Shaun Ryder on early nights, hair loss, and watching Watership Down with Bez | Ents & Arts News

Shaun Ryder wants to know what day it is. His brow furrows as he does some quick working out on his fingers. “Wednesday? Wednesday! Coronation Street! Brilliant.”

This is Shaun Ryder at 56, a man who sets his watch by his soaps and happily admits to embracing the mundane.

Shaun Ryder and Bez, Happy Mondays
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Ryder (right) rose to fame with best mate Bez in the Happy Mondays

Walking through the Sky News office in Westminster, a space typically reserved for our politics and business coverage, he attracts attention; not your average guest for this space just metres from parliament.

He loves his soaps, he says. Not Love Island, though. “B******s,” he says, loudly, oblivious to the eyes peering up from the screens around him. “Utter b******s. If I want to listen to children squabbling I’ll just stand outside my kids’ rooms.”

Shaun Ryder 2.0, the man who entered the I’m A Celebrity… jungle almost 10 years ago as the former drugged-up, and seemingly washed-up, face of Madchester, only to emerge as a national treasure of sorts, is at the end of a long day of interviews, promoting his upcoming greatest hits tour with the Happy Mondays, as well as a tour of more intimate “An Evening With…” shows.

He is not in the best of health, displaying a pronounced limp as he walks through to the studio, the result of a recent new hip. “I’m too vain for crutches,” he laughs, before later unashamedly showing off his surgery scars.

He has also lost all his hair. “Everything – eyebrows, pubic hair, everything,” he volunteers, without flinching. Ryder has an underactive thyroid and has been taking testosterone injections for years, but the hair loss is recent. Some sort of alopecia, he thinks. The hormones also make him sweat more, which he compares to the menopause.

All of which means he could be forgiven for not being in the best of moods, however Ryder is pleasant and polite – but pleasingly sweary. He is also happy to talk about anything, unfiltered, which has always made him rather an anomaly in the world of celebrity. His Q and A shows must make for an entertaining night.

“When I first started doing ’em I’d get to a place and they’d say, ‘have you got your questions?’ and it’s like, no, just ask me what you want,” he says. “I sort of found out that most people turn up with questions – you know, people who do this sort of show – and they have to stick to that script and to me, that would be really boring.

“So whatever you want to ask me, ask me, you know? If I don’t want to answer it, I won’t. But the majority, I’ll give you an answer. It don’t get boring then, does it?”

Shaun Ryder at the NME Awards
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NME Awards 2000: Winnning the Godlike Genius trophy
Happy Mondays. Pic: Paul Husband
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The Happy Mondays are gigging again later in 2019. Pic: Paul Husband

Ryder needs no introduction. As the frontman of the Happy Mondays, he rose to fame and infamy in the late ’80s, alongside his best mate, Bez – the band’s “freaky dancer” and maraca-shaker. Hits included Step On and Kinky Afro, but it was the sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll that drew in the tabloids. Ryder has never held back with his stories of drug use – heroin, ecstasy, cocaine, crack, you name it – and drug dealing, which didn’t stop with the limelight.

He has famously been quoted saying he doesn’t remember the 1990s, when the Happy Mondays released their biggest album, Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches, and when he later set up his second band, Black Grape.

Since fans mainly want to hear him recount his tales of bad behaviour and wild nights out from that period, does that make his Q&A’s tricky? The answer is no. Ryder is never at a loss for words.

“Well, when somebody asks me something I can usually trip off a memory,” he says. “There’s not many times… I can usually find something in what they’re asking to link it to and then answer.”

You would think most people want to know about the drugs. Not always the case, Ryder says, getting into his stride.

“It’s really funny, right, because it depends where we are and what venue it is…”

We’re interrupted by the buzzing of his phone vibrating.

Shaun Ryder. Pic: Paul Husband
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Ryder will soon meet fans on a Q&A tour. Pic: Paul Husband

“Who the f***’s that?” he shouts, peering at and prodding his screen. “I don’t know what that is. Excuse me, I’m very sorry about that. What were you saying? Oh yeah, well again, it just depends on what venue you’re at and what type of audience.

“We’re sort of split. We’ve got The Sun readers and The Daily Star readers and a lot of them want to talk about the drugs and sex and rock ‘n’ roll.

