Christopher Biggins simply adored his mother, Pam. ‘If I have anything of a sense of humour, it was from her,’ he says.
Needless to say, he was bereft when she died of old age at 93 earlier this year.
‘The week before she died, I sat with her for three hours. She didn’t open her eyes once. Eventually I said to her: ‘Mum, I’ve got to go now. Can you see me?’
Finally, she opened them and said: ‘Of course I can see you. You’re so bloody big.’ Those were the last words my mother said to me. She was hysterically funny, right until the end.’
That was six months ago. Today Christopher, who will be 70 in just over a week’s time, is 15lb lighter.
He had Type 2 diabetes diagnosed eight years ago, but gaily continued about his ‘marvellous’ life, taking medicine to control his blood sugar levels and never considering his own mortality.
Christopher Biggins (left) following weight loss and (right) during his stint in the pantomime Dick Whittington
It was, he says, the approach of his birthday that made him think: ‘Now look. You’ve really got to get yourself together for the rest of your life.’
That and the funerals and memorial services he increasingly attends.
‘As you get older, the things you go to apart from restaurants and theatres are funerals and memorial services.
‘It makes you aware that life is very shallow. It’s not easy,’ he says. ‘You never know when you’re going to go.
‘I’ve always been aware of being a big boy — aware of my weight and what have you, and looking at going on diets — but knowing I was approaching 70 was a turning point.’
A month ago, Christopher checked himself into the Buchinger Wilhelmi Clinic, a world-renowned weight-loss and detox spa in Uberlingen, on the edge of Lake Constance in southern Germany.
Much like Dr Michael Mosley’s revolutionary diabetes diet that was serialised in the Daily Mail in September, it advocates a diet low in sugar and starch, plus fasting and daily exercise.
In ten days, Christopher’s blood glucose level was ‘drastically reduced’ — so much so, he now intends to follow Dr Mosley’s 8-week Blood Sugar Diet.
‘My diabetes came down drastically in the spa. Now I’m going to try to reverse it completely.
The secret is eating less, eating healthily and doing exercise. This realisation has come at the right time for me.
I’m at an age where things start to go wrong and you can combat it if you are healthy.
A month ago, Christopher (pictured above) checked himself into the Buchinger Wilhelmi Clinic, a world-renowned weight-loss and detox spa in Uberlingen
‘If you’ve got diabetes, it’s no good relying on tablets. You have to look at yourself.’
Going to the spa was the real thing. ‘I did five days of fasting, which was extraordinary.
They give you a soup that tastes of nothing but it’s enough to stop you falling over.
They also encourage you to walk. I walked five to six kilometres a day. You lose 15lb and everything becomes so much easier. It’s extraordinary.
‘I could tie my own shoes before, but it was always a bit difficult because there was too much around the belly. If you become a couch potato at home you don’t have any energy.
Now I walk for 50 minutes every day and you wouldn’t believe how wonderful it feels.’ He laughs his familiar, jolly laugh.
‘When you get older, every day of life becomes hugely important — every moment.
‘When you wake up, you want to get out and do things because you don’t know how much longer you’re going to be able to do them, especially when people younger than you are passing away.’
Christopher, who will be appearing in panto this season as Widow Twankey at the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, recently went to Bafta-winning choreographer Dame Gillian Lynne’s memorial service.
It was, he says, ‘a wonderful celebration’ of her extraordinary life as a choreographer, director, dancer and vital creative force behind such musicals as Cats and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but saddening nonetheless.
There have been numerous poignant celebrations in recent years for the lives of those he knew and loved: Lynda Bellingham, Cilla Black, Dale Winton. The list goes on.
‘The terrible thing about people dying is you think: ‘I must ring whoever’. Then you realise they’re not here any more.
Christopher Biggins (pictured) had previously revealed that he has Type 2 diabetes
‘I still vividly remember when I heard about Cilla. I was going to have lunch with friends at The Ivy. It was a Sunday, and I was trying to park the car when the phone went. Someone said: ‘I don’t know if you’ve heard but Cilla’s died.’ I just burst into tears.
‘I was so shocked because I’d only spoken to her the day before. It wasn’t possible she had died. It was ridiculous. She was only, what, 72 years old. No age at all.
‘That day will never leave me because then I rang her sons and had it confirmed. It was awful.
Having said that, she was suffering from a lot of things and she’d have been a terrible patient, so the way she went was rather good: in Spain, in her house with her sons. She literally keeled over and that was it.
‘It was the way we all want to go. She didn’t suffer. She wasn’t in pain. I would love to go in my sleep. That would be my ideal thing. Anyway, it was a terrible, terrible shock.’
His face is sombre now and the customary breezy joviality is temporarily absent.
‘Afterwards, I kept thinking to myself — even after we’d had the funeral where I read the religious reading — I must ring Cilla and tell her. But she had gone, never to be contactable again.
Christopher (right) had previously appeared on ITV’s Loose Women to talk about his weight loss
‘I still think the same with my mother. Every time I came home from being away, I always rang to ask how she was. To this day I think: ‘I must ring my mum.’
‘Mum wanted to go. She was at the end, but her dying has affected me much more than my father [Bill, who died of colon cancer at the age of 81 ten years ago]. I’ve been knocked sideways by it really.’
Christopher’s parents worked every hour God sent to give their son, who was their only child until his brother, Sean, was born when he was 18, every opportunity in life.
