‘Anyone else would have kicked him out’: celebrity flatmates reveal all

Stealing clothes, sharing a bed, cereal for dinner... from Shaun Ryder and Bez to the boys from Busted, former housemates remember their first houseshare

He could burn all your clothes, eat all your food, rob all your money, but he’d always have your back in a fight’

Shaun Ryder and his Happy Mondays bandmate Bez first lived together in Salford, Greater Manchester, in 1983

Shaun Living with Bez is like living with a mad dog who chews up your favourite shoes but who you can’t stay mad at for long. I first met him when he came round with a mate we had in common to pick up some gear. We got on like a house on fire. It was love at first sight.

Back in those days, it was a constant hustle, doing bits of this and that to make it through to our next giro [benefit payment]. I always shared my giro with Bez, but when he’d get his, he’d disappear for five days and then come back with nothing.

Sometimes he’d get up before me and take my clothes, so I’d have to rummage around for something clean to wear. I’d get the clothes back and they’d be full of joint burns. I’d go to get some cornflakes and he would have finished them.

He’d say: “I’ll always have your back in a fight,” and that was his excuse for everything; he could burn all your clothes, eat all your food, rob all your money, but he’d always have your back in a fight. Anyone else would have kicked him out, the piss-taking bastard, but he made up for it in other ways. At the end of the day, he was a good mate.

It was 10 miles from our flat to the Haçienda [the 1980s nightclub] so we’d have a big line (or whatever form it came in) of some kind of amphetamine and walk there, stopping at pubs and getting into a few adventures along the way.

Bez I was homeless at the time, so very grateful to Shaun for letting me use his settee. It was a nocturnal flat; we rolled in from the Haçienda every night at 3am or 4am and slept most of the day. It was a sorry state; leftover beer bottles, cigarettes. I don’t think the landlady was very happy. By the time we left, I do believe she had to get the gaff fumigated before she could rent it out again. I don’t think the neighbours were that keen on us, either.

We were absolutely starving because we didn’t eat for days on end. I remember when we first went to record at Yellow studios, I stole Bernard from New Order’s takeaway from the bin because I was so hungry. We were smelly and hungry most of the time. Shaun’s mum would make us corned beef and tomato butties. Cheese on toast was the most adventurous I ever got in the kitchen. I remember one time, we had that many pots and pans piling up, we had to do the washing up in the bath.

What I remember most is that Shaun had the smelliest feet. We used to share clothes and trainers, and my girlfriend would make me soak my feet in a bowl of hot water and Dettol to get rid of the smell from the trainers.

It was a great time of life for us; we had this shared dream of making it as a band. Shaun and I would sit and chat for hours, about rubbish most of the time, but he was always really good company. It has shaped my life a lot. We became a successful band and our friendship has survived till today.
Black Grape are touring the UK until 6 April, blackgrapemusic.com. Happy Mondays play Dreamland in Margate on 13 July

‘I would come home to find a camera crew filming

Comedian Katherine Ryan lived with photographer Katherine Woroniecka when they were undergraduates at Ryerson University in Toronto in 2001

Comedian Katherine Ryan and Katherine Woroniecka.
Comedian Katherine Ryan (left) and Katherine Woroniecka. Photograph: Handout

Katherine Ryan I met Katherine the day we both moved to the big city from our respective small towns. We were 18 years old. Our landlady, Bonnie, was a very eccentric older lady with a cat and a lovely house with a two-bedroom loft.

I instantly loved Katherine. She had stilettos on and I remember thinking, “What are those?” I’d never seen pointy-toe shoes before. She was very cosmopolitan and my first introduction to fashion: Kangol hats, trench coats, cool skirts. She had a glamorous mother who’d come round and make lovely salads and cabbage rolls (I still think about those cabbage rolls), and take Katherine shopping. They always looked impeccable, whereas I would go to uni in a onesie. Her mother would say to me: [adopts Polish accent] “Why do you dress this way? You could meet husband in parking lot.”

Katherine was the greatest housemate of all time. She definitely changed me for the better; she was a lesson in authenticity, confidence and poise, and what I thought a grownup should be like. I was the bad roommate, borrowing all her clothes and eating all her food. I also got a little dog – a teacup shih-tzu called Biggie – who wasn’t always toilet-trained. And I was working at Hooters, sometimes 18 hours a day, so I was gone a lot.

Every Friday night, Katherine and I would go dancing on this late-night TV show, which was like the Canadian MTV. We thought we were famous because people from our home towns watched it. We’d meet boys and we’d be like, “We’re Katherine and Katherine – we’re K-Squared.”

