At his peak Barrymore was widely considered one of the most popular and revered performers in the UK. He headlined the 1993 Royal Variety Performance and also appeared at the 1983 Royal Variety Performance. Barrymore was voted the UK's favourite television star several times, becoming one of the highest-paid stars on television. He presented the popular game-show Strike It Lucky as well as his own variety show Barrymore. He starred in a comedy drama called Bob Martin (2000–01), in which he played the title role of a failing television game-show host. Since his peak of popularity in the mid-1990s, Barrymore has appeared on Celebrity Big Brother and other shows including The Friday Night Project, Graham Norton's Bigger Picture, This Morning, The Sharon Osbourne Show and The Saturday Night Show.
Born Michael Ciaran Parker in Bermondsey, he lived in the Dickens estate for the first 18 years of his life with his two elder siblings. His father left when Barrymore was 11 and they never saw each other again. Barrymore and his siblings were raised in the Roman Catholic faith of their mother, Margaret.
Barrymore spent his early career working as a Redcoat at Butlins holiday camps, and then in the West End theatre shows of London, where he met dancer and lifelong friend Cheryl St Claire in 1974. They married in 1976, With Cheryl as manager and the mastermind behind Barrymore's rise to fame, he first won a 1979 edition of New Faces, and then became a regular panellist on Blankety Blank and the warm-up man for Larry Grayson on the Generation Game. and also for Little and Large theatre shows. In the early days, Barrymore used to do impressions of John Cleese and Norman Wisdom, among others.
From there Barrymore rose to fame via appearances on Blankety Blank and Who Do You Do? and his television career began firstly by having his own sketch show entitled The Michael Barrymore Show in 1983, which starred a young Nicholas Lyndhurst, and he also appeared in Russ Abbott's Madhouse as various characters between 1981 and 1982. He walked out of his contract with LWT, who produced The Michael Barrymore Show, after only one series; he then landed the presenter's role on the BBC gameshow, Get Set Go!. He appeared in a number of Royal Variety Performance shows, his first being in 1983. He became the host of ITV gameshow Strike It Lucky (which later became Strike It Rich) in 1986 and it grew in popularity over the years and this was watched by 18 million viewers at its peak.
This was Barrymore's first successful presenting role (Get Set Go! had been cancelled after only one single series), which led then to his own light entertainment show, Barrymore which began in 1991 and ran until 2000. He had his own show between 1988 and 1989, produced for the BBC entitled Michael Barrymore's Saturday Night Out; it was set in Jersey and the theme tune, "Doin' the Crab" had been released as a single in 1987.
In 1991, Barrymore was given his own show entitled Barrymore where he interviewed guests, performed his comedy routines and joined in with other performers on the show. The show lasted throughout the 1990s and was consistently nominated for awards over the years in the UK. Among the many famous guests that appeared on Barrymore include Cliff Richard, Uri Geller and Spike Milligan.
Following his appearance on the 1993 Royal Variety Performance, where he performed a version of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" with soldiers, he became popular on television and on the stage. The Royal Variety Show performance brought the house down and cemented Barrymore's place at the heart of the British public. Following on from the success, Barrymore went into rehab due to his alcohol and drug addiction. He left after a couple of months and went on to write a best-selling book about his experiences and he also went on a stage tour called Back in Business in 1994.
A spin-off talent show, My Kind of People and game show My Kind of Music followed the success of both Barrymore and Strike It Rich. Following a dip in ratings, Barrymore was cancelled in 1997 (it later returned in 2000). He went on to new projects with Kids Say the Funniest Things, Animals Do the Funniest Things and Barrymore on Broadway. He was voted the UK's favourite TV star several times, and became one of the highest-paid stars on TV. Barrymore is the last person, before Ant and Dec to win ITV's Most Popular Entertainment Presenter, he won it in the year 2000 and since then Ant and Dec have retained the title for the past 13 years.
