I spent a lot of my early life looking for male role models, I wanted to meet someone and think, 'I want to be like him.' I had little idea how to be a man, possibly due to coming from a home with a very distant father and a very strong, dominating mother.
Last night I watched two remarkable men enter a theatre together. One, even if you don't know his face, you'd know his voice. His name is Harry Shearer and he is the voice of Mr Burns (among others) In The Simpsons. The other was my first ever passenger in Carpool, Ed Bye.
They were walking into the theatre to watch their respective wives perform on stage. For Harry, his wife Judith Owen, for Ed, his wife, Ruby Wax.
It was a__gala evening performance of Ruby Wax and Judith Owen's show 'Losing it' and if you get the chance, go and see it. I feel confident in predicting you will not be dissappointed.
I have worked with Ruby as a writer, spending many hours in their home in London creating scripts and characters that, in the various turns of events that beset such projects, never made it to the screen. In that time I got to know Ruby a little, laughed myself almost sick, often left the house with a half written script and my brains feeling like they'd been whisked, but always uplifted, a smile on my face.
So to say I had no idea what she was going through is more testament to my insensitivity, heightened self regard and general ignorance than anything Ruby did or did not impart to me._I knew she was at times extreme, unpredictable, loud, insightful, charming and occassioanlly a little scary, but the revelations she makes on stage are at once shocking and clarifying.
I must have seen just about every show Ruby has ever done but this one is very different. I'd_never seen Judith Owen before, but she sings and plays piano almost continuously through the performance and is an incredible and very funny foil for Ruby.
I once spent the day with Ruby and she was wearing a sweatshirt with the slogan 'I scream because I care' printed on it in big letters. 'It's for my children' she says. 'Just so they know mommy knows.' She flashed that legenary smile and I laughed.
What Ruby explains with such simple clarity is that depression is an illness, like cancer, like kidney stones. It's not something that besets a particular type of person, it's not something 'celebs' get or lazy, overprivileged West Londoners suffer from when pilates and fresh organic yogurt just don't cut it anyn more. It can affect anyone from any walk of life, and it's something I am very happy to say I have never experienced._
Oh, I've been down, I've sulked, I've been 'miserable' and badly behaved because of it, but I've never been laid out flat for weeks. I am also guilty of judging people who have had clinical depression, I may not have said it out loud, but I've thought it, 'pull your socks up,' and 'what have you got to be depressed about, you're okay' and 'what about women in Somalia with 3 dead kids, they've got a right to be depressed.' I'm sure we've all done it._
Ruby started doing the show in The Priory, which as any tabloid consumer will know is the high end nut house (Ruby's description) where many celebs go to clean up their act, but she has been touring the show in psychiatric hospitals and drop in centres around the country, and in so doing raising awareness of this debilitating illness. Hats off to her.
However, and not wishing to distract from Ruby's copious talent and brave honesty, as I watched the show last night, my already high regard for her husband Ed grew even more. He is an extraordinary man, charming, funny, thoughtful, yes, but also resilient, strong and constant. The show wasn't about him, although he was referred to every now and again in Ruby's often hysterically funny diatribes, but he was always in the background.
Ruby and Ed have three children, they are bright, aware of their mothers problems and on the occassions I have witnessed them at home, well balanced and, I don't know what other term to use, normal. Ed has been an incredible father to them and has somehow managed to steer what is obviously not a normal, run of the mill family through the rigours of parenting._
I won't regail you with the stories Ed has told me about life with Ruby, they are often very funny but after seeing the show they have taken on another hue. However what I came away with last night was not something I expected at all. Now I am rapidly approaching my mid 50's_I believe I have finally found a male role model I can aspire to. I know I can never be like him, but I can use him as a guidepost. 'What would Ed do?' could be my internal question. I'm not in the same position with my wife, although she drives me mad occassionally she has not suffered the same debilitating illness that Ruby has. But raising kids, staying together, working shit through is not easy. It doesn't even get any easier as the years pass, but I have found it is worth the effort and seeing Ed last night confirmed that beyond doubt.