Rik Mayall Interviews and Articles Archive

The Pan Global Phenomenon in all his verbal glory.

Category: 1999

Tortured by Cardigans – and Terrible in the Mornings

By Desmond Sampson for News Of The World Sunday Magazine, 28th November 1999

In their new movie Guest House Paradiso, out next month, RikMayall andAdrianEdmondson play the owners of the worst hotel in the world. Desmond Sampson went to meet them.

What’s your worst fashion mistake?

Rik:
I once walked to school in my underpants and a soggy shoe because my shoe flew off into the river when I tried kicking a ball. My brother retrieved it, but then demanded my trousers, because his were soaked.

Adrian:
In the Eighties I wore those horrible skinny pants with monkey boots. It seemed like a good idea at the time! And I spent my youth in an army coat and round sunglasses pretending to be John Lennon.

What’s your most embarrassing moment?

Rik:
My dad caught me with my girlfriend when I was 15. He looked absolutely pole-axed. turned around and walked out. Even more embarrassing was that half an hour later we both went downstairs and had supper with my parents!

Adrian:
I once had lunch with Steve Martin and was so overawed that I said ‘You’re a wild and crazy guy” to his face. He let it pass, but that was truly embarrassing. I shouldn’t have said that.

Have you ever been bullied or been a bully?

Rik:
Luckily, I was spared bullying, although one kid at school, Dobson, always used to tease me about my surname. He’d say: “Look, it’s Fe-Mayall!” One time he wouldn’t stop and I thought “I’m going to have to hit him”. So I belted him and he lost his two front teeth, broke his nose and ended up in hospital. I was never picked on again after that!

Adrian:
I was both bullied and a bully myself. I think that’s true of most people.

What’s your poison?

Rik:
A pint of lager followed by a large Scotch. But since I bashed my head (in a quad bike accident last year), I’ve had to take pills for epilepsy and if I drink they don’t work. So although it’s great having the drink, the bit where I fall over, bang my head and swallow my tongue isn’t so great.

Adrian:
I’m a red wine lover. On a recent tour, instead of drinking I spent the days teaching myself about wine.

What’s the best hangover cure?

Rik:
Don’t drink the night before

Adrian:
Eat loads of mashed potatoes after you’ve been out. The carbohydrates put you to sleep until you feel better.

What would you cook to impress a date?

Rik:
I can’t cook, so I’d get someone else to do it.

Adrian:
I’m good at Mediterranean food — getting a load of vegetables, covering them in olive oil, sticking them in the oven, then covering them with rocket and Parmesan. But I gave up cooking about nine months ago when my wife (Jennifer Saunders) took it up and was immediately better than me. Story of my life, really!
What’s the worst holiday you’ve ever had?

Rik:
To be honest, I’ve never really had a holiday from hell. In fact, they’re usually so badly needed that I make sure they’re good.

Adrian:
I’ve been to a few places like the hotel in our movie while on tour, so-called “Country House” hotels run by retired captains who are very bitter and don’t like serving people. They’re the most unfriendly, vile places to stay at, even though all the bumph claims they are just like being at home!

What are you like first thing in the morning?

Rik:
I’m a tyrant, a real “wake up, get up!” sort of person. I can’t bear to waste the day, so when I wake up early I think “Brilliant, it’s only six in the morning, a whole day to go!”

Adrian:
I’m a volatile person and suffer from extraordinary mood swings, so it’s a bit of a lottery what I’m like in the morning.

Are you vain?

Rik:
There’s a scene in the movie where I’m trying to decide between two identical cardigans, and that’s me — tortured by these kind of decisions!

Adrian: I wish I could be but I’m too bloody ugly!

Who’s your best mate?

Rik:
Ade. He’s a good and loyal friend. I adore him. It’s like a marriage. We chose each other in ’75 and we’ve been together ever since.

Adrian:
Rik is probably my best friend. Without getting too lovey-dovey, when he had his accident found it very upsetting. It made me realise that I quite liked him.

The Heat Interview

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.

Rude Health

By Martyn Palmer for The London Times,th December 1999

Rik Mayall made jokes about bottoms and became a star. Then last year he almost died. After an amazing recovery, he still refuses to take life seriously. Martyn Palmer reports.

The man just won’t keep still. Rik Mayall jumps around his hotel room giving me a graphic demonstration of exactly what happened when he came round after his “bang on the head” (as he likes to call it). It’s a one-man show. And it is very funny. It started when I happened to ask him what, exactly, following his dreadful accident on a quad bike, he remembered when he finally opened his eyes after five days in a coma. A terrible time, undoubtedly, when his life had hung in the balance. But for Mayall, even near-death experiences end up recycled as comic material.

 “I didn’t know where I was and you know what it’s like when you first come round, you do this,” he says, putting his hands down on his crotch, “and it’s like, ‘Yep, that’s OK.’ So rather than Barbara [his wife] weeping and hugging me, the first thing I do is check that out and discover that there is this tube coming out of my knob.

“And I’m like, ‘What the hell is that? Oh God, I don’t remember doing that!’ And so I’m trying to pull it out and there is some kind of umbrella deal that is right in the middle of my knob and it wouldn’t come out. Suddenly there’s about three or four nurses on me, fighting with me, wrestling me and trying to keep this thing in my knob and I’m trying to get it out. And that’s my first memory of coming to. Surrounded by nurses who are trying to shove this thing back up my knob. Still, it could have been worse…”

Mayall, as anyone familiar with “The Young Ones” or “Bottom” or “The Comic Strip Presents” will know, is a very physical comedian. He can bounce off the walls with the best of them — as he does in his new film “Guest House Paradiso” — and this anecdote is delivered with appropriate hand gestures and much flailing about. And at the pay-off, there is that manic Rik Mayall grin, the big horrible leery one.

He can’t resist the chance to make you laugh, even when he’s telling you about the worst, most traumatic period of his life. The accident happened at Easter 1998, while Mayall, Barbara, and their three children — Rose, 13, Sid, 11, and four-year-old Bonnie — were at their country home in Devon.

Mayall was riding a quad bike, without a crash helmet, over sloping fields when it hit a bump, flipped over and sent him sprawling, head first, on to a stretch of concrete. For the next few days it was touch and go. He had suffered a fractured skull and two haemorrhages, one deep inside the brain, and doctors feared that if he did pull through, he could emerge with brain damage.

