THE charisma, energy and powerful oratory of Tommy Sheridan first came to Alan McCombes's notice way back in 1986 when he recommended that the young left-winger should be taken on as Militant's Scottish youth organiser.
Three and a half decades later the disgraced politician's duplicity, manipulative behaviour and sexual shenanigans have made the more lasting impression on McCombes, who for 20 years was Sheridan's mentor and his closest political adviser.
Extreme "recklessness" and a "grandiose sense of messianic destiny" are amongst the less attractive qualities that McCombes now attributes to the permatanned politician who is now behind bars following two of the most colourful court cases in Scottish legal history.
Sheridan's spectacular fall from grace has seen McCombes turn his literary skills from writing the socialist's barnstorming speeches to providing the definitive account of the bizarre, salacious and seedy sequence of events that led to his downfall.
Less than five months after Sheridan was jailed for three years for committing perjury, McCombes has finished writing the first insider's account of the fall-out from Sheridan's trips to a Manchester swinging club and his ill-fated decision to take on the News of the World after it published details of his sexual proclivities.
In the early days, McCombes was impressed by the bravado that saw Sheridan come to prominence in the anti-poll tax campaigns and was to eventually see him lead a political party at Holyrood.
But, according to McCombes, the bravado that proved so attractive all those years ago was to develop into a misguided belief that Sheridan was "almost a divinely appointed Messiah" who lacked "any sense of guilt or conscience".
• In pictures: The rise and fall of Tommy Sheridan
It is tackling this "cult of the individual" and his desire to publish a truthful account of Sheridan's activities that led to McCombes turning biographer and writing Downfall, the Tommy Sheridan Story.
"Initially I didn't want to write it," McCombes told The Scotsman yesterday. "But as the lies about the story escalated they became embedded in people's minds and people began to accept them. I wanted to bring out the truth."
Sitting in a smart room in the offices of his Edinburgh-based publishers Birlinn, McCombes said he wanted to "deconstruct the fantasy that is still being peddled… that Tommy is innocent".It was exposing the web of deceit constructed by Sheridan rather than a desire to "sensationalise" Sher-idan's political rise and fall that motivated the book, McCombes said. The simple fact is that there is no need for sensationalism.
A straightforward account of the politician's behaviour requires no exaggeration for jaws to fall towards the floor.
"The narrative is there. It kind of writes itself. It is a colourful story and I would like people to read it who wouldn't necessarily read political tomes," says McCombes.
It was back in 2002 when Sheridan still had a whiter-than- white reputation that McCombes first realised that his political colleague had an unconventional sex life.
"I knew back in late 2002 that he had been on one occasion to a swingers club and I knew of an incident in a hotel room in Glasgow, but I didn't know much beyond that. I didn't know who else was involved and only myself and one other person in the party knew.
"Tommy assured us that it was a one-off and wouldn't be repeated. We didn't take it any further, because we just thought it would go away. We were running up to the 2003 election and we just wanted to keep it out of the public domain.
"But there was always that sense at the back of your mind that Tommy had given ammunition to the tabloids, who could use it if they were to find out."
As history now tells us, the tabloids did indeed find out and it was the News of the World, which published a front-page story, in late 2004, in which their columnist Anvar Khan admitted having a fling with an unnamed married Scottish politician.
"She happened to be the self-proclaimed sex columnist in the News of the World," McCombes says, the disbelief still evident in his voice.
"He was just was breathtaking in his recklessness. It was clear from its treatment of the story that though the News of the World didn't name him, they knew who it was."
When his name did become linked to Khan's, McCombes tried to persuade Sheridan to limit the damage by giving his side of the story to a more sympathetic newspaper. Another media strategy that he advised was for Sheridan to issue a statement saying that he would "treat these allegations with the contempt they deserve".
But, McCombes recalls, Sheridan ignored his advice. "Tommy was going to go to a lawyer," he says. "He was going to take it all the way and he was absolutely messianic in his determination to do that. So that was when relations began to break down. We dealt with each other in a civil and cordial way, but our friendship had been ruptured, because I had been shaken by his behaviour."
