When I arrived at Claridge’s, Pete Doherty was already there, elegant in a black Dior Homme cape and stack-heel boots. Elegant, but nervous. I asked him if he liked the surroundings. “Yes but I’m not sure if they like me,” he whispered.
His voice was so difficult to hear that you had to lean in close to catch it. Perhaps it was deliberate, perhaps not. It worked. I asked him why he had agreed to the interview. He looked at me very carefully, as if to asses whether it was a serious question. “I like reading other people’s interpretations of me. And then running into them again…” This, I could interpret as a threat, I suggested.
“Or maybe I’m just vain, and I like reading about myself in the papers”. In the News of the World that week, there had been sensational stories of Pete selling drugs and sex. “You knew he was wild, you know he was a junkie. But today we uncover the sordid secret past of rocker Pete Doherty and even his supermodel lover Kate Moss will be astounded by our revelations…”, the paper teased. So far, with his charming manners and considered approach, the truth about Pete seemed to differ from the image. “Thank God!” he laughed. “Some of your pictures are pretty hideous,” I said. “Absolutely disgraceful. Kate photographs good, though”. He mused, for a moment. I wondered how much of the hype was deliberate. The News of the World article was, he said, nothing to do with him. ‘I’m sure there are a few embellishments. I couldn’t actually bring myself to read all of it, to be honest. One headline even blurted out, ‘Pete was a £20 rent boy!’”
“But you actually did that stuff?” I asked. He scrutinised me, before responding. I got the sense that he found it difficult not to answer questions, even uncomfortable ones. “There was no shame, because I kind of knew that they were just lonely pissed-up queens. And twenty quid was a lot of money!” I suggested that maybe he should learn not to tell people so much. “If I lie to you, or I mislead you, that will make me feel guilty,” he said. “Not what you do with what I tell you.”
For one so young, he had accumulated a lot of press. There were 450,000 mentions of his name on the Internet. He seemed pleased. “Yeah, it’s building up. But there’s so much more to come out!” “Because you are very talented, don’t you kind of owe it to other people to…” He interrupted me. “What? To put all my songs on the Internet for free?” “No,” I said, “to preserve yourself.” “I am preserving myself,” he replied. I decided it was not my place to argue. Hedi Slimane, the designer behind Dior Homme’s comeback, and a keen photographer, was one of the first to fall under Doherty’s spell, authoring a book about him: “I met Pete three years ago. I began taking photos of him right away and documenting this highly unusual period during which the British [rock] scene revolved around one tumultuous group. Pete was well protected, this was in the days before his run-ins with the press. I’ve always had a soft spot for him. Especially for his music.”
The famous rock critic Nick Kent, who spent a lot of time with the Rolling Stones during their highest drug period, paints an accurate picture of Doherty and his borderline lifestyle. “Pete Doherty is a talented young songwriter whose life and career have been fatally sidetracked by drug addiction and tabloid infamy, both of which will probably end up killing him before long. He currently provides contemporary rock with a much-needed dose of bohemian glamour and genuine danger, but ultimately he’s not doing anything particularly new. The ongoing role he plays out as Kate Moss’s wayward romantic consort was done more convincingly in the ‘60’s by Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg and more explosively by Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love in the ‘90’s (not forgetting poor old Sid and Nancy back in the ‘70’s). Ultimately he’s a living contradiction – the self-styled voice of the dispossessed and drug-diminished who simultaneously turns up in the pages of Voici every week with the world’s most successful supermodel on his arm. He’s clearly got a charmed life. Unfortunately for him, all the signs indicate that it’s going to be a short one, too.”
I left him alone for a few minutes to make a phone call. When I came back, Pete had made friends with the waiter, who had given him free champagne. He took out his crack pipe: a mini Martell bottle. I told Pete that I was quite sceptical about him. That I thought he was playing it up to get noticed. “I believe that at the core of everything I do there is an innocence,” he said. “I don’t care how soppy that sounds. There is a belief in dancing and unity through music and fuck everything else.” He explained about how he first came to London, from Liverpool in search of an Arcadian vision, which he had invented. “I come from a loneliness, I think. Reaching out for another world. I always stumble back into it sooner or later even if it’s for half an hour a day.”
