I transfer to a tough rehab bristling with ex-cons where I meet the “love of my life,” an ex-armed robber, pimp and drug dealer who’s forgotten how long he’s spent in jail.

BRIXTON PRISON SHOT

I arrived at St Margaret’s, in South London, five weeks after I’d given up cocaine. But still tested off the scale for cocaine in a drugs test. I had come down on my own on the train, which raised suspicions that I might have scored en route. I vigorously denied this, I was now determined to get clean. It was explained to me that I must have had so much cocaine in my system that it hadn’t exited in 24 hours (as it usually does) but was still hanging around in quantities enough to supply an entire rock band the next month. Also the hole in my nose (from snorting cocaine) was so big that every time I breathed I made a loud whistling noise like a kettle when it was boiling. I had only had a tiny drug problem after all.

The counsellor who searched my suitcase said I couldn’t possibly go into the rehab with that much cleavage showing. As usual, I was wearing one of my ultra low cut tops which my nipples kept popping out of. I did not consider it embarrassing that my exceptionally skimpy tops would often fall off completely while I was dancing wildly in a club. Or that my nipples would pop out so frequently to say hello. This, I considered, was part of being an extrovert. I was handed a sack like top, rejected by a Ruritanian potato farmer, and told to put it on.

I was unimpressed when I walked into the sitting room at St Margaret’s (known by everyone else as the lounge) that everybody in there was smoking. I had given up smoking at the age of 25, substituting it for cocaine, and did not want to be exposed to other people’s second hand smoke. Although the threat of instant heart attack from my cocaine addiction and bulimia had lifted, the equally important threat of wrinkles remained. Arriving in designer shoes and a fake Louis Vuitton handbag, I noticed a distinct lack of designer gear and thought everyone looked pretty rough. Quite a few of the men looked like they could handle themselves in a fight and I was horrified to find out that a lot of them had criminal records. Some had actually arrived directly from an extended stay at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Hopefully they found the room service as good as my uncle did in Brixton prison which he announced was “the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in in my life.”

True I had done things that might have got me into trouble with the law. But there was no way I was a criminal: for a start, I hadn’t got caught. When I announced, in the newcomer group, that I was extremely frightened as so many people seemed to have criminal records as long as the M11, three piercing pairs of blue eyes glared daggers at me. “What’s wrong with that?” they said. “Absolutely nothing,” I stuttered, “I just haven’t met anyone, apart from my dealers, who’s had one before.” My father had been done multiple times for drink driving, leading to an ecstatically exciting trip in the back of a police van when I was 7 but, as everyone I knew was into drink driving, I thought this didn’t count. One of those pairs of piercing blue eyes would change the course of my life.

The lady from the Kensington Substance Abuse Team, which was paying for my treatment, was certainly right when she said St Margaret’s was hardcore. Many of the clients had gone so far with their using that they’d actually died – been brought back round by the doctors after being pronounced clinically dead. One of them had even been buried when she’d started shouting from the coffin that she was alive and needed a fix. Almost everyone in there had progressed onto a 24/7 crack and heroin habit, apart from some chronic alcoholics who were either part of the dead brigade or had wet brain syndrome. Almost all of the women had had their children taken away, one because she’s tried to exchange the child for a large bag of crack. I was very far from St Chillin’s (my previous, very exclusive rehab) and was absolutely terrified.

Not that this stopped me looking after my appearance. Absolutely not. I was still wearing the green contact lenses and, due to the lack of hairdressing facilities at the rehab, had concealed my hair under a massive extension ponytail. I still had all my designer clothes, real and fake designer bags, but I had left the designer underwear at my father’s house as there was no way I was going to pull on a council estate in South London. How little did I know.

The best thing about St Margaret’s was that Ama, the Nigerian woman who was in charge of the rehab, was my counsellor. Ama had long braids was quite tall and had a calm but very firm face. But she said I was walking around like a mental patient and that I might be too disturbed to stay. After investigating the situation with St Chillin’s, Ama obtained a psychiatric report saying I had borderline personality disorder. At least this was better than the psychiatrist in Jamaica who’d said I was bipolar because I was up and down like a yoyo with cocaine and alcohol.

