How we met: Charlie Higson & Suggs
'Suggs and his wife came to our door with a cake. I'm a shy, socially awkward person and I didn't know who they were'
Suggs, real name Graham McPherson (right in picture), joined ska band the North London Invaders in 1977, and has been its frontman since it was renamed Madness in 1979. He lives in north London with his wife and children
There were some bizarre connections between Charlie and I in the early 1980s. Mark Bedford, our bass player with Madness, was also working with Paul Whitehouse in this unsigned band called Bonsai Forest. Charlie had also set up his own band, the Higsons, signed to our record label, 2-Tone. So we knew of one another, and may have met back then, but that is lost in the mists of time. I was also aware of Harry Enfield and when the Loadsamoney sketch started in the late 1980s, I knew Charlie was helping to write that.
About five years later he moved with his family to my neighbourhood, in north London. I remember passing him a few times on the way to the newsagent. At first we were just on peculiar nodding terms: we didn't recognise each other away from the showbiz scene. But I'd been living in our street for more than 30 years and as an old-fashioned, close community, we're very welcoming to newcomers. Charlie had young children like we did and gradually we got to know one another. Charlie would always have a big party in the autumn, the high point of the year. In the garden he'd have three barbecues on the go, cooking meat.
Actually we both love cooking over fire and at dinners, over at each other's houses, we started competing on the size of our respective barbecues, trying to outdo one another on who's got the biggest fire. In fact we nearly got [commissioned to present] a TV show where we were to go around the world looking at how different cultures have their own relationship with fire and food: we imagined going round the world together drinking beers. But it didn't work out. Instead we've had pizza ovens built in our houses. I've just had a new one put in; he's in for a shock – it's huge.
He invites me to his annual Christmas comedian drinks, which is his effort to stay in touch with his old mates from the comedy circuit, now that he's mostly a writer: people such as Harry Enfield, Simon Day, Paul Whitehouse. I really loved The Fast Show [which Higson co-created with Paul Whitehouse]. You'd hear people in the street talking about it, it was such a great show. I loved the Ted and Ralph sketches. It was subtle yet excruciating and you just felt acute embarrassment for the old soul.
Initially my kids wouldn't believe the man on screen was the same person; Charlie's quite shy in real life. He's much more circumspect than I am – and introverted. But when I get him going, he's fun-loving and I think he enjoys being warmed up. It's actually a good combination, though, as I can go a bit far down the line of [partying] and he moderates that.
Charlie Higson, 55
After a brief career in the early 1980s as lead singer of rock band the Higsons, Higson came to wider public attention as one of the principal writers and performers of sketch series 'The Fast Show', along with Paul Whitehouse. He has since written five Young Bond novels and several books in his zombie-horror-thriller series The Enemy. He lives in north London with his wife and two children
I moved into Tufnell Park, the area where Suggs lives, 20 years ago, which was about the time Madness were undergoing a big renaissance. As we had had acquaintances over the years, we knew of one another. And one day Suggs and his wife came and knocked on our door with a cake to say welcome to the neighbourhood. I'm a shy, socially awkward person and I didn't know who they were at first. So rather ungraciously I just said, "Who are you?" Luckily I've got a nice wife and she patched things up.
We started going round to theirs for the children's birthday parties and dinners, and Suggs and I started going out for drinks in Soho. Blokes of a certain age would always come up to us and say, "Suggs, it's you!" And he would graciously pose for a photo with them. People rarely recognised me unless I went out with Paul Whitehouse – then I might get a double-take.
He has developed such a charismatic, extroverted persona with "Suggs". And there's so much about him that I wish I had: that huge appetite to get as much fun as he can out of life. It's been an inspiration for me not to sit on my arse at home and retreat into myself.
After I moved into his manor, in London, we were in the slightly peculiar position of each also having a home in the same part of Italy, in Puglia. It happened after Suggs's wife, Anne, had her 50th birthday out there: we had a fantastic time, with beautiful food and drink and local Italian musicians by a pool, and we thought it was so lovely that we bought one nearby. They probably thought, "Oh gawd, the Higsons have moved in next door again!"
I've always loved his music. "Our House" and "It Must Be Love" are embedded in our national consciousness. A lot of our pop stars we hate and mock. But everyone loves Suggs.
Suggs talks about his mother and father – and his search to find out who his dad was [he left the family home when Suggs was three], and I think that has had a huge effect on his life. He started a band at 16 and he's been in one all his life, and together they're like a family unit. Though they are a completely screwed-up bunch. It's a real talent that Suggs has managed to hold the band together more or less for all those years: yes, people have come and gone, but the fact that they still have most original members is impressive.
Suggs's autobiography, 'That Close', is published by Quercus, priced £20. Charlie Higson's 'The Fallen', the latest in The Enemy series, is published by Penguin, priced £12.99
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