As did Ade Edmondson, who Mayall has been best friends with for more than 20 years, and who also has a house in Devon. He was one of the first to be at Mayall’s bedside and remained there almost constantly. Edmondson chooses his words carefully when discussing his friend’s accident, and admits that it has forced him to re-evaluate their friendship and to appreciate exactly how much he cares for him. “Most blokes don’t really show much feeling for each other, do they?” he observes. “And when Rik had his accident it was very upsetting. It was horrible, really, really horrible. It made me realise how much I like him and it was a very frightening time.

“It was terrible in those first few days, watching him and wondering if he would live. And, in a way, it was even worse when he came round and he was like a baby for about a week or two and then he was like an eight-year-old. And you begin to wonder whether the eight-year-old stage will last forever.”

Mayall has made an astonishing recovery and is now back to being a 41-year-old. I’d met him a few years before, but the only perceptible change in his behaviour is that, if anything, he seems even more manic than ever. But, of course, he has to be careful with his health now. After he was finally discharged from hospital, doctors prescribed a course of phenytoin, an anti-epilepsy drug, which is given to patients who have suffered severe head traumas.

“With a severe head injury it takes a couple of years before you can be sure that there is no threat of epilepsy and then you can stop taking these pills,” he explains. “But because my recovery was so remarkable, at least I believed it was remarkable, in the new year I thought I’d stop taking them. And I had a bit of an epilepsy attack. Actually, it was quite funny . . .”

At this point, Mayall is off again. And the hand gestures are back. “The thing was I felt very tired, incredibly tired,” he recalls, “and I can remember lying down on our daughter Rosie’s bed. This was in the middle of the morning. And Barbie comes home from taking the kids to school and she can hear this noise in Rosie’s room. She has a look inside and can see me lying there like this [shakes his body] and she thinks ‘Oh no! What am I going to do? He’s lying on our daughter’s bed having a w***!’ It’s true! And she told me later she was thinking, ‘Oh God, I’m going to have to say something.’ Then she walks back into the room and realises what’s happening. And goes, ‘Oh thank God, it’s epilepsy!’ ”

He laughs, we both do, and then he sits back down. And in a quieter voice he adds, “Actually, I did bite my tongue and ended up back in hospital. So I’m back on the pills. But you know, I’m not afraid of anything. I’m not. But sometimes when I go to sleep I think, ‘Will I wake up again?’ ”

At the time of the accident Mayall and Edmondson had almost finished writing “Guest House Paradiso” and had planned to start filming that summer. It had to be delayed, of course, and they finally went to work this summer, with Edmondson directing and both of them acting alongside Bill Nighy, Fenella Fielding, Kate Ashfield and French actors Vincent Cassel and Helene Mahieu.

Edmondson was worried that some of their slapstick, knockabout routines might be dangerous for Mayall and even took advice from his friend’s consultant. “He did recover quite quickly really,” he says. “Especially when you compare it to other similar accidents you hear about. He is still slightly odd, though. Not odd, but his memory is not the same and he finds it very difficult to concentrate if there is more than one stimulus in the room. You can’t talk to him and have the radio on at the same time.

“I remember asking his consultant whether it was all right to hit him during filming because you know what we’re like, there’s always a lot of physical stuff. But the consultant said it would take an enormous traumatic blow to cause any damage. But it is perhaps a feature of this film that I get hit more than he does. All the violence happens to my head.”

Edmondson, the director, also felt the need to cut one scene, where Mayall’s character takes a tumble down a flight of stairs. “I thought it was stupid to risk it because every trick you do like that, you have to do at least part of it yourself. And you can’t get away with not banging your head at all.”

“Guest House Paradiso” is a real treat for fans of Richie and Eddie, the comedy alter egos of Mayall and Edmondson. Richie (Mayall) and Eddie (Edmondson) run the worst hotel in the world. The chef is a drunk (and can’t cook), the waiter needs psychiatric help and there’s a nuclear power station near by. Their guests, when they are fortunate to have some, are a motley band of eccentrics and a few poor souls who are stupid enough not to realise what they are letting themselves in for.

Into their midst wanders Gina Carbonara (Helene Mahieu), a glamorous starlet on the run who has just dumped her boyfriend, Gino Bolognese, and needs a place to hide out. When she arrives, Richie, for reasons far too complicated to go into here, happens to be clad in some rather exotic rubber underwear and desperate to avoid shaming embarrassment in front of an internationally renowned actress, hides in the oven.

What follows is the kind of romp that only Mayall and Edmondson are capable of. There is one spectacular scene involving hundreds of gallons of lurid green vomit (something to do with the guests being served toxic fish) which took days to film and of which the boys are especially proud.

“I love that scene,” says Mayall, grinning. “But we had an awful lot of trouble with that vomit. It kept drying up overnight and we had to keep making more. But it looks great, don’t you think?”

“Guest House Paradiso” is the first time Mayall and Edmondson have worked together for the cinema, but it is a natural progression of a double act that has proved so successful on stage and the small screen. Mayall was born in Harlow, Essex, but grew up in Droitwich, Worcestershire. He is the third child of two drama teachers and went to King’s, a direct grant school, in Worcester. His parents were liberal for the time, and he describes his childhood as fun “full of laughs and banter”. He was always the joker of the family. His older brother Anthony is a civil engineer. One younger sister, Libby, works in the music industry, while the other, Kate, is a Doctor of Psychology at Birmingham University.

He and Bradford-born Edmondson were both on the drama course at Manchester University, and starting hanging out together in the second year. In 1976 they formed an act called 20th Century Coyote, with fellow students, which would perform at lunchtimes in a Manchester club called The Band in the Wall. After university, they went their separate ways for a while — both doing “civilian” jobs to pay the rent – but kept in touch. And then they re-formed 20th Century Coyote as a duo under the name The Dangerous Brothers — and took the bluntly monikered Death on the Toilet to the Edinburgh Festival in 1979.

Their big break came with “The Young Ones” in 1982, with Mayall playing nerdy Rick and Edmondson as lunatic skinhead Vyvyan. It was a hit with audiences and the younger critics at least and they were established at the forefront of the “alternative” comedy movement.

Over the years, even though each has enjoyed success on his own — Mayall has done feature films such as “Drop Dead Fred” (1991), and “Bring Me the Head of Mavis Davis” (1997) and television including “The New Statesman” and Edmondson has directed promos and written a book — they have consistently been drawn back into working together. They appeared as the tramps in the West End production of “Waiting for Godot” in 1991-92, and in television series including “Filthy Rich and Catflap” (BBC2), “The Comic Strip Presents” (Channel 4 then BBC2) and Bottom (BBC2).

