Adrian Edmondson talks about the death of his friend Rik Mayall and how it inspired his new book. Grace Hammond reports.
Adrian Edmondson is admiring a poster of himself and his late friend Rik Mayall, embellished with smaller pictures of the pair in different guises at the bottom of the frame.
Since his friend and comedy collaborator’s death in 2014 from a heart attack, he has kept his counsel on how he copes with the loss of the man with whom he starred in the hit Eighties and Nineties comedies The Young Ones and Bottom.
They had been close pals since meeting at Manchester University, cutting their teeth at The Comedy Store before gaining fame in Channel 4’s The Comic Strip Presents... with the likes of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders (who he went on to marry) He has touched on death in his debut children’s novel Tilly And The Time Machine, about a seven-year-old who lives with her scientist dad, the inventor of a time machine, and wants to be transported back to her sixth birthday party when her mummy, who had cancer, was there.
“Part of the inspiration for this book is looking at death,” he explains. “I found I could write about adult things more easily in a children’s book than I could when I was trying to write an adult novel.”
Edmondson, 60, says found it difficult to show emotion publicly following Mayall’s death. He was a pallbearer at the funeral. “It feels intrusive having to explain yourself, which is why people write. You process it in a different way.”
His friend’s death, he says, came as a big surprise.“He was like a brother. It’s just very weird when someone like that pops off. I miss the man who would laugh at my most stupid jokes.” While his new book is gentle and funny, it also touches on cancer, a subject close to home after his wife Saunders was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. The couple have been married for 32 years and guarded their privacy throughout.
“The secret [of a happy marriage] is don’t talk about it. Any couple that start talking about themselves in glowing terms in the papers usually end up divorced the week after.”
Family is hugely important to Edmondson, whose first marriage was short-lived. When he proposed to Saunders, he said: “Will you marry me and can we have children?”
They have three grown-up daughters and three grandchildren, on whom he dotes.
While they have kept the family home in Devon, he and Saunders spend most of their time at their house in central London, which they bought to be near the children.
Only one of their daughters, Beattie, has gone into acting. She stars in the comedy Josh. Later this year, Edmondson will be filming a new four-part ITV police drama called Bancroft.
The deaths of Mayall and several other friends have made him consider his own mortality.
“I recently turned 60, which I’m having a bit of trouble with. It’s made me rationalise what I enjoy and make sure I do what I enjoy. I’ve decided what I am. I’m a writer of children’s books and an actor. And I’m very happy doing those things.”
Tilly And The Time Machine by Adrian Edmondson is published by Puffin, priced £6.99