Subscriber OnlyBooks

My Lifey by Paddy McGuinness: Good fun but cliched writing

The comedian and presenter’s vim is well caught

My Lifey
My Lifey
Author: Paddy McGuinness
ISBN-13: 978-1529109351
Publisher: Ebury Press
Guideline Price: £20

Everyone knows a Paddy McGuinness. He’s the bloke who has you laughing in the canteen at work or the fella with a smile and a wink at the local garage: cheeky chappies, all. The difference is that this Paddy McGuinness is not cowed or compromised by cameras or a live audience – they spur him on, free-falling to the next anecdote, the next joke.

His autobiography is much the same. In short, all over the place. It’s as if his editor has sat him down to explain chronology, structure, flow, tone, etc and McGuinness – melon-slice grin, dimples like jewels – has responded (in that great Lancashire accent): “Listen pal, thanks a lot but I’m having none of that.”

So, he tells his story randomly as if talking to someone at a bus stop, serving up tea from a flask and a malted milk if they’re waning. Although not quite The Road to Nab End, his hand-to-mouth growing up years in a two-up two-down terraced house in Bolton with mum, Pat, feel to date back much further than 1973, the year of his birth.

His father, Joe, from Co Tipperary, was in his 50s when McGuinness was born and, though unknown to McGuinness at the time, already had another grown-up family. He was a weekend dad to McGuinness, an arrangement that suited all. “He had a wonderful ability to tell funny stories and that definitely had an effect on me and my future career,” he writes.


Bulletins from working-class lives are a rare occurrence in the publishing world and McGuinness presents it authentically

As a child, Catholicism was “foisted upon him” and it took many years to adopt a more sympathetic view of the faith: “In confession we were taught to confess our sins. I was six! What did they think I’d done? Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I mixed the blue and brown plasticine together.”

Single-mum Pat was a cleaner and barmaid, and Joe a lorry driver. The young McGuinness was a latchkey kid, fidgety but headstrong, working as a labourer before graduating to a leisure centre and, briefly, a Club 18-30 holiday rep.

Bulletins from working-class lives are a rare occurrence in the publishing world, and McGuinness presents it authentically – the petty crime, the desperadoes, the daftness but also the decency and generosity of spirit. One or two scatological and crude yarns could have been excised but, as a champion of the GQ and Loaded generation, perhaps he felt obligated to meet a certain quota of laddishness.

He’s discreet about fellow television celebrities. In fact, he is reproving of only two. Dave Spikey, the Phoenix Nights co-writer and actor, merits his surname, apparently, while Steve Coogan, is “a deeply unpleasant chap” who routinely blanks McGuinness at social get-togethers.

Many, of course, will hope for an insight into the comedy phenomenon that is Peter Kay, but it’s not here, aside from informing us that he’s shrewd with money and his choice of projects. Maybe McGuinness didn’t want to further the apprehension that he largely owes his career to Kay, which is unfair given he undertakes arena tours and has had some of the biggest gigs in British television – Take Me Out, Top Gear and, most recently, Question of Sport.

He covers marriage and fatherhood pragmatically, hinting that there will be another book about the experience of raising three autistic children

If the gossip is paltry, he instead offers a smart take on the behind-the-camera personalities and machinery of show business. He’s not as forensic as Terry Christian in his excellent book, My Word, but is a fine tour guide through the world of auditions, rewrites, callbacks and knock-backs.

Back in the real world, he writes movingly of the death of his parents and his search for help after suffering panic attacks. He covers marriage and fatherhood pragmatically, hinting that there will be another book about the experience of raising three autistic children; he has made a television documentary for the BBC, Our Family and Autism.

The vim of his personality is well caught, even if it relies on the reader sidestepping a trip fence of cliches – someone “being the best thing since sliced bread” and the admission that he’s “made money hand over fist” etc. The best of the worst is: “Having a baby for the first time is a learning curve for any couple, but twins straight off the bat, well, that was one baptism of fire.”

In literary terms, then, it’s several country miles behind Bill Naughton, another working-class Bolton writer with Irish roots, but, of a kind, My Lifey is worth a lighty, probably about 60 watts.