“It’s the longest relationship I’ve had with anyone apart from my parents,” says Mayall. “And, in a way, it is like a marriage. We met in 1975 and we’ve been together ever since. Things that he can’t do, I can do and things that I can’t do, he can do. We spark something off in each other. We fit together.” When Edmondson is directing Mayall feels safe in the knowledge that his partner knows him, as a performer, better than anyone. “It’s less nerve-racking. I can sense from the way he says ‘cut’ whether it’s good or not. And sometimes he’s like, ‘Rik… that was s***…’ And I’ll shout back, ‘How s*** was it? Will clever people like me notice or just a***holes like you …?’ ”

They write together most days — but never during school holidays — between 11 and 3.30pm “with lunch in between…” And both will tell you that it is the best time because they make each other laugh so much. In fact, they are already at work on a new film and the partnership seems set to endure. “We’ve had a loyal bunch of fans,” says Mayall. “I think people have followed us through the years but we also seem to have gathered a lot of new kids as well… they seem to have discovered ‘Bottom’ and even ‘The Young Ones’.”

As have Mayall’s own children — at least his older two, Rosie and Sid. “Sid really loves the ‘Young Ones’ stuff and Rosie does too, but in a quieter way. She says things like, ‘Oh, Dad, look at you then you were so sweet…’ And I’m going, ‘No, Rosie, that’s the wrong idea… I wasn’t meant to be sweet…’ But they are great, they really are. And I know how lucky I am.”

Earlier this year, there were reports that Mayall had pulled out of a solo project, “Dirty Work” — written by the New Statesman writing team of Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran — because of fears about his health. He is cross about this and also rather angry with the BBC, or at least the people there he calls “the suits”.

“The Beeb is different now. It’s just an office. It’s got no special effects, no make up. Every department was fantastic except for one — the suits. And while everyone was busy being creative, the suits sacked them all.”

The only reason he didn’t make “Dirty Work” (playing a bent policeman) for the BBC is that he felt they were imposing a ridiculous schedule on the film-makers. “It was nothing to do with my health and nothing to do with Laurence and Maurice, who are great. At first it was like, ‘We will do three hour-long episodes before Christmas and that’s tight. And then the suits wanted six before Christmas and that is crazy. It’s not physically possible and the quality will suffer. I mean, I believe in rehearsal time, preparation, you know. I said, ‘Three before and three after Christmas.’ ‘No,’ said the suits, ‘we want all six before’ I’m a little bit hurt about that but I know Maurice and Laurence will understand.”

There will be other opportunities, of course. And in the meantime, he can focus on promoting “Guest House Paradiso” — there are premieres to attend in Belgium, Holland and France — and spending time with his family. Which, perhaps, he values now more than ever. He is devoted to his wife Barbara, whom he married 13 years ago. They met when she was working in make-up at the BBC in Scotland. He saw her walking down a corridor one day and recalls: “I just knew she was the woman I wanted to marry. I just thought, ‘This is it!'”

He has lived through a life-threatening accident and can now joke about it. And he has sensed a change of attitude in the people he meets on the streets — and was overwhelmed by the host of get-well messages he received.

“Before, I’d get people, you know builders or whatever, shout at me on the street ‘Oi, Rik Mayall! You w*****!’ But that’s changed since the bang on the head. It’s been ‘Hello Rik, are you all right mate?’ There’s been a genuine concern. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but it’s really quite sweet.” And although they won’t actually say this to each other, he knows just how much he means to those closest to him. To his wife and children, and of course, to Ade, his lifelong partner in crime and the best mate a bloke could ever wish for.

Rogue Mayall

By Nigel Farndale for The Sunday Telegraph, st November 1999

Rik Mayall has always found violence funny, and now that he’s survived a horrible accident he finds it even funnier – as his new film shows. Nigel Farndale meets a modern prince of slapstick, and wonders if, at bottom, he might be a serious actor.

Goodness, how Rik Mayall can talk. In the St James’s Club, Piccadilly, on a cloudless autumn afternoon, he talks so much his voice hoarsens. He pulls faces when he’s in full flow, grimacing, gurning, subverting his fine handsome features. He has bulging blue eyes, one of which wanders. And though his smile is infectious and wide, he bares his teeth so much it could pass for a snarl. He fidgets constantly, playing with the zipper on his fleece, combing his shoulder-length hair with his fingers. The nervous energy is palpable. Mayall is a sturdily built 5ft 11in and, as he alternates between lying flat on his back on a chaise-longue and pacing the room, he seems to fill every molecule of the place. He has presence. He’s full on. He is excited and showing off. There is, indeed, something of the sixth-former trying too hard about his manner: swearing too much, out one cigarette after another, putting his boots on the coffee-table. When he has a memory lapse he falls silent for as long as ten seconds before clicking his fingers in agitation and shouting ‘F-! I can’t remember!’ He has no volume control. When the ringing of the phone interrupts him he picks it up and bellows, ‘Yes!’ Then slams it down when he discovers it’s a wrong number.

I wish I’d met Rik Mayall before his accident with a quad bike in April last year. I’d like to know whether his mood-swings – from dark and demoniacal, to sonsy, light and airily disconnected – are a long-standing condition. Perhaps he was always like this. But serious accidents do change people, perhaps especially when they occur at an age associated with mid-life crisis. Mayall is 41 and, in interviews he had given before the accident he came across as being more subdued. Smaller in life than his comic personas. Shy even.

His wife Barbara found him underneath his four-wheeled 600lb motorbike in the field outside his house in Devon. Dark blood was pouring from his head, ears and nose. He was airlifted to hospital where he remained in a coma for five days. His wife, parents and Adrian Edmondson, his comedy partner of 25 years’ standing, were at his bedside when he came round. All were crying. Mayall couldn’t understand what was going on. For the next six weeks his brain was scanned for further signs of haemorrhaging. He escaped from the hospital and had to be brought back. He suffered the odd fit, insomnia bout and hearing difficulty, then made a full recovery.

But you can’t help noticing the chunky silver ring on his finger. It’s cast in the shape of a skull and crossbones. Mayall looks sheepish when asked about it. ‘It’s to do with me bashing my head. A private thing between my son and me. Cheating death.’

