As his debut children’s novel is published, comedy writer, actor and MasterChef winner Adrian Edmondson tells Hannah Stephenson why family remains his priority

ADRIAN EDMONDSON is admiring a poster of himself and his late friend Rik Mayall, embellished with smaller pictures of the pair in different guises at the bottom of the frame.

Since his friend and comedy collaborator's death in 2014 from a heart attack, he has kept his counsel on how he copes with the loss of the man with whom he starred in the hit Eighties and Nineties comedies The Young Ones and Bottom.

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They had been close pals since meeting at Manchester University, cutting their teeth at The Comedy Store before gaining fame in Channel 4's The Comic Strip Presents... with the likes of Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders (who he went on to marry) and other young comedy stars of the time.

The Northern Echo: Undated Handout of Tilly and the Time Machine by Adrian Edmondson, published by Puffin. See PA Feature BOOK Edmondson. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Puffin. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature BOOK Edmondson

He has, however, touched on death in his debut children's novel Tilly And The Time Machine, about a seven-year-old who lives with her scientist dad, the inventor of a time machine, and wants to be transported back to her sixth birthday party when her mummy, who had cancer, was there.

"Part of the inspiration for this book is looking at death," he explains. "I found I could write about adult things more easily in a children's book than I could when I was trying to write an adult novel."

Edmondson, who turned 60 this year, recalls how he found it difficult to show emotion publicly following Mayall's death. He was a pallbearer at the funeral.

"It feels intrusive having to explain yourself, which is why people write. You process it in a different way."

His friend's death, he says, came as a big surprise.

"He was like a brother. It's just very weird when someone like that pops off.

"I miss the man who would laugh at my most stupid jokes. We had a little shorthand of texts. I mean, Jennifer's very funny and laughs at 90% of my jokes, but there are 10% which only Rik would laugh at - and now I don't really have an audience for those."

Triggers remind him constantly of his late friend.

"Every bloody day somebody on Twitter says, 'Rest in peace, Rik', which is why I don't really look at it any more. My feed is full of people saying, 'Oh, I really miss Rik'."

After Mayall's death, Edmondson went to three therapy sessions, but then discovered a book that helped him more.

"I discovered stoicism, the proper philosophy rather than the dictionary definition, which is stiff upper lip. I read a book by Jules Evans called Philosophy For Life: And Other Dangerous Situations and I've been a lot better since then. You start to learn that you can have different responses to things. I have definitely mellowed.

"Very little annoys me now. I work on not being annoyed."

While his new book is gentle and funny, it also touches on cancer, a subject close to home after his wife Saunders was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.

He has previously said lots of people get cancer, it's part of life, and that people shouldn't be defined by it.

"It's boring to treat people who've had cancer and survived as 'cancer survivors' for the rest of their lives. They're just people."

The couple have been married for 32 years and guarded their privacy throughout.

"The secret [of a happy marriage] is don't talk about it. Any couple that start talking about themselves in glowing terms in the papers usually end up divorced the week after."

Professionally, it's clear there is no competition between them. She's won all the awards in the house - apart from the Celebrity MasterChef gong he gained in 2013 - but it doesn't rankle.

"People worry about this, don't they? They think it must be horrible being married to a successful woman but I don't think it is. I'd much rather be married to a successful one than an unsuccessful one."

Family is hugely important to Edmondson, whose first marriage was short-lived. When he proposed to Saunders, he said: "Will you marry me and can we have children?"

"I don't know where that came from, because it never occurred to me with any other girlfriend," he says, laughing.

They have three grown-up daughters and three grandchildren, on whom he dotes.

"I do like children," he says. "I find them immense fun. I know people who see their children as a duty - and that must be hard. But there's nothing I like more than the company of kids, even when they are grown up. Ours are always around and I really enjoy it. It feels like what it's about and it's uncomplicated."

While they have kept the family home in Devon, he and Saunders spend most of their time at their house in central London, which they bought to be near the children.

Only one of their daughters, Beattie, has gone into acting. She stars in the comedy Josh, and Saunders has already guest-starred twice as her screen mother.

"It's always a bit of a worry when your kid says, 'I'm funny'. When she told us 10 years ago that she was doing a show at university and did we want to see it, we went up thinking, 'Oh God! Suppose it's just awful!' But it wasn't. She's good at what she does."

Later this year, Edmondson will be filming a new four-part ITV police drama called Bancroft, in which he plays a policeman who wants his female counterpart's job, so there are no thoughts of retirement.

But the deaths of Mayall and several other friends have made him consider his own mortality.

"I recently turned 60, which I'm having a bit of trouble with. It just seems very old. When I was a teenager, 60 seemed pretty close to death. You'd expect people to die in their 60s of old age.

"I suppose that's gone up to late 70s or 80s now - well, it has for me! I feel that you're generally going uphill in life but I've gone over the crest and although the hill might still be quite long on the way down, I definitely feel I'm looking down.

"It's made me rationalise what I enjoy and make sure I do what I enjoy. I'm not as desperate as I was. I've decided what I am. After a long time of being a pretend comedian, I've decided I'm a writer of children's books and an actor - two jobs which fit each other like a glove, because they fill in the gaps for each other. And I'm very happy doing those things."

His first children's book may touch on death, but it also celebrates life as Tilly surrounds herself with happy pictures of her mother.

Rather like the poster of Rik and Ade, which remains firmly fixed to his wall.

  • Tilly And The Time Machine by Adrian Edmondson is published by Puffin, priced £6.99