It had caused a certain amount of resentment in the rehab, particularly among the women, when I had arrived with a fake designer bag that everyone thought cost a thousand pounds. When they found out that I had a house in Notting Hill that was, even then, worth over a million pounds, this resentment escalated sharply. Few people at St Margaret’s still had their house, most were barely clinging onto social housing. Unfortunately, though, the bank had launched repossession proceedings on my beloved house, because I had spent the mortgage money on a Dior bikini and 5 pairs of designer sunglasses. I tried to explain to the mortgage company that the bikini had been a life or death decision (in fashion terms at least) but they said I was a bad credit risk and wouldn’t budge. I was begging my aunt in Jamaica to pay off the mortgage arrears, but since they’d discovered the cocaine addiction their hand outs were a lot less forthcoming. Actually, I was the poorest person in the rehab as I was not entitled to benefits and had no income from my main rental property. I had to survive on £5 a week. Luckily I didn’t smoke. Almost all of my paltry pennies went on fake nails and industrial quantities of powdered sweetener which I was chronically addicted to. It did look like cocaine but unlike my previous behaviour with the anti-depressants, I wasn’t snorting it.

As I still had cocaine in my system it perhaps wasn’t surprising that I had an elaborate, euphoric dream about doing cocaine in a million pound yacht. The glamorous associations of cocaine had clearly not been dented by my arrest at Heathrow, where I’d been covered in cocaine and charged with “Impersonating Scarface.” Or by the fact that I’d been buying it in a ghetto in Jamaica where I was lucky not to have my throat cut.

As soon as I’d arrived at St Margaret’s, I realised it was in a shitty area. I mean this literally as I noticed dog shit all over the place. I couldn’t remember this quantity of dog shit in West London but South London was covered in it. It was like a bacteria that I was suddenly noticing, unpleasant but everywhere. Little did I know there was no difference in the quantities of dog shit in South and West London but that my perception of the dog shit was the OCD rearing its ugly head again. Fear of dog shit would later become a defining feature in my life as I developed a fixation that the dog shit would leap off the pavement and jump into my mouth.

I got into serious hot water when I said to my mentor at the rehab, a girl who’d been there slightly longer than me, “I can’t believe you were actually a crack whore.” The reason I couldn’t believe it was because she was incredibly beautiful. I had never spoken to or met a crack whore before although my friends in Notting Hill had said that my skimpy clothing gave me “a crack whore look.” This faux pas caused a massive feud in the rehab in which everyone took sides, some saying it was outrageous that I had referred to her in this way, others saying it was true. After my former mentor threatened me in a group the situation was escalated for the staff to sort out. Ama said I had been “naïve” and another staff member said that although it was very offensive it was true. This polarized the rehab and almost caused me to be thrown out. But I hung on in there wanting to stay close to Ama.

As my mother was in crisis with the mental age of a one year old, I embarked on the project which has dominated my time being clean: to find a replacement mother. Ama looked identical to my mother (well she had a similar nose) so I decided she was my perfect mother substitute. I had always been on the waiting list for a parent transplant. But now decided I couldn’t just wait for a new parent to arrive: I had to pursue them more aggressively. Every day we had to fill out a sheet saying “what are your cravings today?” Everyone else said “I could really do with a lump of gear or some crack,” I said, “I want Ama to breast feed me.” In my therapy sessions with her, I would push my chair so close to her that I was practically sitting in her lap. When she went unexpectedly on holiday, I burst into tears and asked if I could come too. I just didn’t want to leave her side. For the first time with a therapist I told her everything about me, that I had thought I was the ugliest person in the world and had always been trying to improve myself. There were some things that had happened in my childhood, which I’d always been puzzled by. She said they were sexual abuse.                                                         Sign up for updates on this blog

In the meantime, fights would break out between some of the men at St Margaret’s who had to be separated repeatedly by the staff. Amazingly a girl, Sharon, got pregnant, apparently in the TV lounge in front of all the CCTV cameras. Unbeknownst to me, as I had no access to the internet, YouTube was launched. But there was so much drama around me I stopped watching soap operas as I felt like I was living in one.