Rik met Barbara when she was working in make-up at BBC Scotland; she never worked on him but when he saw her walking down the corridor one day he just thought, ‘There she is.’ They were married 13 years ago and have three children, Rosie, Sid and Bonnie. But Mayall would rather not talk about them in case their mates read this article at school. ‘They have their own lives to lead. But, yes, they are very quick. Subtle. When I’m halfway through a joke they will pull a disdainful face and say, “Oh pul-ease Daddy.” One of their great hobbies is not finding Daddy funny. When I get to a big finish there will be a pause and Sid will say, “Sorry, what was that, Dad?” Without me even doing anything Rosie will say, “Oh Daddy, please don’t.” But I’m blushing now.’

He is, too. He thinks his accident affected his relationship with his family. ‘It improved things until they realised I was going to live. When I came round there was a lot of weeping – “But we’ve bought this f-ing box! Now we have to take it back.” No. If anything, it has made us all tougher, more resilient. We were pretty lucky never to have had to face anything like this before. And this wasn’t bad.’

Wasn’t it? I’d like to know what he considers bad. ‘Yeah, but it had a happy ending. It made us all, it bonded us.’

Serious accidents have been known to change people’s perceptions of themselves. Some become fearless, others develop a heightened awareness of their own mortality, of the ephemerality of things, of the preciousness of time. Mayall was always superstitious – never performing unless wearing his lucky underpants – so he would seem to have the right temperament to be affected in this way. He doesn’t see it. Looks blank. ‘I’m very aware of’ He sighs. ‘Of wanting everyone to think I’m great! So I’ll just say that I’m very grateful to be alive.’ He laughs at his mock-magnanimity.

‘I’m not maniacally running around trying to do stuff. Though I do annoy the kids a bit because, since the accident, I’m always dancing and singing.’

He’s happier, then? ‘I was happy before but now I’m happier because I’m not dead or crippled. The problems I had before I recovered, in my brain, have gone and this ring is something to do with spitting in fate’s eye. It was meant to get me and it didn’t. So f- knows what’s going to happen to me later, behind the gates. But it makes me a bit swaggery. And I don’t want to waste any time. And it’s fantastic.’

Clearly, the accident has galvanised him. He has thrown himself into work, making advertisements and supplying narration for children’s television, and, with Adrian Edmondson, he has made a feature film, Guest House Paradiso, which is about to go on general release. (The two play Richie Twat and Eddie Elizabeth Ndingombaba respectively, proprietors of the worst hotel in the world. The film is full of their usual cartoon violence and scatological humour, and the gist of the plot is that when the chef eats all the food they have to resort to feeding their guests fish contaminated by the nuclear power station next door.)

The accident hasn’t made Mayall squeamish about violence. His film is full of it. ‘I love the fight in the kitchen,’ he says croakily. ‘When I hit Ade with that jug, he took the punch so well. The editor cut it perfectly. There’s something about his pace and timing. But I shouldn’t try to intellectualise about why I think the comedy works. One of the reasons Ade is attracted to me is that I am a twat and I do try to intellectualise about these things, and then he is able to turn round to me and say, “Oh, shut up, you twat.” He can puncture me so easily.’

Go on, just a little intellectualising. ‘Well, all right. I do think the nearer you are to frightening your audience – the rush of energy you get from witnessing violence, especially if it is more filmic than theatrical – the more unsettling it is. The release comes out in laughter.’

There is a knock at the door. A voice calls, ‘Room service.’

‘No!’ Mayall screams back. There is a look of exasperation in his eyes. His nostrils are flaring. He is probably doing it to get a laugh but — maybe he isn’t. ‘F-, where was I? Yes, the bigger the fear the bigger the laugh, that’s why we’ve always tried to avoid jokey violence. Vic and Bob’s frying-pans are wobbly and that’s a mortal mistake. I know they’ve got an ironic joke going on but you watch Cleese when he slaps someone. It seems real and so it’s really funny.’

In Guest House Paradiso the fight scenes are convincing, and funny, if you like slapstick. Mayall says he had a genuine rush of adrenaline when he was filming them. ‘I had to simmer down afterwards. There had been a release of some sort. But there’s also great control. Ade and I have never actually hit each other. He’s terribly accurate. Deft. It’s better to under-rehearse for film fighting so that it doesn’t look too prepared.’ The phone rings again. ‘F-!’ He looks at me, eyes narrowed, lips pursed. Is he acting now? I don’t know any more. ‘I’m sorry.’ He answers it. ‘Yes? Have who? Not on this number, matey.’ He slams the phone down. ‘F- this!

I keep getting near to an important pointÉ Yes, if you see my head move as his fist comes up, it’s bogus. It’s crap. It’s not going to work.’

Mayall doesn’t think that there is an innate violence in him that he is able to tap into for his comedy roles. ‘No, not usually. No. There’s something.’ Long pause. ‘The best characters I’ve played are the ones that are nearest to me, because I can play them more realistically. And very often I’m using it as a way of expunging something I’m frightened of.’ He gives examples. His first success on television came at the age of 22 with the character of Kevin Turvey – the inane tedious investigative reporter he played on the sketch show A Kick Up the Eighties. It was inspired by his fear that he himself was a boring person from the Midlands. ‘Kevin was from Redditch, which is only seven years, sorry, miles, excuse my head, from where I was brought up, Droitwich.’ And the character of Rick in The Young Ones, the anarchic comedy series Mayall co-wrote in the early Eighties with his then girlfriend Lise Meyer and Ben Elton (with whom he had been at Manchester University), was even closer to home, he says, because it was based on his own embarrassment at being selfish. Rick was a collection of all the things Rik didn’t like about himself, even down to his difficulty in pronouncing the letter ‘r’. Playing Rick was like an exorcism for Rik. ‘There was a lot of the teenager in me worried about not being groovy and popular enough or about being ugly, or spotty, or being caught masturbating.’

For all his insecurities, Rik Mayall’s own teens were, he says, fairly happy and carefree. His parents, John and Gillian, were drama teachers at a college in Bromsgrove and it was thanks to them, he says, that he got a free place at public school.

‘I remember my first day in the refectory at King’s, Worcester: 600 boys and a huge statue of Jesus at the back. Thirty foot high with huge holes in it because when Cromwell won the battle of Worcester he brought a cannon in to shoot it. There were all these older boys, monitors, with stubble and long hair and I thought “F-. I want to be you so much.” He laughs. ‘Why am I telling you this?’

Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall wrote and performed their first cabaret act together in 1976, at Manchester, where they were both studying for a degree in drama. Mayall remembers the moment they met. ‘It was our first lecture and the professor swept in with his flowing hair and gown and I stood up because that’s what I’d been taught at school. No one else did. And this one bloke – with long hair and John Lennon glasses and a fag in his hand and his f-ing feet on the table – just laughed at me and said, “Tosser!” That was Ade. Maybe I always wanted to be as cool as him. Maybe that’s why I took great satisfaction in him going bald. He was always so strong and quick and self-assured. I wanted him to be my friend. I got a 2:2 in the end, which Ade won’t f-ing shut up about because he got a 2:1.’

The double act were called 20th Century Coyote but later, when they began performing at the Comedy Store in London, they changed the name to The Dangerous Brothers. In a typical sketch they would play the part of God’s testicles, or Mayall would recite a poem about Vanessa Redgrave and Edmondson would walk on and beat him up. Over the years they have usually played characters with names – and personalities – similar to their own. Richie, Rick or Rik is always neurotic and pretentious, Eddie is always bullish and blasé.

Mayall and Edmondson consolidated the success of The Young Ones on the BBC by simultaneously performing in The Comic Strip – which they set up with Peter Richardson, Alexei Sayle, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders (Edmondson’s wife) – on Channel 4. Their one real television flop as a partnership came in 1987 with Filthy Rich & Catflap. This rattled Mayall’s confidence for a while. He didn’t leave the house for three weeks for fear of being pointed at by people saying, ‘That’s the bloke who isn’t funny any more.’ Their fortunes revived with Bottom, the long-running comedy series which, although deemed deeply unfunny by some critics, achieves high viewing figures.

Touchingly, Mayall compares his friendship with Edmondson to a marriage — the longest relationship he has had with anyone, apart from his parents, with all the attendant sulks and tiffs. He is the wife, Edmondson the husband. ‘We are like yin and yang,’ he says. ‘We click.’ This was never more apparent than when they played the two tramps in the West End production of Waiting for Godot in 1992. When I mention that I had never really appreciated the comic elements in the play before seeing their performance, Mayall grins. ‘Yeah, it was more intellectually stimulating than the normal things we do. Because it was so enigmatic. My daddy put me in the play — as The Boy — when I was an eight-year-old. It’s so beautiful and the words are so clever. “Makes a noise like leaves, like dust.” And there are some great gags in it, too. We were criticised at the time for making it funny. We didn’t even put any extra jokes in and we actually took out the hat routine — sorry Sam — because it wasn’t going to work. I would love to make a film of it. Love to. Me as Vladimir, Ade as Estragon.’

But Rik Mayall has performed some of his most memorable roles without Adrian Edmondson by his side. The amoral Tory MP Alan B’Stard in the Emmy and Bafta award-winning New Statesman being one. Another was Mickey Love, the paranoid alcoholic gameshow host – created for the Rik Mayall Presents series in 1993 – who came to believe his programme was being axed when actually his colleagues were planning to feature him in This is Your Life. ‘That series was very dark,’ Mayall recalls. ‘There is an area where I like to perform where the audience isn’t quite sure about Rik. Is he being funny or cruel? Is he a goody or baddy? It is more exciting to watch.’

The biggest frustration in Mayall’s career came in 1994 when he was cast opposite Stephen Fry in Cell Mates, Simon Gray’s play about the British spies Blake and Burke who once shared a cell. Fry, famously, disappeared shortly after the opening night and Gray was furious but Mayall was, he says, just cross, and then only after he had found out that Fry was safe and well. ‘And I’d loved playing with Stephen, yeah. There was something about me in there and maybe something about Stephen. I worked opposite him and there was a lot of hidden sadness in his eyes in there.’ He believes that he was born to play the part; indeed, it represented something of a familial rite of passage for Mayall. ‘My daddy, now 74, recognised in my performance the masculine side of my grandfather. There was a lonely bravado to my character. I’m a quarter Irish and so was Burke. And I had my hair cut short and Brylcreemed and my daddy came to the first night and afterwards everyone was drinking champagne and saying, “Marvellous, marvellous,” except for my daddy who was sitting quietly. I asked him what he thought and he said I was just like his daddy who had died when my daddy was 11 or 12. It was kind of.’ He trails off, shivers and mimes wiping away a tear.

I ask Rik Mayall if his father has ever felt embarrassed by the vulgarity of some of his sketches. ‘Nooo. A little maybe. One or two jokes which are a little close to the edge. Medical stuff. Sodomy jokes. My parents were another generation. Very liberal, being drama teachers, but not permissive. They weren’t as extrovert as me. There was lots of banter and laughs and singing and stupidness at home. But I was the naughty boy. I made them laugh.’

Mayall has an older brother, Anthony, who never shared his taste for performing. ‘He’s a civil engineer now. Very successful. Making bridges. That’s what he likes to do. Not what I’d call straight. He’s a dad. He’s funny. He’s cool.’ Is Anthony jealous of his younger brother’s fame? ‘Not in the slightest. Quite the opposite in fact. You always know what your brother is thinking. I don’t think he weeps himself to sleep at night. He likes making bridges and tunnels. That’s what he loves.’ Mayall also has two younger sisters. One, Libby, looks after rock bands. The other, Kate, is a doctor of philosophy at Birmingham University. ‘She does research and lecturing. Very brainy. Very nice. Very quiet. She’s the youngest. Not frightening. But she doesn’t jabber as much as me. I’m blushing again.’

To his credit, Mayall knows what he is good at. He knows why his comedy works and he has enough self-awareness to realise what motives lie behind his need to make people laugh: feeling good ‘and healthy’ about himself. Unlike Ade Edmondson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Ben Elton, David Baddiel, Robert Newman, Charlie Higson and Nigel Planer, Rik Mayall is that rare thing: an Eighties comedian who hasn’t written a novel. And he has no intention of trying to. He is not a frustrated intellectual, yet you do sense a frustrated actor in him – a serious and subtle one, as seen in his performance in Gogol’s The Government Inspector in 1991 – and, because he has spent so many years being mocked by Edmondson for his pretentiousness, one he dare not let out.

Indeed you can tell that the soul of a Stanislavskian Method actor lurks within Mayall by a comment he makes about being his own hobby. ‘One of my preoccupations is playing with myself,’ he says with a deadpan expression. ‘Like playing a piano. You know, I think I’ll try to be this today. I’ll go into a newsagent’s I’ve never been into before and pretend to be a foreigner who is lost.’

