'I genuinely worried about Jon. It was really tragic' | Why Jon Richardson hit the road with Matt Forde © Channel 4

'I genuinely worried about Jon. It was really tragic'

Why Jon Richardson hit the road with Matt Forde

Approaching 30, Jon Richardson realised he needed to make some big decisions in life – about relationships, family and money. And as an OCD sufferer, he came to the conclusion that these matters could only be resolved by research, research and more research.

‘I thought that the best way to figure it out was to go out and meet people and see what they were doing,’ he says. ‘Not just people who were living the conventional way. My fear had always been that everyone gets married, has kids, works, retires, and I don’t think many people are happy doing that.

‘Most marriages fail. A lot of people have kids who aren’t ready, or haven’t thought about it properly. And most of the unhappiness in the world is probably down to people not thinking about their decisions.

‘So I wanted to spend time looking into it all, I wanted to be able to have an almost mathematical solution, to come back and be able to say definitively what the best way to do things was. Meet someone at 24, get married at 27, have a kid at 31, adopt another at 32, earn £60,000 a year, that sort of thing.’

The result was that he and his friend, fellow comic Matt Forde, took to the road in a 1972 orange VW Campervan in search of answers – making a three-part Channel 4 series Jon Richardson Grows Up on the way.

‘When we started it, we were sort of… not living hand-to-mouth, in terms of poverty, but you’d earn a bit of money, pay your rent, and go out and get drunk,’ Jon says: ‘It’s not in my nature to live that way for very long. I was very aware that I had to start making some decisions that were going to last a long time.’

‘And I needed Matt there to stop me being pessimistic about everything, just going into everything saying “No, they’re lying, they’re not really happy, they’re deluded.”.

Matt agrees that he was yin to Richardson’s yang; to persuade him not all in life was doom and gloom.

‘I think most people are good, and I think, overall, things end well,’ he says, ‘And even if they don’t, you just have to think, “That’s life”. You just have to be philosophical about it.

‘I always found it ironic how wise Jon was at a very young age, and how intelligent he clearly is, and yet how he’s had these hardened views since he was quite young that are a bit immature.

‘I genuinely worried about him for a while – we talk about this a bit in the programme. People often ask me “Is he really that OCD or is it an act?” And I think a lot of the time it was actually worse than you made out on stage. It was really bad, really tragic, and there were specific times when I was really worried.’

Jon agrees: ‘I had a lot of growing up to do, that’s true. My attitude was, “If everything’s not going to be perfect, I’m not going to do any of it. If you know that most marriages fail, and yet you get married, you are welcoming that misery into your life.” It’s like you’ve chosen for it to happen, in spite of the facts.

‘But that’s a childish attitude. In reality, life isn’t like that. You make decisions, you do your best to make them work, and then you adapt if things go wrong.

‘It’s taken me 30 years to work that out – that things don’t have to go badly, and if they do, that’s not the end, it’s just part of the journey. The people we met really helped me change my views.

‘We went to the marriage of two people who’d been married before, her three times, him once. Going into that, I was so cynical. I just felt, “You’re going to get divorced, and it’s going to make you both miserable.” And actually they were such upbeat people, and they’d responded so well to things that had gone wrong in their lives. And they are happy. They were happy with the decisions they’d made.

‘I don’t know if it’s a male thing to worry about it. I think it’s just that men have more time to waste thinking about it. For women, biologically there’s a time-limit on when they can have kids, while men have another 20 or 30 years. And the way the world is set up, it’s easier for men to do certain things, so the option is there not to settle down and have kids. Rightly or wrongly, it is different for women.’

Matt says he has had a more traditional approach to marriage, saying: ‘For me, the joy of it was introducing Jon to these people and trying to prove my point to him. I wanted to open his mind and make him chill out a bit more. But having said that, meeting the sort of people that we met, who were very personable, and had often been through really big things in their life, you can’t fail to learn stuff from them.’

But there was one situation when the tables were turned – when they met couples who are married but don’t live together. ‘It’s the only thing we did on the whole road trip where I went in open-minded and he went in cynical,’ Jon says: ‘It’s not right for everyone, but it works for them. I wanted it to work for everyone, because that would be great for me.

‘As someone who fears they’re difficult to live with, because they’re difficult to live with, well… Lucy’s happy to live with me, but if she turned around and said “I really love you, but you’re doing my head in, can we stay together and I’ll live next door,” I’d love that to work. In their situation, it works.

‘He’s a fireman, so he works shifts, so they can see each other during the day a lot. The kids are all at school, and they can hang out. They probably spend more quality time together than a conventional couple. They go out shopping, they have sex in the afternoon, they close the curtains and watch horror movies. Matt was obsessed with how much they had sex in the afternoon.’

Matt agrees: ‘I thought it was amazing! And they still get excited about seeing each other. It’s like they’re still dating. That was the one bit that made sense to me. If it’s keeping things fresh, especially in the bedroom, there’s definitely a boon to it. But the whole thing only worked because he did shift work.’

Jon also went to meet some swingers – but without Matt who ducked out to go and do a stand-up gig.

‘As a couple, they’d seen each other do things that would end most relationships immediately,’ Jon says. ;But not only are they okay with it, they endorse it. Once you cross that line together, that you can do anything, you know that your relationship is beyond all of that. They know their relationship is intellectual and solid.’

But he said the person who had the biggest impact on his view was Brian Burnie, from Newcastle.

;He was a self-made millionaire, and his wife got cancer. She became very ill, and he started to realise that for people who don’t have very much money, getting to and from treatment is worse than the treatment itself.

‘So he gave literally every penny away. Sold their house, bought a building which he runs the charity from. And they now live above the charity, renting a flat from the charity with his pension.

’It was the kind of thing you might hear about, or read about in the paper, but I will never in my life shake hands with someone again who has given away nearly £20 million to set up a charity. He’s said he wants to die penniless. It’s impossible not to be awed by that.’

He adds: ‘We’re looking at the whole question of whether money makes you happy, or can you be happy without it. You meet him, and you want him to be the happiest person in the world, but obviously his wider happiness is still built day-to-day on his relationship with his kids and his wife. And that’s been damaged by what he’s done. So you don’t even get to come away from that concluding that everyone should give away all that they have.’

‘I feel very lucky – blessed, really – that my circumstances are what they are. I think I was struggling with guilt that I have such a fortunate existence. I’ve got good friends, a good family and a job that I adore, that pays me enough to live comfortably.

‘And I’ve now met someone who I love. I struggle with the guilt of that, and force this long-term doom on it, almost like saying “Well, you’re happy now, but it might all end.” What I’ve learned is that while those are your circumstances, you should be grateful. Appreciating it is the only thing to do, otherwise you’re being ungrateful.

‘People who would kill to be in your position won’t thank you for being unhappy. I’m less worried about things going wrong. We’ve met people whose marriages have failed, or their relationships with their kids aren’t what they want them to be, and it’s just something that you deal with. You don’t get to just work life out and be fine for the rest of it. You just have to keep going.’

Jon Richardson Grows Up is on Channel 4 on Mondays from September 15 at 10pm. Based on an interview syndicated by Channel 4.

Published: 8 Sep 2014

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