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In many ways, life now is better than ever for 60-year-old media personality, writer and comedian, Mikel (Mikey) Robins. But for a man who readily acknowledges he was ‘morbidly obese’ for decades, turning 60 felt like winning a bet. In fact, he hastens to add, his long-time friend, fellow comedian and tv host, Tony Squires, once bet him $5,000 that he wouldn’t make 50, so he literally did win a bet!
Robins has reflected a bit on some of his lifestyle and ‘behaviours’ during his heady years in the public spotlight through his 20s, 30s and 40s and says he likes to think that some of his sharp edges have worn off over time.
“I’d like to think if I was in a pub and someone like 19-year-old me walked in, I’d slap him in the face,” he jokes.
But behind the jokes, there’s a more sobering side to his reflections on turning 60. Mikey’s father died young of bowel cancer when Mikey was only 10 years old and his mother died in the late 1980s. “Both my parents were dead before they were 55. At 60, I realised I had outlived both my parents and most of my grandparents,” he says.
He says the thing that scares him most is bowel cancer and, given his family history, he has been having colonoscopies since his thirties.
But Mikey has had his fair share of other health issues to contend with too, mostly related to his extreme weight. The weight gain and the obsession with eating began as a child, after the death of his father. Prior to his very successful gastric band surgery in 2006, Mikey’s adult weight pretty much always hovered between 140 and 160kg. The list of life-limiting health problems he was living with included severe sleep apnoea, high cholesterol, abnormal liver function, and borderline Type 2 diabetes. His size and weight also meant he had poor mobility and became breathless walking, let alone climbing stairs.
“It’s a horrible thing to say, but when you lose a parent very young… and I had lost both before I was 30… By the time I was 40, I was really fat and drinking and smoking.
But the surgery was transformational for Mikey and, at 60,, he says his health has never been better. “I’m so much fitter now than before. I’m a writer, so I spend most of the time at the beach,” he quips. “I walk, swim, type.”
Finding his ‘thing’ in life
Mikey says he has reached a very lucky phase in his life where he has found just what he wants to do, combining two things he loves a lot – writing and history. At high school, he was first in his year in history, he says. He has published two history books to date, with a third on the way; and he co-hosts a successful podcast called Heroes and Howlers with his friend, Paul Wilson, who is an Oxford history graduate.
Mikey’s idea of history books draws as much from his comedic roots as it does from scholarship. His first book, Seven Deadly Sins and one very naughty fruit is described as ‘an irreverent romp through the history of food’, while his second book, Reprehensible: Polite Histories of Bad Behaviour is a guide to ‘some of the most shameful behaviour indulged in by humanity’s most celebrated figures’.
“It’s that rare thing, in the third act, I have found writing,” says Mikey. “Maybe that’s why I have mellowed. I have found my thing.”
“I’ve just finished my third book which is about great stuff-ups in history. We record history as all the great things, but we leave out the idiots, and really, the greatest human achievement was walking out of the cave without spearing ourselves in the foot!
“So this one is all about historical folly, misadventure and stupidity.”
Not ready to think that way
Despite his recent reflections on his life and health and discovering the thing he loves doing the most, Mikey Robins is still very new to the mindset of getting older.
Advance Care Directives? “I don’t know about those,” he says. “I don’t have that concept of mortality yet.”
What about the prospect of needing some form of aged care or support? “I haven’t given aged care a thought,” he confesses. “I have just never run through it in my mind – I will cross that bridge when I come to it.”
Having said that, he confesses he has been reading journalist and author Indira Naidoo’s recent book, The Space Between the Stars, which explores the power of nature – even urban nature – to heal the deepest hurts.
“Friends are really important as you get older,” he says. “You begin to lose people from illness and you get a sense of your own mortality.
“I’ve never really thought seriously about my own death. I go along and hope sometime a strike of lightning will come along and that will be it. A glass of scotch and a sunset over the ocean? I always thought it might be an ill-planned bungee accident on my 95th birthday,” he jokes, unable to resist.
But there is still work to be done and maintaining good health, now that he has it again, is squarely on the agenda for Mikey Robins.
“There are certain things you want to achieve by certain decades in your life. So you go along and have your colonoscopies… Then you start caring what your blood pressure is and start thinking about trying to drink less and eat better. I have mild hypertension but I take only a very mild blood pressure medication to err on the safe side. And I have Phenergan in spring,” he concedes.
“But I am just so much fitter than before.”
Explore the Suddenly Senior podcast on Mable.