Author Topic: 'Peaches begged me to hide her drug use from Bob': The day after composer....  (Read 7494 times)


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'Peaches begged me to hide her drug use from Bob': The day after composer James McConnel's son died of a heroin overdose, he got a desperate call from Peaches Geldof

    James lost his 'brilliant, beautiful' son Freddy to the drug overdose in 2011
    Freddy, who died aged 18, had been friends with the late Peaches Geldof
    Wrote in diary that Peaches was visiting and he would 'inject for first time'
    James has been involved with a programme called Addicts' Symphony
    He works with addicts who were once musicians, inspired by Freddy

By Jenny Johnston for MailOnline

Published: 22:35, 15 August 2014 | Updated: 12:00, 16 August 2014

Are addicts born that way? The nature vs nurture question is one that's preoccupied composer James McConnel for longer than he can recall.

He beat his own demons drink was his by the time he was 30, but when his children came along, the questions ('for which I still do not have answers') became more pertinent.

He veers towards the idea there's an addictive 'gene', something we're either born with or not, something that may kill us or not. 'My daughter Daisy doesn't have it,' he explains, talking of his youngest, who is about to go to university. 'She doesn't have that obsessive, compulsive thing.'

His son Freddy, though 'brilliant, beautiful Fred' did have it. He saw it in him almost before the little boy could walk.

'He had to throw himself into everything 100 per cent. He didn't just drink his orange squash, he'd guzzle it. Freddy never approached things, he attacked them. He took up ping-pong, and ended up representing his country. He went on Junior Mastermind.

'By the time he was 18 he'd decided he was going to be a songwriter. Being Freddy, he was going to be the best songwriter in the world.'

When Freddy got involved in drugs he threw himself 100 per cent into that too, dying from a heroin overdose in 2011 at just 18.

His death made headlines because of his connections. His mother was the celebrated cartoonist Annie Tempest; musician Pete Doherty was a good friend.

What only emerged later was that he'd been a friend of Peaches Geldof too, and it's probable they did drugs together.

In a diary entry a few weeks before his death he wrote that Peaches was going to visit him later and he was going to 'inject for the first time'.

Inevitably the conversation with James turns to Peaches, and her death in April this year, with its striking echoes of his son's.

'Was I surprised? Not desperately,' he says, 'I wasn't expecting her to die, but I knew she knew Freddy well. I knew she'd been having a rough time. It never really surprises me any more when I hear about youngsters dying of heroin overdoses, because it happens so much.'

Peaches called James the day after his son died, but he was furious that she was preoccupied with ensuring her name wasn't linked with his.

'She was far more concerned about getting into trouble if her father ever found out. At the time I thought she was being a spoilt little brat, but now I realise the poor girl was going through hell and couldn't help herself. Now I just feel desperately sorry for her family.'

With hindsight one wonders what would have happened if James had lifted the phone and called Bob Geldof himself. He says that never occurred to him. 'At that time I wasn't sure she was using. I knew that towards the very, very end she paid Freddy to go and buy drugs and he visited her in Kent, but to be honest, by the time Freddy died the last thing I was thinking about was anybody but him.'

He bears no rancour. 'I don't know if she taught him to inject.

'It looks that way, but it doesn't really matter. If it hadn't been her, it would have been someone else. Now I just think it's so bloody sad.'

His interest in the subject of addiction led to his involvement in a Channel 4 project called Addicts' Symphony, for which he worked for several months with drug and alcohol addicts who used to be musicians.

It's a harrowing programme, with some of the most talented souls possible opening up about how they lost almost everything to addiction. James acts partly as musical director, partly as counsellor as, assisted by members of the London Symphony Orchestra, they're tasked with working together to write and perform their own composition. It's challenging, emotional and stressful and not all of them see the project through to the end.

James says Freddy was the inspiration for the programme. 'He was curious about the idea of music as an addiction therapy. I remember him saying once, "I wonder if music could be a way to recovery."'

James picked the world of classical music partly because he wanted to show that 'addiction isn't confined to rock bands and film stars. Ordinary middle-class people have it as well.'

It seems Freddy was riddled with insecurity from an early age, even though he was a high-achiever. 'Freddy was beyond bright he was brilliant. But he never liked himself. I remember he didn't like looking in the mirror when he was two, which was so strange. As he got older he had very little self-esteem. He never thought he was loved, even though he was adored it's extraordinary how many people came to his funeral.'

Freddy had his first cigarette at nine, on holiday in France when he sneaked off with a friend; his first drink, a Bacardi Breezer, stolen from his au pair's fridge, not long after. By the time he was 14 he was experimenting with LSD and the stimulant drug mephedrone.

Heroin followed. James says he and his ex-wife Annie (they split up in 2006, just as Freddy was slipping into torment) 'tried everything' to help. In 2008 they sent him to a 'tough love' rehab camp in America. Later, they watched helpless as he was sectioned and admitted to the Priory hospital in London.

Did James blame himself for what happened? 'Non-stop. I can't tell you how many times I've beaten myself up for all the things I could have done better, or differently.'

To hurl himself into a project that stirred up all the old emotions must have been hard. 'Yes, but it's better to confront them than bury them.' He says seeing the participants make music together at the end of a painful process was 'the most uplifting thing imaginable. These were people getting their lives back, and proving it's possible to do so.'

Only for some, sadly.

Addicts' Symphony will be shown on Thursday 28 August at 11pm on Channel 4.