I asked about his parents. “My Dad’s disowned me, really. It’s quite heartbreaking. Maybe it’s because he’s in the army. My mum will always love me, whatever.” It was perfectly obvious that there was a lot of love in the world for Pete. But in spite of all of it, he kept doing the drugs and he kept getting arrested, which he handled with astonishing good humour and good grace, often serenading the assembled crowds outside the courts, like a musical Robin Hood. When he wasn’t being arrested, he toured and recorded with this band Babyshambles, and my partner Shane [MacGowan, former lead singer of The Pogues] and I attended many of his concerts. He continued to entrance his audiences and to exhibit transcendent energy, even after a tabloid newspaper had printed pictures of him and Kate allegedly snorting cocaine, which resulted in much heartache and an enforced separation for the couple. It was sad to see two people who had been so enchanting together and so obviously enraptured with each other, like Romeo and Juliet, driven apart. Sometimes couples annoy me with their love, by being smug and exclusive and ignoring the world, but Kate and Pete together were like children at a party, infecting others with laughter and joy and including anyone who cared to play in their games. During this time, while Kate was away in America, Shane and I invited Pete to dinner, to try to persuade him to go into rehab. He was more than willing, he said, to try rehab again if it meant that he could be reunited with Kate.
Within a few weeks, he had checked into The Meadows in Arizona, only to check himself back out again and resume getting arrested. As it turned out, the summer of 2006 found Pete once again in rehab, this time in The Priory in London, and this time it looked like it was working. When I saw Pete again, he was in Ireland, touring with Babyshambles. Kate was with him. He was making excellent progress with his drug treatment, had stopped doing crack and seemed happy and enthusiastic about his life, even though the newspapers were still relentlessly pursuing both him and Kate, now that it looked as though they might once again be a hot item. In spite of all his problems, Pete had been writing prolifically and was showcasing new songs on the tour: deep, catchy pieces, carried by a more compact, articulate sound. One thing that I had noticed about him, in the short time I had known him was that he was almost never to be seen without a guitar and that he was apt to break into song in any location, with or without encouragement. In the dressing room, at a dinner, in the pub, in the back of a cab, absolutely anywhere.
In my years of associating with singers, many of them very popular and successful, I had never come across one so willing to sing when not actually being paid to do so. I sat him down for an interview, in between sets, at a gig in Ireland, and he immediately broke into song. “I know that a song’s just a game that I am good at cheating at…” he sang. “Talk. Yes you talk a good game, won’t you teach me the same? I never, never said I was clever…” I took the liberty of interrupting, because I wanted to get onto the subject of fashion, seeing as I was interviewing him for Vogue Hommes International. “Fashion?” he said. “Tight suits and gaffer tape?”
Pete’s mother, Jacqueline, had recently published a book about her “prodigal son” and even though Pete claimed not to have read it, I had, and was now full of inside information about his youth. “Your mum said you were always very interested in your appearance and you used to dress very well, with cravats and things. Like Oscar Wilde, she said.” “Yeah, at school I used to get called a fucking bender! Anyways, so there I am in the new tight-fitting Dior suit, Dior heels, a cape, nonetheless, and a hat, and all is well in Arcady and somebody has set a fire extinguisher off at some band, and so the band have weighed into us and we have weighed into them and the bouncers have weighed into us and we got bounced. And when I say bounced, I mean bounced! And I look and there’s an arm missing off the suit, half a leg missing and no cape. Blood everywhere. That’s Dior for you. I expressed sympathy for the Dior suit. “Will Dior give you some more clothes?”
“I hope so. Hedi Slimane, now he’s been very supportive. And he’s beautiful.”
“I hear he thinks you are beautiful, too” I said. ‘I think he is inspired by you.” “I know, its weird isn’t it? It’s one of the things that I can’t really afford to think about because it makes me too happy.”
“Isn’t that nice?”
“Well it’s more a vanity thing isn’t it? It’s all right. It’s a rare feeling for me, the feeling you get from seeing yourself looking all right. People do their level best to make me look anything but all right.”
This was true. As we had previously discussed, there had been some awful pictures published.
“Your are not photogenic really.”
“No.” But there had been a few really nice ones, too, I pointed out.
“You definitely need to do a bit of cutting and pasting before you put me on the mantelpiece, otherwise you have to keep your kids away form the fire!” he laughed.