“And then you get your Guardian or your Times sort of dude who want to know about” – he adopts a posh, earnest accent – “songwriting and cultural influences”.

“I mean, even in Manchester, right, the same city. If I’m doing the Bridgewater Hall, then it’s song writing and cultural influences. If I’m doing the Carling Academy in Manchester it’s, ‘I want to know how much crack did you smoke in that wardrobe in LA in 1991’.

How much crack did they smoke? “F*****g loads. Excuse me.”

Song writing and cultural influences, or sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. What’s the most fun to discuss?

Ryder laughs. “They’re all fun. It doesn’t get boring.”

Shaun Ryder of Black Grape and The Happy Mondays sitting on an inflatable chair on a beach, USA, 1999
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US, 1999: Because sunbathing always calls for a bottle of vodka

A typical evening with Shaun Ryder in 2019 is “very boring now”, he says.

“I mean, the nearly 60-year-old Shaun Ryder is pretty boring. You know, in the evening, it’s six o’clock – news. Six-thirty – main news. After the main news it’s usually Coronation Street or Emmerdale and then it’s bed.”

Ryder’s appearance on I’m A Celebrity not only won him a whole new fanbase, but it also allowed him to start earning again after years spent in receivership.

Capitalising on the newfound love that emerged after his jungle stint, in the years that followed Ryder has popped up on our screens to appear at the National Television Awards, on comedy panel show Celebrity Juice, and even on Celebrity Mastermind in 2018; specialist subject, of course: Manchester.

An unashamed and outspoken believer in UFOs and alien life, he also hosted his own series, Shaun Ryder on UFOs, on the History Channel.

(L-R): Bez and Shaun Ryder, from the Happy Mondays and Black Grape, on Channel 4's Gogglebox
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Settling down with Bez for Celebrity Gogglebox

In 2019, Ryder has found himself a primetime TV favourite once again, thanks to appearances on Channel 4’s Celebrity Gogglebox, cosying up on the sofa of his home in Salford with Bez; the two sharing their opinions on everything from ABBA tribute act Bjorn Again – “absolutely bang on, that” – to Liam Neeson thriller Taken. “B******s,” is the one-word review from Ryder.

“Gogglebox is fun,” he says. “It’s me and Bez in our sexless marriage. We get to be Bert and Ernie.”

The pair used to live together, back in the ’80s. Settling down to watch TV together was a very different affair back then.

“We used to wash up in the bath. Because two boys living in a flat had to wash up in the bath,” Ryder volunteers. “And you know, we used to… We watched in the ’80s, what was it called, the one about the rabbits, where they killed them? Bridge-Watership Down. I mean, we watched that on acid and was crying. [Not a good one to watch] on LSD, yeah.

“When you’re a young man, you know, when these rabbits are getting slaughtered. It’s not… I mean, Bez was gutted. I really think he got post-traumatic stress off that.”

Despite their popularity on the show, Ryder says he and Bez are “the flavour of the fish and chips at the moment”, and isn’t quite sure whether their own could work.

“At the end of the day, it’s waste newspaper and in three or four weeks’ time, when Gogglebox is finished, nobody’s going to matter about it.”

He pauses. “I mean, we’d love our own show… you’d need a really good screenwriter, right, who can adapt mine and his natural silliness… but at the end of the day… you know…,” Ryder shrugs: “Whatever.”

Stacey Solomon and Shaun Ryder on stage during the 2011 National Television Awards at the O2 Arena
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Performing on stage at the National Television Awards in 2011 with his I’m A Celebrity… co-star Stacey Solomon

He no longer really sees any of his fellow I’m A Celebrity… jungle pals, saying he bumps into former MP Lembit Opik “every now and then, but that’s about it, really”.

On the subject of MPs and politics, Ryder admits he has been “in a rock ‘n’ roll bubble since the ’80s” and only started voting in recent years. He wanted the UK to remain in the EU, seeing Brexit as “going back in time”.

“Most people don’t really know what’s going on. They’ll bring you out of Europe because [they think] there’s too many Polish people in Tesco… [that’s] the only reason they want us out of Europe, most of ’em. They’re not grown up enough to have a vote, and I wouldn’t give them a vote. And when you do, look what happens.”

