Victoria Mary Clarke – Journalism

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Amy Winehouse


Amy Winehouse Article

copyright Victoria Mary Clarke 2007

Updated August 2011

It is a strange thing to be updating this article, having been genuinely saddened, as have been a great many people by the news that Amy Winehouse has indeed passed onto wherever it is that we go when we are no longer inhabiting our human forms.  Wherever it that Amy has gone, I hope that she is feeling no pain.  And singing.

The other morning, as I was on my way home from a party, somebody told me that the singer Amy Winehouse had overdosed and died.  I was shocked and saddened by the news, but not surprised.  After all, I had rarely seen a mention of her in the media which was not in some way connected to drugs, and her most famous song is about not wanting to go to rehab.

When I found out later the same day that Amy was not actually dead, I was relieved.  I like her music.  She has an ability to convey emotion in a song which is even rarer than her amazing voice.  When she sings, you not only believe in her agony, you actually experience it with her.  The only other living female singer who can make me cry like that is Sinead O Connor.  But there have been others, women like Janis Joplin, Edith Piaf and Billie Holliday all of whom lived painful lives, coloured by drug and alcohol abuse.  Women with emotions so raw that they could make ‘Jingle Bells’ into a sad song, if they felt so inclined.

Many people that I speak to cannot understand why, in a world where millions of kids are desperate to be stars, a girl like Amy who appears to have everything a person could wish for (youth, fame, money, talent, beauty, enormous critical acclaim and even a skinny body!) is needing to take drugs to be happy.  On the surface, it seems downright ungrateful and even greedy to not be satisfied with all that, when millions don’t even have enough to eat, let alone thinking about fame, careers, money or beauty.

I am not one of those who criticise Amy, or any of the other people like her, however.  Because when I was her age, Shane, my boy friend was one of those singers who people considered to have a rare talent, but who seemed to be throwing away his talent and success.  When Shane and I got together, he was already hitting the bottle hard, but the more successful he became, the more out of control he also became.  People had been predicting an early death for him ever since he was eighteen.  And just like Amy, he was adamant that he wasn’t going to rehab.  It was torture for everyone connected to him, to be constantly worried that he would die, and that we could or should have been able to force him to get help, which he never wanted to get.  And even though things have calmed down a bit now, I would be lying if I said that if I could be granted one wish in the world, I wouldn’t wish for him to decide to go to rehab and give up drinking for ever, but there’s nothing I can do about that except learn to live with it.

Who knows what makes one singer turn to drink and drugs for comfort and support, and another one to jogging?  It does appear that the more a person is able to convey real feeling in their singing, the more likely they are to develop destructive habits.  Elvis Presley was a classic example of someone who could fill a cheesy song with feeling, but who was addicted to prescription pills.  Kurt Cobain was so raw that you could not help but feel with him as well as for him. And he died of suicide, a hopeless junkie.

Having been around drugs for most of my life, I have tried pretty much all of them.  In my youth, I also drank inordinate amounts of every kind of booze, got very little sleep and smoked constantly.  Luckily for me, I didn’t enjoy any of the illegal drugs enough to want to keep doing them.  And eventually I kicked the fags and cut the booze down to the odd glass of wine.  So my only remaining vice is my sweet tooth, thankfully.  Although I sometimes wonder, as I struggle not to eat a piece of chocolate cake (which will only add to my midriff bulge) if I might not look more streamlined if I were to turn to cocaine instead of chocolate, in my moments of misery.  For me, a line of coke is like a triple espresso, it only makes me more jittery, more anxious and more paranoid than I already am, whereas the chocolate is soothing, sensual, pleasurable and peaceful, even if it is fattening.  Maybe all the drug addicts in the world should give it a try?  But maybe it wouldn’t do it for them.

The unfortunate thing for people like Amy, compared to people like me is that their drug of choice is not always legal, which only adds to the misery and the tragedy, because when drugs are illegal, gangsters get involved in selling and smuggling them, and lots of people get hurt.  And because coke is expensive, as well as illegal, those gangsters cut it with other substances, so that they can make more money out of it, there is no quality control, no government supervision of contents, which often means that people who consume it don’t know what they are consuming, and this can lead to poisoning and accidental death.   I can guarantee you that if chocolate were illegal, the exact same thing would happen with that, as was proved by Prohibition in the US, but even though Prohibition never stopped anyone from drinking, but instead made a lot of criminals very rich (including the Kennedys) none of our governments seem to have learned anything from it.  Nobody seems to realise that it is never the actual drugs (whether they be heroin, or hamburgers and fries, cocaine or cigarettes) that are the problem.  The problem starts with the individual who is unhappy with their natural state of mind and wishes to ‘fix’ it with some kind of mood altering substance.

Granted, the substances usually do make you feel better for a little while, or at least different to how you were feeling.  But inevitably, they wear off.  And from my memory of being twenty four (as Amy is) what used to happen when the hangover set in was that I would feel really bad, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.  The world would seem like a really, really shit place to be in.  So depressing that I wanted to die, or at least to escape from the misery.  And even though I wasn’t stupid, I didn’t make the connection between the negative thoughts and miserable feelings and the physical effects of the alcohol or the drugs.  I didn’t even consider that things might not really be as black as they appeared to be, and that if I were to detox my system, I might have a different perspective.   It took years before I learned that simple fact.

It will be tragic if Amy Winehouse becomes another one of those great singers who dies of a drug overdose, or suicide.  Maybe it wont happen, maybe she will get help.  What would be wonderful would be if hearing about her inspires even one person to realise that taking drugs to fix your feelings doesn’t work.  At least, not long term.


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Goldie Hawn


Goldie Hawn Interview

copyright Victoria Mary Clarke 2005

Goldie Hawn is blonde, bubbly, giggly, girlish, and goofy.  She became famous in the 1960’s as a wide-eyed kooky kid in teeny weeny mini-skirts, first in ‘Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In’ on American television and then as Warren Beatty’s naïve girlfriend in  ‘Shampoo’, Later on, she became even better known as ‘Private Benjamin’ a Jewish American Princess who joins the army. Like Charlie Chaplin, Goldie has mastered the art of physical comedy, of slapstick, pulling sad faces, pulling happy faces, and always positioning herself up to be not the perpetrator, but the butt of the joke.

