I’m Lucky to be Alive

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

By Phil Penfold for Best, 7th December 1999

Back on form as a Basil Fawlty for the Nineties in his new film Guest House Paradiso, Rik Mayall says he’s just grateful to be around to star in it.

Rik Mayall.is slowly rebuilding a career shattered by his serious motorcycle accident in April last year, which left him with two brain haemorrhages and a fractured skull. For four days he lay critically ill in a coma, until he miraculously awoke on Easter Monday and started to rip out the wires and tubes that were keeping him alive.

Although he’s vowed he won’t ride a bike again, he hasn’t junked the machine on which he nearly sped to his death in a freak accident at his Devon home. “I go into the garage, where the bike is stored, quite regularly. I walk around the thing, growling at it and occasionally kicking it. I should have known better!” confesses Rik, who wasn’t wearing a helmet at the time of the accident adn his injuries have left him with a mild form of epilepsy.

“When I was about 17, back in the early Seventies, my father had a motorbike and I was always asking if I could ride it, and he consistently refused. I even asked for one of my own, but he put his foot down.

“When I asked why, he said, ‘Because you’ll fall off it at some point.’ Well, I thought, ‘I’ll show him’ and of course, years later I bought the bike and, to fulfil his prophecy, I fell off it and nearly died as a result.”

Although 41-year-old Rik is back in the work saddle again — his wacky new movie Guest House Paradiso is out this week — his accident has given the father of three pause to reflect.

“The one thing I think about a lot is how near I came to killing my three-year-old daughter Bonnie and her friend. They wanted a ride on the bike — a quad-bike arrangement, which means you can take passengers for a spin. I was just backing out of the garage and three spots of rain fell on my forearm, so I thought, ‘It’s going to rain and I don’t want the kids to get wet’, so I refused them a ride. The girls survived because of that. As for myself, I don’t remember anything about the accident. My mind is a total blank. It was me being very stupid.

“I’ll be on medication for the rest of my life — I know that now. But then so what? What are a few pills every day if they keep me stable and adjusted? But not so long ago I foolishly thought that as I was doing quite well I could give them up. I didn’t heed the warnings of the doctors who told me I’d experience side effects if I stopped taking the pills.

“They were right. I was in a recording studio doing a voice-over for something — I forget what that was as well – and had a seizure, a minor epileptic fit. Nothing too serious, but it was enough to serve as a reminder of what I’d been through, and to make me more sensible in the future. I bit through my tongue, and this was just a month before we started filming Guest House Paradiso. But I guess I was lucky again in that I didn’t swallow my tongue and choke to death.

“The voice-over was abandoned and the contract quite rightly went to someone else. But I was well enough to take part in the movie, which I think is going to be brilliant.”

Rik, who’s married to former make-up-artist-turned-painter Barbara Robbins, has lost none of his black sense of humour, particularly when he describes the film in which he plays Richard, the proprietor of he cheapest hotel in Britain.

The movie reunites him with long-time pal Ade Edmondson. “The basic idea is that Eddie and Richie, the central characters from Bottom, are now running a guest house and, of course, they’re not doing it very well,” explains Rik. “We had a wonderful time making the film. There are a lot of gloriously funny ideas and it opens with a speeding motorbike — certainly not me — going at a hell of a lick along a cliff top. When you get a close-up of the rider, it’s Ade, and he’s fast asleep.”

Rik is clearly delighted he’s working again and touched by the response from the public. “My memory was very badly affected by the accident and I couldn’t recall things that had happened earlier in the day, or what I’d been doing, which does make you panic a bit. Acting is all about memory and if you lose that, your career’s gone. But slowly it’s all returned.

“When I finally managed to get out and about again, I got shouts of ‘good luck’ from strangers walking down the street, which was very touching indeed. It gave me a lump in the throat all the time.

“I come from a generation who thought it was cool to be cynical, and to have that amount of genuine love directed at you, well… I just thank God every day, I’m so bloody lucky to be alive.

“In a way I think I was very spoilt before the accident and didn’t realise how fortunate I was in what was going on for me and around me. But it’s taught me to enjoy my life more. I’m definitely far more appreciative I than I ever was before!”

Guest House Paradiso is released on 3 December.