Barrymore became well known through his catchphrases of "Awight!", on making his entrance, and on Strike It Lucky, "Top, middle or bottom?" and "What is a hot spot not?", to which the studio audience would reply "Not a good spot". He had a very public battle with substance abuse in 1994 and wrote a book about his experience in rehab. He regained his former status and made another series of Barrymore and recorded a new series called My Kind of People. He came out as gay in 1995 and split from his wife in 1996. He made a new series of Strike It Lucky, now called Strike It Rich and another Barrymore series. More editions of Strike It Rich and Barrymore were shown in 1997 and he also appeared in Spice World as Mr. Step. He recorded two new series called My Kind of Music and Kids Say the Funniest Things in 1998 along with more Strike It Rich. Newer editions of all three series were shown and another series of Barrymore was recorded and shown in 2000. The year 2000 also saw Barrymore move into acting in Bob Martin where he played the character of Bob Martin; he recorded two series of the comedy (2000–01). Barrymore also presented a second series of Kids Say the Funniest Things which aired in late 2000 and also a fourth series of My Kind of Music which was on the air at the time that Stuart Lubbock died in Barrymore's pool on 31 March 2001. Following Lubbock's death, both Bob Martin and My Kind of Music stayed on the air but whilst the investigation was ongoing, he did not record anymore programmes for ITV. They constantly backed him when asked by the newspapers and simply waited for investigations to conclude. In October 2001, Barrymore was given a drugs caution and began recording a new series of My Kind of Music. There had been talks of him recording a Christmas special called Barrymore's My Kind of Christmas but due to public outrage, this was shelved. My Kind of Music aired in early 2002. The inquest into Lubbock's death began in September 2002 and due to revelations about Barrymore's private life and his refusal to answer key questions relating to drugs, he was sacked by ITV following the conclusion of the inquest.
Following the revelation of Lubbock's death, ITV terminated his contract and his United Kingdom television career subsequently collapsed. A new series of Kids Say the Funniest Things recorded prior to the scandal was pulled from the ITV schedule and never broadcast. The Guardian reported that the BBC cancelled publication of Barrymore's life story. In September 2003, Barrymore staged a one-man show at London's Wyndham's Theatre, which closed after a few days. He subsequently emigrated to New Zealand to live with his partner, Shaun Davis. He has since had live stage shows in New Zealand and Australia. In 2005, he appeared in Chicago in Napier, New Zealand.
In December 2005, it was announced that Barrymore was being paid £150,000 by Channel 4 to take part in Celebrity Big Brother commencing 5 January 2006. He had a difficult relationship with housemate George Galloway, which culminated in a 20-minute slanging match between the two men. On 27 January 2006 he finished runner-up to Chantelle Houghton, whom Michael deemed a deserving winner.
Remaining in the UK, Barrymore was booked to be the guest host on Channel 4's The Friday Night Project for the edition broadcast on 3 February 2006. This is the last time that Barrymore appeared on a show as the presenter. The weeks and months following Barrymore's appearance on Big Brother was full of speculation that Barrymore was in talks with a number of television of channels over the possibility of new shows, but nothing ever came of this. Barrymore's appearance on the Friday Night Project is the last time he presented a primetime television show.
It was announced that for Christmas 2006, Barrymore would play the title role in Bill Kenwright's production of Scrooge – The Musical. He performed the lead role at the Empire Theatre, Sunderland, but the production's scheduled transfer to the West End was cancelled. In January 2008, Barrymore took the role of comedian and writer Spike Milligan in the stage play Surviving Spike. It played Windsor and later the Edinburgh Fringe, but again, its West End transfer was cancelled. In February 2010, he appeared on Irish television on The Saturday Night Show, where he unexpectedly performed numerous bizarre and controversial antics, including pretending to be Jedward's father. In May 2010, Barrymore startled his co-contestants on a reality TV show by revealing that he had fallen in love with a woman. Barrymore was filming an episode of Channel 4 show Come Dine With Me, with former Generation Game host Anthea Redfern and presenters Pat Sharp and Jenny Powell, when he said he was going to have a party to celebrate that he was "coming back in".
His personal publicity, particularly in the tabloid press, continues to be negative. In December 2011, he was convicted of cocaine possession and fined £780. Although Strike It Rich and Strike It Lucky have been repeated on the digital channel Challenge, his entertainment shows such as Barrymore and My Kind of People are never repeated anywhere and his work is never included on clip shows, such as those marking ITV's 50th anniversary or the 100th anniversary of the London Palladium. The only appearances he has made in the last 10 years has been on reality shows or interview shows. His only work in 2012 was on local radio stations, and on hospital radio. One was on Minster FM, on Greg Scott's breakfast show on 25 February 2012, where he was surprised to meet one of his all-time favourite television guests, Fiona Iverson, who had appeared on his show twenty years earlier.
In 2013, Barrymore appeared on the RTÉ show, The Saturday Night Show for the second time, his first appearance was in February 2010, on this show he talked about his harsh treatment by the press, his addiction and also the possibility of a new show called My Kind of Twits. He subsequently claimed on Twitter that a pilot for My Kind of Twits would be filmed in May, but this did not happen. Barrymore also appeared on The Nolan Show in June 2013.
On 9 June 2014, Barrymore appeared on The Jeremy Kyle Show on ITV in which he was interviewed in depth by Kyle for one hour about his life in show business, marriage and sexuality. Barrymore announced to the audience that he had been 'clean' for three years without alcohol or other drugs.
In August 2014, Barrymore revealed that he would be presenting a new show called Stealing The Limelight which would be similar to My Kind of People where he and a co-presenter called Barrie Drewitt-Barlow would travel the country and allow members of the public to audition for the chance to appear on the show. Dates were booked in Liverpool, Manchester and London. However, this came to nothing and the Twitter page for the new show now no longer exists.
In October 2014, it was revealed that Barrymore had been working on a comedy pilot. However, nothing more has been heard of this either.
Michael met his first wife Cheryl Cocklin in 1974 while she was performing as a dancer in a West End theatre show. They married two years later in 1976, although not until after Barrymore had reportedly paid off his mother who threatened to reveal a previous 18-month-long gay love affair. Cocklin later claimed, without contradiction from her estranged husband, that they had had a "full" marriage, including connubial relations.
Cheryl became his manager and was the mastermind behind Barrymore's meteoric rise to fame. Cheryl later revealed that Barrymore had problems with alcohol and depression, and as a result of an attack on her at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, she was placed by British police on the "at risk" register.
At the height of his popularity, Barrymore suffered increasing alcohol problems. Barrymore claims he wanted to seek help, but that Cheryl continually told him: "No, you're not (alcoholic). Don't be stupid."
In mid-1995, at the height of his fame, he went to The White Swan gay pub in London's East End, where he gave an impromptu stage performance to the largely local crowd singing the words: "Start spreading the news – I'm gay today". Within 48 hours, every tabloid newspaper had printed its own version of the evening's events, including an untrue claim that the star had thrown away his wedding ring.
In November 1995, Barrymore attended the National Television Awards, where, clearly drunk, he made a rambling, incoherent speech. At an after-show party on a live late night radio show, he publicly declared he was gay and "no longer wanted to live a lie", following which he split with Cheryl. She later claimed that Barrymore took the step and did not tell her because of his talks with Diana, Princess of Wales.
In 2010, Barrymore said that he is no longer gay after having a relationship with a woman. However, he has acknowledged that he may be bisexual.
After several aborted reunions, Cheryl and Michael divorced in 1997; she went on to publish the autobiography The Cheryl Barrymore Story in 2002, which contained details of their acrimonious split. The couple subsequently had no contact, and Cheryl at her request ceased to be Barrymore's agent or manager. Barrymore later suggested in his 2006 autobiography Awight Now: Setting the Record Straight that Cheryl was a control freak who controlled his every movement including his clothes, and she had created the character that was "Michael Barrymore", which consequently drove him to alcohol, drugs and gay affairs. In an interview in 2002, Barrymore admitted he is an alcoholic.
On 1 April 2005, Cheryl died of lung cancer, aged 55, at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in St John's Wood. Shortly before her death she asked that details of her condition be kept secret from her former husband, and it was alleged that she also "left instructions that he should not be invited to attend her funeral" although this has since been rebutted by Cheryl's sister Carol.
Following a party in the early hours of 31 March 2001, a 31-year-old man, Stuart Lubbock, died after three witnesses – including Barrymore himself – claimed to have found him motionless in Barrymore's swimming pool. Barrymore did not appear again on television until the following February when he returned with a new series of six episodes of My Kind of Music. All charges were dropped when the case came to court, though witnesses could not agree on whether Lubbock was found floating on top of the pool or at the bottom of it, Barrymore had said he was at the top of the pool. The cause of death was found to be drowning. Lubbock, described as a "bubbly partygoer", had traces of drugs and alcohol in his system. After the postmortem, pathologists discovered severe anal injuries, which the media claimed were consistent with a sexual assault.
Many tabloid newspapers accused Barrymore of holding drug-fuelled gay orgies in his home and asserted that he must have had some responsibility for the death. It was claimed that Barrymore had been seen at the party rubbing cocaine onto Lubbock's gums.
Barrymore subsequently received a police caution for possession and use of cannabis, but no other charges were laid against him or anyone else in connection with the death, although two other party-goers, unemployed Justin Merritt and drag queen Jonathan Kenney were arrested on suspicion of murder on 6 June 2001. The inquest that took place in September 2002 reached an open verdict. In light of the verdict, and the fact that she was approached by a friend of the Lubbock family, Cheryl provided the Lubbock family solicitor with both an affidavit and subsequent court testimony that her ex-husband had lied under oath, and could in fact swim. She also alleged the entertainer had rubbed cocaine on to the gums of other people as well as himself.