Many movies later, Goldie is possessed of a name and a face that is globally recognised.  And today that face, with its big blue eyes, cute grin and blonde bangs is gracing the cover of a book.  ‘A Lotus Grows In The Mud’ is the title of Goldie’s memoir, written with the aid of journalist Wendy Holden, and it is this book which brings her to Ireland.

Celebrities who write their biographies always tread on dangerous ground.  Because even though the nature of a star is one who has become extraordinary, -more beautiful, more successful, more glamorous than the rest,-  such is nature of the relationship between consumer and celebrity that we are only truly satisfied if they reveal themselves in their biographies to be in some way less than us.  Ugly children, desperately lonely, drug addicted, dumped on, abandoned, fucked up and flawed. The more human misery, the more tragedy, the better read is the biography.  Princess Diana being the perfect example of a star with eternal appeal.

Goldie Hawn doesn’t do tragic, neither does she do hopeless. Unlike her movie persona, her book is not giggly, neither is it goofy.  It’s a very optimistic book.  Not that Goldie has had an entirely happy life, -she’s had her fair share of sexual abuse, bullying, humiliation, divorce, depression and hopelessness.  But just like her persona, she  bounces back, smiling.  There is a lesson to be learned from everything that comes our way, that is the message of ‘Lotus’.  After all, a lotus  is a beautiful flower, but it grows only in nasty, muddy water.

As I roll up to the Four Seasons in my rather unsalubrious Volvo, I am early for our meeting, but I want to be early.  Even in my job, where you get to meet fantabulous people all the time, one gets nervous, at times.  Declan, the publicist is also nervous.  ‘She’s the most famous person I’ve had since Clinton,’ he tells me, reverentially, as we knock on Goldie’s door.  I assume he doesn’t mean that in the biblical sense, although anything is possible.  As we tentatively enter her suite, Goldie is in an adjoining room and she asks us to give her a few minutes.  I search the room for clues.  A pair of diamante mules have been abandoned, rather recklessly, near the desk.  That’s all I can see.  We hover, not knowing whether to stay in or go out.  Eventually we go out, wait and start again.

When we do shake hands, I am surprised to see that the face on the cover of her book, -which has no signs of ageing whatsoever-does not match the face which I see smiling at me.  The smile is exactly the same as it was in ‘Shampoo’, the eyes and mouth are the same too, but it is a lived in face, completely consistent with her age, which must be nearing sixty.  It is a relaxed face, a friendly face, unlike the book face, which is rigid.

‘Do you ever get used to being the kind of person that people are nervous about meeting?’  I ask, as she adjusts the air-con.

‘Oh, that’s what happens when you get famous.  Everyone relates differently to you.  They are always surprised when you are happy to see them!’

She shivers, in a pashmina, which upon closer examination is baby soft.  I admire it, she admires my necklace, we cosy up on the couch.  I tell her I enjoyed her book.

‘Did you sweetie?’ she smiles.  Just like in the movies, Goldie Hawn’s smile has the ability to make a stranger feel like a long lost friend.

It hasn’t been an easy ride, the fame thing.  In her early twenties in Hollywood, alone for the first time, she suffered a nervous breakdown, brought on by the very thing she had strived for and won-success.

‘For the first time in my life, I had to force a smile,’ she says in her book.  ‘Anxiety attacks, depression and overwhelming nausea are my constant companions.  Maintaining the cover that I am feeling happier than I am is a hundred times harder than the acting.’

During this time, Goldie had to try to be funny, as she had just landed her first major television role and the girl they wanted was a happy, funny girl, not an anxious depressed girl.  Eventually, with the aid of daily sessions with an analyst, she recovered.  Later, she fell in love and got married to a Greek named Gus Trikonis.

‘I couldn’t stop staring at the ring on my finger,’ she says.  ‘I was living my dream, I was going to have children and live happily ever after.’

But the happy ever after with Gus was not to be.

‘Stardom and the baggage that came with it, that’s what drove a wedge between us,’ she says.  ‘And so we had to end it.  There are very few men that can live with a woman who is perceived to be more powerful than they are.’

In spite of the loneliness, the isolation and the divorce, she reckons she’s lucky to have landed the job she did.

‘It’s a very lucky profession.  You’ve got to count your blessings.  I got to go places, do things, meet people.  I get to meet anyone I want!  I could pick up the phone and call anyone I want and say I would love to meet you.  It opens so many doors.  There’s a price to pay, but I am very grateful for it.’

As a child, Goldie didn’t feel that she fit in with the other kids.

‘My eyes are too big, my nose is too flat, my ears stick out, my mouth is too big and my face is too small,’ she writes.  ‘I just feel different, out of step somehow.’

What set her apart might well have been the fact that she spent all her time taking ballet lessons, when normal kids are playing games.  For whatever reason it happened, the experience of feeling ugly, feeling like you don’t fit in, however, she now believes is a universal one.

‘Who doesn’t have that problem?  Who does think they are pretty, as a kid?  When you are going through adolescence, you always think there’s something wrong with you.  Its horrific!’

What’s even more horrific, and probably just as common is the experience of being a wallflower at the school dance.  The girl who would one day have millions of male admirers was no different to the rest of us.

‘Every time a slow tune comes on, I wait around on the perimeter of the dance floor, hopeful that I might be asked,’ she writes.  ‘But when I realise that I won’t, I put on more pink frosted lipstick and lift my ponytail higher.’

Eventually a boy does approach Goldie, and he is Ronnie Morgan, the boy she has a crush on.  He offers her a piece of cake and when she delightedly accepts it, he smashes it into her face.  As evidence of the actress she will become, she stays right where she is, and pretends she thinks its funny.

‘I wasn’t the kind of child that would have run off crying, I was much tougher then that,’ she tells me.  ‘I know I was the butt of the joke, but I went with it.  I cried afterwards, I was devastated.  But later on I realised that he probably did like me.  That’s what young boys do.  The girls they like, they treat horribly!’

‘Surely’, I say, ‘That boy must have contacted you, after you became famous?’

‘No,’ she says.  ‘Do you know I never heard from him again!’

Her earliest sexual experience was also a traumatic one.  When she was eleven, a twenty year old friend of her sister’s came up to her bedroom during a Christmas Eve party and fondled her private parts.  She cried out to her mother and the boy ran away.

