‘We’ve brought each other a lot of happiness’: the Hairy Bikers on love, food, stardom and chemo
The Hairy Bikers are having a tough time. David Myers has no hair and Si King has no bike. It sounds like an existential crisis. King’s problem is easily fixed because he is “in between motorcycles” and can’t wait to get his leg over the saddle again. But Myers is 14 sessions into a course of chemotherapy, with six to go, and his year “hasn’t been normal” to say the least. He prefers not to specify the type of cancer “because everybody then goes Googling, everybody becomes an amateur doctor … And I don’t want to be judged – yet,” he adds. “A huge inconvenience,” he says ceremoniously, “is the best way to describe it.”
Some festivals cancelled their bookings, not wanting just one hairy biker. Others invited King to gig solo while Myers stayed home, testing recipes from their new book, Brilliant Bakes, and “eating like it’s been going out of fashion, to get the calories in me”. Under this sort of duress, some double acts might question themselves: who they are, how they work, whether they will work again. But King and Myers know that what makes them who they are isn’t really hair or bikes – it’s each other.
“We are like a cog and a wheel,” King says. He is the younger one, at 55, with a silvery mane while Myers, 65, is famed for his handlebar moustache, though of course the chemo has put paid to that. People muddle them up, but “we go along with it, or tell them our name’s Brian”, Myers says. He always stands on King’s left. It has been that way since they got out of a lift in their first show nearly 20 years ago and worried about continuity between cuts. “It’s got to the point where it feels uncomfortable the other way round,” Myers says. Even “just as mates walking down the road, we keep our proper sides”.
For King and Myers, there is no such thing as on- and off-camera selves. “As Dave often says, we’re not complicated enough to be anyone else,” King says.
Although their Agony Uncles podcast has continued and Myers has worked on the book, this conversation represents a rare joint appearance – albeit on a video call. King is speaking from the Northumberland/County Durham borders, Myers from his home in rural Staffordshire. They have saved meeting in person, Myers says, “for when it’s been really useful”. For instance, when he and his wife, Liliana, moved recently, Liliana rented an Airbnb two doors down, “and basically put me in there with Kingy” while she sorted their house. And, before that, when the chemotherapy started, “things were really quite rough” for Myers. “You have to have a port put in your chest. It’s where they put the stuff in rather than opening up your arms. But Si was there for that whole week until things were under control.”
“We’re brothers to each other, really,” King says. “It transcends friendship.”
Brothers? Really? They seem to get on much better than siblings.
“Like siblings in the way that you accept each other’s faults and move on, rather than bitch,” Myers clarifies. They do have occasional spats, such as the one last week when Liliana was away and King came to take Myers to hospital. It was the morning before chemo. “I was really nervous, like you are,” Myers says. “And he made me porridge. And he saw in the cupboard these seeds. Superseeds,” he whispers, “that my wife tries to get down my throat. So what does he do? He puts a handful in my porridge. Oh! I was like a parrot!” pecking at them. “It’s all right! I’ll make you another!” King said. (He ate the seeded one.)
As bust-ups go, this seems pretty mild. Especially as they pottered happily all week: a visit to the National Motorcycle Museum, and a pottery where they “bought pots and drank tea canalside”. And they cooked every night, Myers says – dishes “going back to our youth”. King made savoury mince and potatoes, and together they made Lancashire hotpot. I’m wondering if they are getting nostalgic, because Brilliant Bakes is all about baking from their childhoods.
“I certainly am now, given the hand that’s been dealt me this year,” Myers says. “I think about the past with huge, great jealousy, and affection. Watching some of our old episodes on the telly when I’m ill, I don’t look like myself. And I look at myself there with my best mate, thinking, you know … I remember I said to Lil, ‘That used to be me.’ ‘No,’ she said. ‘That is you.’” But over the seven months since his diagnosis in late March, it must have been hard to keep his old self in mind.
“We’ve got a lot to be nostalgic about,” King says.
They met 30 years ago, while working on a TV adaptation of Catherine Cookson’s The Gambling Man. King was second assistant director – he later became location manager on the Harry Potter films – while Myers was a makeup artist. He had started as a BBC trainee after graduating in fine art from Goldsmiths, University of London, and worked on all sorts, from Des O’Connor’s highlights to Adam Ant’s stripe. The night they met, Myers walked into the pub in Newcastle where most of the crew were “on a spritzer and sandwich”, saw King at the bar ordering curry and a pint and said: “I’ll have what he’s having.”
It’s easy to imagine the evening unspooling as they discovered their common ground – there is so much of it. Both were bullied as children: King for his weight, Myers for alopecia. Both came from families of “grafters” – King’s dad working on ships, Myers’ at the paper mill in Barrow-in-Furness. Both had much older siblings, and seriously ill parents: King was eight when his father died, while Myers’ mother was diagnosed with MS when he was seven. But, no, they say, they didn’t talk about any of this. That was the great thing about writing their 2015 autobiography, Blood, Sweat and Tyres, King says. “We found out quite a lot about each other.”
“What’s the point of mulling over the old shit that’s caused trouble?” Myers adds. “If we got together, are we going to sit there, and I’m going: ‘My mum had MS,’ and you, your dad with kidney failure? No, we’re going to go fishing and get drunk and have a good time. Together, we’ve brought each other quite a bit of happiness.”
