“We suspect you have committed a criminal offence and that this offence is continuing.” So say the letters written by the UK’s government health watchdog the Care Quality Commission as a result of my BBC Radio 4 investigation. The letters warn the unregistered companies treating addicts coming off alcohol and drugs that the penalty for providing medical services without being registered is up to a year in prison. I discovered that some of these companies and many websites supply potentially lethal quantities of medication to withdraw from alcohol sometimes with no health checks. Listen to my report on BBC Radio 4.
Drug related deaths in Scotland in 2018 have reached almost 1200 the highest figure since records began in 1996. They’ve gone up almost 30% in a year the highest annual rise since records began. Deaths in some areas have more than doubled. Scotland already had the highest rate of drug deaths in the EU but has now overtaken the USA to become the country with the highest per capita death rate in the world. Scottish drugs charities say people are dying waiting for drug treatment. Listen to my report on BBC Radio 4
Black men in England are 10 x more likely to experience psychosis than white men. But 3 recent studies of 60,000 children found black boys have fewer or no more mental health problems than white boys. What is going wrong? Listen to my BBC Radio 4 report https://bit.ly/2EbS8X0
Medical professionals assess up to 82% of people who kill themselves to be at no risk or low risk of suicide even if they’re seen in the week of their death. Could Artificial Intelligence do better? The first of my series mental health reports for BBC Radio 4 was a headline on the PM programme.
My first ever TV report on mental health went out on BBC1 earlier this year! While attacks on mental health staff in England have soared by over a third in 4 years one mental health Trust in a deprived area of East London has bucked the trend and achieved what they say is a world first reducing violence by up to 90%. And it hasn’t cost a penny extra and they haven’t used any extra medication. http://ow.ly/195y30n97UC
My story about life threatening practices at UK private rehabs – which after £300 million in cuts to state treatment now dominate the rehab market – headlines the news on Radio 4. Listen at the top of the programme and 32 minutes past the hour http://ow.ly/YmF730jgCey
My piece on the UK’s alcohol crisis that the government is doing nothing about according to one of their own MPs headlines the BBC news on the World at One on Radio 4. Tory MP Fiona Bruce – Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on alcohol harm – says the government is “neither recognising nor addressing” this crisis which is affecting millions of people. Hospital admissions for alcohol have doubled in a decade reaching their highest levels ever – over 1.1 million. The latest figures show deaths from alcohol have reached their highest level since records began. While the number of people accessing publicly funded detox and rehab for alcohol has almost halved since 2013 when £300 million of cuts to substance misuse funding started. And almost half of units offering publicly funded detox have closed since then.
I am back on the BBC! They liked my story about the “drastic” and “shocking” cuts to prison drug treatment at a time when even the Prisons Minister says the drugs situation in English prisons is “unacceptable” so much that it was headlining the news. Have a listen and let me know what you think.
I am a former correspondent for BBC Radio and Television, the Sunday Times, the Guardian and the Daily Mail. My assignments included: reporting from a barracks in Southern Sudan in a pair of hot pants, narrowly avoiding being possessed by a pig at a voodoo ceremony in Cuba and dropping acid with a bunch of Buddhist monks at a commune in California. I have reported from all over the world but was last based in Jamaica where I covered mainly crime and drugs, becoming rather too close to the subject matter. In the course of my travels I met the Queen and Snoop Dogg who became my closest imaginary friends. During my time at the BBC I was awarded an Order of the British Empire Medal (for never arriving on time) and couldn’t hit a deadline if it slapped me in the face.
I graduated from Oxford University with a 2:1 in English and an MA for sprinting around the library at 4am (due to cyclothymia highs). I spent much of my time there fantasising I was the Queen of Spain and, (unrelated to dope) a fried egg about to be hit by a train. I later graduated from Britain’s most exclusive rehab, with distinction, realising my life had taken a wrong turn. In recovery I was successfully treated at the Prison View psychiatric unit where I attended as an outpatient (7 days a week). I entered with 13 personalities and emerged with only 1.5 having recovered from a decades long battle with bulimia and self-harm.
I am celebrating a number of important milestones this year: 10 years clean from alcohol and drugs, 6 years abstinent from bulimia and self-harm, 3 years abstinent from shopping addiction and 23 seconds free of OCD (oops I’ve relapsed again). I am writing this after returning from my first trip abroad for over six years, having been stuck, totally grounded, in England because of my OCD. Apart from having to scan all 23,491 documents in my house, (in case an armed robber partial to eating paper broke in), which has taken the entire year, the trip was a fantastic success.
