Michael Barrymore: starting a fashion label is "the best natural buzz"

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Made By Dave

When Michael Barrymore's dog launched the fashion label 'Made By Dave' at London Fashion Week, there were plenty of people who thought it was a wind up, but for a change, Barrymore was deadly serious.

So what led him to start his own fashion label, and how hard is it to make such a dramatic career change in the public eye? He explained it all in an exclusive interview with AOL.



The beginnings

Like much of Barrymore's life, the route from underemployed TV star to fashion designer wasn't a straight path. He says: "I didn't wake up one morning and think, 'well the phone's not ringing, I think I'll go into fashion and really make life difficult for myself.'"

Instead, the idea started with Dave, Barrymore's Jack Russell. Three years ago Barrymore had just split up with his partner and returned to England to get his life back together. It was the first time he had ever lived alone, and he freely admits he was struggling, so he decided to get a dog.

Barrymore says: "He's a typical Jack Russell, he's always nipping. He's been through every cushion in the house and had been nipping at the back of my jeans. I went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and someone asked me what had happened to my jeans and I told him they were "Made by Dave."

From that throw-away comment, the idea was set in motion. Barrymore produced a logo and a brand, and then set about designing shirts as the first part of the range. He said: "I'm not reinventing the shirt, but I've been fortunate enough to be around through decades of design, and I know what I like."

He took his sketches to a manufacturer in Istanbul, to get the shirts made, but that's when he hit his first stumbling block: he discovered that the factory would make a minimum of 500 of each. Barrymore says: "I didn't want to throw a load of money at something I didn't know that much about." So with one of each design he returned home.

Facing challenges

At this point, just over two years ago, Barrymore took a break from Made by Dave. It's typical of his complex life that he explains this was because: "There was some phone hacking stuff I had to deal with."

For many people that would have been an end to the project: at the point where it became difficult. However, Barrymore wasn't worried by hard work. He says: "There are two sides to the fashion business, just as there are two sides to show business. There are lots of people who just want to do 'fashion' and 'show' and just play at it. But I've always loved business."

It may be no co-incidence that it was around this time he had his last drink, and he threw himself wholeheartedly into the label. He worked tirelessly to produce the range with a series of small British manufacturers. He found shoemakers in Northampton, jeans manufacturers in Leicester and a heavy knitwear firm in Grimsby. He says: "I was getting up at 4am and travelling up and down the country visiting family businesses. I built relationships with lovely people who agreed to cut their minimums in half so we could make the range."

A major bank agreed to lend the business enough money to get things underway, and gradually Barrymore produced a range - just in time for London Fashion Week.

The response from the fashion world has been surprise: not just that Michael Barrymore's dog has launched a fashion range, but that it's actually very good.

So is it hard going out on a limb when you're such a public figure?

Michael is the first to admit that in some ways things have been easier. His name opened doors for him with manufacturers. He said: "I called them and said I'm Michael Barrymore, can I come and see you? Many of them had taken over family businesses, and had grown up with me, so once they were convinced it wasn't a wind up, they agreed to meet me."

He also carries enough cachet to convince the banks to lend money even in this environment. And clearly his celebrity drew curious crowds to the launch of his label. He points out wryly that the reporters covering the launch couldn't lose: if the range was any good then they would have a story, and if it was terrible they had an even better one.

Made by Dave - new clothing line from Michael Barrymore

Made by Dave - new clothing line from Michael Barrymore

Overcoming addictions

However, there are also many ways in which things have been harder because of who he is. It has been two years since Barrymore had his last drink, but being clean and sober is just part of the battle. While he was developing a brand, designing a range of clothes and running a business, he has simultaneously had to deal with the addictions that have been driving him throughout his working life.

Barrymore tells me he has no problem showing his vulnerabilities, and he is happy to admit that at the peak of his career he was driven by performing, and the adulation of the crowd. He says: "I was only happy when I was on stage. I used to think that if I could be on stage all day every day I wouldn't have any problems; and that's not healthy."

When that all came to an end so suddenly 12 years ago he swapped one addiction for another. He reveals: "The trouble was that I was so addicted to work that when it was taken away, my reaction was to get a drug of choice that wasn't good for me."

The past two years have seen him come to terms with these addictions, and find a healthier balance, partly thanks to regular visits to Alcoholics Anonymous. He says: "I don't need to fill the gaps and the quiet bits any more. I'm happy living on my own for the first time. I'm not in a relationship and I'm not looking for one. Those people who know me can tell the difference: they can hear it in my voice."

It's only in getting to this stage that he has been able to deal with the challenges that starting the label has presented, and enjoy the successes. He says: "The mixture of how scary it is and how exciting it is, is the best natural buzz. I was well anyway, but this has reinvigorated me."

That's not to say he hasn't had his moments of self-doubt. He admits that he still has days when everything seems too hard and he thinks 'What have I done?' However, he now says he has the life experience not to get dragged into a negative spiral, because "You get through it and 24 hours later you see what's working and everything feels better."

As for what's next, he is excited about the next range for his label. He also has projects in the pipeline for what he calls his 'proper job' of presenting and acting. However, it's always difficult to predict what will happen next for Barrymore. He says: "I've always had the attitude that you have to jump and not know where you're going to land, and the forces of the universe will conspire to make it happen." And who knows what the universe has in store for him next.

Celebrities with unusual business interests

Celebrities with unusual business interests