The Interview: Rik Mayall

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

By Michael Owen for You, 21st November 1999

Staring death in the face and surviving has not only made Mr Sneery feel lucky to be alive, it’s made him all nice and happy as well

On the Thursday before Easter last year, Rik Mayan arrived from London at his Devon farmhouse home to find his wife Barbara busily making curtains and his three children Rosie, now 13, Sid, 11 and Bonnie, four, happily playing around her. So he went out into the garden to find his 600lb quad bike. Within minutes the comedian lay unconscious, bleeding from the ears, nose and mouth, with the bike overturned beside him. His head injuries were so severe, his family was warned he could not be expected to live. After five anxious days he regained consciousness, then spent weeks in treatment for a brain haemorrhage that refused to go away.

Today the 41-year-old comedian is fully recovered and back at work with his partner Adrian Edmondson on a new film called Guest House Paradiso at Ealing Studios. In a tiny dressing room, he speaks for the first time about his near-death experience and the effects it has had on him. ‘The last memory I have of that Thursday is going into the garage to get the bike out,’ he says. My youngest daughter, Bonnie, followed me in with her cousin and asked for a ride. As we slowly drove out of the garage, I felt a few Spots of rain so I sent them back inside.’ He sits in silence, unable to articulate the significance of that decision. ‘If I had not felt that rain…’ His voice trails away.

When Rik failed to return to the house, Barbara looked for him from a window. ‘She saw me lying there and at first thought it was one of my silly jokes. Then she ran out and saw how serious it was,’ he says.

Because of the holiday traffic, the ambulance could not get through quickly enough so he was helicoptered to a neurological unit at Plymouth Hospital. ‘For the first three days they didn’t think I’d make it. On the fourth day they found the first sign of improvement and the next day I woke up. I didn’t know where the hell I was. I saw Barbara and my parents and Ade was there. They were all crying.’

For several days he remained confused, while doctors warned his family that further swelling in his brain could be fatal. ‘It was very spooky and I was doing some very strange things. I couldn’t remember names, not even my wife’s, or work out what was happening. I wanted to break out. I tried to pick up nurses, asking them to come for a walk so I could make a run for it. They managed to dissuade me.’

He was transferred to a private hospital in London but absconded. ‘The doctor excused himself saying he was going to the loo for a moment so I grabbed a dressing gown, ran down to get a taxi and went home,’ Rik says. ‘My own doctor came round and gave me an injection. Whack, that put me out again and I woke up in another bloody hospital.’

The blood failed to clear from his brain. He was told an operation would be necessary. ‘They said they were going to take the top of my head off. I panicked for two days. Then they did another scan and it was gone. I don’t know if this was a clever doctor’s technique but they must have scared the blood out of my brain. I’ve been as happy as Alice ever since.’

He returned to his London home in Ladbroke Grove and resumed life with his wife and children. But he was still prone to moments of irrational behaviour. ‘Sid found me in my pajamas in the street,’ he says. ‘l was trying to sweep up the blossom because it was making a mess, and was very cross because it kept blowing away. I could see Sid looking at me thinking, “That’s my mad dad.”‘

He had a temporary relapse after six months when he took himself off the medication prescribed: ‘I had an epileptic-type fit and Barbara found me jerking about on the bed at 10am. So I went back on the pills.’

Work was the next challenge: ‘A complete new terror. It was a miracle I was alive; I could talk and I could remember people’s names. The next stage was to become my old self again at work. I went to do a simple little voice-over. It was easy and yet I was terrified. But I did it. I knew I could function again.’

Rik recounts the episode in his usual cheery style, full of loud laughter and expletives. But he soon becomes serious again when talking about the support he has received from his family. ‘I’m magnificently proud of them,’ he says. ‘Not only Barbara for her stoic quality and inner strength but also for the strength and patience of my kids. Particularly Rosie and Sid, who are the older two. Bonnie was only two when it happened. She was too young to know.’

Has the ordeal changed him? ‘I think it has matured me. It’s made me happier. I wasn’t unhappy before but I’m more relaxed about everything now. To be acting again; it’s one of my greatest pleasures, like sex and drinking. I don’t want to sound like a softie saying how grateful I am for everything; but I bloody am.’

The one sacrifice, though, is no alcohol. ‘I said, “What, nothing at all?” so they allowed me one lager a week, but I haven’t bothered with that — I’ve not had a drink for a year now.’

He has also noticed a change in the way people approach him. ‘Before the accident, people would say, “Do something crazy, Rik!” Now it’s genuine affection: “You all right, Rik? You better now, mate?” It gives me a really warm feeling inside. See, I’ve grown up and turned nice,’ he adds with a wide grin.

He was also touched by the letters, cards and flowers that flooded into his hospital ward. ‘There were flowers everywhere. It was fantastic. I’m almost tempted to claim I’m not better so they keep on sending them,’ he says.

In his new film, he and Edmondson play the joint owners of the world’s worst hotel. They indulge their taste for violent mayhem, just as they have done for the past 20 years through The Young Ones and Bottom. Rik has no fear of re-entering the fray. ‘No, I’m fine with it Ade has been shockingly careful to make sure I’m all right on this film,’ he says. ‘We have our first fight tomorrow. It’s a major punch-up in the kitchen and there’s going to be a lot of head clattering. I can’t wait.’

Guest House Paradiso is released on 3 December.