Ted Robbins: ‘I have had enormous luck and am still here down to good fortune’

Ted Robbins, with his wife Judith, at home recovered after his heart attack when he collapsed on stage during Phoenix Nights.
Ted Robbins, with his wife Judith, at home recovered after his heart attack when he collapsed on stage during Phoenix Nights.

It is now more than three months since Ted Robbins’ heart stopped on stage during Phoenix Nights Live in Manchester.

AASMA DAY meets the Lancashire funnyman and finds out how he’s a changed man in more ways than one since his brush with death.

Ted Robbins, with his wife Judith, at home recovered after his heart attack when he collapsed on stage during Phoenix Nights.

Ted Robbins, with his wife Judith, at home recovered after his heart attack when he collapsed on stage during Phoenix Nights.

“Someone up there must like me.”

Ted Robbins is always the life and soul of any party and cracking jokes comes as naturally to him as breathing.

Although the twinkle in his eye is still there and the gags are just as forthcoming, the new streamlined Ted is a changed man in a lot more ways than just appearances.

Ted almost died on stage in front of 15,000 people and is a great believer in fate after realising his survival was due to an amazing set of coincidences.

Even my famous cousin Paul McCartney rang from America and sent flowers.

Ted

Jovial as ever, Ted’s banter is mingled with seriousness and it is clear he has grasped his second chance in life with both hands.

“I don’t know if it just wasn’t my time to go, but I am the luckiest man alive this happened when and where it did,” says the 59-year-old.

“Even though my heart stopped, I had a major dose of luck and I thank God for me still being here and having my lovely family around me.

“This happened to me on stage in front of 15,000 people including those who knew exactly what to do and came to my aid swiftly saving my life.

Ted Robbins as a youngster on the beach with his mum and cousin Paul McCartney.

Ted Robbins as a youngster on the beach with his mum and cousin Paul McCartney.

“Only eight per cent of people whose heart stops outside of hospital make it – which means 92 per cent of people don’t survive.

“And some of those that do survive are brain damaged because of blood not getting to the brain. I was given CPR very sharpish after my heart stopped and that is what saved my life.

“If your heart stops when you are miles away from anyone or with people who don’t know what to do, the outlook is pretty grim.

“God forbid what would have happened if I had been at home by myself or out for a walk.

“I have had enormous luck and am still here down to good fortune and God’s grace.”

It was on January 31 on the opening night of Phoenix Nights that Ted collapsed to the ground only minutes after making his appearance shortly after the interval.

Ted, who lives with wife Judy near Rawtenstall and has children Jack, 25 who works on Blue Peter and Molly, 24, who creates beautiful cakes, remembers experiencing almost a premonition type of feeling before the show.

“It it difficult to explain, but I felt this sense of forboding. I didn’t know why, I just knew I did not feel right.

“Everyone else was really excited before the show but I just felt this sense of something wrong.”

Ted walked on to stage as his Don Perry character to the sound of The Prodigy’s Firestarter and was greeted with rapturous applause. However, after delivering a few jokes, he remembers feeling like he needed to sit down and then he just blacked out.

The watching audience saw Ted fall backwards with a complete and utter bang – and most people thought it was all part of the act and carried on laughing.

However, a former army paramedic sitting near Ted’s wife Judy saw her face and instantly realised Ted wasn’t play-acting and pushed his way on to the stage and began giving immediate CPR.

He was then joined by a heart specialist who also began working to try to bring Ted back to life in front of the stricken stadium audience.

It was purely down to a twist of fate that ex-army paramedic Gary - who doesn’t want any limelight for his actions - was at the show, never mind sitting close enough to the stage to be able to read Judy’s face and realise Ted was in grave danger.

Ted explains: “Gary, who is from Yorkshire, happened to be there by complete fluke.

“He didn’t have a ticket for the show and was simply dropping his sister and her partner off at the arena.

