion for all forms of art."[20]

In October 2014 McGowan narrated, in the guise of Satie, a concert of surrealist ballet music from Paris in the 1920s, given by the BBC Concert Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London and broadcast live by BBC Radio 3.[21]

In September 2017 he released a debut album on Sony Classical. featuring performances of several short classical pieces, all chosen and learned by him. Previously McGowan could only ever play two pieces, but then practised for up to six hours a day, over a nine-month period, despite already being in his early 50s.[22]

Environmental work[edit]

McGowan serves as an ambassador to WWF-UK, part of the global World Wide Fund for Nature, and campaigns on a number of environmental issues. He is a patron of the urban tree-planting charity Trees for Cities.

In 2004 he launched 'the BIG recycle' national recycling campaign.[23] In August 2006 he appeared on Steve Wright's BBC Radio 2 show to appeal to listeners to be more energy aware. In June 2007 he appeared on the James Whale Show on Talksport to also talk this issue.

In January 2009 it was announced that McGowan in partnership with three other Greenpeace activists, including actress Emma Thompson, had bought land near Sipson, Middlesex, a village under threat from the proposed third runway for Heathrow Airport.[24] It is hoped that the area of ground, half the size of a football pitch, will prevent the government from carrying through its plan to expand Heathrow. The field, bought for an undisclosed sum from a local land owner, will be split into small squares and sold across the globe. When interviewed Mr McGowan said: "BAA were so confident of getting the Government's go ahead, but we have cunningly bought the land they need to build their runway."[25]

In 2009 he attended the Bromley Environmental Awards and was the celebrity guest at Bromley Civic Centre where the awards were presented to various schools in the borough.

In June 2011 it was announced that McGowan had become a Patron of the Friends of Brandwood End Cemetery, where over 30 members of his extended family are interred.[26]

In politics, prior to the 2015 UK general election, he was one of several celebrities who endorsed the parliamentary candidacy of the Green Party's Caroline Lucas.[27]

Other work[edit]


  1. ^ "Television Awards Categories – Television – Awards – The BAFTA site". 7 July 2005. Retrieved 28 January 2012.
  2. ^ "Olivier Winners 2008 | The Official London Theatre Guide". Archived from the original on 24 May 2010. Retrieved 28 January 2012.
  3. ^ " Awards – Theatregoers' Choice Awards". Retrieved 28 January 2012.
  4. ^ Alistair McGowan (26 October 2007). "BBC One – Who Do You Think You Are?, Series 4, Alistair McGowan". Retrieved 28 January 2012.
  5. ^ "Comedian joins campaign for wildlife". Ludlow & Tenbury Wells Advertiser. 28 August 2003. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-04.
  6. ^ "Public eye | Who's been here | Alumni | University". Retrieved 15 July 2014.
  7. ^ Walker, Tim (3 August 2013). "Alistair McGowan secretly marries his girlfriend". Telegraph. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  8. ^ Jeffries, Stuart (23 September 2009). "Alistair McGowan: 'Football cost me my partner, Ronnie Ancona'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
  9. ^ the guardian 5 October 2017 [1][permanent dead link]
  10. ^ "Faber & Faber : A Matter of Life and Death [Ronni Ancona & Alistair McGowan, 9780571250547]". Archived from the original on 24 January 2010. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  11. ^ "Dave: Who's on Dave: Alistair McGowan". 29 March 2007. Archived from the original on 11 October 2007. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  12. ^ "McGown's directorial debut photo and link to press release". 24 October 2008. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  13. ^ 1 TORQUAY MAN (27 March 2009). "Measure for Measure at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre " Express & Star". Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  14. ^ "The Pirates of Penzance". Barbican. Archived from the original on 18 February 2011.
  15. ^ "» Alistair Mcgowan – Not Just A Pretty Voice Available To Download Now". Archived from the original on 14 June 2015. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  16. ^ Masters, Tim (7 June 2015). "Jimmy Savile: critics hail Alistair McGowan's role as 'revolting' DJ - BBC News". BBC News. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  17. ^ Matilda Battersby (11 June 2014). "An Audience with Jimmy Savile: Victim felt 'quite unwell' watching Alistair McGowan's 'uncanny' portrayal of paedophile DJ - News - Theatre & Dance". The Independent. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  18. ^ Lawrence, Ben (11 June 2015). "An Audience with Jimmy Savile, Park Theatre, review: 'merely depressing'". Telegraph. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  19. ^ "Comic Alistair McGowan praised for Jimmy Savile portrayal". Yorkshire Post. 4 June 2015. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  20. ^ McGowan, Alistair (12 July 2013). "Erik and Me: Alistair McGowan on Satie". The Guardian.
  21. ^ "BBC Radio 3 - Radio 3 Live in Concert, BBC Concert Orchestra - Milhaud, Satie, Porter, Le groupe des Six". 2 October 2014. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  22. ^ "Alistair McGowan releases debut solo piano album". 8 August 2017.
  23. ^ "Alistair McGowan | Observer ethical awards | The Observer". 14 January 2007. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  24. ^ "UK | England | London | Protesters buy up Heathrow land". BBC News. 13 January 2009. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  25. ^ "Celebs buy Heathrow expansion land". 13 January 2009. Archived from the original on 7 June 2009.
  26. ^ "Alistair McGowan becomes a Patron of the Friends of Brandwood End Cemetery". Friends of Brandwood End Cemetery. 14 June 2011. Retrieved 15 June 2011.
  27. ^ Elgot, Jessica (24 April 2015). "Celebrities sign statement of support for Caroline Lucas – but not the Greens". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 July 2015.

External links[edit]