My crazy life with Kenny: To set the record straight on her unconventional marriage to funnyman Kenny Everett, Lee Middleton gives her frankest interview ever
21:41 GMT, 21 September 2012
When Lee Middleton married the maverick comedian and DJ Kenny Everett, she knew life would never be dull. Some comics are brooding and melancholic.
Others are perpetually, exhaustingly funny. Kenny was an amalgam of everything: hilarious, unpredictable, manic, demanding and bedevilled by guilt and awful depression.
He was also gay, which increased the complexity of Lee’s life with him.
Some comics are brooding and melancholy but not Kenny Everett
But it did not lessen their love for each other. ‘We were besotted to the end,’ she says today of the man she always called Ev. ‘During our 17 years together, even when Ev was a little s***, I never stopped loving him. Most of our married life was fun.
The highs were fantastic, euphoric; the lows were dark and painful. Ev could be so affectionate, but also treacherous. His love brought me fun and misery, but on balance he made me happy. And I still feel he’s around.’ She smiles.
Although Everett died of an Aids-related disease in 1995, Lee has felt his presence forcefully recently. As a script consultant for The Best Possible Taste, a new BBC4 drama about her life with Kenny, she has exhumed memories that have prompted laughter, sadness and real physical distress.
The film takes its title from one of Everett’s famous comic creations’ catchphrases, and features newcomer Oliver Lansley, who captures both the physical traits and personality of the tortured comic genius with unerring precision. Former Coronation Street actor Katherine Kelly plays Lee.
The script is ‘spot on’ says Lee.
‘I’ve watched Oliver during rehearsals and his resemblance to Ev is uncanny; scary,’ she adds. ‘It’s as if Ev’s come back from the dead.
The whole thing has caused me some bother, actually.’ She goes on to describe the heart arrhythmia that floored her as she watched the filming of a scene depicting her second wedding, to her current husband, former actor John Alkin.
In action in The Best Possible Taste
Everett, though very fond of John, was still madly possessive of Lee; to such an extent he insisted on being best man when she remarried. ‘And he was upset I wasn’t wearing the wedding ring he’d given me when I married John,’ smiles Lee.
‘The night before I got married to John, Ev said to me, “Are you sure you’re doing the right thing” He wanted to have his cake and eat it. Though he was, by then, in his first gay relationship, with a lovely guy, an Australian waiter who was devoted to him, he still didn’t want to lose me. When I watched the filming of my wedding to John, it brought it all back.’
She describes how Lansley captures Everett’s look of ‘complete distress’ as he watches Lee (Kelly) walk out of the church hand-in-hand with her new husband. ‘I felt as if I was re-living Ev’s anguish,’ says Lee, 75. ‘It was emotionally so stressful that I had heart palpitations, and was rushed to hospital.’
They were, doctors confirmed, a tangible manifestation of her anxiety, but she recovered quickly. ‘Ev’s behind this whole thing, isn’t he’ she says, referring to the film.
‘For years, I had to endure the slur he’d married me as a cover for his homosexuality. The film is his retort to all those who doubted we were in love.’
When Lee first met Everett, she was living with the singer Billy Fury, but their relationship was nearing its end. She remembers an early encounter with him at a party at The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein’s house – Everett was friendly with the Fab Four and later accompanied them on a tour of the States as their DJ.
‘Ev was lying on the floor, talking to George Harrison. Both of them were stoned and they were discussing the meaning of life. George was saying, “It’s all around you, Ken,” ’ recalls Lee.
‘Ev was a poor waif, a tiny, puny chap. He looked tragic; if anyone had told me I’d end up marrying him I’d have laughed them off the planet.
'At the time he was terribly shy, seriously Catholic and beset by awful guilt about sex, and a virgin. I thought he was gay from the start. He was just one of my gay friends. To begin with, we were just mates.’
In those early days, Everett – famous for his anarchic behaviour – took her on a trip round Europe in his new Fiat. ‘He was a dreadful driver and he hit everything. The car was covered in dents.’ Shortly after, under the influence of LSD they’d been given by John Lennon, they had sex for the first time. ‘It was sublime,’ she remembers.
Lee, who was the first and only
woman Everett made love to, shortly became his wife. Their wedding, in
1966, was appropriately barmy. Drunk guests progressed down London’s
Kensington High Street to the register office in a double-decker bus.
