In an exclusive Mail series, Britain’s top comic, Michael McIntyre, has revealed the highs and lows of his stand-up success.
Today, in this uproarious final part of his memoir, he recalls the time Prince Charles mistook him for a charity case, a risky impersonation of Prince William and the sheer joy of beating Simon Cowell’s TV ratings…
As host of the Royal Variety Performance held in December 2014, I was really pleased to hear that Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge would be in attendance. They were fresh royal meat.
Michael McIntyre, David Hasselhoff, Amanda Holden and Simon Cowell ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ TV Programme in 2011
Prince Charles had already seen me at three Royal Variety Performances and a special celebration for his 60th birthday. Not that he remembered.
I had recently hosted a dinner for the Prince’s Trust and before we sat down to eat I waited in line to shake hands with HRH, along with Gary Lineker, Cheryl Cole, Phillip Schofield and men and women whose lives had been turned around by the Trust.
Prince Charles was thrilled to chat to his old mate Cheryl but, unfortunately, when he reached me he asked, ‘So tell me how the Prince’s Trust has helped you?’
‘No, I’m hosting tonight,’ I said, smiling and hoping my face would ring a bell, the memory one, not the one he rings for a servant.
‘That’s wonderful. It’s amazing what can be achieved when you put your mind to it,’ he said before spotting Gary Lineker.
‘Gary, how good to see you,’ he said, moving along the line.
Kate and Wills had recently married and just had a baby, so there was a lot for me to work with and I bounded on to the stage at the London Palladium fully loaded with bespoke jokes for them.
Congratulating them on the birth of Prince George, I shouted ‘Who’s the daddy?’ to William.
I certainly hadn’t planned on doing that but they were so relaxed and laughing along that I immediately felt loose as I did an impression of William reading George a bedtime story: ‘And then the Prince and the Princess kissed on the lawn of the magnificent palace and lived happily ever after . . . Anyway, enough about my day, what book are we going to read?’
The show felt like a comeback gig and I felt in control and happy for the first time since my agent Addison Cresswell had died of a heart attack the previous Christmas.
We were at our country house when I heard the news and it hit me like a thunderbolt.
My wife Kitty and I went into the TV room where the boys were playing on their Xbox and paused the game while Kitty told them that something bad had happened. I sat between them and started to cry.
Lucas was eight years old and Ossie only five. They were the ones who cried in life, when they grazed a knee or banged their head, not me, not their dad. They had never seen me cry before. Still to this day it’s the only time they have seen me in tears.
It didn’t cross my mind how shocking that would be for them, but their reaction was so sweet and kind that I cry all over again when I remember it. They instantly understood. In the middle of bickering and playing Fifa they were suddenly cuddling and consoling me, looking after me.
The saddest part of that horrible Christmas was that whenever I needed help in any aspect of my life, from a leaking washing machine to a family problem, I would call Addison and he would always, absolutely always, know what to do.
That’s when I really felt it. The pain and confusion I was feeling on hearing he had died made me want to call the only person who could help, the only person who would have the answers, Addison himself. My reflex reaction was always to turn to him. I relied on him so much.
He was my agent for seven years and what he did for me is astounding. An infamous, cigar-chomping, comedy management juggernaut whose voice was uniquely gruff, like he was coughing up words, he was a whirlwind whose most-used phrase was ‘I’m just being honest with ya’.
Once when I was in the midst of having a suit fitted at a tailor’s in Soho, he approached the delicate subject of my weight gain in the following way: ‘Michael, you’re getting fat. I’m just being honest with ya.’
The tailor, mumbling through a safety pin in his mouth, suggested, ‘I could open the side panels in the shirt, to give you more room.’
‘Open the panels?’ Addison said. ‘It’s not about opening the panels it’s about closing his f***ing mouth when there’s cake around. I’m just being honest with ya.’
Addison was a performer in his own right. He would always have one final story that concluded every meeting and every phone call: ‘I’ll end on this,’ he’d say before launching into his closing tale.
My first ambition as a stand-up had been to play The Comedy Store in London. Now I was embarking on a tour that included a record- breaking six nights at the 10,000-seat Wembley Arena, more than anyone had played before
The most feared and respected player in comedy, he got me my first big break, appearing at the Royal Variety Performance of 2006, and was key to everything in the years following, including my best-selling first DVD, Live And Laughing, filmed at the Hammersmith Apollo and released in November 2008.
It was Addison who helped me get over my appearance at the Baftas the following April.
As I described in yesterday’s Mail, I was there to present the award for best sitcom with Tess Daly and my jokes fell completely flat with the audience at the Royal Festival Hall, a hell on earth which became all the worse when the host Graham Norton made a very funny quip at my expense as I left the stage.