I am in remission from clinical depression, borderline personality disorder and PTSD. I have asked my therapist to marry me (so the therapy would be free).
I am not in recovery from an addiction to finding new mothers having spent 45 years on the waiting list for a parent transplant.
I got back to Jamaica at the beginning of December 2004 with a cocaine habit as out of control as a runaway bullet train. I was doing cocaine from 9am, not sleeping at all but crashing for an hour at 2pm the next day. I would be out at nightclubs every night, often on my own, as I was so wired I just had to get out of the house. I met a Jewish South African, Woody, at Kingston’s premier expat night club and, after a minor attempt at conversation, took him straight home to have sex. But I was so strung out on cocaine my ladyparts were like a vice and he couldn’t get his willy in. This was my first, but certainly not my last, experience of wearing a cocaine chastity belt. He was highly intelligent and I started going out with him (another advantage was he drank a lot). But he said it was off-putting kissing me as I tasted of cocaine. One night he had an important work function at his house. I left my cocaine at my mother’s house to try to stay under control. But halfway through the meal I announced I was “anxious” and would have to leave. I genuinely believed that cocaine calmed me down. I certainly felt, whenever I took it that a white light was flooding through my brain, obliterating any anxieties. I staggered back to his apartment, laughing and off my head, covered in mud, saying, “Guess what? I’ve fallen into a giant pothole.”
I would leave full and empty wrappers of cocaine lying around my flat. My helper (PC Jamaican term for cleaner) became a help-yourself-er as she stole my very expensive phone and various other things, realising I was completely off the rails.
One morning I’d been out all night at a club and had ended up at the house of some white Jamaicans. I was sprinting round the garden, pretending to be a humming bird. One of them said they would take me home (I wasn’t driving thank god). So I got into his car and swigged a bottle of pink liquid without asking what it was. I started projectile vomiting 20 feet away as the liquid was a heavy duty chemical for cleaning the engine of a car. I was so sick I couldn’t speak for days. But, not allowing that to interrupt my social life, I was out at a party that very night, doing sign language. When people asked me why I hadn’t gone to hospital I was mystified. Surely this kind of thing happened to everyone. Another day I was wondering round the supermarket for half an hour with a massive trolley, containing just 6 bottles of vodka and a tiny orange. I simply didn’t understand why people were staring at me.
I was commissioned to do a story about female sex tourism in Jamaica for Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4. Jamaica had become the world’s number 1 destination for ladies from North America and Europe hooking up with fake “boyfriends” aka SpongeBob no pants. Of course the majority of the women thought these boyfriends were real. I went to stay with my English friend, Tristram, in the countryside as he said his girlfriend, 17 year old stripper Big Bazumba, had contacts with gigolos. Of course she did, they were part of the same union, “Sex workers need Wonga.” The gigolos I met were sitting listlessly around on the beach waiting for women to arrive. But they had zero interest in thirty year old, fairly attractive, me. They were looking for women who were older, divorced and desperate. I was driven, with Big Bazumba, at high speed around the Montego Bay area doing copious quantities of cocaine in the back of the car. Although cocaine was only about 10 pounds a gramme in Jamaica I was spending 90 pounds a day.
I found out that Big Bazumba had stabbed a girl to death the week before. She’d said it was self-defence as the girl had tried to steal her chewing gum. She was out and about, completely free as a client had paid the police to get her off. This was one of the things that had started to disturb me about living in Jamaica. There was virtually no rule of law as anyone who had money would pay the police to drop the case. Thus, at a very exclusive party, a crazed ex-boyfriend beat a girl up in front of everyone, putting her in hospital. But there was no investigation as his parents paid off the police. I had been frustrated in the UK with what I saw as the Kafkaesque maze of rules and regulations that were dreamed up by bored bureaucrats. Like, for example, that it was illegal to do cocaine. But it started to occur to me that if anything happened to me in Jamaica, no one would ever be prosecuted or even questioned, unless they were very poor.