‘It wasn’t rape or anything, but it was enough.  It was shocking and strange. The way my mother handled it was that she reasoned with me.  She said ‘He’s sick, the boy is sick.  But you don’t have to worry, I’m here, so turn over and go ‘night night’ and tomorrow’s Christmas.  I didn’t wake up feeling violated. I chose to tell that story because I thought that the way my mother handled it was really excellent.’

Unlike a lot of Hollywood stars, who choose to be stars so that they can escape unhappy homes, Goldie doted on both of her parents, and on her older sister Patti.  It is a wrench for her to leave home and move to New York, when she goes in search of fame and fortune.

‘I wave and wave at the two people I love more than anything in the world,’ she says.  ‘If I had known then that I would never live with my parents again, I don’t think I would ever have left.’

I put it to her that this is unusual for a movie star.

‘A lot of people run away from home.  I was kinda the opposite!’ she says.  ‘But Meryl Streep loved her mother to the end, and her dad.  It’s a bit of a myth, actually.’

A myth that she doesn’t shatter is the one about the casting couch.  On an audition for a famous cartoonist called Al Capp, she sees the seedy side of show business.  She is called to read for him, at his apartment in New York, and when she arrives, he changes into a silk robe, which instantly puts her on edge.

‘I see that my host has parted his robe to reveal a flaccid penis resting heavily against his wooden leg,’ she writes.  But she doesn’t give in to Mr Capp.

‘If you give in to such pressures you strip away your self-respect, your personal ethics and your standards,’ she says.  While she works as a go-go dancer in low rent bars, there are several more experiences of men getting horny over her, and exposing themselves, but she learns to be compassionate about men and their inability to control their sexuality.

‘I have learned, over the years to feel a deep understanding for how difficult it is for men just to be male,’ she says.  ‘To have this hormone raging through their blood like a drug.  I no longer blame the male sex.’

Another husband, the musician Bill Hudson, is slipped into the story, almost unnoticed, in 1976.  Goldie doesn’t like to be unkind, it goes against her religion, she says.  She doesn’t talk about people, except to say nice things.  One senses that what is left unsaid could speak volumes, but there isn’t even a hint of anything nasty.  She is eight months pregnant with her first son, Oliver, when she marries Bill.  By 1977, she says, she is living in her love nest in Malibu, with her baby, while Bill is on the road.  Later on, she is living alone with her two children, having separated from Bill and also given birth to daughter Kate.  No reason is given for the separation.  Later on, she meets Kurt Russell on the set of ‘Swing Shift’, which they starred in together, and they fall in love.  They are not married, but they are still a couple and still in love.

‘Kurt is my love and my heart,’ she says and she believes he was sent from above.          Certain aspects of her life, Goldie is open about, but only those aspects that fit in with the lessons she has learned in her life, and each lesson is analysed in her own words, with a message for the reader.

‘The idea of writing an autobiography, I found really uninteresting,’ she says.  ‘I didn’t know what I was going to write.  But I was definitely not going to write about anybody else and say terrible things!   The book had to have something positive about it.’

Goldie’s book is very much an odyssey.  But like Goldie herself it is warm and it is honest and it attempts to give something to the reader, to share whatever meaning she has found in her life. I ask her if she has found her true path.  Having become a globally successful star, and having written a book which contains plenty of messages, I asked her if she has found the real meaning and purpose of  her life.  She laughs

‘You get so busy that you wonder if you will ever find the time to become what it is that you are supposed to become.  You wonder if you will have the time to get enlightened before you die!’

But there was one thing that she discovered, one definite reason for her life.

‘When I was pregnant was probably the only time I knew for certain, without any doubt at all why I am here.  To bring children into the world. And I realised how lucky I was.  The fact that I could bring human life through me was probably the most profound moment and the most joyous time of my life.  Oh my God!’

Which just goes to show that even if you become internationally famous and embark on a spiritual journey which takes you all over the world, you may find out that it is the simple things in life, the universal joys and sorrows of birth and death that matter the most.

‘A Lotus Grows in the Mud’ is published by Bantam.


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Peter Doherty


Peter Doherty Interview

Vogue Hommes International Spring Summer 2007

Copyright Victoria Mary Clarke

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.”

“Which bit?”

“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!”

“Mmmm.”

“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.”

“How come?”

“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.

For more see: www.peterdoherty.comwww.mcd.iewww.ticketmaster.ie


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Bob Geldof


 

Bob Geldof Interview

L’Uomo Vogue Africa Issue

copyright Victoria Mary Clarke 2008

Bob Geldof is accustomed to feeding people.  Sometimes the people are starving, sometimes not.  Today, when he walks into his Chelsea office, he brings some chocolate cake from his daughter Pixie’s birthday lunch.  I am not starving, but I gladly eat it.  ‘I couldn’t let it go to waste,’ he says.

We are here to talk about Africa, because even though Bob became famous as a musician, he has become globally recognised for his radical activism on behalf of that country’s poor.  While most rock stars these days have a pet charity, Bob Geldof’s name has been synonymous with Africa.  In 1985 he travelled all over that continent, took pictures, wrote a book and made a television series called ‘Bob Geldof in Africa’, in which he explored the many different Africas, not simply the starving one.  In 2005, the year that the G8 was held in Scotland he organised a giant ‘Live Aid’, which took place simultaneously in the capitals of all the G8 countries, was beamed by satellite all over the world and watched by billions.  He also spear-headed the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign,Where most of us have at one time or another watched images on television of people starving to death and then gone about our business as usual,  Geldof is different.  He is a doer.  Having seen the same images as the rest of us saw, of people dying in Ethiopia, during the late 1980’s, Bob became angry at the gross injustice that he saw.  Angry because he knew it didn’t have to be that way.  He decided there was something he could do about it.  And he embarked on a project called Band Aid, which brought together all of the famous musicians that he could find, in an enormous effort not only to raise money to help avert the crisis, but also in an effort to alert the world as to what was happening in Africa.  They released the first really successful charity single ‘Feed The World’, and succeeded in feeding a large number of people, with the proceeds.

to put as much pressure as possible on the politicians to do something to stop the unnecessary suffering and starvation, because somebody needed to show them that this was what the public wanted.