When I arrived, Ama told me I would have to leave if I made myself sick as, she said, they could not treat bulimia at St Margaret’s. So I developed a fixation with the exercise bike in the gym. I would leap from my dinner and jump onto the exercise bike to burn 5000 calories. I was on the exercise bike for so long I was consuming as many calories as Neanderthal Man at the darkest point of the Ice Age. One of the counsellors said I was very thin and getting thinner every day while everyone else was getting fat. I said I was allergic to the food and had “no issue” with the exercise bike. Despite this when someone broke it, I tried to put a contract out on them. But alas the would be assassins said half a packet of fake nail glue – which was all I had to offer – just wasn’t enough.

A massive drama occurred when our bedrooms were searched for drugs and no drugs but a mobile phone was found in mine (concealed inside a designer shoe). The clients, or rather inmates, at St Margaret’s were banned from having mobile phones so they could “focus on themselves.” I said I had never used the mobile phone, which was true. But Sharon said she had heard me talking in my room as well as making choking noises that sounded like I was being sick. I was outraged by this as I hadn’t been sick at all, switching to exercise bulimia instead, and had not used the mobile phone as I thought I’d get caught.

When I wanted to leave as people were bullying me, my friend Teresa said, “how can you leave – you have no money?” I was forced to stay at St Margaret’s as I couldn’t afford to leave but complained to the Kensington Substance Abuse Team that the confrontational style of the rehab amounted to bullying.

Nonetheless, I formed a strange bond with Fred, an ex-armed robber, pimp and drug dealer who’d forgotten how long he’d spent in jail. We were in the same therapy group, were the only clients in the rehab who had Ama as a counsellor and bonded over the fact that we had both been sexually abused. We couldn’t have been more different: I grew up in what’s now a 10 million pound house in Kensington (which just shows that money can’t buy you love. Or not from your parents at least.) He grew up on what he called “one of the worst sink estates in Britain” which was featured with all the washing flapping in the breeze in Channel 4’s “urban nightmare” promos.

AYLESBURY ESTATE WITH CAPTION ON IMAGE

While my school report at the age of 7 said “Caroline has a Mastermind like knowledge of Greek myths,” he’d already dropped out of school at the age of 7 and started shoplifting. I later found out this was because he’d been bullied for being top of the class. When I was fifteen and about to do my Oxbridge exams he was just starting his first stint in jail. It’s a massive failure of the British education system that someone as bright as him and brilliant with words was not allowed to flourish at school and turned to a life of crime. If he’d had an education I’d always said he’d have ended up as the Editor of the News of the World which would have combined his interest in words and criminality. His father had been an armed robber as well, I found out. And when he was sentenced, his mother had told all the children that the police had fitted their father up. He’d developed a hatred of the police and authority from then on, which was only just shifting now he was clean.

He told Ama he fancied me. She said I wasn’t well. I told her I fancied him too. He was incredibly hot and looked just like Daniel Craig. Everyone wanted him. I had rejected many a man in Jamaica as unsuitable because of unacceptable deformities such as piddlingly small toes. But Fred had the most gorgeous feet that he would wiggle tantalisingly in front of me. He was not the only man at the rehab who was interested in me, there was an entire football team. Another was Neal, middle class and highly intelligent who I tried to stick to like glue. But Ama put us both on “behavioural contracts” saying we couldn’t be in the same room at the same time. I was outraged by this, as he was one of the few people in the rehab who was quite like me and even lived in Notting Hill. But Ama, knowing something I did not, said he was bad for me and did her utmost to keep us apart. Neal, who was slightly too intellectual to accept the 12 step approach, never really stayed clean and later died of alcoholism.

We were forced, some very reluctantly, to go to 12 Step meetings. But “Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous,” in that enclave of South London, was extremely rough. It was full of ex-cons and people who were missing various body parts after a fight – the lucky ones just an ear the unlucky ones their appendix or a pancreas. The only meeting I liked was a women’s “Vodka for Breakfast Anonymous” group where everyone had their full complement of ears, organs and even, amazingly, teeth.

Ama launched a plan to overcome my Body Dysmorphic Disorder, where I thought that, without the green contact lenses and other accoutrements, I looked like the Elephant Man. She said I needed to take out the green contact lenses, ditch the high heels and tight clothes and wear flat trainers, the Ruritanian farmer shirt and some baggy tracksuit bottoms that belonged to a lesbian.

I was astonished when I transformed into this supremely dowdy state that all the men who had fancied me before still fancied me now I looked like a lesbian potato farmer. This led to a massive improvement in the Body Dysmorphic Disorder, making me think I didn’t look too bad at all. I started walking around with a positive skip in my step.

