How We Met: Timmy Mallett & Neil Fox

'We would go over the Chilterns in his chopper humming the theme from "Apocalypse Now"'
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The Independent Online

'Dr' Neil Fox, 48, is a radio DJ. He has won 10 Sony radio-industry awards, including a 2009 lifetime achievement award, and currently presents the breakfast show on Magic FM. He lives in west London with his wife and two children

I was at Radio Luxembourg in 1987 and one of my best friends there was a guy called Tony Blewitt. I was heading back to London for a new job at Capital Radio and he told me that if I ever bumped into Timmy Mallett, I had to say hello.

I ended up at the Sony Awards the following year and there was Timmy, who was doing TV-am and [the children's show] Wacaday at the time, and I did go up and say hello – and we've been friends ever since.

Even if you work in the same industry and bump into people a lot, you have to make an effort to develop proper friendships, or it's all a bit fake. Timmy had a lovely house with a pool and we'd hang out there. We've had some very good times over the years, as single men, and then as married men with families.

What you see on TV is what you get with Timmy. He is in no way shallow; in fact he's a very warm, real bloke – but he's just a bit nutty. He actually likes wearing those silly clothes. Quite by coincidence, I was skiing with my family in Austria this year and we were waiting to catch the bus back to our resort. The doors opened and there was this man in the most ridiculous clothing, with the most ridiculous hat – I recognised Timmy immediately.

I've had a helicopter licence for 20 years and we used to love going flying together. Timmy knows an awful lot about the history of the British landscape, so he'd point out fascinating medieval field patterns, but we'd also have the most stupid, funny times. We'd see a castle on the horizon and pretend we were in a shoot 'em up game, dive-bombing it.

On a more serious level, we are very passionate about family and are both strangely moral. There are too many people in the entertainment industry who live in a bubble. I love the way Timmy is involved in the village he lives in. Community is very important to him.

I like the way his life has taken a different path. He's taken up painting and is doing really well. Rolf Harris has been giving him some tips. It's lovely to see him recognised for his passion rather than whacking people over the head or doing panto – even though he is still very good at all that.

Timmy Mallett, 54, is best known for presenting 1980s kids' programmes 'The Wide Awake Club' and 'Wacaday' and his 1990 number-one single 'Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini'. He is now a full-time painter. He lives in Berkshire with his wife and son

I'd just won Local Radio DJ of the Year at the Sony Awards and Foxy came along and congratulated me. He started coming down to the TV-am studios because he was trying to score with a girl who worked there and we got to know each other through that. I knew we were going to be friends straight away because he's funny and he has a zest for life. I gravitate towards people who want to fill every day.

We had some fun in those days. Foxy likes a bit of speed; I remember a cracking day out go-karting in east London and some of the flying trips we have been on in his chopper have been absolutely magical.

It usually went like this: the phone rings and I hear, "Mallett? Foxy here, what you doing now? Wanna come flying? Meet me in half an hour!" I'd go up to High Wycombe and he'd arrive in his chopper then we'd go over the Chilterns humming the theme from Apocalypse Now. I'd take photographs up there and then paint from them. Foxy's got a few of those paintings hanging in his house.

I remember when he was wooing Vicky, who is now his wife, he wanted to take her somewhere really special and I suggested we fly over to the Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons near Oxford to see if Raymond Blanc could help him out. We landed on their helipad, strolled into reception, explained what we needed and they said they had a fantastic offer for dinner, bed and breakfast for £250. Foxy's face fell and he said "Oh no, I'm sorry. That's just not expensive enough." Their jaws hit the floor, it was brilliant. He's good at that deadpan stuff.

It's very good to have friends in your industry who you can share things with, but Foxy has unfortunately never had the pleasure of being the hit-maker. I will forever tease him about the fact that I've had a number-one record and it was his joy and privilege to announce me in the charts and then interview me.

Foxy is a real family man. One of my favourite memories is his wedding, it was in a beautiful church and was followed by sausage and mash. I've never seen him grin so much. There was also a lovely, but very sad, occasion when he had his 40th birthday party at his house and his dad was very poorly with cancer. Nobody else really picked up on it but his dear dad had really come to say his goodbyes. The whole family was together and I asked Foxy if he had a photo of them all together and they didn't, so I took one. We have shared some important moments like that.

Neil Fox presents Magic's More Music Breakfast weekdays from 5.30am-9am on Magic 105.4 FM. Timmy Mallett's paintings will be exhibited at Watergate Street Gallery, Chester, from Wednesday until 15 Jan;