She was smarter than I was. At Hooters, I was targeted by an inflatophiliac (someone who gets sexual gratification from body parts being inflated like a balloon). He pretended he was off the radio and that I could win $300 if I stuffed clear bin bags in my pantyhose and inflated them with a bicycle pump. I looked ridiculous, like a big marshmallow. The man’s requests carried on for a month and Katherine was the only one with the sense to say, “Something is wrong here.” He turned out to be a sexual predator. So Katherine is really a hero.

Katherine Woroniecka The first week I lived with Katherine, I thought she was addicted to drugs. We shared a bathroom, and when I saw a bunch of syringes in the trash can, I thought, “Oh my God, she’s shooting up.” I was like, “Katherine, are you doing drugs?” and she said, “No, they’re for teeth-whitening!”

The neighbourhood wasn’t great; we lived next to a restaurant called Harvey’s, which was known as “Hooker Harvey’s”. But it was a really nice semi-detached home, which the (live-in) landlady kept spotless. We called her “Crazy Bonnie”. You’d be watching TV at 1am and suddenly she’d barge into your room, and she had a cat that always seemed angry.

Katherine was very unpredictable, in a good way. She was always signing me up for things. I would come home to find a camera crew filming, and she’d say, “We’re just filming a pilot for a TV show. Just go along with it… so you’re going off to Miami with your boyfriend, start packing your lingerie.” She was fearless. Nothing really bothered her. I was more timid.

It wasn’t a party house. Katherine really liked her naps. She’d come home, take off her Hooters outfit and nap like a cat. She loved to eat cereal, that was a staple food of hers. She had this habit of sharing it with her dog by scooping it up with a spoon and pouring it on to the carpet and the dog would lick it off. I never, ever said anything to her, but it was really annoying.
Katherine Ryan co-hosts Your Face Or Mine on Comedy Central UK

‘We spent all our money on pool tables, foosball tables and toys

Matt Willis lived with James Bourne and his family in Southend‑on-Sea before forming the pop band Busted in 2000. Their first flat was in Arnos Grove, north London, when they were 18

Matt Willis and James Bourne
Matt Willis (left) and James Bourne. Photograph: courtesy of Matt Willis

Matt James and I lucked out with our first flat. We had just signed a really big record deal, so we got a massive advance before we’d even done anything. I’m from a council estate in south London, and I remember when my mates first came to visit because they rang me and said, “We’ve followed your directions but we seem to be at some kind of castle.” And I was like, “That’s it!”

We had nothing in it apart from a sofa, a massive TV, a ping-pong table, and loads of guitars. We never had any food in the fridge; we were like students, and had a terrible diet of cereal (if we had milk) and takeaway pizza.

When you’ve come from nothing and suddenly you’re living in this place and you’ve got money, you just go out drinking and watch bands all the time. Everyone would come back to ours, because we were the ones with the apartment. I was drunk a lot. And I smoked loads of weed. I was a huge party boy and that probably drove people nuts.

Once the band released a single, we were hardly ever home. The three of us didn’t have the healthiest relationship because we weren’t dealing with the pressure, and the situation we were in, very well. I think we were a bit scared to talk about it because it was making everyone so much money.

Charlie [Simpson, Busted guitarist) lived with us, but he was rarely there and did his own thing, so James and I always hung out. He was great to live with – very low-key. I’d live with him again, although he’s a real night owl, which is fine when you’re young, but I’m not sure I could deal with someone playing the piano at 3am now. It used to drive me nuts that he would never get out of bed and I’d have to wake him up. I remember he used to stay in bed but stamp his feet to make it sound like he was up. So childish.

James There were a lot of neighbours in our building who had a problem with three kids making noise and disturbing them. We were definitely too young; we had a very bizarre existence for a couple of years, spending all our money on pool tables and foosball tables and toys for the apartment. Matt once bought this crazy BMX and he would ride it inside. I remember being away in Germany and getting a call telling me that the wind had blown our basketball hoop on to our neighbour’s Jaguar.

The flat had a mezzanine floor where you could access the balcony and we’d go out and get drunk, lose our keys and have to climb up and smash the window to get in. You’d wake up and there’d be glass all over the floor.

We were at that age where, even though you have responsibilities, you don’t really. We’d stay up late watching infomercials on Sky, and order weird stuff on our credit cards. Things like aluminium knives that cut through metal and Def Comedy Jam DVDs. Every week there’d be another parcel arriving. It was pretty horrendous; there was stuff everywhere. It was like a bad John Hughes film, like being in Home Alone.

I’ve still got furniture from that flat; I kept the couches and the foosball table. I actually bought an apartment in the building, which I still own. I rented it out for a long time, but when the band got back together [in 2015], I kicked the tenant out and went back in. It’s above where we used to live as a band, so it feels very strange, like going back in time.
Busted’s new album, Half Way There, is out now

‘I set the smoke alarm off to annoy her cheapskate boyfriend

Author Nina Stibbe met Stella Heath at Thames Polytechnic (now the University of Greenwich) in the early 1980s. They shared a flat in north London in 1986

Nina Stibbe.
Nina Stibbe. Photograph: Handout

Nina Our flat was in a massive old Edwardian house on a main road by a bus stop. You’d have to put your hand through the letterbox to open the door, and quite often people just wandered in. We didn’t think anything of it.