Bob Geldof is a no nonsense kind of guy. He’s not a politician. Not given to unnecessary politeness.  Whereas Bono, his compatriot and fellow activist is known to get on with everyone, perhaps to the point of appearing to lick arses, Bob is quite the opposite.  If he disagrees with you, he wastes no time telling you.  He asks annoying questions of the politicians.  And he is an awkward fucker to get rid of, because once he has his teeth into a project, he doesn’t give up on it.  In 2005 the G8 bowing to public opinion, promised to increase aid to Africa to $25 billion a year by 2010.  So far, they have delivered around 14% of that aid.  Next year, Italy will host the G8.  Prime Minister Berlusconi will get to decide the agenda for the summit and he will have enormous influence on the outcomes.  You can be sure that whenever he looks over his shoulder, he will be aware of a presence.  Maybe he’s a pain in the ass.  But Bob’s not trying to be liked.  He is just trying to get what was promised to Africa, in what he calls a ‘Sacred contract.’

Before we can begin our conversation about Africa, we need a photo. Despite, or perhaps because he is tall, slim and innately stylish, Bob refuses to be ‘styled’, groomed or made up for the shoot.  His only concession to glamour is to bring a choice of shirt to change into.  He seems not to think of himself as a sex symbol, but it is awkward for me, when he takes off his shirt and reveals a toned tanned physique, because having fantasised about him since I was a teenager, I am distracted by a sudden moment of sheer lust, which I attempt to disguise by asking him to talk about his own personal views of Africa.

‘People have a primitive, romantic idea of Africa,’ he obliges, having declined tea, coffee or any other form of sustenance, while I eat the chocolate cake.  ‘And a contradictory view of this continent where simply to look at people is to make them fall over with illness or hunger.  The truth is that there is something in both of those, and there are many other Africas.  But essentially the cliché of the dark continent still persists.  And in the book, the main point I was making is that the darkness is the darkness of ourselves.  I think that in the Victorian period, Africa seemed impenetrable, as did the African mind.  And as there were no books documenting laws or theologies, it appeared dark, psychologically impenetrable, as well as the jungles and the physicality of the place.  Apart from that, the horrors that were inflicted upon the continent created an image of the place which wasn’t there in the early part of our connection with the place.  In the sixteenth century, the Europeans who arrived there were not dismayed in the least.  They clearly understood the forms of government because we had the same.  And they exchanged things, fabrics, copper for gold, etc.  It was only much later as Europe advanced economically and we invented this system which now straddles the world that Africa didn’t keep pace.  It didn’t keep pace partly because Africa developed in a radically different way to us.  That’s because of geography, really.  Our continent is a lateral one, it runs east to west and more or less occupies a temperate climate zone, so that when the wheel and the plough were invented in Asia Minor, they moved rapidly across Europe.  We were growing the same stuff in more or less the same conditions so the wheel and the plough were extremely applicable.  Africa had them, but they abandoned them because what is the use of the wheel or the plough in a jungle or a desert?  If you think about it, all of African society was nomadic, they followed their herds or they were hunter-gatherers.  And as a result there were no hubs of development, they didn’t stop to develop a crop and have surplus to sell for profit.  They developed a culture on the move, and as a result, you don’t write things down books are just cumbersome to lug around.  And so even after the second world war, there were only eleven cities in the whole of this continent, which is impossibly vast.  And the cities only had a hundred thousand people on average.  Really, they are a North to South continent, as well, with vast differences in climate as you travel through it.  Everything from temperate to desert to mountainous to coastal.  So there are impediments to having one system of economic development.

That is essentially the disconnect between the economic model that we developed and which we then tried to export and theirs.  When we then tried to impose the political model that came out of the economic model that we developed, that didn’t work either.  You must go with the cultural grain.  If you try to co-erce them into our way of doing things, it simply wont work.  These things have to be thought about and looked at.’

Not everyone can be bothered to think about those things, I point out.

‘I don’t know why I became interested in it, but I did.’

‘Your dad told me that you have been interested in politics since you were five or six, when you started telling him how the world should be run,” I tell him, which is true.

‘When I was a kid, I just read a lot.  The circumstances of your life determine these sorts of things.  I was brought up in the Ireland of the fifties, which is not like Ireland today.  It was completely removed from the continent of Europe, not just from the UK.  It defined itself in isolation, as a result of its inferiority complex, it had what the Australians call a ‘cultural cringe’.  An insistence on the superiority of the native culture, which is a clear indication of cultural inferiority.  And the government, in tandem with the church really offered nothing.  The economy was terrible so there was nothing they could offer.  All they had was this bromide of what they perceived as culture and of course I completely rejected that out of hand, I thought it was all nonsense.  This sounds grand, but this is the fifty five year old man responding here, not the ten year old boy.  I certainly felt a sense of cultural claustrophobia, which only became heightened with the Beatles and stuff.  We had no TV, because we had very little money, and there was no rock and roll on the radio, there was nothing modern.  Ireland was just a remote little rock on the western shores of Europe.’

When Bob was seven, an event occurred which was to change his life irreversibly, and which possibly contributed to his interest in the alleviation of human suffering.  His mother died, suddenly, at the age of forty, leaving his father, Robert senior, a commercial traveller, to bring up Bob and his two sisters alone.

‘I had two sisters, one got married and the other was the school swot, she stayed in and studied.  So I would come home and there was no-one to make me do home work, so I would just read.  For some reason, the books that interested me were biographies or histories.  I don’t mean the great tomes of our time, just childrens’ versions of those.’

Around the same time, he began to listen to a pirate radio station, radio Luxembourg.

‘Young boys started whispering to me of other universes.  Young boys called Bob Dylan and John Lennon and Pete Townsend.  Rock and roll for me, at that point became the language, the rhetoric of change.  So between those two subversive things, listening to the music and reading the books, it was pretty inevitable that that was going to be my interest.  And because I was bringing myself up, I learned about loneliness, but that became independence.  You also learn organisation, because when you come home you have to go to the shop to get food, you have to cook for yourself, you have to get coal for the fire.’

Being alone and self reliant made him dogmatic, he says, a trait which he is now famous for.

‘You read things and hear things, but there is nobody to argue with you or temper your opinions.’

‘It must make you tenacious, as well?’

‘Yeah.  But I can see clearly where I want to go, and what I have to do.’  At thirteen, he started the anti-apartheid movement in South Dublin, with a friend called Mick Foley.

