Tim Healy by Matthew Healy:
My dad has been famous longer than I’ve been alive
If you were asked to write about your father, what would you say?
Ted Kessler posed this question to a number of well-known names for his book, My Old Man: Tales of Our Fathers. Their responses, by turns funny, tender and heartbreaking, offer a unique opportunity to reflect on our own relationships with our dads—who they really are, and how we come to understand ourselves through them.
In this exclusive extract, Matthew Healy, singer and guitarist with the 1975, reflects on his dad, the actor Tim Healy.
My name is Matthew Timothy Healy. I was born naked in north London in April 1989. I am told it was quite warm—which has been the case for most of my birthdays. I am an adult now, semi-clothed. My father spent those early years of my life working between England and Australia—back-to-back winters that had deprived him of the sun for almost four years. He told me he remembers my birthday being a bright and memorable time, golden-hued. He currently lives in the house in which I spent most of my childhood. In some ways it exists as a shrine to what once was—our family and what has been achieved. It is a feeling that is comforting and unsettling in equal measure.
My dad, at five foot seven, a baby-turned-milkboy-turned-welder-turned-comic-turned-actor, was born in the early 1950s to parents Malcolm and Sadie, in Birtley, Newcastle upon Tyne. He lived modestly up north, as a youngster and as a young man, with his brother, John, and their dog, Smartie (a dog that would later come to head-butt my dad in a moment of jestful play, resulting in him losing his bottom row of teeth. John once threw my dad over a wall, with the assumption that the drop on the other side was of equal height to that which he’d just hoisted his little brother over. It wasn’t. He landed right on his head and has had to wear glasses ever since).
“He currently lives in the house in which I spent most of my childhood. In some ways it exists as a shrine to what once was—our family and what has been achieved.”
He would work between various factories during the day and at night he would pursue his dream of becoming a stand-up comedian. He is a very funny man, my dad, whose charm and passion is articulated through his comedy, and his face exudes a type of warmth that one would expect from a northern English comedic actor. He laughs like Muttley off Wacky Races and whistles inane tunes that have never been heard before, for good reason.
My dad has been famous longer than I’ve been alive. He was at the height of his fame just before I was born, during Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. My parents being famous was always part of my reality: there are photos of their wedding with a crowd of a thousand people outside looking in, which is what their life has been like. I know nothing different, and it bled into the way I saw myself. My dad was a rags-to-riches character, so as soon as he saw a stem of creativity in me, he knew the importance of nurturing it so that I gained a sense of self. Me being creative was always emotionally, financially endorsed by my dad.
“My dad was a rags-to-riches character, so as soon as he saw a stem of creativity in me, he knew the importance of nurturing it so that I gained a sense of self.”
“You’re John Lennon,” he’d say, from the time I was six. He expected me to be a rock star, not in a superficial sense, but A Rock Star. Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits and Brian Johnson from AC/DC would occasionally come around to our house when I was growing up so it always seemed tangible. Rock stars walked among us. Welders, too. Dad has that dichotomy between being a working-class manual worker and a bohemian actor. I remember watching a Michael Jackson video with some of his welder mates when I was a kid and them saying he was from another planet. I thought, Yeah. My planet.
My parents always taught me that you get the good with the bad. So, if you want to live in a nice house and have nice holidays, then maybe Hello! might have to come around your nice house or go on your nice holiday to take photos for their magazine. The Daily Mail and the Mirror went in a bit hard on my mum for a while, which was difficult for my dad as he’s not from the tabloid world that comes with being behind the bar at the Rovers Return. He had to deal with a wife who was clinically depressed, being hounded by the tabloids. What does he do to look after his wife? We got through it. And there’s stuff that people don’t know. We found a lot of security in that, knowing that they only knew so much.
“Rock stars walked among us. Welders, too. Dad has that dichotomy between being a working-class manual worker and a bohemian actor.”
I thought about this a lot when my band was breaking. My mum is on Loose Women. That’s not credible, that’s not cool. My dad is a credible actor but he’s well known too. Am I going to be perceived as an ITV boy-band thing? In the end I had to get over it. You can’t judge musicians by what their parents do. It isn’t going to work.
There are two things he always said to me, and always after a drink: “Be who you want to be.” And “It’s in yer bones, man!” He empowered me. He acted in awe of me. Not in a sycophantic way, but as if I didn’t need his advice. If I had conviction, it would see me through—and that really rang true. Because I had a middle-class family I could get to 20 years old and still be working it out with the band.
I didn’t go to university. I worked in a Chinese restaurant, which stressed my mum out. “Is this band thing really going to become something?” she’d ask.
“He empowered me. He acted in awe of me. Not in a sycophantic way, but as if I didn’t need his advice.”
My dad never questioned it. “Leave him alone, man, he’s John Lennon, man.” He believed in me unquestioningly from the moment I wrote a song called ‘Robbers’ when I was eighteen. He bought us our first van. He converted the garage into a rehearsal space. His overt passion for us is instilled in our band. When our album went platinum all of the band made sure he got a disc. He’s the band’s dad.
The character he plays in Benidorm, who rides around on roller-skates with a wig on and big boobs, is probably the one he sees the most of himself in. He told me he based it on a combination of Les Dawson and Tommy Cooper, which is my dad incarnate. If people ask me to describe my dad I say, “Combine those two. That’s him.” The slapstick he plays is quite like his real persona. He’s a very, very good actor. It’s not strange to see my dad put on a wig and be someone completely different. When it looks and feels like my dad but there’s something else going on, that’s when it throws me. It’s the subtlety of my dad in the midst of a great performance that can really mess me up. If you’re involved in the physique and the aura and the knowledge of who that person is, when the minutiae of it change it’s quite alarming.
“He believed in me unquestioningly… His overt passion for us is instilled in our band. When our album went platinum all of the band made sure he got a disc. He’s the band’s dad.”
I steal a lot of lighters, which is something coincidentally I’ve stolen from my dad. We’ve stolen everybody’s lighter we’ve ever come into contact with. Superficially, I think I’m more like my mother. I’m quite erratic. I’m passionate and emotionally driven, whereas my dad is more subdued about those things. I think what I’ve got from my dad is my fear of not being proud of myself. Those are the times I’ve seen him at his lowest, when he regrets something he could’ve done, mainly from a creative perspective. I’ve seen him cut himself up over things that I wouldn’t have imagined he’d find that relevant or important. And then I find myself doing the same over a vocal take, or some small detail in a recording, and that’s when I feel him inside me. That’s when I know who I am.
Loneliness leaves a child unsure of their place in the world, it inhibits their development, and it deprives them the need to give and receive love. Between 14–20 June we’re exploring how isolation impacts lives, and we’re celebrating the bonds of family—where children belong.
Buy Ted Kessler’s My Old Man: Tales from our Fathers from Bookshop.org and all good booksellers.
Copyright © Individual Contributors, 2016
Selection and Introduction © Ted Kessler, 2016
Extracts from My Old Man: Tales from our Fathers reproduced with permission of Canongate Books Ltd.