Ryder was runner-up on I’m A Celebrity…, coming second to former X Factor contestant and now TV presenter Stacey Solomon. He says the experience kick-started his reinvention. He references his Channel 4 TV ban several years prior, after swearing on live TFI Friday shows, twice. He is reportedly the only person listed by name in the station’s transmission guidebook, although it appears all is forgiven now, as he took part in the live anniversary special in 2015.

“I became Showbiz Shaun, I became PG in the jungle,” he says. “You know, I went in there as an adult, not going ‘Oh f*** me, you’ve got nice shoes’ on Channel 4, which gets you banned for pretty much your adult life.”

Shaun Ryder, Happy Mondays
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Ryder says he is enjoying touring now more than ever

Ryder then, without prompt, veers off on a tangent about Glastonbury and its founder Michael Eavis, who he refers to as Michael Leavis.

“It’s funny, you know, Michael Leavis… Right, I know Leavis had a bee in his bonnet since 1988 or whatever it is [when] we headlined Glastonbury. [Happy Mondays headlined in 1990, alongside The Cure and Sinead O’Connor].

“And Bez has had a tent at Glastonbury for the last 20 years… but he bumps into Leavis and all Leavis could do was go on about, you know, these kids – we were basically children, you know… who acted like kids… and we did make fake passes…

“I’m ADD and I’m dyslexic so I’m mentally handicapped, if you want to use the whole word. And so’s Bez. So you know, we’re kids who had issues before there were issues. But, yeah, he was still really upset at what we did.

“We got a laminate machine and made passes and we sold… you know. Don’t forget that when we headlined in 1980-whatever-it-was, it wasn’t the same Glastonbury…

“Leavis still goes on about it. Anyway… I’ve lost the plot on that one. I better shut up now.”

Unlike Bez, Ryder has no desire to do Glastonbury as a punter anymore.

“Bez is Bez. He’s still 21. I mean, I’m almost a 60-year-old bloke with a bus pass and a pension. So’s Bez, but he’s still 21.

“Bez is a very healthy guy, he’s very fit. But he still likes to, you know… he still likes to party. He likes a pint and… he likes to get about.”

Ryder, who now sticks to a broadly vegan diet, still enjoys a drink, but has no plans to return to the hedonism which used to define him. He says he is asked all the time if he misses those days, misses the drugs, and the answer is a resounding: “Oh good God, no.”

“Look, those days were brilliant,” Ryder says. “I was 18 when I started a band, the rest of the boys were 15, still in school. We’d come back from Top Of The Pops and they’d be going back to school. Literally.

“So that was then, this is now. That was great: being young, travelling around the world, going off your nut, doing whatever… You either wanted to be a footballer or in a rock band, and we did that, and that was great…

“Now I’m 50-odd years old, getting on for 60, and I’m quite comfortable and happy where I am. Leave that there.”

Still, there are no plans for retirement any time soon.

“You don’t retire in this game. I plan to go on longer than the Rolling Stones. Why not? I enjoy it more than ever.”

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He jokes that the upcoming tours, which combined will see him out on the road for the best part of four months, have been orchestrated by his wife. “She wants me out the house to kill me for the insurance money.” He laughs. “Joking! She’s the best thing in my life, my wife. She’s amazing.”

In all serious, Ryder says he’s happier now than he’s ever been, despite the ailments and the early nights.

“I had problems as a young man,” he offers, moving on before there is time to elaborate. “I don’t anymore. I’m quite comfy in my own skin and body. Problems as a youngster, you numb all that with heroin or whatever you’re taking. Now I’m at ease with me.”

Finally, then, as Ryder has to get back in time to catch the news and Coronation Street: any regrets?

“I’ve got quite a few regrets. You know, I wouldn’t spend 14 years in receivership, with 100% of your money being took off you, you know, depriving your children. That’s a big regret. But the majority? Yeah, I’m all right with.”

Say what you like about Shaun Ryder, but an evening in his company is never going to be dull. Even settled down in front of Corrie.

  • An Evening With… Shaun Ryder, presented by Toura Toura, starts with one appearance in Dublin on 26 July, with the bulk of the shows starting in Sheffield on 5 September and finishing in Bury St Edmunds on 6 November. The Happy Mondays greatest hits tour starts in Inverness on 23 October, finishing in Lincoln on 21 December.

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