‘ We were both interested in politics and blues music, the blues is the music of oppression.  It was long before I heard of Nelson Mandela, but the badges were cool and the music was appropriate, and it was something that I could do and argue for.  I could always talk, because that’s native to the country I come from.’

‘Not necessarily’, I protest.  ‘Not all of us can talk!’.

‘Well, a lot of us can.  That was the only thing I participated in, in school, debating.  I didn’t do any sports, even though it was a sports school.  I failed every exam I ever took.

Instead of concentrating on school,  he worked with the homeless people in Dublin, with an organisation called the Simon Community.

‘ I started staying out later and later, and eventually I stayed out all night, with these people .  We would make fires in Smithfield market, in Dublin and get free vegetables from the groceries and free bread from the bakeries and we would make a big soup and the drunks would sit around the fire, and the hookers.  They weren’t glamorous girls at all, these were very, very rough, they were beaten up, sometimes in our presence.  But this was more real to me and far more tangible than anything else that was happening.  It was like the books I was reading.  I was reading Orwell, but also Studs Terkels, the great Chicago journalist, and Woody Guthrie’s ‘Bound For Glory’.  That’s where I got the name for my band.  I was reading John Steinbeck. I felt I was right in the middle of it in Dublin, but it wasn’t romantic at all.  It just felt awful.’

‘Why were you altruistic rather than nihilistic?’ I ask.  ‘Surely the punk movement was nihilistic?’

I am not convinced.  I don’t think the punk movement was about destroying society.  I think it was about destroying that which we had built that didn’t work.  I think punk was absolutely worthy as a movement of all the importance that is given to it.  I stood on the sidelines and watched it, because that was not where my band was at.  But in as much as we participated I completely supported that and was thrilled to have been in that time.’

‘What I am saying is that most punks I know were busy going around stealing and mugging and fighting while you were helping the homeless!’

He swears he was never a hippy.

‘It was nothing to do with the hippy thing!  The hippy thing annoyed me. This thing of ‘hey man, its all inside you’.  No its not!  Shut up!  I thought it was essentially a middle class conceit.’

‘Very self absorbed?’

‘Very.  And I thought all the clothes were stupid.  I was a Mod.  In Dunlaoighre there was a record shop called Murrays Record Centre and they played great blues music upstairs and downstairs they had a coffee shop, completely black with a fantastic jukebox, so that’s where we lived.  Down the road is the People’s Park, right on, man!  We would go down there and try to get these happenings happening on the band stand!  We would play records as loud as we could make the Dansette play.  I picked the municipal chrysanthemums and placed them in a collapsible top hat, -in due deference to the cultural leitmotif- and I had an extremely waisted white pinstripe suit, very Mod, with tight coloured t-shirts which I pinned to the waist of my jeans with badges like anti-apartheid and CND.’

But the music of the time didn’t do it for him.

‘It has taken me this long to accept that ‘Dark Side of the Moon is a complete classic record.  I didn’t like it at all, if people played it at parties I would have to leave.  I thought Irish music was appalling claptrap, it had to be translated through Van and Shane before I heard it.  I used to listen to the Dubliners and think this is embarrassing!  But for the Irish abroad, of course this was what they clung to, in the pubs.  What else had they got?  They needed it, to define themselves in opposition to the country they were in.’

Because he loved the Blue, he joined the Irish Blues Appreciation Society.

‘ That’s how crap I was!  But they did get in some really great people.  I managed to play with John Lee Hooker when I was sixteen.’

‘Wow!’

‘Yeah.  I was drunk and I lurched forward, waving a harmonica, and bellowed into the microphone.  He was cool he just looked at me, bemused.’

So that was it.  Doing the rounds with the Simon Community, the books, the Blues, all of it seemed much more real.  I remember going round to those who couldn’t make it to the fire, people we would now call schizophrenics, and looking forward to having long conversations with them.  They must have been so bored with this fifteen year old!  But I didn’t romanticise them.  I would ask them questions.  I remember Mary, she never wanted to hear the slap of the electric bill on the tiles on the hallway floor.  She lived in a porch, somebodys porch.  In my juvenile passion I used to rail against this fucking idiot who would come home at night and step over this human being, wrapped in her bags in his doorway and just shut the door in the face of this other human being.  Several years later, in the desert in Spain, where I lived for a year, I remember thinking hold on!  Would I let a stinking old lady live in the porch of my house and have to step over her night after night?  In fact, this guy was the very opposite of what I imagined.  You change.

Do you think you mother the world because you don’t have a mother?

I don’t think so.  I just think that because you have a shit time, you respond to other people.  When we did Band Aid and Live Aid, the countries that were the poorest were the ones that gave the most.  When you are living it, it’s very raw.  I am asked this a lot and what I think is that if your mother dies when you are very young, you don’t really take the shock on, because it’s just too overwhelming.  Children are entirely selfish.  They just survive.  On the day she died, she just woke up, when she was forty and died.  My dad came up and told me and he cried.  I had never seen my dad cry, so I cried too.  Afraid to see my dad cry.  I went downstairs and all the family were there.  My sister said ‘Go on out and play, Robert.’  So I got my nazi helmet, which my dad had painted white and went across the road to Jackie Kennedy’s house to play, then I went for two weeks to a friends house to stay.  All I remember was seeing the Kings of Comedy with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.  I didn’t go to the funeral because kids didn’t, in those days.  Subsequently I was more or less on my own, doing crap at school and getting beaten.  Not liking coming home.  The house was freezing.  This is not self pity, it wasn’t then and it isn’t now, it was just a sense that this was crap.  Shit.  It wasn’t that I really envied the other guys, going home to mums, although I did like it, I used to go to people’s houses and be amazed at tea time.  The first time a girl made me a meal, I really remember this vividly)  I was a bit freaked out and kept saying thank you very much! Thank you very much!

What did she cook?