The stories that some of the gigolos came out with were breathtaking. They had women sending them money from up to twenty different countries. And they would tell every single one of these women that they loved them and wanted to be with them. They would obviously schedule them carefully so they didn’t arrive in Jamaica at the same time. I was amazed the women could be so gullible. But many of them were middle aged and single in their home countries, they just couldn’t resist the attentions of these incredibly sexy gigolos. One Italian woman I interviewed (or tried to interview as I kept having to nip into the loo for a line) said when she’d come to live with her “boyfriend” in Jamaica he’d made her sleep outside in the yard with the dogs. But she still didn’t leave him of course. Better psychologists than me can explain why these women would stay with men who were not only rinsing them out but treating them like animals. I would say they were probably playing out some kind of fucked up dynamic with their childhood and their fathers. Some of the women, mainly American, were a bit more clued up and realised these men were playing a game. But it was a game they were happy to play, despite the high entry fees and degrading rules.
Back at Tristram’s house, Big Bazumba starting gazing at me with adoration and playing with my hair. “If I looked like you I could do anything,” she said. As a mixed race person my looks were very popular in Jamaica, where I was known as a “browning,” the highest beauty accolade. Although my friends, by this stage were saying, “you used to be so pretty,” as my skin was grey and my eyes were darting around like a meteor shower because of the cocaine. The staring and fiddling with my hair then escalated to her caressing my leg and trying to stick her tongue in my mouth. “I’m not gay….at the moment,” I said. “And anyway, even if I were, it would put me off a bit that you’ve stabbed a girl last week.”
“Why?” she said, her big brown eyes looking at me with surprise. “Oh I don’t know,” I said, “I’d just rather not date someone who’s so handy with a kitchen knife.” She then got into the bed under the covers with me, giving me a seductive look. “That won’t work,” I said. “If I’m going to die I’m going to kill myself, not get it together with someone who if I piss them off is going to stab me in the chest.”
Hurt, she pulled away and allowed me to go to sleep. But when I woke up both my cocaine and my car had gone. “Tristram!” I shouted, shaking him awake. “Big Bazumba’s stolen my car!” “You must have upset her,” he said. “She hasn’t done that for a week.” After frantic phone calls to Big Bazumba’s mobile phone, the car was retrieved and she came back again. Of course I forgave her immediately as she brought back my cocaine. Tristram said that her using had got completely out of control since she’d stabbed the other girl, as she was trying to snort away the guilt. I chalked it up to another of those “interesting experiences you have while taking drugs” and thought it would make a good party story when I got back to Notting Hill. Ironically Woody had accused me of being gay and flirting with a female friend of his when I’d been chatting, animatedly and in fluent Spanish, to her. Little did he know what I was actually getting up to…. Sign up for updates on this blog
With the return of my car I started bombing around the roads of rural Jamaica alone at 4am, which Tristram said was suicidal as only criminals were out at that time. But that was the point, I was suicidal. I knew I needed to leave Jamaica but, because of the terrible state my mother was in, I felt I couldn’t go. The only way out, I thought, was to press the ejector seat on the plane of life, without a parachute. Then no one, especially myself, could blame me for deserting my mother.
After I returned home to Kingston, I was hoovering up cocaine. I had done some incredibly powerful interviews about the sex tourism. But I was so strung out, mind like a roomful of confetti, that I couldn’t put the documentary together. Of course it’s difficult for me to remember the interviews, apart from the most extreme, as I was so off my head at the time it’s all been wiped from my mind.
At least I was eating healthily, I thought. I would have strictly organic, non GMO, preservative free meals until 11pm. Then I would go out bingeing on fast food, fried chicken and ice cream then puke and eat some more. To save time I would eat it all over the loo. The whole process was so quick I didn’t even need to move the television into the toilet like I had before. I was doing that three times a night, ignoring the doctors warnings that the losing combination of full time cocaine addiction and bulimia could make me drop dead of a fatal heart attack any time. I was hurtling towards the ground without being able to stop. Perhaps I thought I could fly.
On Christmas Day I couldn’t go round to see my family, spending it alone with a litre of Vodka and a large bag of coke. It was the worst Christmas Day I’d ever had. The next day, I saw the news of the catastrophic death toll in the Boxing Day Tsunami. But I couldn’t connect with the tragedy, as my life was crashing around me, devastated by my own cocaine Tsunami. I tried to give up cocaine for a few days but was drinking heavily and became so depressed I reached for the cocaine again. I ended up crying on the shoulder of my best friend in Jamaica, Candy, wailing, “I just can’t do this anymore.” I told my family that I was doing cocaine. This wasn’t a big surprise, as I’d made a hole in my nose so huge by snorting it that every time I breathed I made a loud whistling noise you could hear 50 feet away. How they hadn’t realised about the bulimia is a mystery though, as I would literally run to the loo straight after I’d eaten anything. I started looking, half-heartedly, into rehab options in Jamaica but decided that an open ward in hospital with male crack addicts from ghettos would be dangerous (for the designer bags).
