Red gets personal with comedian Adam Buxton


Halfway into my interview with Adam Buxton, he leaves to talk to his wife, Sarah, who is going to a neighbour’s house for what Adam describes as ‘socially distanced fun and cocktails’. As he does so, I scroll through our conversati­on, which I’ve been typing up on my laptop as we’ve been chatting. Less than 30 minutes into what will be an almost two-hour Zoom call, we’ve already covered death, grief, parenthood, drinking, interior decoration, family suppers and Biscoff ice cream.

Yet I get the sense that we’re only just warming up.

Moments later, Adam returns. ‘Sorry, I had to ask Sarah what to cook for supper,’ he says. ‘Anyway, where were we?’ And by the time we finish, I feel like I’ve been putting the world to rights with a very close friend.

It’s this incredible ability to share and empathise, while making light of ostensibly difficult topics with sparks of wit and wisdom, that makes Buxton’s podcast, The Adam Buxton Podcast, so popular.

Our interview takes place at a uniquely challengin­g time for him, as just two weeks earlier, his mother, Valerie, had moved into his house to recuperate after cancer treatment but then died, very suddenly, within the space of three days. His sense of shock and loss is something I understand, as six months earlier, my sister Nell died, unexpected­ly, from breast cancer. Our conversati­on is also, inevitably, framed by the fact we’re at the tail end of lockdown; that strange, slow hiatus when people discuss ‘getting back to normal’ while life feels, in many ways, as far from normal as possible.

‘Mid-life is a strange time anyway, and there’s so much you’re facing at 51 that throwing in grief, too, can make you feel like you’re going crazy,’ Adam says as we discuss the stage of life he finds himself in. ‘Death puts you through the mill in a big way, doesn’t it? I’ve been very upset, but without my family, especially my wife, I’d have been much worse.’

Never one to shy away from his emotions, Buxton is glad his three children have seen him so low. ‘I want them to know that it is okay to cry like this. I want to show them that they can express themselves and feel relaxed about being completely open,’ he says. ‘At the same time, I’m trying to teach them that it can’t be a total free-for-all. That’s hard as I’m definitely guilty of over-sharing at times.’

Buxton’s podcast has been loved by many since it was first broadcast in 2015. It features an array of guests, from Laura Marling to Zadie Smith to his Westminter School classmates Louis Theroux and Joe Cornish. With the latter he had a similarly cheery and kooky TV show, The Adam and Joe Show, in the late 1990s. It ran for four series between 1996 and 2001 and earned Adam parts in films such as Stardust and Hot Fuzz, as well as appearance­s on Have I Got News For You, Never Mind The Buzzcocks and The IT Crowd.

His latest project is Ramble Book, published during lockdown, which explores in a roundabout way his sometimes complex but often affectiona­te relationsh­ip with his father, Nigel, a travel writer. Nigel died of cancer in 2015, following a period in which he lived with Adam and his family, who became his carers. Adam also unpicks who his father really was, uncovering certain uncomforta­ble aspects of his personalit­y, such as his snobbery, combined with his sometimes heart-wrenching struggle to live a life beyond his means. After Nigel’s death, Adam found a begging letter his father had written to John le Carré for help with Adam’s boarding school fees. There are jokes in there, too, of course, and plenty of

musings on Adam’s relationsh­ip with David Bowie (intense), his feelings about boarding school (troubled), and his friendship with the boys he met at Westminste­r, including Theroux and Cornish (a right laugh). Adam makes jokes about everything we talk about, even death and dying, but he always counters this with something thoughtful.

Speaking to him so soon after the death of his mother, it’s impossible not to compare the experience­s of each parent’s passing, since it’s clear the period before his father’s death was no picnic. ‘I’d been hoping for a reconcilia­tion with him where I might be able to tie up loose ends in our relationsh­ip and talk to him about the things we’d avoided when I was younger. I’d like to have known why he sent us to boarding school, which I hated, when we were so young, and why he was obsessed by class. I wanted to have these big conversati­ons with him,’ he says. ‘But death isn’t neat and I had unrealisti­c expectatio­ns. He was of a generation and character that doesn’t like to share like that, so it was never going to happen, however much I wanted it. When he died, I think it was a relief for him and honestly, it was for me, too. He wasn’t having a great time and, by 91, he’d lived until a fine age.’

Adam’s experience may well be familiar to many of us in our late 40s and early 50s, who are squeezed between caring for elderly parents while still parenting children, and simultaneo­usly running a career. But if his father’s death brought Adam some relief, his mother’s has been more shocking, something he spoke about in an extraordin­arily candid chat with Cornish on his podcast, occasional­ly breaking down in tears.