Is this what he has been doing throughout the interview – playing with himself, but also with me? Is the whiff of post-accident madness about him genuine or contrived for his own amusement? Is he, as he puts it, performing in that area where the audience isn’t really sure about Rik? I admit I am left confused. He is, after all, a professional performer, the naughty boy brought up in a home full of banter, singing and stupidness.

While I’m mulling this over he stubs out a cigarette, lights another and offers one to me. ‘Go on! Have a faaag! Have a faaag.’ He waves the packet under my nose. ‘Enjoy yourself. Life is too short. Go ooon. Just one.’ It’s a funny moment.

It makes me laugh. It also, I think, answers my question.

Rik’s Back and Getting Physical

By Michael Owen for The London Times, 26th May 1999

In his first interview since the accident that nearly killed him, Rik Mayall talks to Michael Owen

In possibly one of the filthiest kitchens created by man, the abundance of cooking pots, saucepans and ancillary equipment begins to look threatening. Rik Mayall casts an eager eye over the scene and says: “That’s where we are going to have our first fight tomorrow. There’s going to be a lot of head clattering. Can’t wait.”

These words from the actor who, a year ago, lay in a neurological ward, where his family had been told he was not expected to live, announce not just the completeness of his recovery but also his return to the world of mayhem he has been creating with his sparring partner, Adrian Edmondson, for the past 20 years.

The pair are bringing the television characters they created in Bottom to the big screen. They have cooked up a film called Guest House Paradiso, in which they are the co-owners of the worst hotel in the world. The film is currently shooting at Ealing Studios with Edmondson as director.

They embarked on the screenplay two years ago, but progress was interrupted by Mayall’s accident when he turned over a quad bike in the garden of his Devon farm. He was flown by helicopter to a Plymouth hospital and for three days remained on the danger list. On the fourth day the doctors indicated the first sign of a possible recovery and on the fifth day he woke up. “I opened my eyes and saw my wife Barbara, my parents and Ade. They were all crying. I didn’t know what had happened.”

This is his first interview since his near-death experience. Sitting in his dressing room, he looks fit and vigorous with his long fair hair swept to the back of his neck. He reviews the event in the cheeriest terms, regularly breaking off for laughter and blaming himself for all the concern he had caused: “What a prat!”

He has no recall of the accident and only knows he was discovered beside the machine with blood pouring from his ears, nose and mouth. “Barbara saw me lying there in the garden from the window. She thought it was another of my silly jokes at first.”

In hospital, a massive brain haemorrhage was diagnfive days. “When I woke up my first thought was: ‘Oh no, I haven’t gone out and got drunk and fallen down in the street or something?’ I was totally confused. It was very spooky and I was doing some very strange things.

“I could not remember names, not even my wife’s. I could not 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 talk me out of it.”

He was transferred to a private hospital in London and made another break for freedom. “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. I was given another injection. Whack, that put me out again and I woke up in another bloody hospital.”

For six weeks the haemorrhage lingered while he went through continued brain scans. “They put you through this huge machine. It’s like something out of Star Trek. Then the doctor told me the blood had to come out so they would take the top of my head off. For two days I panicked. Then they ran another scan and it had gone. I have been as happy as Alice ever since.”

There was a self-inflicted relapse a few months later when Mayall took himself off the medication he was prescribed. “I had an epileptic-type fit. My wife found me having a convulsion, sort of jerking around on the bed. So I went back on the pills.” Life returned to normal as he re-embraced his family, including his children aged 12, 10 and three. He says: “I’m magnificently proud of all of them. Not only Barbara for her stoic quality, her inner bravery, but also for the strength and patience of my kids.”

But he became nervous as he approached his return to work. “That was a complete new terror – would I ever work again?” He eased himself back with a simple voice-over which he accomplished as if nothing had ever happened. Since then he has appeared in a Jonathan Creek special on TV at Christmas, and played the title role in another film called Merlin 2000, while deliberately avoiding publicity. Now, however, he feels confident about discussing the past year.

Apart from punch-ups, the new film includes voyeurism, radioactive fish, drunken chefs, an exotic beauty, naked waiters, projectile vomiting and, of course, a series of explosions. Mayall has no fear of submitting himself to the most extreme physical stunts.

“Ade has been shockingly careful to make sure I’m all right on this film – and I am. We’ve always prided ourselves on not using stuntmen, unless it is something they do better like jumping off a cliff or falling downs tairs. There has been quite a lot of head-battering over the years but I can honestly say Ade has never hurt me. Alexei Sayle knocked me out with a shotgun once and I think it was Nigel [Planer] who hit me with a real brick rather than a plastic one, but overall I’ve been lucky.”

After the film, he will be reunited with the writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, who wrote The New Statesman and created the memorable Alan B’Stard, MP, for a new television series called Dirty Work. It features Mayall as a cynical ex-detective involved in the underworld of drugs and crime.

But there will be no return to The New Statesman, even though the current spin-doctoring political climate might be ideal for B’Stard’s machinations. “Alan is away licking his wounds, or someone else’s wounds. I think we carried on with him longer than we should but we couldn’t leave him alone. It was a mistake really and it would be a shame to go back to him now.”

Have people’s attitudes changed towards him? “Yes. Before the accident people used to say: ‘Do something crazy, Rik.’ Now it’s genuine affection. It’s not ‘Hello, darling, how are you?’ but more straightforward. ‘You all right, Rik?’ ‘You better now, mate?’ That’s great.

“See, I’ve grown up and turned nice.”

Rik Mayall – My Accident Could Have Been Worse – I Could Have Killed My Daughter

For Bella Magazine, 19th October 1999

But for a few drops of rain, Rik Mayall’s daughter might have been on his quad-bike when he crashed

Rik Mayall is older – witness the strakes of grey in his long dark blonde hair – and a lot wiser. “I’ll never ride a quad bike again,” he vows.

However, despite his close call with death in the freak accident on his Devon farm last year, Rik has yet to junk the dangerous machine.

“I regularly go into the garage where it’s stored,” he confesses. “I walk around, growling and occasionally kicking it.

“I should have known better,” he continues. “When I was about 17, my father had a motorbike. I was always asking if I could ride it and he always refused. I even asked for one of my own, but he absolutely 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 a quad bike and, to fulfil his prophecy, fell off it… and nearly died of head injuries as a result.”

