Palin's Progress; BOOKS 2: Michael Palin's Diaries Detail His Flirtation with Hollywood as Well as Some Darker Episodes, as Emily Lambert Discovers
MICHAEL PALIN, writer, actor, TV journeyman and all round Mr Nice Guy, arrives at our interview apologising for being slightly late and saying he feels embarrassed that I've taken the trouble to read his latest 587-page book, Halfway To Hollywood.
The book, his diaries from 1980-88, covers his brush with stardom in America when The Life Of Brian was causing controversy, the Pythons performed at the Hollywood Bowl, and films including The Missionary, A Private Function and A Fish Called Wanda received much acclaim.
Today, he shows not a hint of regret that international stardom didn't happen.
"I realised I wasn't going to be happy moving the family out to Los Angeles or having a huge house here and doing movie after movie just because I needed the money to keep a lifestyle together. The freedom to do what I wanted to do was much more important to me than the shackles of stardom.
"The more money you earn, the higher your status, the more people are around you. I don't know how people like Johnny Depp operate. He's got about 40 or 50 people who look after his life. My people are my wife and my kids and my grandsons."
Palin, 66, has enjoyed huge success without uprooting his family - he's travelled the world making documentaries, is president of the Royal Geographic Society, has a 40th anniversary Monty Python reunion concert coming up and, most importantly, is spending quality time with his two grandsons.
"I'm not that ambitious. I didn't have a goal. I wanted to write well, act well and bring up my family well and sometimes you couldn't do one and the other at the same time."
His family has been instrumental in his stability, he reflects. He has been married for 43 years to his childhood sweetheart, Helen, a bereavement counsellor, and they have three grown-up children - Tom, Will and Rachel - and two grandsons, Archie and Wilbur, aged three and three months respectively.
The two grandchildren have prompted him to cut down on his workload and he doubts he'll do more travel documentaries, he says.
"I took a decision at the end of last year to stay at home a little more. My wife gave up pushing the atlas at me and saying, 'You haven't been there, dear' because we had our first grandchild and she suddenly realised how nice it was to be a grandparent and that's the sort of thing we do together. I like to talk to her about the antics of our grandsons. I want to see them growing up."
While Palin's diaries are bright and breezy, there is one dark episode which stands out. In 1987 his older sister, Angela, committed suicide at 52, asphyxiating herself in her garage.
"I just felt what a waste it was," he says now. "How can someone who seems at one level so easily able to operate, to make friends, to deal with a busy life, find something there that's so dark and awful that you just want to give up that life? I've never been able to work that out.
"Of course I miss her and I wish it hadn't happened and you wonder if there was any way it might all have been different."
The book is dedicated to Angela and there are several pictures of her in it looking happy and smiling with other family members. …