The Heat Interview
by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog
By Dominic Smith for Heat Magazine, 18-24th November 1999
Just 18 months ago Rik Mayall was critically ill in a coma and his family feared the worst. Now he’s celebrating the release of a new film. “I feel very grateful,” he tells Dominic Smith
So there he is; Rik Mayall, the wild man of British comedy, playing dad in the grounds of Pasture Farm, his family retreat in the village of East Allington, South Devon. It’s the day before Good Friday 1998 and Mayall has returned home to spend Easter with wife Barbara and their three kids; Rosie, Sid and Bonnie. Eager to please, Mayall gets his quad bike out of the garage and takes Bonnie, the youngest of the three at two and a half, for a spin.
Then he feels the specks of rain on his arms and something tells him to get Bonnie off, that maybe this isn’t such a good idea. So Bonnie gets off, but Rik Mayall doesn’t. He takes the bike for one last spin round the grounds, a journey he will never complete. Moments later Barbara looks out the window and sees her husband lying underneath the quad bike. At first she thinks it’s yet another of his practical jokes. But then she notices the blood pouring from his nose, ears and mouth and realises something is terribly, terribly wrong.
It was. Mayall was crushed by the 600lb bike and suffered head injuries so severe that he had to be airlifted by helicopter to Plymouth’s Derriford Hospital where he spent five days on a life-support machine. On the third his wife was warned there was a good chance he would never wake up. On the fifth he opened his eyes for the first time.
“I woke up after five days, turned round and started talking to this bloke in the bed next to me,” recalls Mayall. “Then I conked out for another half a day. And then, when I woke up again he was… dead. And that happened twice. And that makes you feel a little worried for yourself. But… you know… I’m here.”
Today, ‘here’ is a luxury suite in London’s Athaneum Hotel where he meets Heat to promote his new film Guest House Paradiso, which once again reunites him with best mate and comic partner of over 20 years, Ade Edmondson. As he bounds into the suite it’s difficult to believe that this is a man who, just 18 months ago, was on the critical list. Today, following an eventful and often difficult period of recuperation, Rik Mayall is fit, healthy and, as he says on a number of occasions, happier than he’s ever been.
Was your accident a lifechanging experience?
Mine was life-continuing. No, I’m trying to be different, I’m trying to think of something cool to say. I’m happier. I was fucking happy before but now I’m grateful as well as happy. I don’t waste time now. Perhaps I’m more conscious of my mortality although that may be due to my age — I’m 41 now.
Do you feel 100 per cent again?
Unfortunately, when you bang your head, you’re open to epilepsy and I have suffered a couple of times. I was doing a voice-over in February and I just couldn’t get it together. I was hearing stuff the crew couldn’t hear and I was frightened. Eventually I said, “I don’t feel well so I’m going to go home, which way is my house?” We were only a few streets away and I thought, “Fuck, I don’t know my way home, this is getting frightening.” So they took me home. I got halfway up my stairs. That’s all I remember.
You blacked out?
Well, Barbie [wife Barbara] came home and she came up the stairs and heard a noise from my daughter Rosie’s room. She looked in and I was lying on the bed like this (lies back and starts shuddering). So she thought, “What the fuck am I going to do, he’s on his daughter’s bed and he’s wanking.” Then she came back in and said, “Oh thank fuck, it’s epilepsy!” Haha! And it was all because I’d been a bit slack taking my pills. So that taught me a good lesson. I can’t drink now because it counteracts the pills; I haven’t had a drink for a year and a half.
What do you remember about the accident?
The last thing I remember is the rain. I returned to the farm and the kids were into their holidays. Bonnie said “Can I come for a ride?” so we had a little ride with Bonnie and her cousin on the tank. Luckily I felt some rain on my arms so I got the girls off. Then I went for a ride and that’s the last thing I remember. But I remember that rain with real affection because Bonnie’s two and a half and had I been in a different frame of mind… I was very lucky.
You were unconscious for five days. Do you remember the first time you saw your wife again?
Yeah, when I woke up in the serious head injuries ward. Barbara was there with me the whole time. She’d been there… Some of this is slightly personal between Barbara and myself… Of course.
Is it true you couldn’t remember her name?
Well, Barbara’s the one to ask about that. I’ve been told I couldn’t remember a lot of people’s names, I knew who they were but didn’t know their names. It’s hard to remember now but I got some people confused. Ade 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 ever want to appear to be soft.
