Friday September 17, 2021

‘It was an absolute joy to be invited to do something where we left the house’

Pa
July 30, 2021

Paul Merton seems to be in no rush to resume normal life just yet. The London-born comedian, actor and presenter, 64, is probably best known for BBC’s Have I Got News For You, but he also heads up and tours with a collective called Paul Merton’s Impro Chums.

But, while places are opening up again following the relaxing of Covid-19 restrictions, he confides: “At the moment, I wouldn’t be happy performing in an indoor environment with people sat together and not masked up.

“We have gone to a couple of local restaurants that have outside areas, and we’re relatively happy doing that,” says the star, who’s married to fellow comedian and actor Suki Webster. “I hope that this great experiment that’s happening at the moment doesn’t backfire, but I know a lot of scientists that are against doing what we’re doing, so we’ll have to see — and hopefully we’ll be lucky.”

There is a project Merton has been working on lately; a new Channel 5 show, which follows him and Webster as they travel around the UK in a motorhome. The first episode sees them head to Kent, while beautiful campsites in places such as the Lake District and Wales are also showcased.

It’s a joyful watch, as they discover the freedom of being able to park up anywhere to take in the view, while trying out new activities along the way. There’s also a more practical side to the six-part series; it features motorhome enthusiasts sharing their top tips, plus ideas for the best camping equipment to invest in.

And, with the motorhome scene booming — seeing as the pandemic means more people hitting the A roads and holidaying in the UK — it couldn’t be coming at a better time. “It was an absolute joy to be invited to do something where we left the house!” quips Webster, 56.

While they both had static caravan holidays separately as kids, and also stayed in one together at Latitude Festival, this was the couple’s first foray into motorhoming — and they’ve certainly got the bug now.

“It took us a while to get used to it, like anything new,” notes Merton. “But we’ve discussed it afterwards and I think we would love to do it again.”

In the first episode, we see the affable pair navigating tricky country lanes, resulting in clipping the hedge with a wing mirror — but he reassures me there weren’t any more driving mishaps as the series went on. “It does take a lot of concentration, driving any vehicle, but this one particularly, because you’ve got to be aware of when you’ve got to go wide around the corners and make sure that there’s room for you to pass another vehicle.

“But I think the only incidents really, for both of us, were in the first couple of hours of us driving it. “The steering is very easy, because of the power steering. It’s not a heavy vehicle to drive, but it takes a while to get aware of the width and the length of it.”

What would their top tips be for other couples who fancy heading off in a motorhome together? “I’d say tidy up constantly, because if you don’t, it’s a small space — it gets messy very quickly,” muses Webster. “Take an awful lot of tea towels and kitchen roll. You see in the first episode when I go over the speed bump, everything rattled because we hadn’t quite wrapped it properly.”

“The thing about keeping it tidy is key, but also perhaps doing a bit of research about where you’re going to go,” adds Merton. “You don’t want to go somewhere where it’s really crammed full of motorhomes. Most of the places we stayed at obviously did have motorhomes around, but you didn’t feel as if people were on top of each other.”

As for memorable moments along the way, one particular activity stands out. “At one point, we were being driven around a quarry in a kind of very souped-up, almost Formula One racing car with a very experienced driver, and the car goes from nought to 60 in two seconds,” recalls Merton.

“I absolutely hated it, and Suki absolutely loved it. I was going, ‘Slow down, slow down!’ and Suki was just whooping with joy.” “Another thing I loved was something called the Jacob Sheep experience,” Webster says. “This farmer and his daughter have acclimatised this breed of sheep to no longer be afraid of people, and they’re like dogs. You put them on a harness, when you let them off the harness, they don’t run away, they nuzzle you. They just want to be petted. They’re the most gorgeous thing.”

Both stars have been in the industry for a long time, and have worked together on many projects in the past, including My Obsession, a play that Webster wrote, which they took to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and was then turned into a Radio Four series.

Asked about how the comedy scene has changed over the years, Webster — who’s also a member of Paul Merton’s Impro Chums — agrees it’s definitely become more diverse, noting: “There are so many more women, which is terrific. When I began, there really was so few of us.”

“I don’t know about live comedy, because I don’t see it at all, but in terms of broadcast comedy, you have a much greater range of diversity, which is good,” follows Merton. “It’s about time it happened. It is happening now I think, and that’s always a good thing, because it shouldn’t just be people who went to Oxbridge.

“I do a show called Just A Minute, and for the last 20-odd years, we aim to have an equal number of women and men — two women, two men — playing the game. “Now we have Sue Perkins who has taken the role of the host, so that’s good news, and she will be excellent; I know she’s excellent at playing the game. So, I’ve always been in favour of that. More variety is better.” Motorhoming With Merton & Webster starts on Channel 5 from Friday, August 6.