HE SAUNTERS in, more than an hour late. With most people, this might be frustrating, annoying even, but with Pete Doherty - wide-eyed, tousled, thin and nervous-looking, every inch the romantic innocent adrift in the world - it’s almost a result.
Naturally, like every professional dreamer who runs on an entirely different timetable to the rest of humanity, he has an excuse. "I was nearly killed," he blinks, finding a seat in Soho’s famously bohemian Colony Room, already clutching a fresh vodka and lemonade. "I almost got knocked over by a number 38 bus."
Had he been mown down by a red double-decker, it would have been an extremely ironic way to go. This is a man, after all, who many didn’t expect to see out the year. Having failed to kick his addiction to crack and heroin during a stint at The Priory six months ago, Doherty was fired from his own band, The Libertines, by his songwriting partner Carl Barat. He could return, he was told, once he was off drugs.
Determined to clean himself up, the 25-year-old singer signed up for rehab at Thailand’s notoriously strict Thamkrabok Monastery - but lasted for a mere three days before absconding to Bangkok to resume his habit. From the outside, it looked like he was another rock ’n’ roll casualty waiting to happen.
"I don’t want to die," Doherty says simply, taking occasional sips from his drink. "And I’ll take every precaution to avoid death. Probably, for the way I am and my state of mind and the state of my life, it’s best to avoid heroin. And it’s certainly best to avoid crack cocaine. It’s having the right people around me and the love of my family and the people I’m closest to." And the strength to finally give up everything? "Yeah. I’ve got that strength. I’ve got to find it yet, but I’ve got it. It’s like having an untidy room. It’s there somewhere."
At first, Doherty’s nave ability to find romance in even the seediest parts of London life was central to his appeal. Like Colony Room legend Francis Bacon before them, The Libertines celebrated cultured hedonism, spinning yarns of an idealised England they called Arcadia and telling whatever lies necessary to further their own myth, casting themselves as Dickensian urchins and troubadours. Drugs, it appeared back then, were just part of the theatre. But when Doherty was arrested in 2003, and subsequently imprisoned for two months, for burgling Barat’s flat to fund his heroin addiction, the so-called Arcadian Dream suddenly seemed very rotten indeed.
Prison reportedly cleaned out Doherty’s system, but he now admits that wasn’t true. "I didn’t have any crack, but most other things were pushed under the cell door." The most fragile Libertine, both emotionally and physically, Doherty endured rough times inside: "I shouldn’t have been in Wandsworth anyway. I was only a D Category pretty boy. It was full of A Cat lunatics."
Around this time, Doherty fell out badly with his family. "My mum and dad disowned me. My mum was heartbroken and didn’t understand it and my dad said I was everything he hated most about humanity. He always said if he had his way he’d string crack dealers up from the nearest lamppost. But we’ve mended a few bridges. It takes time to heal and you realise you’re fighting the wrong people for the wrong reasons."
Surprisingly, Doherty believes that his attitude started to change during his brief stint at Thamkrabok. "It was a wake-up call. It was getting stronger and learning how to deal with something that had overtaken me at the time. I discovered things about myself that I didn’t particularly like. It was part of the process of spewing up poison. One of the monks was convinced that the demons coming out of me were the scariest he’d seen. It frightened the f*** out of me. But it let me know that that dark energy is there, and when I’ve developed as a human being, I’ll try and confront that dark side."
What did he learn about himself? "I learnt that the most precious things in my life have never been treated with any delicacy. They’ve always been trampled on or cavorted about or exploited. Just everything that had driven me. Desires, lusts, avarice, wanting to be famous, wanting to be popular. They were really the things that were contributing to my destruction."
In his current hit single, ‘Killamangiro’, with his new band Babyshambles, Doherty asks: "Why would you pay to see me in a cage?/Some men call the stage." It’s a pertinent and quite telling question. When he’s performing, he says he often gets "unparalleled bouts of paranoia and a warped, contorted sense of myself". And some fans, he admits, are attracted to him because they "want to play let’s go round the Mulberry Bush with some cartoon character Pete Doherty. I don’t know who he is."
Does he ever feel trapped by the persona that’s grown up around him? "No, I don’t," he replies firmly, before offering an oblique but again quite telling explanation. "When I was a kid, I used to sometimes think the walls were coming in. I used to get cat fever. But I was never allowed a day off school. Even if I was ill, I was forced into school. I used to get up in the middle of lessons and wander out and go and sit in the cemetery and cry. That’s more abnormal than anything I do these days."
After returning from Thailand, Doherty was arrested for possessing a flick-knife. At the hearing, it initially appeared he was returning to jail. "I was getting ready to run," he remembers. "I was going to jump out of the box and make a dash down the Mile End Road. And then I looked at my mum and I thought: ‘No, they’ll catch me’." In the end, he received a four-month suspended sentence. But the shock was enough. Did he really think he was headed for jail? "Yeah," the singer shudders. "Horrorshow."
Doherty still has some way to go when it comes to quitting drugs, but he’s trying. "It’s like you’re in love with someone," he says of his addiction. "You never really stop loving that person." And of crack specifically: "It’s like a family member who’s a bit troublesome but you love them anyway because you know they’re all right. Even if the rest of the world can see the truth - ie, they’re not all right. But they’re in your blood."
It’s definitely been a rocky road. Doherty had to cancel a show in Aberdeen with Babyshambles - who he views as being "one and the same" as The Libertines in terms of his songwriting - because of drugs. "I had an overdose on the bus," he admits. But right now he’s clean. "I don’t take crack. I say that, I haven’t taken it for the last 14 days. I know I won’t take any tonight because I’m rehearsing and they [Babyshambles, who play Glasgow Barrowland on December 14] won’t stand for it. I can’t put my hand on my heart and say I won’t have another pipe. But I think I’ve taken it as far as it will go and got all I could get from that."
Most importantly, he’s grown to realise he has the best reason to be clean now: his son. "I’ve got a one-year-old son, Astile, who I love," Doherty says. "I wanted to call him Peter because I thought I was going to cark it round about then. I thought keep the name Peter going. But she [mother Lisa Moorish] wasn’t having any of it."
Has fatherhood changed him? "Not really. I don’t have a close relationship with his mother. But my family’s been amazing. My nan and my sister and my mum and dad all rally around for him. I need to buck up my ideas there. But when I can claim to have any sort of control over my own life, I’m going to take some responsibility for Astile. I love the little fella."
Let’s pray that this is one father and son story that turns out to have a happy ending.
Barrowland, Glasgow (0141-552 4601), Tuesday, 7.30pm
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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