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Michael Palin, 79, shares the secret to a happy marriage… as his wife Helen dies


Michael Palin previously shared the secret to a happy marriage and explained how ‘fate’ played a hand in his 57-year union with wife Helen whom he met as a teen.

The Monty Python star, 79, sadly announced on Tuesday Helen had sadly passed away following a battle with chronic pain and kidney failure, just weeks after they marked their 57th wedding anniversary.

The childhood sweethearts endured all together over the years after first meeting when they were just 16 years old during a summer holiday – a whirlwind romance he later used as the basis for his 1987 drama East of Ipswich.

In a twist of fate, they reunited on Michael’s first day at Oxford University, where Helen was visiting her friend for the weekend and married years later in 1966 when they were in their 20s.

From a whirlwind holiday romance, the couple went on to become one of TV’s most enduring couples, only growing stronger over the years amid Michael’s huge success in Monty Python and catastrophic rise to fame.

Reflecting on how their romance only got better amid his move into showbusiness, Michael had said of his beloved wife: ‘I was lucky to find someone in my teens who I got on with – and it got better as time went on.’

'I was lucky to find someone in my teens who I got on with - and it got better as time went on': How 'fate' played a hand in Michael Palin's 57-year marriage to childhood sweetheart (pictured in 2009)

‘I was lucky to find someone in my teens who I got on with – and it got better as time went on’: How ‘fate’ played a hand in Michael Palin’s 57-year marriage to childhood sweetheart (pictured in 2009) 

Marriage: The childhood sweethearts first met when they were just 16 years old during a summer holiday and married years later in 1966 (pictured) when they were in their 20s

Marriage: The childhood sweethearts first met when they were just 16 years old during a summer holiday and married years later in 1966 (pictured) when they were in their 20s

Staying strong: Throughout their relationship, Michael (pictured with Helen in 1968) found huge success in Monty Python but their relationship has only endured and grown stronger throughout his catastrophic rise to fame

Staying strong: Throughout their relationship, Michael (pictured with Helen in 1968) found huge success in Monty Python but their relationship has only endured and grown stronger throughout his catastrophic rise to fame

Michael has previously gushed over his beloved wife and shared how she has always been supportive of his career and his desire to travel the world while he filmed Life Of Brian in Tunisia and launched a whole host of travel documentaries.

Teacher Helen even joined him on some of his incredible ventures and featured on Around The World in 80 Days alongside him, as the couple appeared on screens to explore all corners of the world on the show based on the book by Jules Verne.

As well as their huge working successes, the couple also welcomed three children – Thomas, 54, William, 52, and Rachel, 48 – and four grandchildren during their 57-year marriage and found comfort in their dream home in Hampstead Heath.

Giving an insight into how his decades-long romance with Helen has endured all obstacles, Michael has previously shared his all-important secret to their happy marriage. 

Candidly telling all on their romance, the actor sweetly admitted he thinks the most important thing in a relationship is wanting to spend time together no matter how many years pass by.

‘What is the really important thing in a relationship, what is the main thing? Sex, or going to the theatre, or having lots of friends, or whatever?’, he told The Telegraph in a 2015 interview.

‘None of that matters, there’s something underneath that works, that you’re happy to be with somebody for an awful lot of the time.’

‘The more time you spend together, the more things you have to share, the less likely it is that you want to throw all that away,’ he poignantly added.

Though they became one of TV’s longest-standing and all enduring couples, their romance had humble beginnings on a chance meeting in their teenage years.

As fresh-faced students, Michael and Helen met for the very first time when they were  holidaying with their families in Southwold, Suffolk, at the mere age of 16.

In a chance encounter, their families were staying in neighbouring cottages and Michael told how Helen quickly captured his attention as she was out-and-about with her sisters during the trip. 

Recalling laying eyes on her, the doting husband described Helen as a ‘vision of rebellion’ as he told how they quickly struck up a holiday romance on the trip.

Their first meeting clearly had a poignant impact on Michael’s life as he later turned their holiday love story into a BBC TV drama East of Ipswich in 1987, sharing how it was loosely based on him and Helen. 

Despite their holiday love story, their families didn’t live near each other – with Michael based in Sheffield while Helen was in Cambridgeshire – meaning they didn’t see each other after their whirlwind teenage love.

However, the romantic pair still stayed in touch by exchanging letters and remained in each other’s minds as they met once again the next summer, before briefly falling out of touch.

