The worst pain I’ve ever experienced was when I was staying in London and spent the entire night with my foot in cold water in absolute agony. When I saw the doctor the following morning he diagnosed gout and told me that it was the closest pain to giving birth which a male could experience. He also said that the idea that it was caused by drinking too much red wine or port was a complete myth – it was just an extreme form of arthritis. My gout was controlled at first by drugs and then cured completely when I had an operation for a bunion and the surgeon cut out the arthritis in the joint in my big toe joint while he was about it.
I was lucky, because gout can kill, as we’ve just learnt on hearing about Mel Smith’s death. It wasn’t the gout so much as the drugs which he took to combat it which killed him, but the result is the same. If this seems a little far fetched I was reminded of the fate of Thomas Speed who had taken over Sir Joseph Paxton’s permission as head gardener at Chatsworth. He suffered from gout and became so depressed by the drugs he was given to fight it that, on Boxing Day in 1883, he went into the library of his magnificent ‘ambassadorial’ residence and blew his brains out. Only someone who has suffered the pain of gout, or given birth, could understand that.