A few months later, my first Saturday night TV show Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow began airing on the BBC. The first episode got 5.1 million viewers which was huge for a new show and, building on this success, Addison came up with his next wild idea — an arena tour starting later that year.
My first ambition as a stand-up had been to play The Comedy Store in London. Now I was embarking on a tour that included a record- breaking six nights at the 10,000-seat Wembley Arena, more than anyone had played before.
I would soon become the biggest-selling comedian in the world and I prized the confidence Addison had in me because my own confidence had always been wafer thin.
Usually before every show my mind filled with self-doubt. ‘I don’t feel funny tonight.’ ‘The audience don’t look like my kind of people.’ ‘I need a banana.’ ‘That banana has made me feel weird.’ After a show I’m even worse. ‘Was I too fast?’ ‘You don’t think the audience seemed flat?’ ‘Was it better than last night?’ ‘Are you saying last night was terrible?’
The experience of playing arenas will always be the most mind- blowing of my life. I knew I was one of very few people to achieve anything like this and I wasn’t going to take any second for granted.
I’ve always loved cars and started buying them for people I loved. I bought an Audi A5 for my mum and a Mercedes for my wingman Paul Tonkinson
Now you’re probably wondering what impact this sudden rush of success was having on our finances. Well, it was having a tremendous impact. We moved into a huge six-bedroomed house in upmarket Hampstead and I paid off the mortgage within a year.
I’ve always loved cars and started buying them for people I loved. I bought an Audi A5 for my mum and a Mercedes for my wingman Paul Tonkinson, who once bailed me out in a petrol station when I was so broke all my cards were rejected.
One breakfast I said to our housekeeper and nanny Lorraine, a remarkably brilliant person who had looked after Kitty when she herself was a child, that if she could throw a tea bag into a mug from a short distance, I’d buy her a car, too.
I had never seen her so focused as she scrunched up the circular Tetley Extra Strong bag to increase its aerodynamics. Her eyes narrowed on the mug like a professional darts player looks at the triple-twenty.
She sent it flying through the air, it caught the rim but landed safely home. She chose herself a Mini Countryman.
We started going on extravagant family holidays, the first being to Mauritius, where we fulfilled another life goal and flew First Class. Regardless of the luxury, comfort and gourmet food, just the fact that you’ve made it to First Class makes you feel fabulous for the whole flight.
Often there are other celebrities onboard, too. A few years ago, I noticed Superman, Henry Cavill, sitting behind me on an Emirates flight back from Dubai.
‘Not flying yourself, Soop?’ I asked as I pretended to be walking to the loo, but really just got up to make that joke. ‘Says a lot for Emirates that you’ve chosen them to fly you.’
After my Bafta experience I was desperate to win one and often fantasised about that moment (normally on my own while listening to loud music in my car)
In 2011, Simon Cowell invited me to be a judge on Britain’s Got Talent and I immediately assumed I would become the nation’s sweetheart like Cheryl Cole
‘Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s Superman, on a plane, eating a bird,’ I said, pointing to his food as I walked back past after my fake use of the loo.
‘It’s steak,’ Henry Cavill said, possibly starting to get annoyed.
‘Don’t ruin it,’ I said.
This continued throughout the flight as I made a series of bad jokes every time I passed. After the plane landed my family and I raced him to customs at Heathrow. ‘Come on, kids, we must beat Superman.’
I loved being famous. Addison told me to start wearing a cap, ‘You don’t want to get mobbed.’ But I did want to get mobbed. Screaming people telling me they love me. Yes please.
And then in 2011, Simon Cowell invited me to be a judge on Britain’s Got Talent and I immediately assumed I would become the nation’s sweetheart like Cheryl Cole had on The X Factor. But the most positive thing I can say about my experience was that nobody remembers it.
Every week the show was broadcast to at least 8 million people and most of the jokes I made in the auditions weren’t there. The show had to be edited around the best and the worst auditions and not around my best jokes.
Also, every time I was critical of an act, especially in Glasgow I recall, I was loudly booed by the audience. Being booed on TV was never my plan. After the final I composed a text to Simon thanking him for hiring me, telling him how much I enjoyed the experience and how much I was looking forward to the next series. I hoped for a similarly lengthy and gushing reply but received the single word ‘Ditto’.
That September, when Kitty and I were on the Eurostar for a romantic trip to Paris, I got a phone call from Addison telling me that I was off the show. I felt rejected and upset. Adding my name to the list of people Simon Cowell had fired was a blow to my ego.
Knock, knock… Who’s there?
At one show, in Sheffield, I popped outside the back of the arena to make a call as the phone reception in my dressing room was bad.
When I re-entered the venue via one of the back doors a security guard stopped me.
‘Have you got a pass?’ he asked.
Initially I thought I would enjoy this encounter as he obviously didn’t yet realise it was me, the person whose face was on the pass currently around his neck.