True love: After becoming one of TV's most enduring couples, Michael had said of his beloved wife (both pictured on Around The World in 80 Days): 'I was lucky to find someone in my teens who I got on with - and it got better as time went on'

True love: After becoming one of TV’s most enduring couples, Michael had said of his beloved wife (both pictured on Around The World in 80 Days): ‘I was lucky to find someone in my teens who I got on with – and it got better as time went on’

Family: During their 57-year marriage, they welcomed three children together - Thomas, 54, William, 52, and Rachel, 48 (pictured in 1980) - while they also have four grandchildren

Family: During their 57-year marriage, they welcomed three children together – Thomas, 54, William, 52, and Rachel, 48 (pictured in 1980) – while they also have four grandchildren

Loss: The Monty Python star (pictured in 2005), 79, announced on Tuesday that his wife of 57 years Helen had sadly passed away after a battle with chronic pain and kidney failure

Loss: The Monty Python star (pictured in 2005), 79, announced on Tuesday that his wife of 57 years Helen had sadly passed away after a battle with chronic pain and kidney failure

Marrriage: Michael has previously given an insight into his marriage to Helen (pictured in 1993), with his loving comments resurfacing following the devastating news of his wife's death

Marrriage: Michael has previously given an insight into his marriage to Helen (pictured in 1993), with his loving comments resurfacing following the devastating news of his wife’s death

Fate: After meeting at age 16, the couple reunited at Oxford University, with Michael saying of the reunion: 'You can see fate was actually tightening the screws on us very hard at that time'

Fate: After meeting at age 16, the couple reunited at Oxford University, with Michael saying of the reunion: ‘You can see fate was actually tightening the screws on us very hard at that time’

But, Michael admitted he feels ‘fate’ had a part to play in his budding romance with Helen as the pair were amazingly reunited on Michael’s very first day at Oxford University.

In a twist of fate, Helen was visiting her friend at the university on the very same day Michael first arrived on campus, with the pair meeting each other through mutual friends in an extraordinary moment.

‘You can see fate was actually tightening the screws on us very hard at that time,’ Michael gushed.

Their chance encounter was the start of their long-term relationship and while Michael studied at Oxford, Helen trained as a teacher, with their romance surviving frequent periods of absence over the years.

Overcoming their separation throughout their studies, the childhood sweethearts went on to tie the knot in 1966 after six years together and went on to start a family, welcoming three children together.

As they built upon their romance, Michael then found huge fame in Monty Python, but despite all the huge changes in their lives that came with his fame, the couple remained steadfast through it all.

Their decades-long romance went from strength-to-strength and Michael gave an intimate insight into their married life while speaking to MailOnline in 2012.

Detailing his commitment to the love of his life, Michael told how he would sooner run up and down Oxford Street with his underpants on his head than cheat on Helen.

Sweetly describing their romance, he said: ‘I was lucky to find somebody early on when I was in my teens who I got on with really well and still get on with really well. It sort of works better as it goes along. You build up layers of experience.’

And it is not the only aspect of Michael’s life that has remained unchanged amid his huge fame, as he also has the same friends from before his TV success and has lived in the same London home for decades.

Describing how he balances his work and his family life, Michael said: ‘Over the last year, I discovered a rather enjoyable equilibrium, a balance between work and relaxation that for the first time in my life favoured the latter.’ 

National treasure Michael soared to fame and quickly got a reputation for being a ‘nice’ man in the TV and film industry, but the writer confessed it is a term which annoyed his wife Helen.

‘I have never claimed to be the nicest man in the world. That’s a cliché that has somehow come to be widely accepted. It drives Helen mad,’ he told The Independent in 2012.

‘As she and my children will testify, I have a short fuse over certain things. Like if the one-inch nails are not where they should be in the box, and they’ve been moved to the three-inch section. Who did this?’

Early on in his career, Michael found a way to bring his love for the world into his work, launching his first ever travel documentary – Great Railway Journeys Of The World: Confessions Of A Train Spotter – in 1980.

Though his jetting off around the globe could have proved an obstacle for Michael and Helen, as he jetted off for long periods of time to film, Michael told how his wife remained supportive through it all. 

‘Helen’s always been really tolerant of my travels,’ he said. ‘If she said, ‘You’ve got to stay home’ she’d just have a frustrated man kicking chairs in the kitchen and looking at atlases.

‘So she’s always been very happy to let me go. I see no reason to rupture such an extraordinary relationship. I don’t like a life that’s edgy and uncomfortable. I’m restless in other ways – in terms of work.’

His travel and career also played a part in his children’s lives, as his kids would sometimes jet off with their father to join him while he filmed abroad for various TV projects.

His eldest son Tom even got the chance as a young boy to travel to Tunisia with Michael while he filmed the Life Of Brian, getting an insight into his father’s career.

But Tom has shared how he remained unimpressed by his father’s global success and didn’t understand the humour, often opting to watch his TV rivals The Goodies instead.

‘There was a time – back when I thought I had to fill the shoes of a very famous man – when I denied being Michael Palin’s son,’ Tom said a joint interview with his father for The Sunday Times Magazine in 2015.

‘What an idiot! Yes he’s famous, but he’s famous for being funny and a really nice bloke. I’m so lucky.’

Although Michael impressively picked up a BAFTA for his role as Ken Pile in the cult 80s film A Fish Called Wanda, all three of his grounded children remained largely unimpressed by his comedy writing throughout their younger years.