Rik claims now to be back on good health, with new projects springing up all over the place. But the near-death experience has caused him to think a great deal about life, about what he really cares about.

“I think a lot about how near I came to killing my little daughter, Bonnie, and her friend,” he reveals. “A quad bike has four wheels and is large enough to take passengers, so they wanted a ride. As I took it out of the garage, three spots of rain fell on my arm and I thought : ‘I don’t want the kids to get wet.’ So I refused them.

“I’d just got down to Devon after a lot of work, finishing a film with Stephen Fry, and I wanted to get out in some fresh air. I knew the rain wouldn’t hurt me, but I didn’t fancy the kids getting soaked. My decision saved their lives.

“I remember nothing about the accident. My mind is a total blank. I’ll be on medication for the rest of my life, I know that now. But what are a few pills if they keep me stable and adjusted?

“Not so long ago, I foolishly thought I was doing well and could maybe give up the pills. Then, one day, I was in the recording studio doing a voiceover for something when I had a seizure – a minor epileptic fit. I bit right through my tongue!”

This was a month before Rik was due to start recording his comeback TV project, Guest House Paradiso, in which he teams up once again with his co-star from The Young Ones and Bottom, Ade Edmondson.

“The basic idea is that Eddie and Richie, the central characters from Bottom, are now running a guest house,” explains Rik about the drama the BBC will be screnning this Autumn.

Rik remains ‘deeply impressed and moved’ by the amount of sympathy and affection that poured in from friends and public after the accident.

“It was all heartwarmingly affirmative and I’m very grateful for that,” he says. “When I finally got out and about again, I got shouts in the streets from complete strangers of ‘Good luck, mate!’, which was very touching indeed.

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

He adds quietly: “I think that, in a way, I was very spoilt before and didn’t realise what I had going for me. Since the accident, I’ve become far more appreciative than I ever was before.”

Redirected Mayall

By David Allsop for The Express Saturday Magazine, 27th November – 3rd December 1999

Meeting Rik Mayall for the first time, anyone might be forgiven for feeling a little apprehensive as he bursts into the room, cursing loudly and apologising for his late arrival. This, after all, is the man who is synonymous with a new genre of scatological comedy — the manic, wild-eyed comic actor who has developed a definitively British variation of Tom & Jerry-style violence on both stage and screen.

Find him within arm’s reach of a saucepan, and you can be fairly sure that it will shortly be bouncing off someone’s skull. Give him an opportunity to spit a venomous personal insult and your ears will be scorched with a blast of vitriol that could strip industrial paint.

So when he seizes an ashtray from a table, and hefts it thoughtfully in one hand, the situation looks momentarily bleak. “I’m going to smoke. Is that all right?” he asks, stretching out in a chair and inhaling luxuriantly Anything other than an enthusiastic assent would, you feel, be somewhat reckless. Mayall’s repertoir of infamous TV characters — Rick in The Young Ones, Richie Richard in Bottom, Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman, Flashheart in Blackadder — makes it hard to envisage a side to his personality that is not dangerously volatile or absurdly vainglorious.

This impression is reinforced by his late dramatic persona, Richie Twat, in Guest House Paradiso, the film he has co-written with Ade Edmondson, his professional partner since thc were both drama students at Manchester University in the mid Seventies. Twat (pronounced ‘Thwaite’, as he constantly demands in the film’s longest-running gag) is the owner of the worst hotel in the world.When he isn’t roundly insulting his guests with Fawltyesque relish he is either assaulting them, robbing them, stealing their erotic undergarments, poisoning them, or otherwise subjecting them to a catalogue of immoderate abuse, which also includes voyeurism and nuclear irradiation.

It comes as something of a surprise to discover that the real Rik Mayall is a pleasantly mannered, family loving, affable sort of character. Happily married for 12 years, he is the father of three children — Rosie, 12, Sidney, 10, and Bonnie, four — and remains in close contact with his parents in Worcestershire, his elder brother Anthony (a civil engineer), his sister Libby (who works in the music industry) and his younger sister, Kate, who is a doctor of psychology “She’s very quiet about what she thinks of me,” he conlides about his youngest sibling.

But he does share a few of the characteristics of the abrasive alter egos that he has developed over the past 20 years. His conversation is liberally peppered with expletives, his upper lip occasionally curls with impressive elasticity; and his body language — even seated — reflects and amplifies every utterance.

Sometimes it is impossible to distinguish him from the ‘Richie’ character who, over the past two decades, has thrived on a mutually destructive relationship with ‘Eddie’ — played with equal rancour by Ade Edmondson. At one point, eyeing me balefully, he asks: “Are you speaking to Ade? No? Good. Then I can slag him to hell.”

Instead, though, he goes on to describe, his partner’s directorial debut on Guest House Paradiso in glowing terms. “He’s strong, captain-like, tactical, and optimistic. He’s not a bastard, though he can be if he wants to be.”

So was it easy to be directed by his old sparring partner? “Yes,” he answers after a moment’s thought. “If you’re good. Which, of course, I am.” The biggest surprise is not just in discovering that Mayall is a very much milder man than one might have expected, but in finding that there is a vulnerable, even God-fearing side to the enfant terrible of British comedy. A recent glimpse of mortallty has caused him to reflect sobeily on the things he cleaily values in life.

Last year, shortly after his 40th birthday, he fell off a quad bike at his south-Devon farm and suffered a massive brain haemorrhage. His wife, Barbara, found him lying on his back staring sightlessly at a stormy sky, blood seeping from his ears, nose and mouth. He was taken by air ambulance to hospital, then dipped in and out of a coma for a week as his life hung in the bal-ance. “I fell off at Easter,” he recalls. “It was Maundy Thursday, which my kids now call Crap Thursday They call Good Friday ‘Worse’ Friday”

His family was told that I was not expected to live. He recalls Ade Edmondson standing at his bedside, one of the few people he recognised, and then he stops mid-sentence and has to collect himself, swallowing hard. “He was the first one there — apart from Barbara. I remembered his name, which was unusual, because other people came in and I kept getting them confused. And he was very affected. Shed a tear or two, and knew it was pretty hairy.”

Over the next two months he made a remarkable recovery — not helped by his persistent attempts to break out of hospital. “I went through a period trying to rationalise why I was there. I thought that someone was playing a really elaborate trick — but if it was a trick it’d be funny by now, and it wasn’t. I couldn’t understand this, so thought I’d better escape.

