‘There was no “them and us”. Everyone was an equal’: My unforgettable tour with The Hairy Bikers

Everyone loved them, and they loved the people right back: Hairy Bikers Si King and Dave Myers in 2016
Everyone loved them, and they loved the people right back: Hairy Bikers Si King and Dave Myers in 2016 - Heathcliff O'Malley

On the face of it, the day didn’t seem as if it was exactly brimming with potential: a mid-morning book signing, on an overcast midweek day, in a Costco car park in the middle of England. As a book publicist with a few decades of experience, I was reasonably good at managing expectations. There would be 40 or 50 people at best, I told the authors in question. A few hungover students, some old-age pensioners, a couple of shoppers looking for the trollies – who else would bother? An hour should be plenty.

What I hadn’t reckoned with was that these weren’t just any old authors. It was Dave Myers and Si King, aka the Hairy Bikers. People – no, everyone – loved them; and they loved the people right back. In the end, more than 600 fans turned out for a signed book and a chat or selfie. The hour I’d set aside was far from enough, not least because Dave and Si, both Costco gold card members, would have liked some time to shop, too. “Costco’s the only place where you can pop in for a pint of milk and come out with a canoe,” Dave would say, approvingly.

Hundreds of people turned up to The Hairy Bikers' book signings
Hundreds of people turned up to The Hairy Bikers' book signings

This week, we’re all mourning the profound loss of Dave, who died from cancer, aged 66, on Wednesday night. Along with his family and a close friend, Si was right there by his side. “My best friend is on a journey that, for now, I can’t follow,” Si wrote, announcing the news on Thursday on Instagram. It was a poignant choice of words. They’d been on so many journeys, both figurative and literal, big and small. And they’d made them all together.

I worked with them for five years, between 2013 and 2018, and would occasionally hear that they were spending the break between writing their next book or filming their next BBC series by going on holiday together. “You’re spending even more time together? Are you not sick of the sight of each other?” I’d jokingly ask. They’d just laugh. They weren’t like some presenting partnerships in food television, where the mateyness is played up to for the cameras. They genuinely were each other’s closest friend, and more like brothers.

Dave was one of the good guys. He’d had a difficult childhood in Cumbria, where he was an only child who became a full-time carer for both his ailing parents by the time he was 17. He later became an art student at Goldsmiths, studying the pre-Raphaelites and reading at the British Library. Si, a passionate and knowledgeable fan of poetry, is similarly intellectual, though they wore that side of them lightly, which often surprised people.

'People person' might be a cliché, but that's what Dave Myers was, says Mark McGinlay
'People person' might be a cliché, but that's what Dave Myers was, says Mark McGinlay - Maureen McLean /Alamy

Perhaps because they both came to fame late, after careers behind-the-scenes on television and film (Dave was a make-up and prosthetics artist; Si was an assistant director when they met), they never took anything for granted, and were always so kind and respectful to everybody they met.

Part of my job involved occasionally wining and dining them at pricey Soho restaurants like Quo Vadis, Kiln or Noble Rot. Some celebrities see that dynamic as a chance to let loose on the publisher’s company credit card. Not Dave and Si. They were more than happy to visit those places (their love of food definitely wasn’t confected), but they would invariably choose the set lunch menu, or the cheapest things, and be deeply grateful. I took this as a reflection both of their humble upbringings and of their basic decency: the publisher had taken a chance on them early in their careers, so they didn’t want to be seen to take the mick.

Dave pictured with a fan at a book signing
Dave pictured with a fan at a book signing

They’d also always bring their driver, Kevin. “Oh, can Kev come for lunch?” would be the request. Looking back, I think it’s probably another reason they went for the cheaper items on the menu. They hated the idea that Kev, the colleague and friend who drove them around to television appearances and on the road (when they weren’t on the bikes, that is) would be sitting outside eating a meal deal in the car while they enjoyed the good life.

It was no “them and us” – everyone involved in the shows and tours, and everyone who served them or even just opened doors for them, was an equal. I lost count of the number of hours I’d lose from a tight tour schedule thanks to not factoring in that Dave would stop and chat to every taxi driver, doorman and waiter for half an hour before going anywhere. So Kev would join for lunch, and before everyone left, the staff would usually ask if Dave and Si could visit the kitchens to meet the chefs. To many gourmets, the Hairy Bikers, with their straightforward comfort food and infectious love of eating, were something of a guilty pleasure.

Unlike other presenting duos, Dave and Si were genuinely friends who cared for each other
Unlike other presenting duos, Dave and Si were genuinely friends who cared for each other - Heathcliff O'Malley

Dave was nine years older than Si, but you’d not really know it. They’d take it in turns to be the clown or the straight guy and, with complete trust, instinctively know who was going to take charge of a particular moment. They were also just hugely fun company. I remember one car journey where they decided to replicate the entire Bohemian Rhapsody scene from Wayne’s World, all head-banging and falsetto. Their audience was literally just me and Kev. They enjoyed nothing more than making people laugh.

At another event at Ely Cathedral I’d forgotten to order them any dinner. The only place open was a tea shop offering some limp cucumber sandwiches. I bought them and sheepishly took them to the garden, where Dave and Si were waiting. Unbeknownst to me, they’d apparently just recorded an episode where they both ranted about how much they hate soggy cucumber sandwiches. In the garden, they chased me around in mock anger, Benny Hill-style, before tickling me. Even when they were disappointed they’d be funny. People would ask me if they ever got genuinely grumpy. They had very high standards – you don’t stay at the top for that long without them – but they were always sweet about it.

Dave with his wife Liliana in 2013
Dave with his wife Liliana in 2013 - Rupert Hartley/Shutterstock

“People person” is a horrible cliché by now, but that’s what Dave was, and what Si remains. Together, they connected with so many people – from upper class country kitchen-dwellers to hard-up single parents, everyone warmed to them, finding their cookbooks instructive and travel shows a delight.

We’d sometimes meet showbiz people who remembered Dave as a make-up artist. We bumped into the actress Anne Reid at the BBC once, who said: “Oh gosh, haven’t you done well! I remember you doing my nose…” Martin Clunes said the same when they were on Radio 2 together. Dave and Si were always destined to be in front of the camera, but they were as surprised as anybody that they’d become quite so successful, and quite so loved.

The appreciation went both ways, and that authenticity was the secret to their charm. People believed their relationship because it was real: when Si had a brain aneurysm in 2014, Dave cared for him. Similarly when Dave broke his shoulder and wrist in a motorcycle accident, Si cooked for him, ironed his clothes, and helped him into the shower. Lately, as Dave’s health ebbed, Si was there for his friend as much as ever.

'Dave spent most of his life spreading laughter, kindness and love,' writes McGinlay
'Dave spent most of his life spreading laughter, kindness and love,' writes McGinlay - Jason Holmes

By the time I stopped working with them, they made sure to take me on a restaurant and bar crawl around central London, their treat, as a thank you. They didn’t need to do that, and most famous people don’t bother, but it was their style to make sure everybody was thanked, and everybody was included. Years later I messaged them to say how much I missed working with them; an invitation to the VIP area at their new live show came in the response.

Along with Dave’s family, Si will be heartbroken now. He may well go on – he certainly could work alone, so accomplished and talented is he – but they were like the Two Ronnies, in a way: such genuine friends that seeing one alone will always serve as a reminder of the loss. I just feel fortunate to have those memories. Dave spent most of his life spreading laughter, kindness, love and warmth to all he met and all who saw him. What greater legacy is there than that?

As told to Guy Kelly

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