“My dad’s hobby was making cine films,” Dave says. “I remember the day we all sat down to watch the latest. My mother didn’t drink but the way she was walking towards the camera, she looked drunk.”
After that, her balance worsened. “She was carrying the lunch from the kitchen to the table one day and, all of a sudden, she fell to the floor.”
Worse was to come. “Dad worked shifts from 2pm to 10pm. I was sitting downstairs around 6pm a couple of weeks later and I suddenly heard this loud thud from above. I ran upstairs and Mum was lying on the floor, unable to get up.
“I was too small to lift her and no one else was in the house. So I covered her with a blanket and put a pillow under her head. Then I went downstairs and made a cheese and potato pie for my dad’s supper.”
Margaret was admitted to the local Barrow-on-Furness hospital for a series of lumbar punctures. The diagnosis when it came was unambiguous: she had multiple sclerosis, a condition that affects the brain and spinal cord. “There are two types,” says Dave, 61, “one where you get periods of remission and one that progresses quickly and without a break. Mum’s was the second.” Within two years, Margaret was in a wheelchair.
Hairy Bikers star Dave Myers
“It was catastrophic,” he recalls. “Her vision was badly impaired and she became deeply depressed. She was given Valium to address that by day and then barbiturates, a dirty form of sleeping tablets, at night.
“She’d been such an ebullient, outgoing woman. She and her two sisters, Edith and Marion, were like the Three Amigos. But, as her condition deteriorated, she’d sit in her wheelchair, her head locked on her chest.
“Everything changed and not only for her. I don’t want to sound melodramatic but, in many ways, it was the end of my childhood. Dad and I became Mum’s carers. It meant I grew old too quickly.” Dave will never forget the struggle of getting his mother to her bedroom each night.
“We’d get her to the foot of the stairs. Dad would put his arms underneath her shoulders and I’d take her legs and then we’d bump her upstairs, step by step.”
He also had to help her with the commode kept in the front room on the ground floor of the two-up, two-down terrace house.
“I’d place her feet on the ground, put her hands around my neck, swing her round and lower her on to the pot.”
What impact did all of this have on Dave, not yet a teenager?
Dave as a little boy, with his doting mother Margaret
“If you’d asked me at the time, I’d have told you that I wasn’t angry or bitter. This was simply something that had happened and we all just had to get on with it.
“But then I developed alopecia. My hair started coming out in clumps and that can’t have been coincidental. Clearly, I was internalising my problems – my grief, if you like – and this was the result.”
When Asda opened a large store near Dave’s home, he was despatched to do the weekly shop. Many children would find that a burden, but for Dave it was the start of a lifelong fascination with food.
“Dad gave me £10 but no shopping list. I had to go there every Friday and buy what I thought was appropriate.”
He took over the bulk of the cooking when he was 10. Because his mother was sedentary, she put on considerable weight. “So the doctor encouraged me to dish up salads with lettuce, tomato and hard-boiled eggs.”
Before she became ill, his mother had been a good home cook. “Every Monday, she’d make bread, scones and a Victoria sponge. I have got very fond memories of baking with her. But she was too out of it when she developed MS so I followed the recipes in something called The Radiation Cookbook which had been a free gift when my parents bought a new oven.”
TV cook Dave with his wife Liliana
If anything good could be said to have come out of what was a tragic domestic situation, it was Dave’s growing interest in food.
“At 16, I’d concoct outrageous curries with my friend Peter Thompson and then sell them to our mates at 30p a time, undercutting the local takeaway which charged a pound per dish.” Then, in the middle of Dave’s A-level exams, his father had a stroke.
“The doctors told me that one of my parents could be given a hospital bed; the other must stay at home. Which one did I feel best able to look after?
“That was a terrible choice to lay on me. I was only 17. In the end, I said I’d care for Dad because I knew he might get better and that Mum wouldn’t. So she was admitted and never came out.”
As it happened, Dave’s father died two years later from a second stroke.
“I was the one who had to tell Mum that Dad had died. I’ll never forget her terrible scream when I broke the news.” When his mother turned 60, she was put on a geriatric ward. She finally died four years later.
Dave with his TV partner and friend Si King, are raising cash for the MS Society with cake bakes
The contrast between his life then and now could scarcely be more marked. Dave earned a fine art degree at Goldsmith’s in London and a master’s degree in art history. His parents never saw this academic success nor his saw his TV popularity, or his stint on Strictly Come Dancing.
“I have a beautiful wife, Liliana, two lovely stepchildren, a fantastic job working with my best friend,” says Dave.
He and that friend, Si King, will be back on BBC Two from September 13 with a new series. But, in the meantime, they’ve gone from Hairy Bikers to Hairy Bakers – and all in the name of a good cause.
That cause, of course, is raising money for the MS Society. Dave and Si are encouraging people to get involved in Cake Break by inviting family and friends over for home-baked or shop-bought cakes in exchange for a contribution to the charity.
The MS Society gets nothing from the Government but it’s the biggest not-for-profit research funder in the UK – and believes stopping MS is a very real possibility.
“It’s a devastating condition,” says Dave, with some feeling. “It would be wonderful if it could be outlawed in my lifetime.”
For a fundraising pack, visit cakebreak.org.uk or contact the Supporter Care team on 0300 500 8084