Fulton: How I live with Alzheimer's

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IN HIS heyday, Rikki Fulton strutted the stage, a genius who created characters that will be forever cherished - Josie of Francie and Josie and the Rev IM Jolly were but two.

Then there were the dramatic performances, the film and television roles, the unforgettable panto dames infused with manic energy.

Now he appears tired and old, a sad figure, but not pathetic, in spite of spending his days in a state of confusion which he fights with large doses of black humour.

His life as an Alzheimer’s sufferer, one of 59,000 in Scotland, has now been laid bare in a documentary which Fulton, 78, and his wife, Kate, agreed to make to help the charity Alzheimer’s Scotland.

Only Fulton could give the frightening disease a nickname: "Mr Al Zheimer".

Only he could play a note-perfect classical piano piece, but not remember he was in Glasgow city centre with his wife and go home without her.

And only Fulton, a showbusiness legend for 50 years, could see the funny side of it.

He tells the interviewer, Kirsty Wark: "I want to find Mr Zheimer, see him as the b****** he is and get rid of him."

It is a forlorn ambition for one living in the middle of what his wife describes as a "giant crossword puzzle".

She says: "That’s when I go upstairs and punch the pillows. Later, Rikki will tell me, ‘That was Al - I’ll have Rikki back soon’."

Mrs Fulton revealed her husband still cannot resist being wicked and "playing the Alzheimer’s card".

She added: "He meets people who are no longer on his ‘sherry list’ and says, ‘I’ve never seen you in my life before’."

The documentary reveals Fulton was not told that he was suffering from the disease for two years after diagnosis. "It was the worst thing we could have done," added his wife, who thought the decision was for the best.

But Fulton, who was known as "one-take Fulton" for his flawless recollection of scripts, knew that something was amiss.

When he appeared in an episode of Rab C Nesbitt, he needed 23 takes for one scene. "I said, ‘What is wrong with me?’ " recalled Fulton.

Later, when his condition was revealed, he was devastated. "He collapsed," said Mrs Fulton.

But in spite of the disease worsening to the point where he is almost totally confused, Fulton added: "I get very depressed, but I come back up.

"I am not afraid, I do not worry about it getting worse."

And in a touching tribute to his long marriage and his dependency on his wife, he says: "I could not live without this woman, nor would I want to - I think!"

The couple have so far been silent on his illness, regarding it as intensely private, and the documentary does not sanitise Fulton’s condition. He is seen shuffling down the street, walking his dog and admiring the powerful cars he is no longer able to drive.

"I used to have one like that," he says, pointing out a Bentley.

Part of his illness involves a fixation with keys. Mrs Fulton said: "We can be up at 5am because he’s lost them and we cannot rest until they’re found."

Mrs Fulton is clearly the rock upon which Fulton rests. "People live with this illness, which is often swept under the carpet. Maybe this will help," she said.

Wark believes that the documentary will make a difference.

She said: "I’m sure it couldn't have been easy [for them], but he gives a really affecting insight into living with Alzheimer’s."

Lives Less Ordinary will be televised on BBC 1 at 7:30pm on Monday, 3 March.