I Didn’t Just Land on my Head the Day of the Accident… I Landed on My Feet

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

By Esther Wheelan for The Mirror, 23rd November 1999

Rik Mayall bounces into the room with the manic energy of a 41-year-old going on 12.

He looks magnificent for someone who, 18 months ago, clung to life after a quad bike accident. And who, a year later, was back in hospital after a brief but terrifying relapse.

But Rik is a testimony to the power of positive thought.

The comedian, who first found fame in the cult comedy The Young Ones, is so optimistic, so full of life, he can only see the good that has come out of near tragedy.

“It has affected my family very positively,” says Rik. “My children — especially the older ones — have matured. They’ve handled it. They are fantastic, very calm and strong.

“I certainly don’t get depressed about what happened. I feel very lucky to have been given a second chance at life.”

Rik also makes light of his relapse — he had a fit and blacked out — but it was a frightening reminder of what he had been through.

His wife, Barbara, found him thrashing around in the bedroom and called for an ambulance. “When I woke up I thought. ‘Yeuch, what a drag.’ Here I am in hospital again,” he says.

“I was swamped with disappointment because I was so recovered, so grateful for being alive and then something comes along that I don’t understand. It wasn’t serious. I was very lucky, but I was frightened.

“But fortune was looking down on me again because I could have swallowed my tongue and died.

“The thought of that is unbearable, having survived everything else.”

After suffering a fractured skull and two massive brain haemorrhages, Rik had been given medication to reduce the risk of epileptic fits, but he didn’t take them. So he ended up back in hospital.

“I became over-confident. Things were going so well,” he says. “Possibly I was a little bit lazy. It was a case of, ‘Where are my pills? Where are my pills? I can’t be bothered to look for them.’

“I take them religiously now; they take away the fear of it happening again. The drag is you have to take them for two years, but after that everything should be fine.”

Emotionally unscathed by the accident, he seems to have shrugged it off as a minor scrape — “a little bang on the head”. But you wonder if it has been quite so easy for Barbara and their children, Rosie, 13, Sid, ten and Bonnie, four, to erase the terrible image of Rik lying so close to death.

“Barbara is very strong, she looks at everything positively which is how we have managed to dance through life,” he says. “She is very wise. “If there has ever been a time when it all became too much for her, she has never let me see it.

“One of the reasons I’m in love with Barbara is that she is wiser than I am. She thinks more clearly than me.”

He has no memory of the accident, which happened on his Devon Farm just before Easter last year. The quad bike remains in the garage.

“It hasn’t been touched. It’s been looked at and walked around, I’ve had some very spooky moments with it,” he says.

“I look at it and it looks at me. It sounds stupid, but that’s what I do. Maybe I’ll push it over a cliff one day.”

He recalls climbing onto the quad bike — a Christmas present from Barbara — for a quick jaunt around the farm.

“The last thing I remember is the rain. Bonnie had said, ‘Can I come for a ride?’ so we had a little ride with her and her cousin on the tank.

“Luckily I felt some rain on my arm, so I got the girls off. Then I went for a ride on my own.”

After that he remembers nothing. Barbara, 43, his wife of 13 years, found him lying unconscious next to the upturned bike. For five days she did not know if he would live and, if he did survive, whether he would be permanently braindamaged.

Doctors had warned Barbara that many people who’d suffered the same injuries died.

“I was the only one who didn’t suffer in that period because I was out,” says Rik. “It was the day before Good Friday — my kids now call it Crap Thursday.

“By Saturday, I still hadn’t come to and it looked pretty bad. But they were very brave and patient and then Daddy came round on Monday.” He remembers seeing Barbara again for the first time. “She was there with me the whole time. She’d been there…” He falters. “Some of this is personal between Barbara and me…

“I’ve been told I couldn’t remember people’s names, including Barbara’s. I knew who they were, but didn’t know their names. It’s hard to remember now but I got confused.”