I had also come in to the rehab with 5 different ages, ranging from 25 to 32, depending on who I was speaking to. I now told everyone my actual age, 35, and when they questioned how I’d aged so quickly explained that along with the mobile phone I’d concealed a time machine in my room.

While keeping me away from all the other men, Ama encouraged me to get close to Fred saying we were “brother and sister” and should “look after each other.” She sent us to a Codependents Anonymous meeting together. I had now realised that there was a 12 step fellowship for absolutely everything; including people addicted to knitting replica dinosaur wings. When we got back from the Coda meeting, everyone said we looked like we’d been on a date. And that was exactly what it had turned into as our feelings for each other became clear and we started holding hands.

As he left, Ama warned him to “stay away from women.” But not listening to this at all, he told me he had feelings for me. For some reason which is unclear (as I was back on the anti-depressants) I had developed a raging horn. An older woman in the rehab (one of those who’d “died”) said I looked like I wanted “to fuck every man in the room.” My first experience of being rejected by a substitute mother came when Ama threw me out as I was parading around in an over sexed way as if I wanted to shag everyone. As my father picked me up from the rehab, I had tears in my eyes at the thought of leaving Ama and was straight on the phone to Fred. I ended up in my house in Notting Hill which had been empty for almost six months leaving me without an income. Fred came straight round to the house saying he would “look after me” until I got into another rehab. And look after me he did….

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Next week: being hated at rehab Hope House before I even arrive, orgasms and the wrong pair of knickers in the ex-armed robber’s car.

When celebrities destroy your house and cut through your bedroom door with a carving knife saying, “I miss you.”

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January 1999

My mother had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s some years earlier which didn’t stop her pointing her fingers very firmly at me. The shaking had got worse and my mother decided she was going to intervene before she became unable to reprimand me. The operation that was recommended by the doctors was having an electrode implanted into her brain to control the shaking. But the electrode would have involved my mother either moving to the United States, as the implant needed to be monitored every two weeks, or constantly travelling to the US. Determined to stay in Jamaica, with the favourite part of her family (ie not me) she decided she would instead have a partial lobotomy. This was a much riskier operation to remove part of her brain to control the shaking.

As my mother’s shaking worsened and the operation approached, I suddenly became obsessed with building a house in Notting Hill. I was living in Maida Vale but all my friends were in Notting Hill, it was 1999 and the epicentre of cool. I spent hours on the phone to my mother begging her for the money to build the house. She kept saying, “why don’t you wait till I die?” which wouldn’t have worked as by then she’d given it all away. It was like pulling teeth from an un-sedated (and peckish) polar bear trying to get the money out of my mother. This was galling as she threw money, quite indiscriminately, at her family in Jamaica. When I said my mother had given me some of the money to buy my first flat, I did somewhat gloss over the difficulty of this. We saw several flats but just as we were about to make make an offer, I would leave a glass on the table and my mother would withdraw from the flat, saying I would “turn it into a slum.” This left me wandering around, without a settled home, for years.

Eventually, in the spring of 1999, I persuaded her to give me one of her flats in Maida Vale. I sold my flat in Maida Vale, for a considerable profit and moved into lodgings in Notting Hill to find a new home. Alas the lodgings didn’t last for long because of my mess and because the landlady, very strangely, slept in the bathroom and would have a fit if you went in there at night for a wee. I was clearly still attracted to nutcases and freaks. I moved in with my cousin, Miranda, in Ladbroke Grove, still obsessed with building a house. She was used to the mess so didn’t complain.

After some searching, I found a derelict garage in an idyllic mews on the lower slopes of Notting Hill, as it slid down towards Ladbroke Grove. Rejected by squatters for decades, its only inhabitants had been a squadron of squiffy pigeons, (Imodium is obviously unknown in the pigeon world). Luckily the pigeons had been removed before I saw the house. But the pigeons have had the last laugh. In 2015 they’re all back there now. Despite the holes in the roof, rotting floors and smashed windows, (“an opportunity to put your stamp on the place” the agent said), the price tag was a hefty four hundred thousand pounds. The London property market was just beginning a massive boom, which lasted until 2008. This came after it had been stuck in the doldrums of recession for over a decade following the late 80’s early 90’s housing crash, with its interest rates of 15% and tsunami of repossessions. The half a million pound garage did have permission to demolish and build a house. But I didn’t actually like the design of the Dadaist greenhouse it had permission to build. It had a glass roof in the main bedroom, which made it far too visible from the higher houses behind. I decided this would interfere with my sex life and that the house needed to be redesigned.