His mother worked in a cocktail bar at a hotel in Salisbury while his father ran a garage and, later, a bric-a-brac business.
They paid for him to attend a private school and funded elocution lessons to rid him of his Wiltshire burr at a time when speaking ‘the Queen’s English’ was a passport to a better future.
They also gave him his love of life and people, which has been returned in spades by everyone from royalty to Hollywood stars.
What are the different types of diabetes?
Cluster 1: Severe autoimmune diabetes, or ‘type one’ diabetes, people stop producing insulin.
Cluster 2: Severe insulin-deficient diabetes affects young people with high blood sugar, low insulin production and moderate insulin resistance.
Cluster 3: Severe insulin-resistant diabetes is mostly linked to obesity.
Cluster 4: Mild obesity-related diabetes – affects obese patients but is less serious.
Cluster 5: Mild age-related diabetes is the biggest group, mostly elderly patients.
I once lunched with him at the swish Ivy Club, and you could barely finish a mouthful without someone or other popping over to say hello.
He was delightful to every one of them, well-known or not.
‘I learnt from Barbara Windsor how to handle the public. She adores them. She knows they put her where she is and always has time for them,’ he says.
He talks about her battle with Alzheimer’s. ‘She is an angel.
Her long-term memory is excellent, it’s her short-term memory that isn’t great.
She copes during the day, then, I don’t know, something happens.
The difficulties arise in the early evening, but she is doing amazingly well.
I suppose we’re all very fragile and need as much help as we can get.’ Again, his face creases in sadness.
‘Barbara introduced me to Dale Winton [who died this year, aged 62, after suffering with a heart complaint and chest infection]. He was a terribly sad man.
‘I don’t think he was fulfilled emotionally. I think he met the wrong people — the wrong men — and was taken advantage of.
He wanted to be loved and to love someone, and I don’t think he ever achieved that. Everything was so sad, somehow, when you think what a big, big star he was.’
Christopher, who was married and amicably divorced in the Seventies, has shared his life with his partner, air steward Neil Sinclair, for 25 years.
They sealed their relationship in a civil partnership at Hackney Register Office 12 years ago.
‘I’m lucky enough to have been with someone for so many years and we still love each other,’ he says. ‘It’s marvellous to have that.
He works for British Airways and although he loves showbusiness, he’s not involved in it, which is good.
‘In the early days of television, when I was doing children’s TV, you had to be a bit careful about being gay, but it’s much easier now.
‘I don’t understand why people who are gay are closeted and don’t come out because there’s no need to hide that any more. You just have to be yourself because if you’re not, you’re doomed.
‘Neil’s thrilled that I’ve lost this weight. He used to get worried about me not doing enough exercise and he can see the change. I like nothing more now than having evenings in with Neil or friends.
The days are gone where I long to go to a party. Now, I long to go to bed and watch a nice American drama or something.
‘I think as you get older, something happens which is very, very nice: you learn to say no.
‘No is a very important word. Up to about a year ago I was still saying yes to everything and I was exhausted.
‘But you get to a point where you can be doing too much. As life goes on, you want to be able to enjoy doing what you enjoy.’
He sits back in his chair, deep in thought. ‘I’m very lucky. I’ve had the most amazing friends and lived the life of a millionaire without being a millionaire. I’ve had love and affection from so many different people.
‘Everything in my life is done with such joy and bonhomie. I have lived a charmed life, but the highlight of my career had to be winning I’m A Celebrity.’
Christopher (pictured above) had won the 2007 series of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here
Christopher won the ITV series in 2007 and his joy at being crowned King of the Jungle is an enduring image for those of us who tune in every year.
‘If people come to me for advice about going on I’m A Celebrity, I always say ‘be yourself’ but it’s terribly difficult for some people.
‘This year all of them are acting. Everybody is being terribly nice. They’re doing it because they think they’re going to win.
‘There’s no controversy, no aggravation. I mean, Noel Edmonds was being so super-nice it was rather sickening.
‘He was being sweetness and light as if he’d taken lessons from somebody.
‘I think a lot of them are. Noel’s charming and he’s funny — really funny. He looks good and obviously had someone to go in and do his hair — that’s a joke.
Who would he like to see crowned King or Queen of the Jungle?
‘Harry [Redknapp],’ he shoots back. ‘He’s lovely, a real surprise. And the way he feels about his wife Sandra is wonderful.
‘The biggest thing about doing that programme is the boredom. You only see one hour of 24 hours.
‘There is nothing to watch, nothing to listen to, nothing to read. Nothing. In a way, you are then in the hands of the editors who can control you completely.
‘But because it’s so boring you go to a higher plane. You fall asleep or don’t do anything, or talk and rest. It enables you to do things and think about things in a way you never normally do.
‘You do think sometimes about your own death. I’ve always felt our spirit goes on.
‘I did a series years ago called I, Claudius [for the BBC in 1976] and played Nero.
‘There was something that made it click. I felt as though I’d inhabited Nero years ago. You know when you have feelings about a period — certain things you like and dislike — I think it’s because you’ve been there before.
‘My theory is that our spirit goes on into other people. That thought helps me cope with it.
‘Death doesn’t scare me. What scares me is being in pain. That’s why living healthily is of the utmost importance.
‘Life is such a wonderful thing. I’d like to think I have at least 20 more years and I want to cherish every day, every moment.’