“On the way over, his sister’s partner went online and discovered there were a few single tickets available so Gary decided to buy a last minute ticket and he was seated right at the back of the stadium.

“Gary’s sister had seats right at the front with all the celebs like Lenny Henry, Richard Curtis and John Bishop and during the interval, she texted Gary and told him there was a spare seat near her where someone hadn’t turned up and told him to join her.

“So by total chance, Gary happened to be sitting about 10 metres from the stage very close to my wife Judy and my daughter Molly.

“Gary has told me that when he saw the shock on Judy’s face, he knew things were not right and rushed to the stage.”

Gary gave Ted extremely thorough CPR cracking 12 ribs and Ted’s sternum in the process but he kept going.

By this point, heart specialist Donald had joined him on stage and they used a defibrillator to shock Ted’s heart.

Finally, after almost 15 minutes, Ted came round. He recalls: “I remember coming round on stage and seeing all these people around me and then I saw Judy’s face and said: ‘I don’t half love you darling’.

“When I fell, I nearly bit right through my tongue and there was blood everywhere.

“But I was so lucky to receive such prompt and thorough CPR. One of the messages about CPR is don’t freak out if you hear a bone breaking – keep going.

“People can live with a broken bone, but not if their heart doesn’t re-start.”

Clearly disturbed by the recollection, Judy remembers: “I knew straight away when Ted fell that something was very wrong as it was a dramatic fall.

“Luckily, I was very near the stage and I was there getting really upset when they were trying to bring Ted round.

“Time just stands still and it was awful as there was blood everywhere. It was such a shock. It was such a relief when Ted came round, but even then, it was a huge worry as you didn’t know what was wrong or what was going to happen.”

As an anguished Judy stood on the stage, she felt a pair of arms go round her. It was Peter Kay dressed as his Max character.

Judy says: “Peter consoled me and kept saying everything would be all right. He was upset himself but was very kind to me as was everyone.”

Ted didn’t actually suffer a heart attack like many people think, but suffered ventricular fibrillation, similar to what happened to footballer Fabrice Muamba.

Ted was taken to Manchester’s Wythenshawe Hospital where he had to have his tongue re-stiched and was found to have a collapsed lung. Ted only has vague memories of the first few days as he was on morphine.

Ted says: “Apparently, the first 24 hours were pretty hairy, but I pulled through.

“I remember seeing all my family surrounding my bedside including Judy, my children, my sisters and other family members.

“As I was wheeled to my bed, I pulled down my oxygen mask and did jazz hands as if to say: ‘Wait till you see what I do for an encore.’

“My family say this is when they knew I’d be OK.”

Doctors think a combination of factors caused Ted’s heart to stop that night. When he was 11, he became ill with rheumatic fever which damaged one of his heart valves.

Ted had also been ill with a chest infection between Southport pantomime and Phoenix Nights and he also had a slight furring of his arteries. Medics believe all these things combined with the adrenaline of the night sent Ted’s heart into fibrillation.

As a precaution, Ted has been fitted with a tiny defibrillator implant next to his heart.

He explains: “Doctors don’t think it will happen again as they have sorted all the things that needed sorting.

“But if it were to happen again, this mini defibrillator would kick in and re-start my heart.

“The consultant told me I was lucky as not only had I got through this, my heart was strong and undamaged.

“The treatment I received was first class and I think the NHS is marvellous.”

Ted is definitely a different man since the incident – and having shed at least three stones, he looks very different and younger than he used to.

Ted says that although many people nodded their heads knowingly and say: ‘Well he was a big lad’ after hearing about Ted’s heart, no doctors have said his weight caused the issue.

“Don’t get me wrong” says Ted. “I knew I was overweight and this was the ultimate wake-up call.

“But when you go into cardiology departments, you realise heart problems affect people of all shapes and sizes.

“Despite being a porker, I have always been fit and strong. I have always loved sport and I played rugby well into my 50s.