Ade (his best friend and comedy partner Ade Edmondson) came very early and he was very strong and very brave. But he shed a tear. I shouldn’t really say that… he doesn’t want to appear soft.”

Rik couldn’t understand why he was in hospital — and tried to escape. On one occasion he hopped into a taxi and turned up at home — where he started ordering pizzas for the children.

He was confused, he says. And paranoid.

I was thinking, ‘Why am I here? I’ve cracked my skull, but there’s no pain. They’re drugging me’.

“I never thought that I was mad because I’m too vain for that. I thought, ‘They’re pumping drugs into me and there’s something going on.'”

He even began to believe that Barbara was part of the conspiracy.

“I was thinking Barbara must be on their side, but then I’d think, ‘She can’t be in their pay, she can’t be… she must be in their pay.’ So I kept trying to escape.

The haemorrhages amazingly disappeared by themselves — and the old Rik slowly began to re-emerge. “The doctor said, ‘There’s still some blood in your head — but you can go home.’

“And when I got home I started collecting the blossom in the street. I thought the road looked untidy so I’d put it in neat piles. It made perfect sense at the time.”

But Rik knew it wasn’t entirely rational.

“So I went back to the doctor and he said, ‘Rik, there’s a lot of blood there that should be gone and your brain has got dead areas. I can give it another two days, but if it’s not gone then, I’ll have to take off the top of your head to get the blood out.’

“I thought, `F*****g hell!’ So I went back two days later, had a scan and he said, ‘Rik, all the blood has gone and I don’t know why.’ I was so happy.”

Soon he was back at work, more in demand than ever, narrating a new cartoon project, Jellikins and working on a Jonathan Creek Christmas special.

After that, Rik landed the title role in the TV movie, Merlin 2000 The Return.

“Here I was, in recovery, flown like a film star down to South Africa where they had rebuilt Stonehenge for a massive battle.

“But Merlin didn’t have to sweat, grunting around in leather and armour. He spent most of his time hanging around with beautiful young Guinevere and her fairies!

“Luck or what? I didn’t land on my head, I landed on my feet.”

Meanwhile, much of this year has been taken up with filming his new movie Guest House Paradiso and the new Blackadder film, Robin Hood. He couldn’t be happier.

He and Ade Edmonson had started working on a script which puts their Bottom characters Richie and Eddie on the big screen — before the accident. While Rik lay in intensive care, Ade carried on with Paradiso, refusing to accept that the film might never be made.

“I love him.” says Rik. “He’s so tough, so hard, he’s my man. He’s like a Viking. He saw I wasn’t dead, and said, ‘I’ll do the third draft …'”

And when Rik was well A enough they just got on with it. “We know each other so well, he doesn’t need to verbalise his feelings,” says Rik. “Men don’t say, ‘Rik, I’m so glad you’re alive because I care for you.’ They just don’t. With women, you open up — but you and your mate stand together.”

A cross between Fawlty Towers and The Exorcist, Guest House Paradiso features bucketloads of the violence and the sick humour for which the pair have become famous.

Some of the scenes had to be cut after test audiences were heard moaning: “Oh, no, oh no, oh no.”

Despite cheating death, Rik did not shy away from doing his own stunts for the film.

“I thought, `If you’re going to pussyfoot about, there is no point in doing it. If you’re going to do it, do it.’

“Ade would say, ‘Look, there is a stunt man if you want it.’ But he also knows I’m vain enough not to allow myself to be hurt.

“Ade was more protective of me than he was before the accident, but it manifested itself discreetly.

“Sometimes he’d say, ‘Look Rich, you are not in this bit — why don’t you go and lie down?”

Before the accident Rik and Barbara would marvel at how charmed their lives seemed. Now, despite his ‘smack from God’ their lives again seem remarkably fortunate. He smiles as he talks about Robin Hood.

“I play Robin and Kate Moss plays Maid Marian. And I got to snog her. It was fantastic!”

Lives don’t come more charmed then. that.