Adam Kay on bringing This Is Going To Hurt to Open House Festival
Junior doctor turned author and NHS champion Adam Kay will bring his hit live show This Is Going To Hurt to Bangor's Open House Festival next month. He spoke to David Roy about reviving the one-man show based on his best-selling 'secret diaries of a junior doctor' memoir in the wake of lockdown, its upcoming TV adaptation and his recent success as a children's author...
ADAM Kay and his husband James Farrell relocated from London to rural Oxfordshire just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, a move that junior doctor turned best-seller Kay (41) describes as "probably the only good decision I've made in decades".
However, Brighton-born Kay has made at least one other genius call recently: having resigning as a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology in 2010 after a particularly traumatic stillbirth, Kay resolved to document his six years' of shocking/horrifying/hilarious experiences in an overloaded/underfunded NHS.
Based on his diaries from the time, 2017's memoir This Is Going To Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor became a best-selling critical success, then a hit live show – which has already been seen by over 200,000 people – and will soon be hitting our screens as a BBC One series starring Ben Whishaw as Kay, who is also writing and co-producing the seven-part show that's due to air next year.
More on that in a moment: when we spoke to the author earlier this week, he was hard at work proofing his latest children's book, Kay's Marvellous Medicine.
This collection of weird and often amusingly gross medical theories and treatments from throughout history will be published by Penguin in September and follows the success of Kay's first kid's title, Kay's Anatomy.
An engagingly disgusting guide to the human body, it hit the top of the children's non-fiction book charts last year shortly after his adult non-fiction chart-topper Dear NHS: 100 Stories to Say Thank-You, a pandemic-inspired collection of celebrities' life-saving/changing experiences with our health service which raised money for NHS Charities Together and The Lullaby Trust.
"Never, ever, ever," laughs Kay when I ask him if he ever expected to become a children's author.
"In fact, when they first approached me, my initial reaction was, 'No, why are you asking me?'. The thing that swung it for me was the idea of getting kids excited about the body and what an amazing bit of kit it is, in the way that everyone always thinks space and dinosaurs are cool when they are a kid.
"I think probably because you're taught about the body at school, it's very difficult to actually realise how great it is – but I thought if I wrote about it in a disgusting, poo-based manner and put lots of jokes and cartoons in, then I could hopefully trick a generation of kids into not hating human biology."
Given the sales figures, it seems to have worked.
"When I do book events, I always ask them what their favourite bit is – and it's always something revolting," reveals Kay, with obvious pride.
The author has recently emerged from lockdown to begin touring This Is Going To Hurt again and, apparently, it's been a great experience getting back on stage even with the ongoing restrictions to live events.
"I think I was one of the first people to go back onto a West End stage in London," explains Kay of his revived and revised live show, which he'll be bringing to Bangor's Open House Festival on August 29.
"It's been very different because the room is at 50 per cent capacity and everyone is wearing masks. At first I thought 'oh god, this is going to be dismal', but actually, what I hadn't factored in was the fact that people haven't been able to go out and buy horrible white wine and sit in uncomfortable seats in a theatre for 16 or 17 months – so it was absolutely wonderful.
"I'd forgotten how much I liked being on stage and they'd forgotten how much they liked being in an audience, so within moments of it starting, once the weirdness had been acknowledged, it was really really lovely.
"Obviously, because it's a medical-based show, what I talk about has changed in the light of the awful year-and-a-half we've just had. It's not like I've opened up an old notebook from two years ago – it is something I've been playing with to stop myself going too bananas over lockdown."
As a high profile champion of the NHS with harrowing first-hand experience of how working under enormous strain can have a serious impact on wellbeing, Kay is confident that the ongoing pandemic has helped to highlight the importance of protecting and preserving the mental health of doctors and nurses.
"At medical school, I was taught how to deliver bad news to a patient but I wasn't taught for one second about how you deal with a bad day," he tells me.
"There was no acknowledgement that, by the time you've broken bad news six times in a day, it's probably knocked something out of you, or advice on how to deal with the really huge stuff.
"I worked on a labour ward and I had an enormous disaster. Afterwards, everyone was very nice, but it was a bit like I'd sprained my ankle or something. They were like, 'Oh no, are you OK? But obviously you can still do clinic in the morning, right?'. Because who else was going to do it?
"In a system that's totally stretched, where you can't leave at 5pm even though your contract says you can go home, how can anyone say to you, 'You maybe need a week off there'?
"But, if we're looking for positives of the pandemic, there is now a real emphasis on making sure we stop people from cracking on the front-line – because people who have been stretched hard for their entire working careers are now stretched atom thin."
After such an extended hiatus from live work, it seems that Kay needed to make sure he could still deliver his many memories of working in the NHS to a high standard before his current This Is Going To Hurt tour began.
Luckily, he had a captive audience to practice on, as he explains:
"It did come back to me," admits Kay, "however, I did subject my poor husband to a one-man performance of the show before I first set off. I think I just needed to say it out loud again and have someone with their arms folded nodding along in front of me."
The pair have also been hard at work on the aforementioned TV adaptation, which Game of Thrones alumnus Farrell is producing.
"I was only 60 per cent terrified, because I'd written for telly before – but I'd only written comedy," reveals Kay, whose previous TV work includes being writer and co-creator of BBC Three sitcom Crims.
"This was the first comedy drama I've ever done and to be honest it was just really fun. Knowing that all the lines I was writing were going to get read out by Ben Whishaw really helped.
"Quite clearly he's one of our greatest actors and a proper national treasure – but what people may not realise until they see the show is just how extremely funny he is. He has immaculate comic timing, so it's just been a joy to see my slightly rum dialogue being turned into sparkling telly.
"I hope if people liked the book, then they'll like the TV show. And hopefully, for the people who don't like reading books, it will be an interesting/disgusting/harrowing/funny insight into what it's like being a doctor."
Adam Kay: This Is Going To Hurt, Sunday August 29, The Walled Garden, Bangor, 3.30pm and 8pm. Tickets via Openhousefestival.com