He goes on to recount the first of a number of instances that could have come straight out of an episode of one of his sitcoms. “In a clumsy slyness, I’d say to the nurses: “I think I’ll go for a walk and stretch my legs. But I noticed that wherever I went they were always with me. I’d say: “Really, I’m just going for a walk You don’t have to come. And they’d reply, “Oh we like you Rik, we just like your company You don’t mind, do you?”

“So I’d start walking a bit faster, suddenly changing direction like a loony, and they’d still be with me. God, those girls were great. Occasionally I managed to make a break for it, and I’d get to a locked door, and they’d gently take me back to bed.” But it was during a transfer to another hospital in London that he finally managed to give his nurse the slip. “We’d just got to the room, and the poor guy who was looking after me wanted a pee. He’d just closed the toilet door, and I was gone. Poor devil. I was down the street, and a taxi came by and I jumped in. It was fantastic! I couldn’t believe I’d escaped.”

He made it back to his west London house, and was let in by a perplexed family friend. “Jeff was there, he’s a theatre director so he’s used to actors, and I wanted to open a bottle of champagne to celebrate being home. Or Vodka, or even beer. Strangely enough, Jeff couldn’t find a bottle of anything anywhere. He’d been running around furiously stashing everything.”

Promptly returned to Charing Cross hospital, protesting that he’d never felt better, he was told he faced major brain surgery because of the residue of clotted blood still clogging his head. “Excuse me touching you,” he says to me, leaning forward and tracing a finger around my forehead. “The surgeon told me that if the blood didn’t disappear in two days, he was going to have to take the top of my head off like this. Like an egg. And he wasn’t joking.”

On the final brain scan before surgery, Mayall was ‘alone with God’ in the scanning machine. “I was in there longer than the last time. When I came out, the surgeon had a kind of smile on his face and said, ‘It’s gone!’. He said he’d checked and rechecked, and that it was a mystery. But it had definitely gone. And I was so happy to be alive, and happy that I’d been let off death and let off having the top of my head removed. What damage would have been done then? Not that he wasn’t the best in the world, but it could have been ‘Oops-a-daisy! I’ve knocked over his knob nerve. He’ll never have an erection again.'”

Required to take anti-epileptic drugs to assist his recovery, Mayall suffered a seizure last February after he “got bored taking them” and nearly bit off his tongue. Now he acknowledges that he must be more circumspect about his health, and that he will probably be reliant on medication for the rest of his life.

“Of course, I’m grateful to be alive and I take a joy in it. It sounds pathetic, but it happens to be true. I enjoy myself just by being alive. Going to the lav and doing the washing up. And working with Ade, and being creative, and finding out that after the blood disappeared I could still act.”

Earlier in his recovery he had constantly been beset by fears that he would never be able to work again. “I couldn’t string a sentence together. Words were jumbled around and I didn’t know what was going on. My brain was full of blood. Then after it went, I started dipping my toe in, doing little bits, beginning with a voiceover. The real tester was doing Jonathan Creek, which wasn’t difficult but there were a lot of lines to learn. It was a joy to do. They were very gentle and nice. In fact, people were relentlessly nice to me.”

He pauses, and draws heavily on a cigarette. “Gratitude? I don’t know what I should feel. What have I done to deserve this? What am I needed for? If I was a more religious man…” His voice trails off uncertain whether he should be sharing such spiritual reflections.

“Perhaps I’m getting nearer that way,” he continues after a moment. “But I don’t know how to be religious. I often ask myself what am I being kept for? Is it for a particular deed that needs doing? I don’t know what that is, yet, but I shall know when the time comes.”

Mayall is now back writing and performing full-time. In the past year he has completed another film Merlin 2000 The Return, been in constant demand for cartoon voiceovers, and become the convincing face of corporate arrogance in the Virgin Trains television advert.

He has no current plans to resurrect any of his former roles, although he concedes that he might one day make an exception for Alan B’Stard (“I lurved him”) and Kevin Turvey — the engagingly deluded, pizza-faced teenager from the Black Country who made his TV debut in the early Eighties. “He’s my Dad’s favourite. I’ve been thinking of doing him becoming religious and wearing a dog collar”.

He will doubtless continue to play characters like Richie Twat, rooted in timeless adolescence, for the rest of his career, but Mayall acknowledges that his near-death experience has made him grow-up in ways he is still only beginning to fully appreciate. And he’s not alone. “I feel maturer, stronger and happier. But the kids have matured, too. They went through almost as bad an experience as Barbara. Even Bonnie, who’s only four, has a saying if I lose a slipper or something: ‘Daddy. There’s no emergency we can’t handle.”

Mayall Tells of Epilepsy Battle

By Luisa Metcalfe for The Daily Telegraph, 29th July 1999

RIK MAYALL, the comic actor, will have to take medication for the rest of his life to stave off the chances of life-threatening seizures after a serious head injury last year.

The star of such television programmes as The Young Ones, Bottom and Blackadder had an epileptic seizure in February after he got “bored” taking the pills. Mayall, 41, who is currently narrating the new pre-school children’s television show Jellikins, said: “There was a little relapse, only a little one. If you smack your head there’s a chance you might get epilepsy, a seizure, and I did.”

Mayall had an accident on a quad bike at his home in Devon in April last year which left him with serious injuries and in a coma for several days. Mayall remembers nothing of the accident but he said that he was now feeling “very good”.

He said: “I was supposed to take pills for a year until I knew it was safe, but I took them until Christmas and I got a bit bored.” He suffered a seizure while doing the voice-over for an educational programme. Thankfully, I bit my tongue. That’s the worst thing, if you have a seizure and you swallow your tongue, you’re a goner.”

His tongue had recovered sufficiently after six weeks to carry on working, but he now must continue with the treatment indefinitely. “I just keep having to take the medication, but it has no side-effects, which is great. I was very lucky. If the worst I have to do is take a couple of pills at bedtime, it could have been a lot worse.”

Mayall does all the voices for the animated series Jellikins, on which he worked both before and after the accident. The series is to be screened every Saturday at 6.50am on GMTV, starting this weekend. Mayall was particularly pleased with the show which has a cast of jelly characters.

He said: “There’s a whole world where these people can fall out of trees and not even hurt themselves.” He said it was a great antidote to imported American shows for children which contained more realistic violence.

The Interview: Rik Mayall

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.

I’m Lucky to be Alive

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.