Rhod Gilbert puts his body on the line

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The man with the most unusual tattoo in show business is heading to Sunderland for a show based on his odd body art. Katy Wheeler finds out more.

HOT on the heels of his best-selling stand-up DVDs and previous sell-out UK tours, Welsh wonder Rhod Gilbert is back on the road with a new show.

He plays the Sunderland Empire on Saturday with his The Man with the Flaming Battenburg Tattoo tour.

A regular on Live At The Apollo and with his own BBC One show, Ask Rhod Gilbert, he’s become well-known for his TV work, but Rhod says he’s looking forward to treading the boards once more. However, those expecting one of his famous rants on life’s minor irritations, should expect a more mellow Rhod.

He explains: “The show has sort of evolved from the last tour. It’s a story show, a blend of fact and fiction, but I’m slightly more mellow now. There’s still plenty of ranting and raving, but it’s a gentler, more playful me.

“I think that’s down to this battenburg tattoo and how I got it, but also it’s partly down to old age.”

He added: “TV brings with its own stresses and strains that just aren’t there with live shows. That’s how I started out, that’s how I see myself: stand up is what I do.”

In 2010 Rhod was invited to host his own series for BBC One: Ask Rhod Gilbert. In this panel show, Rhod set out to answer all manner of burning questions from the sublime to the ridiculous with the help of special guests and regulars Greg Davies and Lloyd Langford.

The series was a huge ratings success, attracting more than two million viewers each week. A second series was commissioned, and Rhod returned to BBC One last autumn with another eight episodes of Ask.

Rhod has also written and recorded two series of Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience for BBC2, trying his hand at all manner of ordinary day jobs – from being a binman in Barry to butler to a Lord and a tattoo artist.

The latter TV show is the reason Rhod has a flaming image of a cake – created in honour of the marriage of Queen Victoria’s granddaughter to Prince Louis of Battenberg – on his shoulder.

“I had the tattoo done for a TV show where I went to a tattooist on work experience,” he said.

“It’s a sign of how petty I am because I always want to win an argument. I said tattoos are pointless and to prove my point I went and had the most pointless tattoo ever.

“It could have been anything, but that was the most pointless thing I could think of at the time.”

Petty it may be, but there’s no denying the tattoo is a talking point – especially at his local swimming pool.

“It’s fine if someone has seen the show and knows why I’ve had it done, but otherwise they give you a funny look,” he explains.

The tour will see Rhod taking to stages for most of the year with more than 100 dates, but he’s no stranger to being on the road.

Rhod has been a sell-out at the Edinburgh festival every year since 2005 and is well acquainted with regional audiences across the UK

“There are certain places on the tour where I know I’ll have a good time,” he explains. “And other places you’re a bit more worried about. The posher the place, and the more well to do the people, the harder I find it.

“The North East is fine though. It’s an industrial place and it’s great fun. They like a lively show up there.”

l Rhod Gilbert plays the Sunderland Empire on Saturday. For tickets, Tel. 0844 871 3022.

l He plays the Tyne Theatre on Sunday and Monday. Tickets are £25 from Tel. 0844 493 9999.