Suggs speaks out about his life of Madness
It was the day after his 50th birthday party and Madness frontman Suggs was in the bath when his cat suddenly toppled off a shelf, stone dead, right in front of him.
It triggered a journey of self discovery which has ended in him travelling the country, sharing the story of his life, his climb to fame - and his hugely dysfunctional childhood.
Today, he’s in Bridlington, gazing over the sunlit seafront and reminiscing. He muses: “I haven’t probably been here for 30 years. And I think I’m staying in the same hotel - and it hasn’t changed a bit, haha!”
Born Graham McPherson, Suggs was brought up alone by his mother, a pub singer, moving from pillar to post as she followed work.
His father, a heroin addict, left when he was just three - and the singer had never really had any compulsion to find out what had happened to him.
But when his much loved cat, Mamba, suddenly keeled over and died, something changed.
Suggs recalls: “I’d had him for about 12 years, I’ve always had cats but this particular one was really my best mate. If I came in from the pub or if I’d been to see the football and they’d lost, he’d come and sit with me - and everyone else would ignore me.
“I’d had my 50th birthday party the night before and I was lying in the bath somewhat hungover as you can imagine - and it happened right there! I thought, My God, as if it’s not bad enough. I’m 50 years old and my cat’s just fallen off a shelf and died!
“It coincided with the fact that my daughters had just left home. And it seemed to get me thinking about the past.”
It started him down a road he admits he’d always been a little afraid to follow. He says: “I think there was an element of that. No-one gives you any rule book about bringing up kids and that was pretty complicated as it was, given the life that I was in. And it was partly that I just didn’t want to bring any more emotional turmoil into trying to bring up two kids.
“One of my friends discovered he had half sisters and then a whole tsunami of family stuff came out that actually you have to be prepared to deal with. But my kids leaving home and getting to 50 and the cat ...all these things just made me think, hang on Suggs, this IS time now.”
So at last, he began to ask questions, almost for the first time. He says: “The big turning point was getting his death certificate which I hadn’t done up to that point. I hadn’t really done anything,
“I just didn’t know my dad. It wasn’t like he was some guy that was my Dad and he walked off. I had no vision of this bloke, he was just a figment of my imagination.
“Fortunately I found some photos of him, my aunt had some photos which was nice.
“It was nice to know that he did exist as a real person and it’s just a shame. And what I did find out was he lived a lot longer than I’d imagined. He died when I was about 15 and I thought that he was dead much earlier than that, given the circumstances.
The first thing my mum said to me - because I also spoke to her, probably for the first time - it’s so like the British, you sit there saying what a nice day it is and there’s this great elephant in the room!
“Obviously I didn’t want to hurt my mum - and I discovered that, of course, she didn’t want to hurt me, because she didn’t want me to feel that she could have done more for him.
“The words she said were, He was the nicest man she ever met - and that’s what really got me thinking. I’d had him down as some wayward old s*d who’d abandoned us and that’s fine, I could put him in that box.
“But she talked about heroin being an evil lady who destroyed him and that’s the way she looked at it. But then the tragedy was, if he’d just been around a little bit longer, Suggs was just taking off and probably we would have got the chance to meet.
“It was just the heroin. He was destroyed by that and it wasn’t that he was innately horrible as a person, he was a very nice person but he was just completely....” and he trails off, ending vaguely: “Aaaaanyway, that’s the way it goes, you know.”
The only other time he ever probed the subject was to begin questioning his aunt when he was in his teens. Tragically, this may have been around the time his father died.
He says: “I was contemplating doing something about it - but I didn’t. He died when I was 15 so I’m sure it would have been later than that but it would have been very close. That’s the sad thing, that it was so close.”
Ironically, it was also just the time that Suggs was finally finding some sense of family security - thanks to Madness. He says: “Most of them were from broken homes, as we used to call it in those days and I think we were all like a kind of surrogate family.”
But his real family life began when he met wife Ann, then singer in punk band Deaf School. He remembers: “She really wanted to have kids. And although I was quite young, in my 20s, there maybe was some hankering for myself to have a family that I’d never been involved in.
“So the combination was perfect for us that I was out there earning some money and she was bringing up the kids. And on it went - and on it still goes!”
Two years on from Mamba’s sudden death, the couple are actually about to get a new cat. Suggs grins: “We couldn’t even talk about it for two years. But my mate who lives up the road, his cat has just had 11 kittens - and of course, he just showed us some photos on his phone - and Ann was gone within 30 seconds!”
Suggs, My Life Story is at Preston Charter Theatre tomorrow. Tickets are still available from the box office on 0845 344 2012.