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‘The only thing you see is you’ - former addict opens up about booze battle

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Sitting in a quiet, out-of-season resort hotel’s bar, just yards away from the bright lights of the Coral Island arcade, John looks like a typical grandfather on holiday.

But the 73-year-old’s story is anything but typical. Once a successful musician touring the world as part of a double act with his wife, he lost it all when he found the bottom of a bottle.

Although shy about giving his surname, he is surprisingly candid about his struggles, hoping his honesty will encourage others to admit to their drinking problems – and find solace and redemption with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

“I’d be posh and pour a glass out and put it on the hearth,” he said. “But every time I went to the loo I had a bottle stashed in the bathroom or bedroom.

“Come 9.30pm I’d be wobbling across the floor, trying to convince people I’d only had a pint.

“I was hiding it because they thought I had a problem – but it was dishonest and deceitful.”

Raised in Blackpool since moving to the town as a small boy, John started drinking alcohol as a teenager, downing cider in the park with his friends – ‘just kids’ stuff really’, he said – but quickly began binge drinking.

It took him just two years to realise he had a problem – but it would be another two decades before he did something about it.

“I was about 20, I was hungover from the night before, and my head was not in the right place,” he said.

“I was serving my apprenticeship, repairing electric motors. I went into work at 8.30am and by 9am I was at the Vic because I had blown myself up.

“If anybody else had done that, they’d have said that’s the last time they were drinking mid-week.

“But then I went to Germany to entertain the Americans and within a month I went and got alcohol poisoning.”

Playing in some of Europe’s biggest venues, John said he and his then-girlfriend would perform alongside some of the hottest acts, including Bob Monkhouse.

He would play the guitar, while she would sing. Their act, which lasted for 20 years, would also see them telling jokes between songs.

They spent the majority of their time on the road, staying in hotels. They married, and John said his bride would initially avoid him during his heavy drinking sessions.

He said: “On a day like today I’d be sitting in the lounge and she’d say, ‘just leave him alone.’

“I had driven the car and all sorts, and she got in it.

“I sort of dragged her down mentally and emotionally.”

Oblivious to how his drinking affected others, John found himself at marriage counselling within a couple of years of tying the knot, where he refused to accept he had a problem.

He said: “The first time I spoke to this counsellor alone, they said, ‘tell me about your drinking.’

“You are blind to it. It’s the selfishness. The only thing you can see in your world is you.

“The phone would go. They’d ask if I could do a gig in Liverpool or Manchester and I’d say I had already booked elsewhere. I hadn’t. I’d had a drink.

“I was ducking and diving and it was affecting the family.

“When my son was born, it couldn’t go on. First of all I was warned if I didn’t do something about my drinking she would start proceedings.

“That got me to AA.”

But John fell off the wagon – and it cost him his marriage and his dream career.

It was a devastating consequence that finally forced change, with John rejoining AA.

He said: “My wife had started divorce proceedings and my son had just been born so she was busy with him.

“I was booted, suited, had a wash and a shave and had started going to meetings.

“I was walking out one night and she turned around and said, ‘what are the neighbours going to think about you going to Alcoholics Anonymous?’

“It still has that stigma. The image of the alkie is the drunk in the street staggering about.”

John hasn’t picked up a drink for 35 years, and despite sitting just yards away from the hotel bar stocked full of hard booze, he insists he will never pick up a drink again.

He has been able to repair the damaged relationships, remaining best friends with his ex-wife and seeing his son grow up, and find himself a new career.

And he has urged those looking for help to start their own 12-step journey with the AA.

“Once I accepted I can’t drink in safety it was massive weight off my shoulders,” he added.

“Nobody is going to tell you that they’re an alcoholic. Come to a few meetings and you will hear people sharing what alcohol has done to them and how it was affecting their life.”

In Blackpool, more people are admitted to hospital because of alcohol than anywhere else in England, and 75 people died because of it in 2013.

Booze-fulled disorder is also a concern, with alcohol-related violent crime more than double the national average.

A raft of measures are on the cards as local leaders try to tackle the problem, including a ban on adverts, and the launch of an education programme for schoolchildren.

Dr Arif Rajpura, director of public health at Blackpool Council, said: “Addressing the harm caused by alcohol has been a Blackpool priority for many years.

“Indeed, significant investment has been made to tackle alcohol related problems and although progress has been made, alcohol harm indicators in Blackpool remain among the highest in the country.”

Alcoholics Anonymous can be called on 0800 9177 650 or emailed on help@alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk