Sir Michael Palin: I felt lopsided after death of my wife

Sir Michael Palin has spoken of feeling “lopsided” and without a “rudder” after the death of his wife Helen Gibbins.

The Monty Python star, 80, announced in May that his wife of 57 years had died after suffering from chronic pain and kidney failure.

The couple met when he was still a teenager and Sir Michael described her as “the bedrock of my life.”

Speaking on Rob Brydon’s Wondery podcast Brydon &, Sir Michael said: “We were together for a very long time. We were married for 57 years and I met her before that so more than two thirds of my life was spent with her. And so you form a kind of unit.

Age UK Camden
Sir Michael Palin (Victoria Jones/PA)

“You don’t realise that until someone’s gone and then it’s slightly lopsided, like something tips over, and your rudder goes.

“You end up thinking it was just me but I need my partner there to sort of keep me on the straight and narrow.

“It’s not the great things that you’ve said, very often a lot of things that are unsaid because if you know somebody really, really well, you don’t have to sort of analyse everything or say everything, you just know the way they will feel. So I had to get adjusted to that.”

Sir Michael met his future wife while holidaying in the seaside town of Southwold, Suffolk, and later fictionalised the encounter in a 1987 TV drama for the BBC titled East Of Ipswich.

The couple shared three children and four grandchildren.

Speaking about her health issues, Sir Michael told Brydon his wife eventually decided to stop having dialysis.

He said: “She was very, very unwell for a few years really. When she got to the stage with her kidney failure that she really couldn’t do an awful lot for herself, and carers were coming in.

“Helen was a very independent woman and the idea of having to be dependent on somebody else for the rest of her life didn’t appeal, for almost everything, like going upstairs and all that sort of stuff.

Rob Brydon
Sir Michael was speaking to Rob Brydon

“So she stopped having dialysis. That was her decision, backed up by all the family and the doctors.

“And they said this is it… dialysis is just keeping you going, for what? And it’s quite an unpleasant process.

“So she said, ‘OK, I’ll stop the dialysis’, and she did. And we had a few days; when you stop dialysis, your systems [have] got a few days, 10 days, maybe a couple of weeks to keep going.

“And they were just great, she was in a fantastic hospice, just brilliant. Very well looked after, without pain because they gave her drugs.

“She was just in bed. The family were all around, able to come in and go.

“It was quite near to where we live so the grandchildren were there which is great. [It was] really, really important, I think, to have the grandchildren there even though they’re seven and five years old. They’ve got to know that this is not something adult and secret and dark. And you can’t come in – absolutely not [the case].

“The attitude we all had – and the hospice had – was bring them in, you know, let’s play around.

“And so it was a good time when we were able to say goodbye many times really, and I don’t think there was anything at the end of her life that I felt oh gosh, we never discussed that, we never talked about that.

“But her sense of humour, [that] was what I missed most, you know, she had that right up to the very end. She made little jokes about her sisters.”

The couple marked their wedding anniversary just two and a half weeks before her death.

Sir Michael has become known for his globetrotting BBC travel programmes, which have seen him visit locations including North Korea and the Himalayas.

He was knighted in 2019 for services to travel, culture and geography, marking his post-Python career in TV and writing.

Sir Michael’s episode of the Brydon & podcast is available on Wondery+ and Amazon Music on October 26, and on all other podcast platforms on November 2.