■ The king of kids’ TV, 64, on cycling to the shrine of St James, hitting Mrs Thatcher on the head and why Kylie was so wacky
In your new memoir there’s a picture of you hitting Margaret Thatcher on the head with your giant foam mallet…
It was the House of Commons Christmas Party 1988, where they had a party for children of MPs. Suddenly Margaret Thatcher arrived and pointed at the mallet, saying: ‘What’s that? And what does it do?’ I think she had a pretty good idea but my favourite bit of the photo is the bloke behind thinking, ‘Oh no, it’s going to hit the prime minister!’
Which celebrity was the best at playing Mallett’s Mallet?
Kylie couldn’t wait to get the Wacky Plaster and when she lost she got a giant plaster on her knee saying, ‘I should be so Wacky’! Most days somebody will ask where the mallet is. I thought it’d last a couple of weeks so it’s nice that it still resonates.
Your kids TV shows had such a huge impact on so many children…
I’m aware of their impact every day when people tell me what they remember. Part of that is the period: you only had three choices. They’ve just brought back Saturday Mash Up on CBBC and the lad who produces that worked on Timmy Towers.
In your book you also write about cycling the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route. Why did you want to do that?
I’ve always been interested in an adventure but the fact that it’s been around for a thousand years really intrigued me. And then discovering that the mummified hand of St James has been three miles from where I live in the Thames Valley for 900 years… what a wonderful bit of serendipity. I like the idea of setting off from home and immediately having to make a decision, left or right. You have to live in the moment.
You did the trip to honour your brother, Martin, who had Down’s syndrome…
Yes but when I was planning it he wasn’t at death’s door. It was more that he was always my inspiration because of the way he managed to reach his potential. Martin sadly died a week before I set off, which threw me into a bit of confusion.
It must have been hard to go ahead with it. Did it help with your grief at all?
It’s not quite as simple as that. It becomes more apparent as the adventure continues. Martin’s funeral was two days before setting off in Aberdeen and that’s where my big brother, Paul, found Martin’s name tags amongst his things. Paul said I might want to use those to mark my journey. I put the first name tag in a war memorial, the next in Mont St Michel and a friend said to take a photo of every one and share it. I thought it was far too personal but now I love the fact you can download the What3words app and follow the whole route.
How would your brother feel about that?
Oh, he’d be absolutely thrilled! He’d say: ‘You and me. Ma bubba! I’m happy!’ He’d use those three phrases a lot about just being together — how nice is that? I called the bike Martin at one stage and once I’d named it, I could talk to it. ‘Come on Martin! We’re pedalling up the Pyrenees, I know it’s raining, but we can do it!’ It was really encouraging, that feeling he was with me.
You had well wishes from Prince William, President Macron, Theresa May, an archbishop and several blessings — whose meant the most?
They’ve all meant something. Back in the Middle Ages you couldn’t do the journey without the permission of your parish priest and lord of the manor. All your affairs had to be in order as there was every possibility you might not come back. Archbishop John Sentamu wrote a lovely letter saying he loved what I did on the telly. I wrote to Prince William because I knew he and Harry used to watch Wacaday with their mum, Diana. I wrote to Theresa May because she’s my MP and she came to my house, right in the middle of trying to sort out Brexit, because she and Philip might walk it one day. She knew about my brother, which I thought was really nice.
You now do more painting than TV don’t you?
Yes. I paint most days and love getting out on my bike because there’s always some inspiration. I’ve come back with 100 or so paintings from my Camino trip and I’d like to exhibit them.
Do you always wear a lot of colour?
Colour has always been interesting to me and they seem to clash, mostly. You’re unlikely to find me wandering around in black or grey. I thank The Buggles’ Video Killed The Radio Star for the great glasses that Trevor Horn was wearing — he inspired me to start my collection.
■ Utterly Brilliant! My Life’s Journey by Timmy Mallett is out now, mallettspallette.co.uk