“Before this happened with my heart, like most men, I always kept away from the doctors and ignored things like keeping an eye on my weight.

“I have lost at least three stones since that night - it might be more as I don’t really know what I weighed before.

“I must have been at least 19 stones on a good day. But the needle on our scales only went up to 19 stones, so it was probably more.

“We have now bought digital scales so I can’t cheat by leaning to make the needle move.

“I am now 16 stones and I recently saw a photo of myself from a couple of years ago and was shocked by the difference.

“People tell me I look a lot younger.

“I have had such a buzz from people telling me I look great and I am determined to keep the weight off.”

Ted says that although he knew he was overweight, he would just make a joke of it.

He explains: “I made jokes about me being fat and loved all the Les Dawson gags such as the one about the doctor saying to the patient: ‘You are obsese’ and the patient saying: ‘I want a second opinion’ and the doctor replying: ‘OK, you’re ugly as well.’ and the joke about the speaking scales saying: ‘One at a time please!’

“But deep down, I think I thought: ‘I’m not a fatty really, I’m a big strong rugby lad.”

When asked what his food weakness used to be before his collapse, Ted quips: “Everything. I’ve never met a calorie I didn’t like! I haven’t got a sweet tooth, but I love my food and love cooking.

“When I cooked, I was a dreadful picker and I would eat a handful of cheese here and there and constantly pick at whatever I was cooking with.

“Sometimes, I would eat a whole meal even before I sat down to have my meal.

“I used to get quite tense before a gig and not feel like eating. But then when I would get home late at night, I would open the fridge for a little ‘snack’ and load my plate up with cheese, pate, butter and crisps and 3,000 calories later, I would have finished my ‘snack’.

“Judy is in charge of the cooking now and is a fantastic cook and I don’t pick any more. I have a healthy breakfast and have cut out the sugar and eat a lot of lean chicken and fish.

“I have virtually cut out the beer, although I still like the odd glass of red wine.

“I am hardly a skinny lad now but I look a lot better.”

Ted jokes that he has had a lot more publicity and attention from three minutes of his act followed by falling down than he has had in his whole career.

He laughs: “People like me a lot better when I’m not actually there!”

But on a serious note, Ted and his family have been incredibly touched by the messages of support they have received from people all over the world.

Ted has a huge bag full of get well cards and letters - and these are just some of the messages he received.

Ted says: “People from the world of showbusiness, old friends, people we had not seen for years and complete strangers have got in touch.

“Everyone has been so kind. Jack Dee sent me a lovely message and old friends like Matthew Kelly, Bradley Walsh and all the Phoenix Nights cast contacted me.

“It is almost like being at your own funeral and everyone saying nice things about me - except I was still here to hear all the lovely things.

“Even my famous cousin Paul McCartney rang from America and sent flowers.

“He used to come and see me when I was in hospital at the age of 11 with rheumatic fever. It was at the time of Sergeant Pepper and his visits caused Beatle mania at the hospital.

“I thought all these nurses were coming to see me, but they were coming to see him!”

Ted admits he has had some dark days since his life threatening ordeal and has had to deal with the mental scars of how close he came to death and face his demons.

He explains: “Basically, I died on that stage and it is a major trauma physically and mentally.

“It was a really tough time. When doctors first start treating you and it’s one thing after another, you start thinking: ‘Am I an invalid?’

“In the beginning, every little niggle plays on your mind. We are not machines. Our hearts are linked to our brains and we need reassuring.

“Not everyone pulls through and if you are lucky enough to get a second chance, you have to stay strong physically as well as mentally. The things that matter in life are your health and your family and I know how lucky I am.

“I am now trying to live life as normal and am enjoying getting back to work.

“It gives you a better sense of perspective and I try not to moan about the little things any more.

“I did get down and go through some dark times where I was worried and fearful. But I have now reached the point where it is no longer the first thing I think about in the morning.

“I am in a better place.”