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Michael Palin's life away from cameras, from tragic loss of wife to close relationship with children

Michael first met his late wife Helen on holiday as a teenager

Michael Palin with His Wife Helen Gibbins at the Grosvenor House Hotel in 2009
Nicky Morris
TV and film writer
16 April 2024
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Michael Palin is known and loved for his travel documentaries, and he's back on our screens again in his new Channel 5 series, Michael Palin in Nigeria. The three-parter follows the TV presenter as he embarks on an epic 1300-mile journey across the African country. 

While Michael, 80, has been a regular fixture on our screens for many years, how much do you know about his life away from the cameras?

Keep reading for all we know about his family life, including his relationship with his late wife and three children. 

WATCH: Michael Palin explores Nigeria in his new Channel 5 series

Michael Palin's 57-year marriage to late wife

Michael was married to Helen Gibbins, a teacher and then a bereavement counsellor, for 57 years before she died from kidney failure last year. 

The couple first met as teenagers on holiday in Southwold, Suffolk and tied the knot after a six-year relationship in 1966. Michael even fictionalised their first meeting in the TV show East of Ipswich, which aired in 1987. 

Michael Palin and Helen smiling together
Michael and Helen were married for 57 years

Michael announced Helen's death on his website last May, revealing she had been suffering with chronic pain for several years, which was followed by a diagnosis of kidney failure.

"Her death is an indescribable loss for myself, our three children and four grandchildren," penned the actor. "Helen was the bedrock of my life. Her quietly wise judgement informed all my decisions and her humour and practical good sense was at the heart of our life together."

Opening up about his grief in an interview with The Times, Michael said: "When someone's gone, someone who has been so much part of your life for the past 60 years, you can't believe they're not there to enjoy a little joke, or an observation, or a [expletive] about somebody. A great sort of emptiness comes in."

Michael Palin with His Wife Helen Gibbins at the Grosvenor House Hotel in 2009© Alan Davidson/Shutterstock
Helen passed away in May last year

In a separate interview with The Guardian, Michael said that the final weeks of Helen's life were "some of the best times we've had". 

"I was prepared for it. Helen had taken the decision that she wasn't going to carry on having dialysis," explained the presenter. "She was amazingly well looked after, and all the family were there. And that was the payoff for all those years, those 60 years."

Michael Palin's close relationship with his children

During their marriage, Michael and Helen welcomed three children together: Rachel, 49, Thomas, 55, and William, 53, as well as four grandchildren. 

While Rachel followed in her father's footsteps and works in television, Will is an architectural conservationist, and Thomas is a businessman who runs a climbing shop. 

Michael Palin with his three children, William, Rachel and Thomas in 1980© Shutterstock
Michael with his three children, William, Rachel and Thomas in 1980

Following his mother's death, William spoke of his family's close bond while chatting with The Telegraph: "My parents were a partnership and it was that security that kept us all going," he said. "We are a very close family so we will be spending as much time as possible together supporting each other."

Michael also spoke about his tight-knit family back in 2015, describing his children as "good, close friends". He told The Telegraph that the family is bonded by "a terrific amount of humour". 

Michael Palin leaves a memorial service for Ronnie Barker at Westminster Abbey on March 3, 2006 in London, England© Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Michael shares a close bond with his children

Michael Palin's home and hobbies away from the cameras

When he's not busy jetting off on his latest adventure, Michael can be found at home in north London. 

Opening up about his daily routine back in 2015, Michael revealed that he likes to practice Pilates before breakfast before filling in his diary and getting on with some writing. 

Michael Palin in Michael Palin: Nigeria© ITN Productions/Channel 5
Michael travels across Nigeria in his new series, Michael Palin: Nigeria

"Twice a week I'll go for a run on the heath in the afternoon, and I try to do an hour's reading each day," he told The Telegraph. He also revealed that he often goes out with friends in the evening or settles down in front of the TV. 

"I'm always in bed by about half past 11," he added. 

Michael Palin in Nigeria airs on Tuesday 16 April on Channel 5 at 9pm.

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