Spaghetti.  I still think it’s  really sexy, to be cooked for.  So it was lousy, it was really not good.  And your parents are the ultimate trust objects.  That’s it.  There isn’t any other universe really, there is nothing else you can refer to.  They are the alpha and the omega of your existence and then they are not there!  And they failed you.  It doesn’t matter that she died and it’s not her fault.  She bailed!  And then your father isn’t there Monday to Friday.  Hello!  He is deciding to leave you.  Never mind that he had to go and earn a shit living selling towels.  You don’t know that, and even if you do, that’s not what’s in your head.  What’s in your head is authority failing you.  Ultimate authority, the only authority.  All trust is gone.  So why would you accept any authority, ever?  At school, when the priests would say stuff, I would just look at them and think fuck you!  It is pathetic, but I have been like that ever since.  When Bono and I went to see the pope  he was all freaked out.  I was saying get a grip!  He is just a geezer!  I am like a child.  Bono was being normal, I was the infant.  Generally, when we go and do presidents and stuff, I really respect the fact that the country has voted this person in, but the geezer?  No.  In my head, all authority is suspect.

Does that work in your favour?

I think so.  I think that all these things lead you to form a modus operandi.  I understand that I am a very irritating type of character and that thousands of people cant stand me!  And I truly understand it, and go along with that!

You don’t give up?

I don’t give up because I can see where this should go.  The only way these things work is if you give a direction and say why you are giving that direction and what the end destination is to be.  When we did Band Aid, my band had stopped having hits and so the only way to make it a success was to get the guys who were having hits to do the song.  I knew lots of people, so I asked them.  You have to put on a show that is the best of the best, otherwise people aren’t going to watch.  Once they watch, you can say what about this?  I said if we can make ten million it would just be so amazing.  The truth is, I had ten million in the bank at that point.  As it was, two hundred million dollars later, we got the trucks and the ships and the grain and they were able to see cause and effect, the consequences of their actions.  Individuals are not powerless in the face of human monstrosities, they are very powerful indeed.  Live Aid was phenomenal, for whatever reason, all the bands excelled, far beyond what they were normally capable of, especially Queen and U2.  I was running around like a blue arsed fly with a fucking sore back, and then suddenly I was on stage and I was a pop singer again and I was overwhelmed!

That was the beginning.  In 1985, the only possible thing you could do to stop 30 million people dying of hunger was charity.  I love charity, but unfortunately people are getting jaded with that word.  But we have to remember what charity is.  It’s the instinct of one human to help another who is hurting,  To just say ‘Dude, let me give you a hand.’  The only way we can do that in our society is to put a quid into the charity box.  If we don’t do that, without question something in us withers and dies.  And without charity you don’t get the schools, you don’t get the wells, you don’t get the stabilising of the worst crises.  Aid is at another level.  Once the aid agencies have parachuted in to try and stabilise a situation, you then have state aid which should give people primary education, primary health care and primary agriculture.  Unless you have a healthy population, properly educated, you are not going to build a state, the state will constantly fail, people will die.

There is no need for extreme poverty in the world today.  There is no economic need.  Indeed, it holds us back economically.  In the Cold War you couldn’t move anything you could only give charity.  We couldn’t afford to fight the Cold War because we would lose too much.  The Soviets couldn’t afford to fight it either, because they had no money. So we fought this war in the south, in proxy wars, we paid for our tyrants and the Soviets paid for their pet despots.  Nobody expected the Cold war to end but it just collapsed and all those tyrants went and suddenly you could begin to deal with the economic and political consequences and the causes of extreme poverty.  So that was in 1989 and gradually groups began to form that could analyse the situation.  I persuaded Tony Blair to do the Commission For Africa, to absolutely analyse why this new phenomenon of globalisation which erupted out of the end of the cold war where China and India were dragging hundreds of millions of people out of poverty through trade, why was Africa excluded?  Blair did the Commission in 2003/4 which I sat on, and that was, in effect a political Band Aid.  Just like I got all the bands together, I got the politicians together.  But while Blair was committed to it, the other leaders didn’t want to do anything.  So now Bono and Richard Curtis were saying I had to do Live Aid.  I said ‘You fucking do it!’  And I didn’t think it could be as powerful if we did it again, because it lives in people’s memories, like Woodstock.  But in the end, I had spent a year working on this thing and they weren’t going to do anything about it, so it was vanity that made me do it.  I wasn’t going to see this report lying on the shelf.  Blair couldn’t force it through without public support.

We had to do a LIVE AID PLUS.  We had to be active in all the capital cities from the G8 countries.  We had to get millions on the streets to tell the politicians that we knew they were going to this thing, we knew what they were being asked, and we supported the ask.  We wanted to tell them don’t come home unless you have a reason for refusing.  So the name ‘Make Poverty History’ was conjured up by the aid agencies and two days before Philadelphia, Bush came and announced he would double aid.  As it turned out, he has quadrupled aid to Africa during his administration.  Europe agreed, and also  to cancel debt.  So in the twenty years since this began, the boys and girls with guitars and their supporters finally got to write political policy for the world, and forced them to accept it.  Now the fight is to get them to do it.  But the first part of it, the debt cancellation immediately resulted in twenty nine million children going to school.  That’s a massive benefit to all of us.  So it was worth it, but we didn’t ask people for money, because the money, at this point doesn’t matter.  Its irrelevant.  We want 50 billion per annum, we don’t want a few million.  And that’s the difference between charity and justice.  Charity deals with the symptoms of poverty, politics deals with the economic structures.  Both are necessary.

You continue to put pressure on people.

Yes.  You do everything you can.  I was in Milan yesterday, talking about this, putting groups together.  I know that the economy is in the toilet.  Italy is on the front line for migration, but people don’t leave their homes if they don’t have to.  So build up the economies of Africa, so they can buy our stuff!  We have all benefited from globalisation, trade is mutually collaborative and people do not go to war if they are trading with you.  There is too much to lose.  Conflict is a by-product of poverty, if you have nothing you try and grab it.  If you have no water, you move to other people’s land to find it, same if you have no food. Poverty destabilises states.  If people see on television what the rest of the world has, they want it and they get frustrated.  So trade is the answer.  That is how Africa will resussitate itself and it is happening, Africa is growing at about six % per annum.  The more democratic countires can grow at up to 12 % per annum.  Huge growth.  It’s the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world.  Africa will develop is ways that we haven’t guessed at because they bypassed the technological age, rather like Ireland did.  Africa is worth watching, by 2040 there is no question that it will be a vast economic power.  It has no other option.  Vast amounts of unemployed, huge amounts of space, every resource on the planet and massive connectivity.

What will he say to the Italians?

