Hairy Biker Dave Myers is recalling the moment when he saw, through the unfiltered lens of television, that he had got fat. He caught sight of himself on re-runs of The Hairy Bikers’ 2009 Food Tour of Britain. ‘It’s the maddest thing, watching old shows,’ says Myers, ‘like getting your family album out and flicking through. What I realised was that things [by which he means his expanding waistline] had reached critical mass.’
The Hairy Bikers now view themselves as ambassadors for a healthy middle life and know, to the pound, how much they weigh
The other half of the Hairy Bikers cooking phenomenon, Si King, was even porkier and their years of adding a splash of cream or a big knob of butter to everything as standard were suddenly over.
Today they are both fully signed up to healthy eating. Myers has oat milk on his morning muesli and King made a non-dairy rum sauce for his Christmas Dinner. Myers uses the fruits of his kitchen garden in the French Loire, where he has a home, to make veggie feasts. King doesn’t even need the fingers on one hand to count the pieces of chicken and fish he ate in January. ‘I wasn’t doing Veganuary, but I totted them up at the end of the month and it was only four.’
It’s about as far away from a full English in a greasy spoon bikers’ cafe as you can imagine, although King says his last meal on Earth would still be a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea.
They now view themselves as ambassadors for a healthy middle life and know, to the pound, how much they weigh. Myers was 17st 10lb at his heaviest and slimmed to 14st 2lb, King went from 19st 8lb to 14st 8lb. Both have put on a bit of weight recently, after bulking up while driving Route 66 in America for their most recent TV show. So they are on diets again.
‘That is what we do now,’ says King. ‘We get on the scales and encourage other middle-aged fat blokes to do the same. You want to eat that pie? Well, get on the scales, man!’
Their crusade is a genuine one, driven by their own experiences, for both have had reminders of their mortality. King had a brain aneurysm that nearly killed him in 2014, something he admits was partly a hereditary issue and partly caused by his food-loving lifestyle. Myers, meanwhile, suffered a bout of pneumonia in 2018 and was diagnosed with glaucoma a decade ago. If it had gone undetected, it could have crippled his ability to cook, ride a bike and read an autocue.
And it means they are enraged when people of a similar age to them – Myers is 62 to King’s 53 – scoff at the habits and principles of the younger generation, poking fun at their vegetarian or vegan diets. Says King: ‘It’s demeaning, condescending. I can see why the snowflake label has been stuck on them but most are politically active, environmentally active and socially active and they don’t deserve it. In food terms, they are well informed and vocal and moving to a more sustainable world. We can learn a lot from them.’
Delia Smith sent us a signed photo of herself, in a Waterford crystal frame
Myers agrees: ‘We looked back on what we used to eat and thought, “That’s not cool.” We had to move with the times and that meant we had to shed weight and not get sick.’ Plus they have sold three million diet books ‘and we aren’t hypocrites,’ points out King.
Today they look just as they did when they first burst onto British screens in 2004 – that is to say, tall, beefy, hairy and beardy. Their love of good food and wine hasn’t changed, even if they are now more likely to count their calories, and what was once measured by the bottle is now enjoyed by the glass. They sit atop a professional empire that encompasses 23 books, multiple TV series and national theatre tours.
Myers is the one with brown hair, spectacles and upward twiddles on his ’tache. King is the one with a silver mane and a stylish way with a scarf. Their relationship is no show-mance: they have been friends for a more than a quarter of a century, having met when Myers was doing TV prosthetics and make-up on a Catherine Cookson TV adaptation on which King was an assistant director.
Their closeness has endured alongside Myers’ marriage to his Romanian wife Liliana in 2011 and King’s divorce from his wife Jane and the start of a new relationship Down Under with Australian chef Michele Cranston, to whom he is now engaged.
Their ultra-long-distance relationship raises the question of whether the couple will ever collaborate professionally in Australia, leaving Myers riding solo in the UK.
‘No, probably not,’ says King. ‘They are two separate parts of my life.’
‘She is not hairy enough!’ says Myers in a stage whisper. ‘No beard.’
It’s the kind of banter that is as much their trademark as their hair and their bikes. They still ‘ride the miles’, as King puts it, owning five motorbikes between them. Myers has three, including a sexy Italian Moto Guzzi he calls Gina Lollobrigida and a Kawasaki nicknamed the ‘Kwikasf***i’. (‘Well you did ask!’ he grins.) King has two – ‘both purple, loud and anti-social’ called Betty and Mavis. Ask which one is his favourite and he says, ‘That’s like asking someone if they have a favourite child.’
It can make for tough filming conditions. On their TV bikes they have endured a lonely January sub-zero ride to Land’s End, which saw them sitting in a shower tray to thaw out. ‘I looked down and didn’t know if I was Arthur or Martha,’ jokes Myers, and they have gunned through 50ºC heat in the Mojave Desert. ‘Usually when you are on a bike and it’s hot, you splay your legs like a frog to cool down. I splayed my legs and it was like having a hot air paint stripper on me privates,’ he adds.
But the result are the kind of culinary road trips that win the Hairy Bikers audiences of four and five million. Their admirers include several celebrity chefs. Heston Blumenthal is a fan, as are Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein. Michel Roux Junior once told them their Blanquette de Veau (veal ragu) was as good as his mum’s. Delia Smith loves them, too. She sent them a signed photograph of herself. ‘In a Waterford crystal frame,’ says Myers to King. ‘Do you remember?’ ‘Aye, we took it with us everywhere and set it up next to wherever we were cooking. Even in the desert in Morocco.’
A fuller-figured Dave Myers and Si King, pictured in 2005. ‘We looked back on what we used to eat and thought, “That’s not cool.”’
They’re due back on the road for a 38-gig tour this autumn and there are plans for a new TV series, which is still under wraps. (They are both staunch defenders of the BBC licence fee. ‘It is right and proper we have a public service broadcaster and the BBC is value for money. If you don’t think about paying for Sky, why think about paying for the BBC?’ demands King.)
Their live shows are a little more risqué than what’s acceptable on telly. King remembers the time he tried to give ‘a sassy young woman’ who had volunteered to go up on stage a glass of wine. ‘She said, “No I don’t drink.” I said, “Oh, go on… have a drink… you’ll be all right,” and she was saying no thanks and I’m saying, “Have a drink! Have a drink!” And then she said, “I can’t. I’m only 16.”
Myers laughs as he remembers King’s response, which was to almost drop the bottle in his haste to put it down. They really are one of those celebrity pairings whose comedy and wattage is way more than twice as bright when they are side by side. They’ll be closing this year’s shows the same way as they did on the previous tour, with a full-throttle rendition of Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer, King plays the drums, Myers leads the audience in song. ‘We have the lyrics, the bouncing ball going along highlighting them, the lot. It’s brilliant, 2,000 people belting out Bon Jovi, thank you and good night, you can’t top it,’ he beams.
So, a starter and a main course cooked on stage by the Hairy Bikers, with one eye on the calories of course, and then a big helping of cheese courtesy of Bon Jovi. Yum. e
Tickets for The Hairy Bikers tour are on sale now at gigsandtours.com