He told me about his early modelling experiences, “Poncing down the catwalk in some fucking leather thing”, and about clothing company called Gio Goi, who were interested in hiring him. “Would you like to be a model?” I enquired. “I dunno if I’m that into it, to be honest with you. I think I would really have to manipulate my own image in order to be even half confident.”
“Everything.” He pondered the notion for a moment.
“Kit Kat offered me ten grand to do their advert. But her majesty is getting a million off Virgin, just for going ‘Hello!’ What’s that all about?”
“Yeah,” I said. “But she’s been doing it for ages. She’s a supermodel. You’ve got to work your way up.”
He showed me a poster of him and the band in drainpipe jeans and braces, a skinhead style.
“A good look for you,” I said.
“Yeah, I used to fancy myself as a suede head with my umbrella on the tube, waiting for some old bloke so I could take him back to his gaff and tie him up and rob him…”
At times, I suspect Pete of making up little stories to provoke a reaction. This suspicion has been confirmed by an old friend of his, who told me that as a teenager he had always thought of himself as boring. His mother says in her book that he was exceptionally well behaved as a child.
“Is it true that you were an extremely well-behaved young man?”
“Yeah, well I didn’t have much choice, did I?”
“Your were punctual, polite, happy…”
“She didn’t say that, did she?”
“Do you think it’s true that people who take drugs are unhappy?” I asked.
“You must be joking! But if you are in a good mood and you take drugs, and all of a sudden you’re on a downer, that’s no place to be, believe me. If it’s not working for you, pack it in.”
“You take drugs because you like them?”
“Yeah, but at what cost? Having a spliff, or a drink, to me that really is take it or leave it. But riding the suicidal wave of getting bang on the pipe, that’s something else. And the thing is, the things you do. You try not to look, but you do out of the corner of your eye, you can see.”
He began to tell a story. “I did come a cropper once when I come up behind someone in Kentish Town. I’m there, but I’m not there really because I’ve got a hood over my head and I’m on my toes and I’ve grabbed her phone, because I was doing my bit, bringing in the money for the crack house, to keep things…”
I interrupted. “You are making this up.” “I’m not making this up! I’ve grabbed her phone and this time I chose the wrong fucking person. She was some Australian athlete and she was chasing me down the street and she’s beat me and she’s sat on me and she’s got the phone and called the fucking police. She’s screaming and roaring, and I got myself out of there. I mean, snatching phones off people for fucking rocks!”
As this tour was taking place, Pete was also attending rehab as an outpatient. It was important that he do this, to prove to the court that he was serious about addressing his addictions.
“Don’t’ you think it’s too much work, to be in The Priory and be touring at the same time?” I asked.
“Work? Dunno. We’ll see. I just don’t want to go down, that’s all. As Kate would say, it’s not a good look! Innit? Nah. I’m going to consider this seven million pound deal with Calvin Klein!”
“Yeah, that is a joke, yeah.”
“Is it true that you were a happy child?”
“Yeah, just give me a ball and a gang of mates and streets and fields. We were happy. Dreaming dreams, singing silly songs. Putting on plays for ourselves. Dressing up. We would put on dresses and feather boas.”
“Are you narcissistic?” I enquired.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to be Dorian Gray, just for a day? Am I narcissistic? Yeah, but deep down I’m not really that arsed. What m I talking about? I am narcissistic, yeah! A very vain person. I’m a failed narcissist because I can’t get off on myself. I just can’t! I’m too disorganised to be narcissistic. Look at the state of me!”
I complimented him on the state of him. And told him that having read his mum’s book, I was quite envious of his childhood.
“Are you serious? I don’t think my mum and dad were particularly happy people, but because me and my sister had each other and we built these fantasies and we built these mad worlds that we lived in we didn’t have to deal with reality. And because of that, in my mum and dad’s eyes we were fine. We were good kids. I think it as instilled in us from a very young age what was right and what was wrong.”
“She says that things that other kids were allowed to do, you weren’t.” I tendered. “We weren’t allowed to do nothing. We weren’t allowed to go to the youth club, we weren’t allowed to borrow toys. I once swapped this marble for a steely and I got marched straight into the fucking kid’s house and I had to give it back. We were told not to swap things and not to give things.”