I did my final interview as a foreign correspondent for the BBC at the beginning of 2005. Of course I didn’t realise this was the end of my journalism career, thinking that I just had a tiny problem with drugs that would take no time to sort out. I was so wired on coke my brain almost blew a fuse and I took a childish glee in snorting it, loudly and obtrusively, throughout the entire (telephone) interview. And the interview itself was on cocaine – the drop in the amount being smuggled between Jamaica and the UK. I giggled as I relished the irony. Afterwards Radio 5 Live told me it was a “fantastic” interview and they must speak to me again soon. I remember feeling very, very, happy after the cocaine interview thinking, “see I’ve still got what it takes.”
My upbeat mood was not, in any way, affected when I was burgled by my dealer, who pilfered all my bank cards. I assured my family that the break in was “not a problem at all.” I owed him money, of course. My identity and bank cards could easily be replaced, my dealer, on the other hand, could not. My family said I should call the police (the dealer was poor so there was a chance something might be done). But I said I couldn’t possibly call the police as my dealer was: “a good friend, practically my best friend” a fallacy I (tragically) believed. The only person I trusted more, I told them, was my main dealer in England – the shambling, psycho, crack-head with a penchant for punching his girlfriends who’d set up a tent in my sitting room. They decided I’d lost the plot and, despite my declarations that I couldn’t leave Woody, whose jealousy I interpreted as love, my family said I had to go into treatment. My bags were packed and I was forcibly escorted to the airport, accompanied by my cousin Michelle.
Before I left my house, I had a massive cocaine binge covering my suitcase, passport, laptop case and clothes (inconveniently black) in snow. By the time I got to the airport, I was so wasted my suitcase seemed to have developed a mind (and direction) of its own and some kind of fault with the wheels. To be honest it wasn’t just the suitcase, the walls and the other people seemed to be spinning round as well. Officials were alerted to my discombobulated state when I was completely unable to get my suitcase onto the weighing machine at check in. After assistance from airline officials, my bags finally went on their way all lightly sprinkled with cocaine. My cousin Michelle spent almost half an hour trying to wipe the cocaine off my clothes in the VIP lounge at Kingston airport. Luckily (you will see later why) we were travelling First Class. This was funded by my aunt, who was controlling my mother’s funds, not, as usual, my overdraft.
At Heathrow airport I got off the plane, and joined the queue for passport control. They frowned and gave me a funny look when I handed in a white British passport, coated in cocaine. The lady at the desk seemed to turn and make a signal to a man behind.
The baggage hall seemed to be a haze, all the suitcases and people looked the same. My trolley was travelling in circles instead of a straight line. There was a lot of faulty equipment on this trip. It definitely wasn’t me. As I reached for a bag that I thought might be mine, I lost my footing and fell onto the belt. Surrounded by suitcases, I felt a bit confused. But I only travelled along for a couple of feet before a friendly northern man helped me off.
I was arrested, snorting loudly, after Customs officials asked politely if I “had a cold.”
“An occupational hazard of working in the tropics…” I replied. It did not help matters that I mistook the red and green Customs exit for a traffic light which I (twitchily) waited to change. Sundry dogs, scanning machines, passengers and tea ladies detected that myself and my possessions were heavily (and visibly) coated in cocaine. “We think you have been in contact with a Class A drug,” the Customs officers said to me. “What on earth are you talking about?” I said. “Stop messing around Madam, you’re covered in cocaine.” Luckily, Customs decided I wasn’t a mule (they travel in Economy) but that I might as well be some kind of donkey as I was terminally stupid. I was charged not with smuggling but with “impersonating Scarface” and released into the custody of my family.
I was met by my father and Alex, my friend from Oxford, and sequestered in Alex’s house in the country. I suggested excursions to London, “I must see the latest waxwork of the Pope at Madam Tussauds” – in order to score. But, to avoid a less mind expanding form of incarceration, I was soon forced into rehab. After careful consideration, I felt St Chillin’s, Britain’s most exclusive rehab, would look best on my C.V. I might even bump into a celebrity. Sign up for updates on this blog Follow me on TwitterSend me a friend request on Facebook