‘I can do things that Johnny couldn’t’

Johnny Vegas
Johnny Vegas

It was the birth of his son, Michael Jr (who is now 10), from his first marriage to Kitty Donnelly, which made Michael Pennington take control again.

“It took me back to a time when I was really happy and I thought, ‘My son doesn’t deserve Johnny Vegas as a dad’. I didn’t want him thinking that was the norm. It was the start of a hard battle,” he said.

Public expectations made ridding himself of the demon of Johnny Vegas harder, he reflects, as he tried to build a career which didn’t involve getting drunk.

He was lucky that other things came into place, including winning acting roles in the BBC series Bleak House and the sitcoms Benidorm and Ideal, as well as drinking tea with a knitted monkey for a certain TV advertisement.

“I’d love to play a really good baddie,” he adds. “I’ve been offered all the reality TV shows but have turned them down. If I did it as Johnny, there’d be no jungle left!”

He has directed various one-off TV and radio dramas, has just completed series three of Moone Boy and recently directed and co-wrote Ragged, a one-off drama starring Ricky Tomlinson for Sky Arts. He’s also hoping to produce six 15-minute adaptations of Beatrix Potter for Radio 4 next year.

He feels happy behind the camera, saying: “It’s more of a job for Michael Pennington.”

Remarried in 2011 to Irish TV producer Maia Dunphy, Pennington credits her with helping him keep the lid on Johnny Vegas.

“My wife has made a huge difference. I don’t feel like I’m searching for things any more. She’s managed to identify areas where Johnny was still lurking and I wasn’t quite aware.

“Johnny would get easily distracted by friends who’d say, ‘We’ll just go for one drink’, and it would turn into five.

“Now that doesn’t happen. I have a good social life with friends, but most weekends I’ve got my son, and my socialising’s limited to myself and my wife or family parties.”

These days, his time is divided between London, where his son lives; his home town of St Helens, and Dublin, where Maia lives. “I commute to Dublin and Maia commutes to St Helens. Half my life is spent running for a flight or a train.”

So will Johnny Vegas ever emerge again?

“There are certain panel shows where I need to borrow a watered-down version of Johnny from time to time, so I can let him out of the bottle and get him back in straight away. He’s not allowed to bleed out into my lifestyle.”

It’s a ‘semi-skimmed’ version, and he admits he may still have a little drink beforehand, but that doesn’t take priority now.

“I’m loving being on the other side of the camera, as Michael. Just being involved in the creative process of making film and TV fascinates me,” he says.

“This is something I can take credit for now. I can do something that Johnny couldn’t.”

g Becoming Johnny Vegas by Johnny Vegas is published by HarperCollins, priced £20. Available now.