When they worked as crew, Myers and King were aware of performers as “the talent”, and I wonder at what point they realised they had become the talent. “We never have,” King says immediately. “Never have,” Myers agrees. In fact, when they filmed one of the first BBC programmes, the crew went for pizza, and “I got kind of nervous. I said to the director: ‘Have we pissed the crew off? Nobody’s asked us for supper.’ He said: ‘Normally the talent don’t eat with the crew.’ It broke the ice. But that wasn’t us at all. Crikey, no.”
King, who has been listening quietly, says: “Talent is what you bring. Talent is your character. It’s not just a thing. It’s made up of all sorts of elements of character and personality. And the application thereof. Can I speak for you?” he asks Myers. “I don’t think I’ve made it at all. I don’t know what ‘made it’ is. Is that material wealth? Is it enlightenment? What we can say is: ‘I have had – and continue to have – an amazing life.’”
“I tell you,” Myers says, “I’ll feel I’ve made it when I get the all-clear from this bloody cancer. That’s going to be completely life-changing, life-affirming. And life never will be the same again.”
Myers says he is proud of King for his work this year, but has King felt less of a hairy biker for being alone? “Wow. No?” he asks, folding his arms. “How do I answer that?”
Recently, though, he has struck out. He and Myers usually avoid politics. But just after our conversation, King joined an Enough Is Enough rally in Newcastle. As a child, he and his mum struggled to find the next 50p for the meter. “We were in a position where we were paying more than anybody else but less able to afford it than anybody else.” Now, he has “friends who work in the NHS and have to use food banks. People are being thrown into poverty and desperation … My God, man, it’s just outrageous.”
King has always kept his politics “very quiet”. Now, though, “that time is gone,” he says. He chose to address the rally “because being silent on this is complicit. And I’m not complicit in that system. I think you have a responsibility to call it out when you see it if you have a profile.” He is at pains to stress that this is not about party politics. “It’s simply about being human and having some empathy … a rallying call to have faith in us as human beings, that we can make changes by the choices that we make about the people that represent us.”
Myers can relate. His daughter is in the process of buying a first flat and confronting the “possibility that the mortgage may double”. As a student, he used to sit in Karl Marx’s chair at the British Library – was that a statement of ideology? “No,” he says, “it was nothing political.” He just thought it was cool.
He was studying the pre-Raphaelites at the time, “fascinated by the decadent Victorians”, and craved a lavish cascade of hair, but “I had nothing! I couldn’t get a corkscrew curl to save my life!” he says. The alopecia did help to make his recent hair loss feel livable, though. “I just said to my wife: ‘Oh shit, get the clippers out. I’m done with this.’ It was harder for her to do, because she’d never seen me with no hair. But she did come out with a great line when my eyebrows went. She said: ‘Darling, you look like they pulled you out the mould before you’d finished.’”
When Myers began his treatment, did King consider shaving his head in sympathy? “Er, no. I mean, if he’d asked us, I probably would have.”
Myers butts in. “My wife said the same thing. ‘I’ll shave mine out of support.’ I said: ‘Don’t do that because, then, you do realise, we can’t go out together?’ Not being sexist, but I think [baldness] is easier for a bloke.”
He strokes his scalp. “My little fuzzy hair’s coming back now,” he says. “It’s all on numbers. And the numbers are going the right way. So it encourages you to carry on.”
Over the years, they have both had illnesses and accidents: Myers life-threatening pneumonia, King an aneurism. And Myers also had the pain of losing his fiancee, who died of cancer in 1998. Have these experiences helped him to cope with his cancer?
“No, I’ve had enough,” he replies. “I thought I’d paid my dues when I was a kid with my mother. And I’ve got the hugest respect for my wife for putting up with me. I’m a … what’s the word? I get angry with myself, and I try to keep it to myself, but sometimes – you know, words spill over, which I feel guilty about. But no, I don’t think it helps you cope at all.”
“Quite the opposite, actually. Quite the opposite,” King adds. They have a habit of reinforcing each other’s words, singing each other’s choruses. In some ways, they are more like a married couple than siblings. When King mistakenly refers to It’s a Wonderful Life as Myers’s favourite film, Myers tells him: “No, that’s your ex-wife’s favourite film. Even I know that. Wrong wife, mate!”
But they are wary of overthinking their relationship. Myers shares a story he once heard “about an old sage” who, appropriately enough, “had a big long beard. And somebody came to him and said: ‘Master, do you sleep with your beard under the sheets or over the sheets?’ And from that moment on the fella never had a good night’s sleep.”
King thinks that what they really bring to each other is “generosity and kindness”.
“I would say the love. And I appreciate your warmth,” Myers says. “When we get together – there’s always the big man hugs. Sometimes, when he tries to kiss me on the lips, it gets a bit …” He purses his lips and wipes at them furiously. “But I was well grateful for it last week, so I’m not complaining. I think it’s the shared experiences that’s the best, because we do understand.”
Myers wants to return to work next year. “I’m hoping. Hand on my heart, I am. It’s going to take work and physiotherapy to get myself stronger,” he says. “But that’s going to be a hell of a day. That pizza down the pub is going to be quite special.”