The story of The Libertines has always been one of destruction and dependence - the grim blood-blackening reality of heroin addiction and street crime dressed up in silly jackets, Wordsworth quotes and hopelessly romantic music. At 16, I would traipse the streets of London following Pete Doherty around like a charmed child of the crack piper. Like most fans of the band, I romanticised the blackness of their drug dependency. As I grew older, I watched as it take its grim toll - spells in prison, faded looks and deteriorating musical output.
Last September, after the Libertines played three sold-out reunion shows at Alexandra Palace, Pete left the country and checked himself into the Hope Rehab Centre in Thailand. He’s been there a few times before, most famously in 2004 when his trip to Thailand was somewhat bizarrely paid for by actress June Brown, better known as Eastenders’ Dot Cotton.
This week, Simon Mott from the centre contacted Noisey with a folder of videos, pictures and interviews taken from Pete’s recent trip. They show Pete during his recovery, discussing his experiences of rehab as well as the Libertines reunion and future projects. He talks about his history of drug use and some of the incidents he’s been involved in over the past few years, including being arrested on suspicion of injecting heroin into an unconscious fan.
They make for strange and sometimes uncomfortable viewing. Pete looks healthy, but is clearly still in the midsts of recovery. He’s not had time to fully reflect on his sobriety and that's reflected in a vulnerableness to his responses. At other times he seems totally at ease, making jokes about Pilates balls and playing with tortoises. There's also some pretty great photos of him riding an elephant.
In a recorded interview conducted by Dylan Kerr at the centre, also sent to Noisey, Doherty says he hopes that his time at Hope has brought him some creative solace. “The thing is it’s quite a tranquil place, so I don’t like to make too much noise. But I’ll say that I have rediscovered a few facets that have come back to life since I’ve been here and one of them is just enjoying playing guitar and learning songs I used to know backwards and inside out. Like old Lindisfarne and Stone Roses songs and just taking them and just shifting the chords about.”
More than just playing other songs, Doherty has also been writing music clean for the first time in years. “I’ve come up with some good riffs too. Like simple bass lines and I’m trying to get this warlord's daughter to play drums for me but she’s off the radar at the moment. So hopefully we’ll have some new ideas when Carl next bounds into view in his bandana and leathers. A man who swore he’d never wear flip-flops! Although he doesn’t call them flip flops he calls them ‘sliders’.”
The centre combines a modern approach to rehabilitation with some traditional Thai spiritualism. Doherty says he dabbled with Buddhist spirituality during his time there. “I suppose there’s a difference to being attracted to trinkets, rituals and the idea of spirituality – which I think I am – and actually being engaged on a daily level with amending spirit faults when for me it’s been hard giving up everything else. There’s an element of mindfulness, which I believe is taken from the Buddhist culture. I don’t like to say it, but fuck it I will: it’s just the essence of being really. And not getting on the train – not going with the negative thoughts."
Simon Mott was a heroin addict himself. After 20 years of using, he got clean in his late 30s following an overdose. During his recovery he started working in Rehab facilities in Thailand and eventually set up the Hope Centre. He’s helped hundreds of people, from celebrities to big businessmen, and has become an advocate for a change in addiction treatment. He plans to work with Pete to set up the Pete Doherty Hope Initiative which will raise funds for others to receive treatment from the centre.
We spoke to him about Pete’s time in Thailand.
When did Pete come to visit the Hope Rehab Centre treatment last? How long did he stay for?
Pete stayed from 10th October until 19th December. At the moment he's staying on the island opposite, getting some peace and quiet. It's the Island we take our clients every weekend, very small with a temple and no foreigners, Dylan Kerr our head counsellor is with him.
You’ve obviously built a relationship with Pete over the years. Was this visit different to previous ones?
Yes, he seemed far more motivated and more ready to do what is necessary to stay stopped this time. Before Pete would defend his heroin addiction and normalise it – we call this denial, particularly of the people who were negatively affected. There have also been enablers in Pete's life who are scared to say no to him, these people have now become desperate and burned out. On a good day Pete is a great example of a recovering addict, on a bad day his addiction takes hold of him and there is nothing anyone can do to stop him.
On a personal level, I like Pete and identify with his struggles, he is charismatic and funny, a real entertainer by nature. I will always be greatful of what he has done for Hope rehab and the team, we do not earn a lot of money, we are a very cheap private treatment center, we do it because it is our purpose and it help keeps us clean.
Is it normal to have these kinds of recorded interviews with people at the facility or was this especially for Pete?
Pete asked if he could have free treatment in exchange for doing PR. So I agreed and some of the interviews are for this purpose. It isn’t usual, but some clients do written and video testimonials for private clinics like ours – we are part of a growing private treatment industry and need to use conventional business marketing methods to promote our services, whereas in Europe most centers are government funded and don't have the same financial pressures – they have guaranteed income from tax payers but due to economic changes this is harder and harder to sustain these days.
So would you say these interviews are part of the process of rehabilitation or separate from it?
I believe the interviews have helped Pete's recovery. Ee say in 12 step recovery "give it away to keep it", so Pete's wish to help other addicts will help him stay clean. By explaining his therapeutic process on film and watching it back it helps cognitively embed it mentally.
You don’t normally see a recovery documented in this way. How do you think this public record of Pete’s time may affect his recovery?
Well, "visual recovery" is the latest buzz word going around. It describes Russell Brand and many others who go public about their recovery from addiction. By witnessing Pete's changes as they are happening, it attracts other struggling addicts to recovery which is a positive. There is a mutual benefit. We say secrets grow in the dark so best get it out there. Also there is an element of accountability when going public which helps.
So it's like AA without the anonymous?
Yes, AA stands for Alcoholics anonymous but the anonymous part was originally there to manage the egos within the fellowship, not particularly for privacy, although that does help protect people. In the fellowship we are all equals, just because someone is famous or a judge does not make them more important than a homeless unemployed person. That’s why we have anonymity.
You’ve become a prominent advocate for a new approach to treating addiction. Since you’ve been working in this field, would you say anything has improved with regard to government programs, public attitudes etc?
So far we are getting a high level of success with this more liberal approach which we call recovery coaching. The old style of shaming and blaming pushes clients away rather than bring them closer. Giving people room to make choices with assistance works. But make no mistake I am a proponent of "Tough love".
What does tough love look like?
We are a bit boot campish. Clients get up very early at 6am – I say, "get up before your addiction does". I believe physical exercise together with psychological exercise gives better results. Physical therapy is just as important as emotional therapy so fitness is a core element of our treatment.
Is it difficult dealing with patients that relapse?
There have been a couple of upsetting cases, people who really tried but have dropped off our radar. Rob Skipper's [lead singer of The Holloways] recent death by overdose had a devastating impact on me personally. Cruelly, just when Rob himself felt he was turning a corner, a single bad decision led to a terrible outcome. We were all powerless to do anything about it.
On his last day with us at Hope, we had a final counselling session. He was excited to be clean and flying home to the UK to see his baby daughter. He was sincere about putting an end to the devastation his addiction caused. I knew Rob had overdosed in the past, he was a high-risk user and I had warned him about returning to injecting.
Rob was overcome by his addiction, as those close to him only knew, he had all the classic behavior of an addict. But he was also a softy, a gentle easy-going and kindhearted guy. He was a highly skilled and talented musician like Pete.
During his visit, Pete and Simon set up the Pete Doherty Hope Initiative, a charity to fund treatment places at Hope for struggling addicts. Doherty plans to hold benefit concerts and events to raise money for others to receive treatment at Hope.
For details on Hope, visit www.hope-rehab-center-thailand.com
All photography and film footage by Liam Thomas