Interview: Harry Baker on Unashamed, ‘It reminded me of the power we have to do things differently’

by Jim Keaveney

Harry Baker has been described as ‘a champion’ by Ed Sheeran, his work as ‘absolutely beautiful’ by Zoe Ball and ‘epic’ by Ice Cube, while Jacqueline Wilson has proclaimed that she’s ‘in the Harry Baker fan club’ – all this while earning five-star reviews for his shows and raking in millions of views on his TED Talks.

Baker has been a full-time poet since he graduated from Bristol with a maths degree in 2015 but, even before that, he was already seeing success, becoming the youngest ever Poetry World Slam Champion in 2012, publishing his first collection of poems The Sunshine Kid in December 2014.

More recently he’s been performing his show Unashamed, with a mega 40 date tour that is almost at a close with just three special performances left. As Baker geared up for this, we caught up with him to find out more about the show, his poem for Ukraine and the joy of making his show accessible.

Q&A with Harry Baker

What can you tell us about your show Unashamed, which you’ve been touring since Autumn last year?

It’s a delight! It’s a show about remembering how to be your best self. My whole world shrunk during lockdown and I shrunk with it, but through a roundabout journey involving reviewing toilet seats online and running the London marathon dressed as a falafel, it’s a celebration of the power of creativity and joy to lift us out of those moments, and the importance of holding each other up when we are struggling. It feels like the most vulnerable and the funniest show that I’ve done, and only towards the end of it am I realising that that is maybe not a coincidence.

You’re almost at the end of a 40-date run; how has the tour been and how does it feel to be bringing it to a close?

It’s been wonderful – I’ve really missed performing on stage to crowds of people, and doing it online or socially distanced with masks wasn’t quite the same, so it’s been lovely to be able to share poems that have had to wait their turn for a few years. When I started writing the show I wasn’t in a great place and I can honestly say now that I am happier than I have been for a long time, and getting to connect with people all around the country has definitely been a massive part of that. It’s always a bitter sweet thing to be coming to the end of it but I’m excited to have some time write some new stuff!

As well as performing live shows you’ve been Poetry World Slam Champion, released The Sunshine Kid, and raked up millions of views on your TED Talks, among other highlights. Is there a particular career highlight that stands out for you?

At the start of this tour I was feeling overwhelmed by the cost of living crisis and exasperated by the lack of action from the government, so I decided that I would make free tickets available for all of the dates on this tour for anyone who otherwise wouldn’t be able to come. The peak of this was a school bringing a selection of students who had never been to the theatre before to a local gig in my favourite venue in the world in Margate, and it reminded me of the power we have to do things differently.

What can we expect from you next?

I wrote a poem to mark the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine starting which is being published as a book to help raise funds, and I’m really excited to see how that turns out. Otherwise alongside these final tour shows I’ll be making the most of being able to perform again wherever I can!

How would you describe the final shows in London, Margate and Southampton to someone considering buying a ticket?

It’s a heartfelt, wholesome, uplifting, inspiring, fun time.

Harry Baker brings Unashamed to London (22 March), Margate (26 March) and Southampton (26 October)