Berlusconi is a very popular prime minister, he is very dynamic and he has said that he wants to put poverty at the fore front of the agenda for the G8.  The problem is the gap between what you say and what you do.  If you think about it, in the year 2000, all these people in the UN said lets really, seriously try and halve extreme poverty in the world within fifteen years.  That’s an incredible thing to say.  I love that.  They sort of worked out that if the rich countries gave 0.7 % of their GDP they could get to certain targets.  Asia will probably meet that target, because of trade.  China will take 1% of extreme poor out of poverty this year.  That’s a staggering achievement.  But lets look at that 0.7 % and what it means.  Some of the countries are reluctant to do it, Italy included because they have their own problems.  But as I have already pointed out if Africa is rich, they will buy our stuff.  The Marshall Plan already proved that this works after the second world war.  And apart from being great for foreign policy to buy friends, Africa is stuffed with every mineral we could possibly want.  And in terms of pure humanitarianism, it’s the correct thing to do.  We need to re-phrase the argument.  But we also need to say to the prime minister of Italy, and to all of the others that in 2005 you signed a contract with the poorest people of the world.  And if you break that contract, you kill them.  It is the most sacred contract you can make.  In the normal world, if I have a contract with you and I break it, you will sue my ass and I may go to jail.  If you tell your kids we will go to the movies and then you turn around and change your mind, you feel like shit because when you look at them you see mistrust and cynicism.  So there is always a consequence.  But when a leader signs his name, he is deluding himself if he thinks he is just signing his name.  Its not even just the name of his party that he is signing.  It is the honour and the dignity of his country.  So when he breaks it, he breaks the honour, the promise, the dignity of that country.  And he kills the poor.  That’s what is at stake.  In the scale of things, to continue to turn on the television night after night and to have to continually watch the parade of the pornography of poverty, that is just untenable.  So there are real, true reasons for doing this.


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Xiaolan Zhao


Xiaolan Zhao Interview

copyright Victoria Mary Clarke 2006

This article appeared in the Irish ‘Sunday Independent’ in 2006

Xiaolan Zhao did not intend to become a doctor. But she was born in China, and her career was chosen for her. But Xiaolan is not complaining.  Indeed, she is grateful. Because it is the unique combination of a Chinese heritage, steeped in traditional, natural remedies, coupled with an education in Western medicine and her strong desire to communicate with the world that has brought Xiaolan to where she is today.  She is now a doctor of both Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine, with a successful practice in Canada, and she has just written a book on  traditional Chinese medicine for women.

It is difficult, she says, for Westerners to imagine the kind of life she had, growing up in Communist China.

‘I was forced to stop school, I wasn’t allowed to read books, all the books were burned. My parents were sent to work on a State farm, so I was only allowed to visit them at weekends.  I lived alone and had to cook for myself, even as a child.’

But as one thing is taken away, something better comes along to replace it.

‘My grandmother lived nearby and because I was alone, she pretty much brought me up.  And it is because of my grandmother that I am as confident as I am. She always gave me courage and unconditional love.  I would make mistakes, but she would never criticise me. She never made me guilty!’

When she was seventeen, Xiaolan was sent to work on a farm.

‘  I was terrified at first, I thought I would have to spend my future there and marry a farmer!  I couldn’t even think of it!  But because my grandmother taught me so much positive thinking, I really enjoyed the farm.  They taught me all about the different plants, which herbs to use for colds, which herbs for periods. And they really treated me well. I cried when I had to leave!’

The young Xiaolan wanted to become a journalist.

‘  My father was a broadcaster, and  I love to write and I love to tell people the truth,’ she says.

Even though she had never considered becoming a doctor, she was glad to be allowed to study medicine.

‘I wasn’t even scared of the blood!’ she says.  ‘Other people would be fainting and running out of the room, when we had to cut people open, but I didn’t notice the blood.’

Having qualified as a surgeon, Xiaolan took a degree in Chinese medicine.  She moved to Canada, to continue her studies. There, she noticed that attitudes to women’s bodies were very different to those in China.

‘When I came to Canada, I wasn’t concerned with my physical appearance.  I based my self worth on my ability to succeed at whatever I undertook.  But after living in Toronto I realised that I wanted to lose weight, even though I wasn’t fat’.

In China, she says, women respect their bodies.

‘  In Chinese medicine, the menstrual period is called ‘Heavenly Water’.  In the West it is called the curse!’ she points out.

She has noticed that it is normal, in the West for women to pretend they don’t have periods, to carry on working just as hard and to take painkillers if they have PMT or cramps.

‘But in China, I was always given a three day leave when my heavenly water started to flow!’

The major difference between Western medicine and Chinese medicine is the attitude to emotions.  Western medicine treats the body a though it were a machine, she says, whereas Chinese medicine acknowledges that it is our relationship with our emotions which is most critical to health.

‘In Chinese medicine, emotions are a manifestation of our Qi, our vital life force,’ she says.

When the movement of Qi is impaired, illness or disease can occur.

‘Looking after our feminine health requires that we maintain a close relationship with our natural physiology,’ she says.  ‘We must be aware of the activities we engage in daily, the emotions we express, the attitudes we maintain and the foods we ingest, in order to detect subtle imbalances, which can lead to much more serious things, if ignored.’

Childbirth, in the West was another thing that seemed to be treated very differently.

‘Women are encouraged and applauded for leaving their beds and returning to their regular lives as quickly as possible,’ she says.  ‘In China, the forty days following childbirth are given to the mother to rest, recover and regain her health.’

She says that although we in the West might send lovely flowers to a new mother, we don’t generally give the kind of support that is needed.

‘  When I returned home after the birth of my son Zhao Zhao, my mother came to cook and support me every day from seven in the morning until two in the afternoon, when my mother in law took over. I felt totally nurtured and loved.’

Where she came from, people were very poor, and very much limited in their choices, she says.  But they knew how to look after themselves and each other in a way that we simply do not.  Xiaolan set about re-educating her patients to prioritise their health and to take care of themselves.

‘In China we only pay the doctor when we don’t get sick!’ she laughs.

She got her patients to express their feelings, rather than repressing them, to eat suitable foods, and to practice Qi Gong. Xiaolan had success with treating a whole range of problems including PMS, infertility, and even breast cancer. But she feels that much of what she knows about the prevention of illness, women can learn from her book.