‘When we decided Mum should stay, I was mindful that becoming a carer isn’t straightfo­rward, but I’d learned lessons and hoped it would be a rewarding experience for all of us.’ He pauses, and I hear his voice cracking. ‘Mostly, I just wanted Mum to be happy. She’d been so independen­t and just wanted me and the kids to get on with having fun and not worry about her.’

Does he have regrets, I ask, and does he have any advice for other people caring for a sick parent, or indeed anyone close to the end of their life? ‘Oh, definitely.

I wish I’d told her she’d been a great mum and thanked her more regularly for what she gave us as kids. I also wish I’d chatted with her more about her own life, rather than going on about mine.’

Her death has, inevitably, ‘been a stark reminder of my own mortality and now I feel preoccupie­d by death. In my current headspace, I can’t really imagine living longer than the next five years,’ he says simply. ‘I worry about my health even though I’m one of those people who wants to hang on to their indulgence­s, too.’ I ask what sort of indulgence­s he means, concerned I might be opening a Pandora’s box of unknown addictions, ‘Oh, eating cakes and ice cream,’ he says with a grin. ‘I tried Biscoff lollies recently and now I’m hooked.’

Sugary indulgence­s aside, his life today sounds like the definition of rural domestic bliss. His rambling house in Norfolk is surrounded by barns that he’s decorated and he speaks lovingly about hanging out with his kids during lockdown, listening to Bowie and playing darts. Yet adjusting to life as a dad after the excesses of the media world he inhabited during the 1990s hasn’t come without its challenges.

‘Fatherhood was hard to start with,’ he concedes. ‘And I think I’m still in the process of trying to rein myself back in after all those years. The adjustment to family life has been gradual. I’m like a stupid great oil tanker trying to reverse course.’

Pre-kids, his favourite evening was ‘to go to the pub, hang out with friends and talk all night’. And after his sons, who are both teenagers now, were born, he admits he still wanted to do that. ‘My wife was with the kids most of the time and she was completely understand­ing


and would say, “It’s fine, go out,” but I felt guilty and conflicted,’ he says, and that coincided with a moment when his career experience­d a brief lull.

‘Joe and I had drifted apart, and I tried writing scripts or appearing in movies, but it didn’t feel right.

I was haunted by that quote, about the pram in the hall being the enemy of creativity.’

That creative flow found a new channel after his daughter was born and the family moved to Norfolk.

‘It was the start of me letting things go that had driven me in my 20s. All the badly formed dreams and fantasies I’d been carrying fell away as it became clear they weren’t practical and were driving me nuts. I had this lovely family and was spending all my time wishing

I was somewhere else. But after we left London, the fun in my life really started.’

One of the threads running through his new book is a comic tally of arguments he and his wife, who is a lawyer, have had, which he keeps a record of. Married in Las Vegas in 2001, they have a partnershi­p that sounds incredibly strong, yet which is managed, Adam jokes, by ‘constant tension, renegotiat­ion and misunderst­anding’. And while his parents’ deaths have made him face his own mortality, he is, I gently remind him, only in mid-life, so what does he still hope to achieve?

‘I’ve been wrestling with the concept of ambition, as

I’ve carried lots of ambitions in the past that weren’t helpful. For a while, after we left London, I’d see other contempora­ries doing well and worry endlessly that I was missing out. But my ambitions were so unrealisti­c and silly; I now feel quite ambivalent about ambition. It gets in the way of the joy of the here and now.’

Writing his book, he says, has meant he’s fostered a new passion. ‘At art school, I was taught to write things down, even just a half-formed idea, to go back and figure it out later. And although I don’t really think I’ve generated that much truly original work in my life, the things I am proudest of are based on sharing aspects of my life, even if that’s just Joe and me talking rubbish. I’m proud of being someone who makes something of the minutiae of their life, and repackages it so that it connects with other people.’

His podcast, he explains, is a way of overcoming the essential loneliness of being human: ‘Even in a marriage, with a family, I can feel lonely and frightened a lot of the time, and I have to believe other people feel this, too, since I’m always chasing moments of connection.’ That involves ‘doing something worthwhile with the podcast, and maybe writing more’, since he has – he assures me – ‘more stupid stories to tell’. And before he leaves to put supper in the oven and find his kids for a game of darts, he returns to the subject of grief and death, since it’s clearly so much on his mind. ‘My ambitions now are mainly to not die alone and have children, and a wife, that don’t hate me. I just want to achieve that,’ he pauses and laughs. ‘Also, to carry on having great times with my dog.’

Ramble Book: Musings On Childhood, Friendship, Family And 80s Pop Culture by Adam Buxton (£16.99, Mudlark) is out now

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