“I realised that asthma had been a constant thorn in my side for years”

Actor and stand-up comedian Bill Bailey strengthened his lungs by learning to scuba dive

Bill Bailey“The first time it happened I was about 11 or 12. I’d been haring about in the garden and I got this feeling - this sort of tightness in my chest - and I didn’t know what it was. It was quite scary.

“At the time the treatment was tablets which took a good half an hour to kick in. So you just had to sit and not really breathe until the wheezing subsided. It was a bit unnerving, particularly at that age when your body’s doing weird things anyway.”

Facing your fears

“Asthma’s one of those things – when it’s not that prevalent, you just don’t think about it. But on a school trip to Austria, I went swimming in a lake with some friends. Halfway across I got this terrible asthma attack. I couldn’t breathe or swim - I was floundering about, trying to shout for help, but I couldn’t make any noise.

“It made me very wary of water and affected me profoundly until well into adulthood. It’s really only in the last few years that I’ve got over that. Now I’m almost overcompensating - I’ve been scuba diving in tropical and deep water all over the world.

“Because the air is under pressure when you’re breathing from a tank, you can’t just breathe out normally. You have to force the air out, and that really works your lungs. The terrifying thing, when you’re having an asthma attack, is not being able to breathe out - so diving has helped me get over my fear of water and taught my lungs how to work better.”

A wake-up call

“What I love about stand-up is the freedom. There are no constraints on you apart from when you go on and when you come off. It’s scary though, because there’s nobody poking you in the ribs with a sharp stick telling you what to do to make it work.

“I never had asthma symptoms on stage until recently, when I went to do something silly like a dance and I couldn’t breathe. I had to leave the stage and dig around for my inhaler while at the same time trying to talk to the audience and let them know I wasn’t dead.

“It made me think: right, this is really debilitating now. And when I took stock, I realised that asthma had been a constant thorn in my side for years. But I had some more tests and adjusted my treatment and now it’s fantastic. I use Symbicort and I don’t even need a separate reliever. I’m trying to design a pouch for it so it’s not just rattling around in my pocket – perhaps a holster!”