In November 2002, Barrymore's lawyers successfully demanded that Essex Police re-investigate matters surrounding Lubbock's death. Their focus was on Barrymore's allegations that the injuries inflicted upon Lubbock's body could have occurred while lying unguarded in the mortuary. A pathologist's report found that Lubbock's wounds were only four hours old at the time of the examination at 4 pm, while Lubbock had been pronounced dead at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow at 8.20 am that morning, so there was a mysterious gap of eight hours. Barrymore told Five Live: "We want to prove the fact that the anal injuries could not have happened at the house." He added: "If these injuries had happened then, why have the police not charged anyone with anything?"
On Barrymore's high-profile return to the UK in January 2006 to take part in Celebrity Big Brother, former solicitor, politician and local activist Anthony Bennett initiated a private prosecution, comprising six charges regarding Barrymore's alleged misuse of drink and drugs on the night of Stuart Lubbock's death. The action commenced in Epping Magistrates' Court in January 2006 and, on 10 February 2006, a District Judge at Southend Magistrates' Court blocked the private prosecution against Barrymore on the grounds of insufficient evidence being available for the case to continue. As has been noted above, Anthony Bennett was no longer a solicitor and was acting independently of Terry Lubbock, Stuart's father.
In an interview with Piers Morgan in the December 2006 edition of GQ magazine, Barrymore claimed there were other witnesses to the events who were hiding information. On 2 December 2006, police announced they were re-opening the investigation into Lubbock's death. The re-investigation followed a lengthy dossier submitted by Anthony Bennett, who was now Terry Lubbock's solicitor, cataloguing a series of alleged failures by Essex Police in the original investigation and claiming that there had been an elaborate cover-up of the true circumstances of Lubbock's death.
On 22 December 2006, following a successful complaint to the Press Complaints Commission by Bennett, The Sun published a letter from Terry Lubbock replying to the newspaper's five-page feature on Barrymore earlier in the year which featured Terry's meeting with Barrymore.
On 1 March 2007, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), following a complaint lodged the previous December by Terry Lubbock, announced an investigation into aspects of the police inquiry into Lubbock's death after receiving complaints from the Lubbock family. It was reported that complaints surrounded information Essex Police gave to a coroner and pathologist after Lubbock's death. In May the IPCC agreed with Terry Lubbock a schedule of 36 separate complaints relating to the original investigation into Lubbock's death.
On 14 June 2007, Essex Police arrested Barrymore and two other men on suspicion of murder and serious sexual assault in the Lubbock case. The two other men arrested were Jonathan Kenney, Barrymore's partner at the time of the death, and Justin Merritt, an unemployed former dustman at the time, all present at the party when Stuart died. The three men were held for questioning at South Woodham Ferrers police station.
This followed reports in The Harlow Herald that police had seized tapes from the home of Barrymore's literary agent, Tony Cowell, allegedly containing conversations between Cowell and Barrymore.
On 15 June 2007, police were given permission to question Barrymore and one other man for a further 12 hours. Barrymore's solicitor Henri Brandman confirmed his client was one of the men arrested. Later that day Barrymore was released on police bail pending further enquiries. His solicitor stated that Barrymore "categorically denied" the allegations made and had not been charged with any offence.
On 31 July 2007, it was announced that Barrymore had been re-bailed to appear at an Essex Police station on 10 September. He answered bail on 10 September at a police station in Harlow, Essex. Police were then granted a further 12 hours to question him. On that date, Barrymore and the other two men were told that they would not face charges for the events that occurred. The case was left open.
In July 2015, Barrymore began the process of suing Essex Police over his arrest after Stuart Lubbock was found dead floating in his swimming pool. In October 2016, it was reported that High Court papers show police admit Barrymore was wrongfully arrested and detained. This was because "the arresting officer, PC Cootes, was not fully aware of the grounds for arrest ... and not by reason of a lack of reasonable grounds to suspect the claimant."
On 18 August 2017, the High Court in London ruled that Michael Barrymore would be entitled to "more than nominal" damages against Essex Police after being wrongly arrested 10 years ago. The judge did not decide on the sum to be awarded, as his ruling dealt only with the preliminary issue of the level of damages to be awarded to Michael Barrymore. Michael was not present for the decision, he values his claim at more than £2.4 million.