Dave Myers obituary | Entertainment TV

Long before Dave Myers, one half of the TV duo the Hairy Bikers, was hairy, or a biker, he was a cook. While still a child, he prepared family meals when his mother, a former shipyard crane driver, became so debilitated by multiple sclerosis she was scarcely able to leave her bed. “Dad and I became Mam’s carers, muddling through each day,” said Myers, who has died aged 66. “Sometimes I got out a cookbook and made a pie or a stew out of whatever ingredients we had in.”

His mother had been “a fabulous cook and was often preparing food while I played at her feet”. His father, the foreman of a local paper mill, would put little Dave on the saddle of his motorbike so he could pretend to ride. “I loved the smell of oil and machinery and rubber; just one whiff would set my pulse racing.”

But it was only half a lifetime later that Myers, after many years of working as a television makeup artist, managed to make an onscreen career by combining these two childhood passions. In 2004, when he was 45, Myers and his friend Simon King, a locations manager on the Harry Potter films, pitched their idea for a TV show focusing on motorbikes and food to the BBC. “It was midlife crisis time and you can’t have more of a midlife crisis than going off on a motorbike,” said Myers.

The show’s premise was that two burly, hirsute motorcyclists would visit foreign locales, often getting off their bikes to cook by the roadside. In the first episode of The Hairy Bikers’ Cookbook (2006), the pair motored through Namibia, stopping off to cook crocodile satay and oryx rolls.

This culinary travelogue ran across three series, taking them to Portugal, Vietnam, Turkey and Mexico, and became such a hit with the viewers that a memo circulated the BBC praising the two men for winning over “a difficult-to-reach audience”. “Basically a ‘difficult-to-reach audience’ translates as ‘normal people’,” said King.

The two self-taught cooks had a disarmingly unpretentious love of food and easy on-screen banter redolent of Keith Floyd, if less bibulous, or Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson, if less posh. In a sense, Myers and King were the male northern riposte to the Two Fat Ladies. What’s more, their two fat lads were refreshing fare in the age of telegenic cooks such as Nigella Lawson or angry chefs like Gordon Ramsay.

Spin-off shows followed, including The Hairy Bikers’ Food Tour of Britain (2009), The Hairy Bikers: Mums Know Best (2010), The Hairy Bikers’ Mississippi Adventure (2012) and The Hairy Bikers’ Asian Adventure (2014), along with allied cookbooks and a 2015 memoir, The Hairy Bikers Blood, Sweat and Tyres.

The Hairy Bikers, pictured in Cumbria, travelled the world on their motorbikes, cooking and sharing their food. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

What was the secret of their success? “We are mates, it’s not something that’s been manufactured,” said Myers. “We’re not snobby about food. We’re very happy with egg and chips, as long as it’s very good-quality eggs and good-quality potatoes. About 95% of good cooking is good shopping.”

They met by chance in a Newcastle pub in the 1990s when Myers was working there as makeup artist and prosthetics technician on an adaptation of Catherine Cookson’s The Gambling Man starring Robson Green. King, an assistant director on the project, was at the bar ordering a curry. The barman told King that if he ordered two curries he would qualify for a special offer: four poppadoms instead of one. “I just stepped up and said, ‘I’ll have the other curry’,” Myers said.

The pair cemented their friendship with road trips up the west coast of Scotland, travelling with a pan, a single-burner stove, some butter, a lemon and some brown bread. “We’d go up round Loch Assynt, up by Lochinver, and catch wild brown trout.” The idea for the television series was born from these trips.

But, while the Hairy Bikers became celebrated and their cookbooks successful, some worried that their recipes were unhealthy. Their banana French toast recipe, consisting of brioche, bananas, peanut butter and cream, was ominously dedicated to Elvis Presley. One critic suggested that their full-English shakshuka, featuring sausages, lardons and black pudding, “looks as if it should come with a diagram on how to administer CPR”.

Indeed, as their fame expanded, so did their waistbands. By 2012, Myers recalled, he was taking tablets for high blood pressure and to lower his cholesterol, and both he and King were diagnosed as being morbidly obese during a medical. He weighed 17st 12lb, with a 49in waist, while King weighed in at 19st 6lb, with a 50in waistline. “I was prediabetic; human foie gras, basically,” Myers said.

The diagnoses pushed them to make the series The Hairy Dieters: How to Love Food and Lose Weight. Both men lost 3st 7lb during filming and published their most successful series of books afterwards under the general title Hairy Dieters. “Doing it publicly was the thing that encouraged us to make it work. People admired the honesty. We sold about 1.3m copies of our first book. We learned an awful lot from it.”

The following year, 2013, Myers appeared on Strictly Come Dancing, performing a “Tartan tango” to the tune of The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) with his dance partner, Karen Hauer, and becoming, in the words of the show’s judge Len Goodman, “the people’s champion”, winning the weekly popular vote despite sometimes low marks from judges and armchair critics deriding his “ungainly boogying”. He didn’t win, but the Hairy Biker received the longest standing ovation for, fittingly enough, a Meat Loaf-themed paso doble.

Myers, the only child of Jim and Margaret, was born in Barrow-in-Furness ( then in Lancashire but now in Cumbria) and attended the town’s grammar school for boys, where an inspirational teacher, Mr Eaton, encouraged him to develop his artistic skills. He took a fine art degree at Goldsmiths, University of London and a master’s degree in art history.

Dave Myers and his Strictly Come Dancing partner, Karen Hauer, were huge favourites with the public. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

His first job was as a trainee makeup artist at the BBC. He worked there for 23 years, including a stint on Top of the Pops, before the Hairy Bikers got together. While filming the show in Romania, Myers met Liliana Orzac. “In our hotel there was a striking woman on reception. Nudging Si, I whispered: ‘I fancy her!’” They married in 2011.

In 2022, Myers announced on the podcast Hairy Bikers – Agony Uncles that he had been diagnosed with cancer. He and King made a moving return to the screen in The Hairy Bikers: Coming Home for Christmas in December 2023, in which they discussed his illness and treatment; and had filmed a new series, The Hairy Bikers Go West, which is currently screening on BBC Two, and which King described as “a celebration of a joyous and creative friendship”.

Myers is survived by Liliana and her children, Iza and Sergiu.

David James Myers, chef and television presenter, born 8 September 1957; died 28 February 2024

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