‘No, I don’t, it’s my show,’ I said smiling, pointing at my face matching the one on his own pass. ‘If you don’t have a pass you can’t come in. Those are the rules,’ he said.
‘This is my show. Surely I can just use my face as a pass to get in?’ I asked once more. His response to this was, I have to say, as logical as it was quick-witted.
‘The Queen’s face is on money,’ he said, ‘but she can’t use her face as a tenner can she? Get a pass or you’re not coming in.’
When I was finally let in after a phone call to my tour manager I went straight onstage and shared the story with the audience, who loved it.
My publicist Gary Farrow had already released a statement saying I’d quit the show to concentrate on my tour, and that became the narrative. I jumped before I was pushed. Not out of the train, it wasn’t that bad.
Thankfully Simon didn’t feel the need to correct the reports.
Addison’s reaction was always to fight, to use setbacks as fuel to win another day and it was rubbing off on me. To be honest, so many extraordinary things had happened to me I needed these mini-vendettas to keep my motivation high.
After my Bafta experience I was desperate to win one and often fantasised about that moment (normally on my own while listening to loud music in my car), and now I wanted to show Simon Cowell that I wasn’t someone to dismiss.
I totally respected his decision to fire me. Not only is it his show — history proved he made the right call as BGT went from strength to strength without me.
What I’m saying is that, in life, use what you can to drive you, and even though it was an absurdly long shot, my new fantasy became coming up with a show that would beat Simon Cowell in the ratings.
It took five years but my chance finally came with Michael McIntyre’s Big Show, the Saturday night variety show which began airing on BBC One in the spring of 2016.
The following year, the second series opened with an audience of 6.18 million compared to The X Factor’s 6.13 million.
We hadn’t just beaten them, we had thrashed them, and the rest of the series continued to be a success with ratings growing to a high of more than 7 million and the Big Show beating The X Factor with an ever-increasing margin.
In 2017, we heard that we had two Bafta nominations: Best Entertainment Programme for the Big Show, and Best Entertainment Performance for me. I told everyone I was over the moon just to be nominated. That was, of course, a lie. I wanted to win. Badly.
Kitty bought another new dress for the occasion and I cheekily rang the jewellery shop Boodles asking if they would lend me something unaffordable for her to wear. They agreed to let Kitty borrow a necklace for the night that cost, wait for it, a quarter of a million pounds.
Kitty looked insanely beautiful in her designer dress and diamond necklace. I was a nervous wreck. I feared the night would go like this; I would lose to Britain’s Got Talent and lose again to Graham Norton, and then Kitty would lose her borrowed diamond necklace.
Nobody knows the order the categories are going to be announced in, which leads to even more tension. The whole ceremony seems so slow but when it’s your category everything moves at lightning pace.
Suddenly, it was happening. ‘To present the award for Best Entertainment Programme please welcome Joan Collins . . .’
My heart pounded. ‘And the winner is . . .’ Time stood still. Come on. ‘Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway.’ Of course Ant and Dec had won. They always win. They deserve to always win. They’re the best.
The ceremony dragged on. I don’t know if you’ve seen the Bafta trophy, it’s a face with one eye closed. Even he’s falling asleep.
And then: ‘To present the award for Best Entertainment Performance please welcome Kim Cattrall.’ Here we go. It’s happening. Last chance. I held Kitty’s hand, tighter and tighter as the nominations were read out and clips shown of each on the big screen.
‘And the winner is . . .’ Kim Cattrall said as she opened the envelope.
Everyone has their own story going on and this felt like a defining moment in ours. A real triumph. What a journey we had been on together, from having less than nothing to having more than we would ever need.
But with success came a fear. Fear that I would contrive to lose it all. Fear that the doubters, the critics, the trolls were right and I would soon disappear. Losing Addison magnified that fear. I missed him. I missed him every day.
It took five years but my chance finally came with Michael McIntyre’s Big Show, the Saturday night variety show which began airing on BBC One
I thanked my team, but mostly my wonderful wife Kitty. Eight years before at the Baftas I had searched for her on that very stage while I was dying on my a**e with jokes she told me not to do. Now it was easy to spot her with a quarter of a million pounds’ worth of diamonds around her neck.
We met 20 years before when were both 20 years old. Half our lives had been spent together. What a journey. What an adventure. What fun. For years we struggled to keep our heads above water and then, in the most extraordinary and unexpected way, our fortunes turned.
It took a while to make sense of it all and to keep the fear of losing it all at bay. But what I’ve learnt is that there is no losing. Losing is just a detour on the road to winning.
A Funny Life by Michael McIntyre is published by Macmillan, £20. © Michael McIntyre 2021. To order a copy for £15 go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0203 176 2937. Free UK delivery on orders over £20. Offer price valid until October 25, 2021.