Every Friday night we’d have a party. Like a middle-aged person, I’d cook a great big Greek meze and everyone would come round to eat, and we’d be smoking and drinking and dancing, and then at midnight, they’d all go out clubbing and I’d go to bed. In the morning I’d wake Stella up, and force her to come to the garden centre with me. She’d be like, “What the fuck, I’m hungover.”

Stella always had a string of boyfriends and I was never jealous of them, but I was jealous of her new friends, who were always clever, interesting and socially active. I remember she had a friend in the upstairs flat who, to my annoyance, kept coming downstairs to see her. One day I heard her coming down the stairs and I couldn’t be bothered saying hello, so I hid in the wardrobe until she’d gone. Stella let this woman sit down and watch Coronation Street with her, knowing I was in there.

She once had a glamorous older boyfriend who took her out for dinner to the local curry house, but when she ordered the prawn dhansak, he said, “Could you order something cheaper?” The following week, he turned up at our flat with two pork chops on a plate to cook in our kitchen. I thought he was such a cheapskate that I set the smoke alarm off deliberately. I don’t think it got rid of him, but it made his pork chops slightly less romantic.

We were like chalk and cheese: I was into arty things, she was more serious. She’d go off on a march and come back and say, “We were cornered by skinheads,” and I’d go, “Oh look, I’ve done a linocut of a beagle.” That’s how we were. She’s still my best friend, even though we now live 547 miles apart.

Stella Heath
Stella Heath. Photograph: Handout

Stella It was such a peculiar, old house but we did so much to it; we sanded floorboards and painted the walls. The flat wasn’t very secure; I remember having a party once and there were basically drunk people who had wandered in off the street.

It was a party house. We didn’t necessarily think of it in that way, it was just what we did at the weekend. Nina introduced me to a lot of music, like Aretha Franklin and David Bowie. I distinctly remember one sunny day, carrying all our furniture out into the garden and positioning the TV so we could watch the World Cup from outside.

Nina frequently chose recipes from Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course and made food in a way I’d never thought to. I would have eaten ready meals, but Nina cooked lots of dals and pasta dishes. She would do all the cooking and I’d tidy up; I’m the kind of person who takes your plate away before you’ve finished eating. We complemented each other.

We are opposites, but it worked. We didn’t annoy each other. I was very on top of bills and making sure things were organised, and she was much more creative. Nina is incredibly funny and turns anything into the most wonderful story. I feel at home with her in a way that I don’t with other friends.

I wouldn’t be the person I am if I’d not met Nina. I was fairly leftwing when I met her, but I wasn’t much of a feminist and she really taught me about that.

Reasons To Be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe is published by Viking at £12.99

‘We shared a bed, so it was like a long sleepover’

TV and radio presenter Maya Jama lived with her friend Penny Jarrett in 2011

Maya Jama and Penny Jarrett.
Maya Jama (left) and Penny Jarrett. Photograph: Handout

Maya I moved to London from Bristol when I was 16 and floated between places, living out of a suitcase. Penny was my guardian angel – if I hadn’t moved in with her, maybe I would have gone back to Bristol. I felt looked after and cared for; she was someone I trusted. Some people are just naturally caring and she was like a mother.

The flat was always really colourful and Penny was super clean. I was the annoying teenager who would mess stuff up, but I didn’t want to disappoint her, so I would try to tidy before she got home from work. She loved cooking. My favourite was spicy salmon with rice, salad and garlic bread.

Looking back, the flat was way too small for both of us. There was a second little bedroom, like a cupboard, but I never stayed in it. She had a massive bed which we shared, and we stayed up most nights chatting. I remember she often snored and talked in her sleep. When we both got boyfriends it was a bit awkward: “OK, someone has to go in the boxroom, otherwise we’re all sharing a bed!”

There were bits of workout equipment in her lounge, massive dumbbells and an aerobics step, so sometimes we’d do mini workouts in front of the mirror. We’d dance around and listen to music.

I taught her lots of “young stuff”. I remember showing her how to do winged eyeliner and what concealer to use. Bristol is completely different – we’re more reckless and don’t really give a shit what people think – so I also showed her that side. She taught me how to be a woman. I was just floating around going to drum’n’bass raves, but when I lived with her she helped me grow. We’re still close – like family more than friends.

Penny I was living in a one-bedroom flat on Portobello Road when Maya came to live with me and tried to get her career off the ground. She was 16 and I was 24. She was friends with my younger brother and I took her under my wing.