Was your wife told at one point that you were not expected to live?
Yes. I was the only one that didn’t suffer at that period because I was out. It was the day before Good Friday — my kids now call it Crap Thursday.
When it came to Saturday I still hadn’t come to and it looked like things were pretty bad. But they were very brave and patient and then daddy came round on Monday. The children were told, “Daddy’s not well but we’re sure he will be soon”, and then they were sitting at home and it was on the fucking news. But I think they grew up a lot. I think they’re a lot stronger now.
You attempted to break out of hospital, didn’t you?
I tried to escape from hospital a lot. I couldn’t understand anything. I can’t get near to explaining the levels of confusion I felt. I was thinking, “Why am I here? I’ve cracked my skull but there’s no pain. They’re obviously drugging me.”
You thought it was a conspiracy?
Yeah. I thought, “I don’t remember falling off any fucking bike.” I thought they were police for a while. I never thought that I was mad because I’m much too vain for that. I thought, “They’re pumping drugs into me and there’s some trick going on.” 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 attempting to escape.
Didn’t you succeed on one occasion?
Yeah, I was transferred from Plymouth to a hospital in London. I had an escort because they thought I would leap out at a traffic light. So I got to the Harley Street hospital; and the poor guy who’s escorting me goes into the toilet and — bam! I’m out the fucking door, down the stairs and into Harley Street. In my pyjamas! Then I’m in a taxi and I’m off. So I get home and there’s an old friend of mine there and I’m like, “Where’s the booze, let’s get trashed.” And the clever bastard hid the booze and phoned my doctor. The doctor said she’d give me a quick shot and I woke up later in a hospital in Charing Cross. I was so disappointed — another fucking hospital!
Was that where you finished your recovery?
Yeah, but this is the big one. Two weeks later the doctor said, “There’s still some blood in your head but you can go home.” And then I started collecting all the blossom from out in the street. I thought the road looked untidy so I’d collect it all up and put it in neat piles in my front path because it looked tidier. It made perfect sense to me at the time. 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, if it’s not gone then, I’ll have to take off the top of your head and get the blood out.” I thought, “Fucking 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.
With his recuperation almost complete, Mayall returned to the project that he and Edmondson were working on at the time of his accident, Guest House Paradiso. Ironically, the enforced delay may even help the film, its blend of cartoon violence and bodily substances arriving in cinemas in the wake of a stream of hugely successful Hollywood gross-out movies. Although Mayall seems indifferent to the suggestion.
“We’re not aware or concerned about Hollywood,” he says. “I know it sounds as if I’m feigning disdain but that’s a genuine feeling. We didn’t decide to do a film, we just had a great idea for something whose best stage would be a film. Me and Ade have got a life sentence and as times moves on we move from cell to cell. We started 25 years ago and it’s still the same gag, we just keep disguising it.”
You’ve been smacking each other around the head with hammers for over 25 years now. Don’t you ever get bored?
No. Absolutely not. If there ever was a time when we were I think we’d be very surprised. I’d hazard that we’ve never used the same weapon, that would bore us. We’d be disappointed in ourselves. But I did enjoy hitting him with the water jug. If anyone’s disappointed with the film I hope they don’t think, “Oh it’s a shame he fell off the bike, and now he’s trying to be in films. Ahhhh. Why can’t he still make The Young Ones?” That was 20 fucking years ago.
There was a story recently about a Young Ones movie.
That story’s been knocking about for ten years. I don’t see the value in that. Unless it was a swipe; a body blow at the whole nature of British comedy — if we deliberately made a terrible film. It would have to be full of self hate, kind of “Aren’t we shit” and then at the end say, “Thanks for the money, you fucking suckers.” Ha ha, that would be good, wouldn’t it? [Thinks for a moment] No, the greatest joy of my life, apart from my family, is my work and I’m not going to fuck up my career.
After the accident you were quoted as saying “I felt a great sense of loss that the old Rik had gone:” Is he back now?
That’s bollocks. If I did say that, maybe I was still… I don’t think that’s very accurate. Maybe I was still going through recovery. But I think the word ‘better’ is significant, I don’t just feel, back to health, I feel better. I think the accident has made me happier, I just enjoy my life more now.