Mayall Bonding: Interview with Rik Mayall

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

By: Fiona Knight for The Daily Mirror, 17th December 1995

Wind in the Willows is set to be the children’s classic this Christmas and Rik Mayall is delighted to have found his alter ego in Toad.

“Toad,” says Rik Mayall happily “is an enormous git. He’s posh, selfish, a windbag but has this huge lust for life. I like him very, very much.”

For Rik, being the voice of Toad in the feature-length animated version of Wind in the Willows, to be shown on ITV on Christmas Day, is strange territory for the former Young One.

“I’ve never been allowed on TV on Christmas Day before,” says Rik, star of countless television hits including The Young Ones, Bottom and The New Statesman. “Usually my stuff is too sick.

“Vocally, Toad is quite similar to Rick from The Young Ones,” explains Mayall. “I’ve given him the privilege of Alan B’stard and the peevishness of Richie from Bottom.

“In many ways he’s rather like me – vain, loud and arrogant. But that’s only in the characters I play, I mean normally I’m quite a nice person! But we both share the same big, buggy eyes.”

The other actors have been equally well chosen – Alan Bennett as weedy Mole, Michael Palin as crisp, middle-class Englishman Ratty, and Michael Gambon as gruff, kind Badger.

But, although Toad is bossy and big as a character, Rik found himself shrinking in fright at the idea of recording his part with the other three actors. “I’d just be too intimidated,” he shudders. “Luckily, I wasn’t around when they were so I had to do it by myself a bit later. They’re lovely guys but if I’d recorded my part with them I couldn’t have run around the place flapping my arms which is what I did by myself!”

Mayall already knew most of the Wind in the Willows stories from his own childhood. “My dad used to read the stories to me when I was a kid and I’ve read them to my two children. I hope the new baby will enjoy them too.”

Did someone say baby? Well yes. Cradled in Rik’s arms this Christmas will be his new daughter, 14-week-old Bonnie. She was born on September 18, just months after the huge fuss surrounding Rik’s West End play Cell Mates which closed when Stephen Fry walked out after his third performance. It was a tough time for Rik. His friend Fry had disappeared and he didn’t know if he was OK. The play was forced to close early amid bitter legal rows. But, despite the hassle, Rik had a special happiness inside him.

Mayall, 37, says: “It’s been a strange old year. But Bonnie has turned it around.”

He explains: “I’m quite superstitious and have a pair of lucky pants which I’ve had from 1978. They’re so old and holey now that my bottom pokes through but I wear them for every big, important event, especially first nights.

“On the very first preview night of Cell Mates I forgot to take my lucky pants with me. I was freaking out and rang my wife Barbara and said: ‘Bring my lucky pants tonight – and hurry.’

“Ten minutes before I was due to go on Barbara burst into my dressing room. I said: ‘Where are they?’ She looked at me and said: ‘Rik, I’ve forgotten your lucky pants.’ I was just about to lunge for her head in fury when she said: ‘But I’m pregnant’. I just went ‘Oooooh!’ and couldn’t say anything else. It was fantastic news. I went out on stage and wasn’t nervous.

“The night Bonnie was born I’d gone down to Bristol for the first night of the tour of Bottom, which I’m doing with Ade Edmonson.

“We were planning to do some serious rehearsing because we hardly knew any of the words and I was really worried about it.

“That night I went to bed just after midnight and had a call from Barbara saying her waters had broken. I ran outside, got a cab and arrived in London at about 3am. Bonnie was born at 10am. So I went and got the other kids, Rosie and Sydney, round to see her, took them back and arrived in Bristol just in time for the first night.

“We remembered some of the lines and the rest we made up. At one point we said to the audience: ‘Excuse me ladies and gentlemen but we need to get the script!’ But it was a brilliant first night. That’s why I believe that Bonnie has become the equivalent of my lucky pants now.”

Despite the disaster of Cell Mates, there’s no denying the play was professionally very good news for Rik Mayall, as he got rave reviews. He’s had more luck with his stage show Bottom, a sell-out, which is about to finish a nationwide tour.

Its success has meant that the rush of preparing a family Christmas has been left to Barbara, a former make-up artist who he met while appearing in a BBC production in Glasgow.

Rik’s contribution to the day – Wind in the Willows – has already been made. “Rosie saw the programme describing how they made Wind in the Willows, and she’s so proud of me,” he says happily. “Most of the stuff I do on TV is too rude or violent to let the children see. But Wind in the Willows is perfect, even for Bonnie.”