Often, it's only when you are forced to think about someone, in preparation for an interview, that you realise how many preconceptions already exist in your brilliant mind. Take Michael Barrymore. I hadn't ever given him much conscious thought, but subliminally I had actually formed a fairly strong negative view from the mulch of stories over 20-odd — very odd — years. I'm sure I'm not alone.
There was all that irritating zany stuff at his primetime peak during the '80s and early '90s, with Strike It Lucky and My Kind of People. The inevitable showbiz self-destruction was under way behind the scenes and he began rehab' in '94. Then in '95, Barrymore came out in bizarre style in an East End pub by singing, to the tune of ‘New York, New York', "Start spreading the news, I'm gay today." A messy divorce from wife Cheryl, his manager and all-round minder, followed. She died from lung cancer in 2005.
Barrymore's personal meltdown has been relentless and very public, but the serious stuff happened when 31-year-old Stuart Lubbock drowned in the pool at his house in Roydon, Essex, on 31 March, 2001. Few will not be familiar with the details or, indeed, the inaccurate details. The inquest, six months later, recorded an open verdict, but Barrymore continued to be targeted by what he says are largely false accusations about that night.
This year has been something of a comeback for Barrymore, thanks to his teary success in Celebrity Big Brother. He is now touring in Bill Kenwright's revival of Scrooge — The Musical. Now 54, Barrymore has been clean for five and half years and is happily settled with his partner, Shaun Davis.
Incredibly skinny and craggy beyond his years, Barrymore looks like he has done his time at the Fully Fucked Up Club. What's he like? He's a bit strange in an ill-at-ease sort of way, and he appears very fragile and nervy. But he is sincere, open, and I'm sure he has been widely misunderstood simply because of his absurdly mumbling speech. I know it's a cheap line, but Barrymore is basically ‘awight'.
Read the full interview in this week's Press Gazette or online at www.robmcgibbon.com