Hills a man of many parts
Hills a man of many parts

When Adam Hills picks up the phone in London it is 12.30am there and 8.30am in Perth. He has just been at a Channel 4 function and is in good spirits.

While most celebrities would probably prefer to be tucked up in bed or out partying, Hills is happy to talk about the personal journey he has taken in the new season of SBS genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are?, his growing popularity in Britain as host of The Last Leg, his next stand-up tour, his sixth nomination for the Gold Logie; pretty much anything.

Hills' reputation as one of television's Mr Nice Guys is well deserved and he's easily one of television's busiest, too.

"We make our final episode of The Last Leg on March 29, I fly out on March 31, I have two shows in Sydney on April 5 and 6, the Logies on the 7th and the following week I start the Melbourne Comedy Festival," he says.

"Then I come to Perth, then we start 12 weeks of Adam Hills Tonight. At the moment it is entirely possible it will end on a Wednesday and the new series of The Last Leg will start (in the UK) on the Friday."

But first things first; the premiere episode of the new season of Who Do You Think You Are? in which Hills discovers he is descended from - wait for it - a Maltese pirate.

"The leg makes sense, my obsession with Adam and the Ants make sense, it was amazing," says Hills, who was born without a right foot and wears a prosthetic.

"It's one of those things, when you hear pirate, you go 'That's the kind of thing you see on someone else's episode of Who Do You Think You Are?' - you don't expect it to be on your own."

Tracing his ancestry on his mum Judy's side of the family took Hills to Germany, the Czech Republic and Malta. He learns about the sacrifices and hardship faced by his great grandfathers Oscar Kluckhenn and Joseph Vassallo, who arrived in Australia in the early 1900s.

Kluckhenn went on to serve Australian politicians in one of Melbourne's top hotels but with World War I looming, had to renounce his Australian nationality and change the spelling of his surname to protect his family. Vassallo escaped the Maltese depression to work on the docks, where new arrivals were categorised by skin colour.

"To think you have two of my great-grandparents who gave up everything and migrated to Australia and really took a massive punt; I wish I could go back to find them, say thank you and say it worked because there are now a whole string of great-grandchildren who have really good lives because of you."

Although Hills doesn't think his family's pirate heritage will make it into his new stand-up show, Happiness, some of the issues it raised had given him plenty to contemplate while writing it.

"A big part of what I wrote while making Who Do You Think You Are? that ended up in my new stand-up show is about immigration, the kind of pointlessness of being racist towards refugees, because at the end of the day we have all come from somewhere and anyone that is a refugee and has left behind a family and a life has probably done it for some really harsh reasons.

"So, weirdly, what I got out of the whole experience was a kind of deeper understanding of what refugees go through. I never considered my ancestors as refugees but in a way they were, they came out here on boats, albeit legally. They faced discrimination when they got here, they were kind of told to go back home.

"Four generations later I am considered a dinky-di Aussie, host a of a TV show. It makes me think, people who arrive now from Afghanistan, Iraq or Africa - in four generations time, they could be the TV hosts we are watching."

Hills recently won an award at the UK's Broadcasting Press Guild Awards for The Last Leg, which started during the Paralympics last year as an alternative view of the day's events.

The renewal of the series and its continuing popularity means Hills has had to delay the return of Adam Hills Tonight (formerly In Gordon Street Tonight) for the ABC.

"I can't stress how brilliant the ABC were, they said 'We know how big a deal it is to be on Channel 4, we will quite happily delay this for a few months'," he says.

"I have learnt so much doing The Last Leg and live TV, we are going to try to bring back some of what I learnt to Australia."

Who Do You Think You Are? returns on Tuesday April 2 at 7.30pm on SBS One. Adam Hills: The Last Leg airs on Wednesdays at 9.30pm on ABC1. Hills brings his stand-up tour Happiness to the Riverside Theatre at the Perth Convention Exhibition Centre on May 3 and 4 as part of the Perth International Comedy Festival. Tickets through Ticketek.

The West Australian

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