“I don’t know. I remember when I was seven, and I was old enough to know what adoption is. My dad said ‘I’ve got something to tell you. You’re adopted.’ And he showed me some book and said, ‘Look, here’s where we signed for you.’ It turned out he was only joking, but I didn’t know that. It was very strange.”
“Do you think you are born with a blueprint for who you are going to be?” I asked.
“Maybe. The treasure is hidden here in your heart, that’s where the treasure is, and you dig and you dig and you dig and lo and behold, treasure! And then you would happily share it, but people just want to stab you for it.”
“People? Like who?”
He mentioned some of the negative coverage that he was getting in the tabloids. “Most of the people who write stuff about you are jealous,” I said.
“They ain’t jealous. They genuinely disapprove of me. Or do you think it’s jealousy? I’ts been a long time since I’ve read anything about myself that isn’t prefixed with the word ‘junkie’. Junkie, junkie, junkie.”
I asked him if he judges other people. “I don’t have very strong boundaries, which means I can talk to all kinds of people. I can take in what they are saying, in a way that’s detached.”
“You don’t judge people? If I told you that I had killed my granny, would you think I was a terrible person?”
“Of course not. She might have wanted you to.”
The conversesaion again turns to Pete’s father, also called Peter. “He doesn’t want me as I am. I’m not compatible with his view of the world, what he thinks is acceptable behaviour. He thinks I am half the man I could be, if I had a fucking ounce of respect for him or my mum or myself. I represent everything he hates about humanity. A junkie and a liar. I remember once we were in a car, I was about fourteen and he pulled up outside a chip shop and he said he wasn’t happy. I said, “But you’ve got mum and you’ve got all the kids and we love you.” And he looked at me and said, ‘I know, but I will never be happy..’
And it’s weird, because it’s true.”
“Do you know why?”
“Yes, I know why. When he was nine, his mum took his sisters away. And him and John his younger brother were left with his dad, the Irish geezer. Ted. So my dad was left by himself with his younger brother and he drank, and he got kicked out of school at fourteen. He decided that he was going to become a marine. And he was a fit fucker, but the marine office was closed and next door was the army, Pete explained, his dad became a disciplined person, no longer a “worng un”. But also a disciplinarian. “Did you try and be what he wanted you to be?” I asked. Pete considered, for a moment.
“It came naturally. I knew that he was into football and I loved football.”
“Did you try and be really well behaved?”
“I never had a choice.”
“You could have been a rebellious child.”
“No. No. An army is an army, isn’t it? A firing squad. You can’t argue back, you’ve got to toe the line. Because these people are trained to put you down and keep you in line. It was only when I was older that I realised.”
“But you can see that he was only trying to protect you?” I asked.
“No, no, no. Not at all. Protect me? No, if you want to protect someone, you sit them down and fucking talk to them straight, you don’t hide behind army bollocks. I’m there for him. I’m his son, I love him. I idolise him. I’m not a wrong un. He doesn’t have to…”
That was a long, slightly uncomfortable pause.
“Yeah, but you are kind of a wrong un now,” I ventured hesitantly.
“Yeah, a little bit.”
“You’ve crossed the line.”
“I have now.”
PETER DOHERTY ANNOUNCES LIVE SUMMER DATES
Following on from the highly successful and long awaited Libertines reunion last year, Peter Doherty brings his acclaimed solo show back to Ireland this summer for three very special Irish shows which will see him play Dublin’s Academy on Friday 27 May, Nerve Centre, Derry on Saturday 28 and Mandela Hall, Belfast on Sunday 29.
Tickets for The Academy are priced €28 inclusive of booking fee and on sale tomorrow Friday, 28 January from Ticketmaster outlets nationwide and online fromwww.ticketmaster.ie
After years fronting iconic bands such as The Libertines and Babyshambles, Peter Doherty released his debut solo album ‘Grace/Wastelands’ in 2009. Recorded over the space of a year as Pete split his time between his homes in Wiltshire and Paris, and finally recorded for posterity in Olympic Studios in London enlisting the help of The Smiths and Blur producer Stephen Street. The album, which was critically acclaimed and was a top 20 hit in the UK album charts, is a brave exploration of one man’s soul, and an excavation of a heart left desolate.
Peter Doherty plays Dublin, Derry and Belfast this May. Tickets are on sale tomorrow at 9am.