I King – one half of TV’s most famous cooking duo The Hairy Bikers – is known for his cheery, jokey on-screen persona, but, until recently, that hid the personal pain of several years of emotional turmoil.
By 2014, he’d reached breaking point. Living alone – as he’d separated from Jane, his wife of 27 years a couple of years earlier – he lost his mother, Stella, and shortly afterwards, nearly lost his own life when he suffered a brain aneurysm. He has admitted undergoing a mid-life crisis, saying previously, “I completely lost it... I didn’t know who I was any more”.
Two years on, the charismatic Geordie reveals for the first time that he’s undergone a remarkable transformation thanks to his new-found love for a fellow chef.
Talking candidly about their romance and how she’s completely banished the self-doubt and unhappiness of the past, he declares: “Without a shadow of a doubt, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I have a wonderful new partner. I’m really, really happy and feeling incredibly lucky that I’ve got a second bite of the cherry.”
The 50-year-old, who’s back on screen with his cooking partner Dave Myers, in their latest BBC1 series The Hairy Bikers’ Comfort Food, confides his new love is Australian, called Michelle and is a professional cook. “We first met years and years ago in South Africa when we were both working out there and became friends. When we met again, our circumstances had changed (he and his wife Jane divorced last October) and it just kind of came together. It was pretty amazing.”
Clearly head-over-heels in love, they fly thousands of miles each month ‘commuting’ between each other’s homes – Michelle, also 50, lives and works in Sydney, while he lives in Britain outside Newcastle-upon-Tyne – so they can spend precious time together.
“Michelle’s such a good human being with good energy to be around and is very loving. She’s a very interesting woman who’s had a big life. We’re so scarily alike it’s bizarre. We have so much in common – food, music, art, politics – everything. We share everything,” he says.
“We have what we call our ‘cuisine dance’, where she has this very light hand and touch, whereas I’m all about big flavours and all that sort of stuff. So when we’re giving a party together, it’s always a bit of a laugh, because you can definitely tell who has cooked what. We totally balance each other in food and everything, really.”
Si, who has previously blamed the pressures of his TV career and lengthy absences from home travelling the world filming The Hairy Bikers for his marriage breakdown (“We lost each other... Jane was focused on the family and I was focused on work”), is determined not to risk prolonged periods away from his new partner.
“I’m definitely not going to let absences ruin this relationship or be an issue because I want to make it work properly. I travel to Australia around once a month and spend as much time as I possibly can there. It’s important that I do, because I miss her,” says the chef who first found nationwide fame with fellow Northerner Dave Myers 12 years ago with their show, The Hairy Bikers’ Cookbook. The pair have starred in a host of hit TV shows, written 18 cookery books, and become national treasures along the way.
The father-of-three – he has three sons from his marriage, Alex, 27, James, 24, and Dylan, 16 – says: “This year will be exciting because there are some decisions to be made about where I’ll live eventually.
“I probably won’t resettle in Australia because I want to stay near my children. Me and my boys – who are all brilliant cooks – are very close Myers Si with his TV partner Dave and I don’t want to affect that, so it’s a balancing act that’s got to be worked out. We’re all in a bit of a learning curve at the moment.”
The couple spent Christmas in Britain before flying back to Australia together. He says: “The boys like her, of course they do, because there’s nothing not to like about her. She’s one of those sunshine-y, happy, positive people. She’s the perfect balance for me.”
His partner, Dave Myers, 58, who he first met 20 years ago and to whom he turned while he recuperated from the “horribly scary” brain haemorrhage and life-saving surgery, as well as during his marital difficulties is, he says, “happy I’m settled”.
He describes Dave as “my best friend and such a great mate”.
“We’re like two old slippers – we fit together. It’s like a marriage. We hardly ever argue. He’s been so brilliant in getting me through the tough times with my operation and everything else. I also had wonderful support from my ex-wife and the boys.
“After the aneurysm... I didn’t have an epiphany moment, but you realise you have to have the courage to make different choices, some of which may be uncomfortable, and to evoke change if you need to evoke it.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly following the challenges he’s faced personally and health-wise, he took his milestone 50th birthday last October in his stride. “Let’s face it, I’m a very privileged, lucky man to have come through my health problem, so I was just chuffed to bloody bits to be here. After all that’s happened, I thought, ‘Really, what more havoc can I cause than that?’ so I was like, ‘50 - get in!”’
He’s delighted about the new TV series because “it’s cosy, fun and back to the basics of what Dave and I do best – an unashamedly ‘chop and chat’ show. It’s lush. We’ve had the most amazing opportunities doing the Bikers – going around the world four times, meeting amazing people and seeing amazing things”, he enthuses.
“My life certainly hasn’t turned out the way I thought it would, not by any stretch of the imagination. Nor did I think I would be as happy as I am now. It must mean I’ve done something right in my life to deserve this.
“I have a few regrets, of course, doesn’t everybody? But I try not to because, at the end of the day, it’s all about the tapestry of your own experience. I never want to get to my deathbed and think, ‘I wish I’d done this or that’ or ‘If only...’ These days I’m trying very hard to work on not having any ‘If onlys’!” ■ The Hairy Bikers’ Comfort Food is on BBC1 at 3.45pm, week days. Learning to play an instrument is good for the brain