‘With this book, I really want to empower women,’ she says.

The book is beautifully written, and fascinating.  It is full of useful remedies, such as the egg soup recipe for replenishing Qi during periods and the ginger compress for cramps.  But most of all it offers a new and wise perspective on the aspects of the feminine condition that we have come to regard as negative.  The period after menopause is known in China as ‘Second Spring.’  Instead of being a time to start exercising frantically and investing in Botox, it is regarded as ‘a time to redefine ourselves , to accept who we are and to heal on a deep level, as we bring the Three Treasures, body, emotions and spirit into harmony.’  A far more beautiful and encouraging way for women to view getting old and wrinkly!

‘Reflections of the Moon on Water’ is published by Virago


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Dadi Janki


Dadi Janki Interview

copyright Victoria Mary Clarke 2005

When I was a child, I adored my grandparents more than anything in the world.  The fact that they had been born in 1916 and had lived through the fight for Irish independence as well as two world wars was fascinating to me and I devoured their stories and their old photos.  The fact that they took their teeth out at night was charming to me, not terrifying.  They are dead now and although I miss them both dearly, there is a sense in which I am glad they are not here. Because whether we like it or not, we now live in an age when ageing is something to be ashamed of, something to fear and something to disguise by whatever means necessary.  On television, in newspapers and magazines, in movies and most especially in advertising youth and beauty are everywhere and old and wrinkly nowhere to be seen.

‘ These days people think you are rude if you ask them how old they are’ says Dadi Janki.  She is herself ninety years old, but luckily for her she is not ashamed of it.  Ageing, for her has not meant being marginalized, has not meant becoming less attractive or indeed less adored, because Dadi is one of the very few female spiritual leaders in the world, one of the founders of the Brahma Kumaris organisation from India.  Ever since she was a young girl, Dadi Janki has been travelling the world on behalf of her organisation, establishing orphanages, schools and hospitals on behalf of those who need them, but more importantly dispensing her wisdom to millions. As more and more people meet her, more and more people fall in love with her.

I first met Dadi last summer, at her centre in London.  I burst into tears before she had even said one word, simply because I felt so much love coming from this tiny creature.  I could have sat with her all day, just absorbing her beauty despite the fact that she wears no make up, has many wrinkles and has made no attempt whatsoever to disguise her age. As she gets older, her organisation gets bigger and this year she has come to Galway, to open a small centre where meditation classes will be given for free.  And as she travels the world she inspires people in many ways.  But most especially she brings certainty that ageing doesn’t have to be a bad thing, something to be ashamed of.

‘People make themselves up so that nobody can guess their age,’ she giggles.  ‘But even though people make all this effort so that you can’t guess how old they are, you can see it’s all artificial.’

From where I stand, I appear to have everything to lose, as I get older and my body deteriorates.  Like many of us, I fear that I will be lonely, unwanted and totally undesirable when I am wrinkly, so I was determined to find out the secret behind Dadi’s obvious effervescence at the age of ninety.  She has not been without her share of health challenges, she assures me.

‘ But one thing I have made a lot of effort about is that I should not become dependant on anyone.  When people get old, they often become dependant on others.  Since the age of eleven I can give you a list of all the illnesses that have passed through me.  Bronchitis, asthma, I have had every kind of illness you can imagine.  I have had typhoid, pneumonia, a heart condition.  My cough starts when I am in the middle of a lot of people.  I used to get infections, my lungs would pick up anything.  But it is no problem.   I am getting stronger every day.  I have never worried and I never will worry.  When you are worried about something, then illness comes.’

The secret, she says is to never think about being sick.

‘ I don’t allow these thoughts to come and I never dwell on past illnesses.  I take medicine, if it is prescribed, but the medicine is only five percent of the cure.  Forty five percent is the blessings of everyone and fifty percent is Gods help!  Because God needs me, He looks after me.’

What does God need you for?  I ask.

‘God needs me for service because I always say yes to what He wants me to do!  I am not careless or lazy in Gods work and and I don’t make excuses in Gods work.  I don’t say I can’t do it.  My back pain will go, my leg pain will go, everything will go because I say yes to God.’

Apart from losing their health and their looks, she says, old people are generally fearful about not having enough money saved for their old age.

‘I don’t have any money, but I have never worried about money.

Don’t think about it and it will come to you.  Look at me, I can earn and eat, it is not difficult.  I can feed others also!’  This she proves by offering me a ripe mango and a sweet cake.  The previous evening, at a talk she gave in Galway, she dispensed sweet cakes and blessings to the entire audience.  Clearly poverty and loneliness will never be an issue for Dadi Janki, because she is so adored.  But it is a major concern for most older people.

‘Elderly people have a desire for money and respect,’ she says.

‘ And so they feel empty and they experience sorrow, if they don’t get either.  But I don’t have these thoughts.  People are always worried that they will not get enough love.  But if I perform good actions, automatically I receive love.  When people become elderly, they feel sorrow if they are insulted.  Why do they feel that sorrow?  If I stay in self respect, I don’t allow others to insult me.’

I am beginning to suspect that this is a lady who most unlike me, has never known a moment’s self pity.  I ask her how come she has so much control over her thoughts.

‘My mind belongs to me.  I am the mother of my mind, and so I have to keep it in order.  I have to teach my mind discipline.  If the mother doesn’t teach discipline, the child becomes wild.  But before teaching discipline, I have to give good food to the child.  When my mind receives the food of pure thoughts, then it is strong and healthy.  My mind does not harass me!’

Out of curiosity I ask her what would happen if God asked her to live as a paralysed person, would she waver?

‘I have even had paralysis.  I was forty days in bed, with a pain all down one side and even if somebody would pass me, I would feel pain.  But I would carry on smiling.  The virtue of courage has taken away many of my illnesses and my faith in God also.  I would say to the doctor ‘You have medicine for my pain, but you don’t have any medicine for the sorrow that people experience.  I may have pain in my knee, but I don’t have any sorrow in my heart.  I am detached.  It is very easy!’

Perhaps easy, perhaps easier said than done.  Perhaps practice makes perfect, I say.  I ask her what she sees the advantages of ageing.

Don’t count how much love you give. Four virtues are required.  Purity, truth, patience and then humility.  If you are older, you must have patience.  Maintain patience and give love and you will get it back.’