Details of that behaviour are described in the book. In one extract, McCombes wrote that after the News of the World story he could no longer view Sheridan as "Tam the Lad – a flawed individual who had succumbed to temptation from time to time, as people do".
Instead, he saw "an abusive, exploitative, self-centred personality" behind a "mask of polite charm".
McCombes writes: "Tommy, I began to discover was addicted to voyeuristic and exhibitionist sex and he was prepared to go to any lengths to feed that addiction, no matter what the political cost might be or what impact his behaviour might have on the lives of others."
The book give details of how Sheridan would operate alongside other "male companions", booking a room for group sex sessions involving two men and one woman – often in Glasgow's Central Hotel.
There were also liaisons with women on the Drumchapel and Pollok housing schemes.
"Other women were put under heavy psychological pressure to participate," he wrote. "One told me that Tommy always insisted that he wasn't gay or bisexual but 'just liked to watch'. He confessed to her that he was obsessed with sex and thought about it all the time."
McCombes began to hear about other visits to Cupids, the swinging club in Manchester which he visited with Khan and to another sex club Le Chambre in Sheffield. There were also rumours of a cocaine habit – rumours that the author did not know were true or not.
"I had no way of knowing but, either way, Tommy still had enough skeletons in his cupboard to fit out a ghost train running from John O'Groats to Land's End," McCombes writes.
It is a damning verdict from a former comrade, who was so devoted to Sheridan's cause that he was once jailed for refusing to hand over Scottish Socialist party documents to the Court of Session when asked to do so by the News of the World.
The newspaper requested the documents when Sheridan took the tabloid to court and sued for libel – despite his promiscuous behaviour. After sacking his lawyers and defending himself, he won the action and was awarded 200,000 damages.
The 2006 case ripped apart the Scottish Socialist Party that Sheridan and McCombes had worked to create. It was also to have an unhappy sequel for Sheridan himself when it was proved in a follow-up legal action that he had lied to the court.
"I always knew he was going to come to grief in the end," McCombes says. "It (Sheridan's case) was not just a lie – it was a tower of lies. It was a tower was beginning to make the Eiffel Tower look like a mobile phone mast. It was monumental and he drawn other people into it as well.
"What really chilled me to the bone about that case was that Tommy – the fact that he lied, the fact that he persuaded others to lie, that was bad enough – was the fact that he turned on his own party and his own political allies and associates. Some of them were still friends, some were ex-friends and he turned on them and accused them perjury, forgery, perverting the course of justice."
Clearly, Sheridan's betrayal of his former comrades is another reason why McCombes has no hesitation in turning on his old ally by putting pen to paper.
GAIL Sheridan, the devoted wife who stood by her man during his court appearances, was unaware of the true extent of her husband's philandering, Alan McCombes said.
Mr McCombes, the author of a new book detailing the road that led to Tommy Sheridan being jailed for perjury said Mrs Sheridan had been put in a "tragic position" by her husband's behaviour. His book gives details of the politician's predilection for group sex and swingers' clubs.
"I don't think she would have had any idea of the scale of it (Sheridan's affairs)," Mr McCombes said. "I think she might have suspected Tommy's life was a bit more to it than his public portrayal, but I don't think she appreciated the scale of it. And I do think that Gail has bought into this fantasia of a conspiracy theory: that he was framed; that people were part of a grand conspiracy that stretched all the way from Rupert Murdoch's offices in New York, to Lothian and Borders Police, to the Lord Advocate of Scotland, to the Scottish Socialist Party. I think it is incredible what people will actually be prepared to believe.
"I think there are some people who still believe that. It is quite frightening in some ways that people can buy into that and are gullible in the way that they are manipulated."
Mrs Sheridan was a constant presence at her husband's size throughout his two court battles. Mrs Sheridan was acquitted of perjury in Mr Sheridan's defamation case.
Mr McCombes said: I think it is quite a tragic position that she's been put in. She no doubt would extremely hostile towards me, but I don't feel any hostility towards Gail."