Despite Michael and Helen’s enduring love story and family life, things haven’t always been plain sailing for the couple as the comedy genius recently spoke about how he had to have heart surgery in 2019 and the struggles that came with it.

Candid: Back in 2015, the actor (pictured in 1989) opened up about the secret to a happy marriage, saying it isn't anything physical but simply wanting to spend time with one another

Candid: Back in 2015, the actor (pictured in 1989) opened up about the secret to a happy marriage, saying it isn’t anything physical but simply wanting to spend time with one another

Sweet: Of his marriage (they are pictured in 2015), he said: 'The more time you spend together, the more things you have to share, the less likely it is that you want to throw all that away'

Sweet: Of his marriage (they are pictured in 2015), he said: ‘The more time you spend together, the more things you have to share, the less likely it is that you want to throw all that away’

Kids: Describing how he balances his work and his family, Michael said: 'Over the last year, I discovered a rather enjoyable equilibrium, a balance between work and relaxation that for the first time in my life favoured the latter' (he is pictured with his kids in 1980)

Kids: Describing how he balances his work and his family, Michael said: ‘Over the last year, I discovered a rather enjoyable equilibrium, a balance between work and relaxation that for the first time in my life favoured the latter’ (he is pictured with his kids in 1980) 

Family life: Announcing Helen's death, Michael described her as the 'bedrock of my life' in an emotional tribute (he is pictured with his kids William and Tom in September 1973)

Family life: Announcing Helen’s death, Michael described her as the ‘bedrock of my life’ in an emotional tribute (he is pictured with his kids William and Tom in September 1973)

Careers: While Michael worked in comedy and acting (pictured in The Complete and Utter History of Britain), Helen worked as a teacher before becoming a bereavement counsellor

Careers: While Michael worked in comedy and acting (pictured in The Complete and Utter History of Britain), Helen worked as a teacher before becoming a bereavement counsellor

But he shared how his family house in Hampstead Heath was a huge comfort for him, as he admitted the ‘best part’ of his recovery after the operation was returning home to his wife Helen.

Speaking to Radio Times, he said of his surgery: ‘Coming home has always been the best part of the process. We live near Hampstead Heath in London and near friends.’

‘The great surprise is that I’ve been extremely content to be in the same place for some time,’ he added.

Bereavement counsellor Helen also suffered with her health in recent years, with Michael telling of her struggles with chronic pain before her death.

Sharing his fears for his beloved wife, Michael told how Helen had to be moved into respite care from the London home they had shared for 50 years and told how they ‘life life with our fingers crossed’.

‘I don’t think you can cure it, but they will help her manage it,’ he told the Telegraph of Helen’s condition last September.

‘It’s such a bore. She was so active and still is mentally. But the body is declining. We live life with our fingers crossed.’

But Michael tragically shared the sad news that his wife Helen had passed away on Tuesday, just weeks after they celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary.

Possibly referencing her support and steadfast nature over the years, Michael described her as the ‘bedrock of my life’ and said her death was an ‘indescribable loss’ for himself and their children Thomas, William and Rachel.

The Monty Python star told how Helen had been suffering with chronic pain for a few years previously and had been diagnosed with kidney failure before her death.

Announcing the news on his blog, Michael shared a selfie of them together and wrote: ‘My dearest wife Helen died peacefully in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

‘She had been suffering with chronic pain for several years, which was compounded a few years ago by a diagnosis of kidney failure.

‘We first met on a summer holiday on the Suffolk coast when we were both sixteen and we married in our early twenties. Two and a half weeks ago we celebrated our 57th wedding anniversary.

‘Her death is an indescribable loss for myself, our three children and four grandchildren.

Loss: On Tuesday, Michael announced the sad news that his wife Helen had passed away just weeks after they celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary

Loss: On Tuesday, Michael announced the sad news that his wife Helen had passed away just weeks after they celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary

 

Comedy: Michael is known for being a member of Monty Python and also won acclaim for A Fish Called Wanda (pictured with co-stars Jamie Lee Curtis, John Cleese and Kevin Kline in 1995)

Comedy: Michael is known for being a member of Monty Python and also won acclaim for A Fish Called Wanda (pictured with co-stars Jamie Lee Curtis, John Cleese and Kevin Kline in 1995)

‘Helen was the bedrock of my life. Her quietly wise judgment informed all my decisions and her humour and practical good sense was was at the heart of our life together.

‘The family ask that their privacy be respected at this time.’

Michael is best known for being a member of the Monty Python comedy group alongside Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle and Terry Jones.

He rose to fame on the sketch comedy series Monty Python’s Flying Circus and went on to find success with the Monty Python film series – including 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The comedy genius also picked up a BAFTA Award for his role as Ken Pile in cult 80s movie A Fish Called Wanda. 



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