I got the flat when I came out of foster care, so I’d lived there a few years when Maya came to live with me, and I was very particular. Having her and my brother, these two young, messy, unemployed teenagers was very challenging. I would try to be as loving as I could, but I would come in from work and there would be dishes up to my eyebrows – I was very much the mum of the situation. In fact, Maya’s mum calls me her “London mum”.

I always cooked. If I didn’t cook, they wouldn’t eat. I felt responsible because she didn’t have family in London and I wanted to make sure her life was as comfortable as possible. On my way home from work, I’d call to ask what she wanted to eat that night, and on her birthday I covered the place in balloons and confetti so she’d wake up feeling special. I didn’t want her to miss out on the things that a normal teenager should have.

We’ve got the same sense of humour and we bounce off each other, but she also taught me a lot about confidence. I had a traumatic childhood and experiences with boys when I was younger, and I saw in her someone I admired. She believed in herself and I learned so much from that because it was alien to me.

We shared a room, so it was like a big, long sleepover. We didn’t ever argue. When you’re living with someone, your relationship speeds up because you learn to trust each other; all the barriers people put up are stripped down.
Maya Jama appears on BBC Radio 1 every Friday and Saturday morning

‘He would lay down the law – he liked everything really tidy and clean’

Welsh Olympic hurdler and BBC sports presenter Colin Jackson lived with fellow athlete Jamie Baulch in Tampa, Florida, in 1994

Colin Jackson and Jamie Baulch.
Colin Jackson (right) and Jamie Baulch. Photograph: Handout

Colin I’d known Jamie since he was 12, as we both trained at Cwmbran stadium in south Wales. He did really well at the 1994 World Cup and I had done well at the Commonwealth Games that year and was the world record holder, so I said to him, “You’ve got huge potential, I want to coach you.” I asked if he wanted to join my training group and come and live in my house in Florida. He was 21 and looked at me like I was a mad man. The house had four bedrooms, three en-suite bathrooms, and a pool. I was 27 and it was my first time running a household. I was everything; the chauffeur, the chef, the person paying for it all.

It was tough for Jamie. He was still quite young and hadn’t gone to uni, so he hadn’t had that experience of living away from home. All of a sudden there was this real tyrant who was also his coach, whom he was stuck in a house with! He had to be disciplined in his lifestyle, as well as in learning how to share a home.

There was no sitting around the swimming pool; everyone had to chip in when it came to chores. I wanted the house to be perfect. To me, a disciplined lifestyle is linked to your discipline in life [more generally]. Book in relaxation time as you would book in everything else. Back in the day, as an athlete, that was important.

The barbecue was permanently on. I’d put the meat on before training so when we came back it was ready to go. And there would be salads and rice; I made sure they were on a good diet because the US is well known for junk food. There were days they were allowed to eat at the mall, but the majority of the time meals were home-cooked.

Jamie had a positive spirit and it was nice to have someone like that around. His ability as a great 400m runner pushed all of us as sprint hurdlers. We’d already gone through it all, so to have this guy who was so energised was a breath of fresh air.

Jamie Colin was my coach and my mentor and he was only 27 himself. I think now, how did he do that? He paid for my flights, accommodation, food; it was the equivalent of winning the lottery. Would I have made it if he hadn’t intervened? I don’t know.

It was a nice house, spacious, but not over the top. I’ll never forget how quiet it was – there were no cars – all you could hear outside were the grass sprinklers. Mark McKoy [the Canadian hurdler] had a house around the corner, and then just up the road was Linford Christie. I was thrown into this world of Olympic legends, and a year later I had a silver medal.

Colin is an amazing cook. He’d cook these ribs on the barbecue all day and they’d just drift into your mouth. He also made Jamaican stews with proper West Indian dumplings. I used to eat like a horse and have three helpings; I was training so hard I would burn it all off.

He would lay down the law – it was his house and he liked everything really tidy and clean. Every weekend, you’d have to clean one of the rooms. I remember spraying the bathroom with so much bleach my eyes went red.

I loved sweets, but he wouldn’t allow us to have them so I used to sneak them into the house. I went into the kitchen one day and Colin looked at me all serious and said, “What have you been eating?” I said, “What do you mean? Nothing.” He said, “Go in the bathroom and have a look at your face.” I’d been eating sweets so ferociously, I had half a bright yellow M&M stuck to my lip; he had caught me red-handed. We just laughed.

I remember lying in bed one afternoon, exhausted from my daily training, and all I could hear outside the door was this loud hoovering. I opened the door and he’d left the hoover on and walked off. Just to be a joker. We always played childish pranks on each other. It was a lot of hard training, but a lot of fun. We’re really good friends to this day.

• If you would like a comment on this piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in print, please email weekend@theguardian.com, including your name and address (not for publication).


Martha Hayes

The GuardianTramp

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