A friend, midway through a male-to-female sex change – sporting stubble
and a flouncy frock – spiked the wedding breakfast punch with
amphetamines. ‘And, after a couple of glasses, my lovely old Victorian
mum, Elsie, was dancing all night,’ recalls Lee, a former singer.
after the wedding, Everett, by then a DJ on new music station Radio 1,
was sacked for joking on air that the Transport Minister’s wife had only
passed her driving test because she’d bribed the instructor. Everett
nevertheless progressed via local radio to Capital’s breakfast show.
he was developing the cast of comic characters – among them punk Sid
Snot; lecherous Frenchman Marcel Wave; Gizzard Puke, Mugger to the
Gentry – that peopled his ground-breaking TV show, The Kenny Everett
In those early days, Everett – famous for his anarchic behaviour -took her on a trip round Europe in his new Fiat
Married life for Lee was an emotional roller coaster as Everett, tortured and frustrated by his sexuality, had a series of fruitless crushes on straight men.
He’d be cruelly dismissive of his wife, then loving and remorseful. They had blistering rows, then passionate rapprochements. Once, Lee, in a fit of fury, kicked in a bedroom door at their Cotswolds home. Seconds later, they were reeling with laughter.
Everett was also addicted to sleeping pills, which caused crushing bouts of depression and once he attempted suicide. Lee helped wean him off them. ‘The withdrawal was awful,’ she recalls. ‘He had hallucinations. He’d scream that monsters were gnawing his feet. I stayed up with him night after night, helping him through it. Later in his diary he wrote, “Lee is such a brick.” ’
Finally, however, their relationship became untenable. They slept in separate bedrooms and Lee recognised she would have to act to break the impasse. In the end, it was she who introduced Everett to his first boyfriend.
‘We were in a restaurant having dinner with Freddie Mercury,’ she recalls. ‘Ev said, “The waiter’s cute,” so I invited him to join us when we went on to a nightclub together. Freddie said, “You’ve just pulled Ev’s first boyfriend.” ’ Indeed, the waiter was Ev’s first male partner and they remained together for a year.
They slept in separate bedrooms and Lee
recognised she would have to act to break the impasse. In the end, it
was she who introduced Everett to his first boyfriend.
When her 13-year marriage to Everett finally fractured, Lee had a brief lesbian affair with a US professional tennis player she’s never named. But it’s the heroically long-suffering John who has been her most enduring partner.
John, 65, who played DS Tom Daniels in the 70s TV cop series The Sweeney, has now been married to Lee for 27 years. They live quietly in a peaceful village near Newbury, Berkshire, where they run a complementary medicine centre, and sell Lee’s Chilliqueen jams.
Lee recalls the bizarre mnage trois that developed after she married for the second time. ‘After John and I got married, Ev even visited our honeymoon suite,’ she recalls.
‘He was there nearly all night and John was fast asleep by the time I got to bed.’ John, who is bustling around making lunch for us all, rolls his eyes at the memory.
Life was such fun with Ev says Lee
When he married Lee, their mutual friend Elton John assured him life wouldn’t be boring. ‘And it wasn’t,’ he smiles. Lee recalls, ‘We’d just moved into our first home together and we heard Ev’s voice calling, “Cooeee!” He’d arrived with a bundle of clothes for me to wash, and he said, “What’s for dinner” I’m amazed John stayed. He should have run for the hills! Ev ate with us most nights. He even arrived in Lanzarote when John and I were trying to have a peaceful holiday. There were three people in our marriage.’
John and Lee endured – often, in fact, enjoyed – Everett’s presence, until he took up with a promiscuous gay Russian lover called Nikolai. ‘I told Ev, “You’re playing Russian roulette,”’ recalls Lee.
‘Nikolai had no decency. I knew he’d be the death of Ev, because his life became totally debauched after they met.’ As a result, Lee and Everett became distant, and when he died, at 50, it was from the same strain of the HIV virus that killed Nikolai. ‘So I blame the Russian for Ev’s death,’ she says.
She chose not to have children, although she is a devoted stepmum to John’s two grown-up sons from his first marriage. ‘I never regretted marrying Ev because, most of the time, life with him was such fun,’ she reflects. ‘We had some heavenly times – but I was a mother to him really, wasn’t I’
The Best Possible Taste is on BBC4 next month..