I set about trying to find an architect to revise the plans for the house. I saw a stunning custom made glass staircase pictured in a magazine. I contacted the architect and commissioned her to do a re-design.  One of the things I didn’t like about the design of the proposed house was the lack of windows at the back. This made it poky and dark, like a dwarf’s boudoir in Lord of the Rings. I visited the planning officer at Kensington Council to see if it could be changed. The planning officer said the council would welcome the redesign of the house, which it thought was a bit of a modernist eyesore, and wanted more “traditional” mews features, such as stable doors and hay. I said I (unfortunately) didn’t have a horse but would try to work some bales of hay into the design.

I visited the neighbours to check whether the redesign of the house would be acceptable. The Croatian neighbour, Mrs Milosevic, (“No relation! No relation!” she screamed loudly upon introduction), was opposed to the new design. She said the windows at the back would invade the privacy of her garden – a six foot high tangle of weeds – and a poodle nail clipping service on the first floor. Luckily she’d decided to sell her house and the new neighbours didn’t mind.

In the summer, as my mother’s operation approached, I became more and more obsessed with buying the house, not realising that I was wanting to create a nest as my mother was falling apart. The British obsession with buying property has been described as an “Edifice Complex.” And I had one so huge I would have needed to clone Sigmund Freud and move him into my bedroom to sort it out. When I actually went to Canada to accompany my mother for the operation, I was on the phone to the estate agent and solicitor 20 hours a day. My family thought this was awful, evidence that I was selfish as my mother said. But the reality was I couldn’t cope with the fact that my mother might die in the operation and was using the house to distract myself. After all the abuse I’d suffered from my mother as a child, my feelings about her illness and possible death were complex to say the least.

Back in London, I took the biggest risk of my financial life. I was unable to get a mortgage on the flat my mother had given me in Maida Vale, so exchanged contracts on the garage in Notting Hill without the funds to complete. I would get the money somehow, I thought. I also didn’t have planning for a structure I actually liked, the peeping Tom roofed oddity that had permission was not my cup of tea. My mortgage adviser asked me, “what is your attitude to financial risk?” I said I was cautious, he said I was, “as buccaneering as the Pirates of Penzance.” The only way I got through that month, before I finally did get another mortgage, was by necking Valium which I persuaded myself was a new kind of vitamin. But I was buying my dream home, that I would live in for the rest of my life, or so I thought. My obsession with the house was causing problems with my cousin who politely asked me to leave. I moved into the derelict garage in August 1999 causing the estate agent to fall off his chair when I told him. The place was still covered in pigeon shit.

The great attraction was the location – a quiet, charming, peaceful, little backwater. Or so I thought..

I was not the only new girl on the block. A few doors down the street, TV presenter, Paula Yates, ex- wife of Bob Geldof and partner of dead rock star Michael Hutchence had set up home. The house’s framboise walls were filled with fairy lights, exotic drapes and substances. But bereavement had taken a bitter toll on Paula. Soon after arriving at the house, she purchased absolutely too much Absolut in the local Lost Your License. While walking down the street she strayed from a straight line, or even stumbled. Her three daughters with Bob Geldof, the curiously named, Fifi Trixabelle, Peaches and Pixie, went straight back to his house.

Within hours, sinister looking snapperazzi swarmed into the street, parking outside my house all night and day. This made moving all my carefully selected ethnic artefacts into my new house quite difficult. I say “house” because – as they say – an Englishman’s hovel is his castle. And just because I was living in a slum didn’t mean I couldn’t have chic accessories.

But I had very little money and had taken on a massive project I couldn’t really afford. My friends thought I was mad, had taken on too much, and did keep pointing out that I was living in a garage encrusted with pigeon shit. One room, particularly thickly pooed, I optimistically re-christened “the principal guest bedroom.” I promptly announced I wanted to rent it to a lodger, to raise money for the building works. “A LODGER!” exclaimed my horrified friends. “But even the pigeons have left.” “Nonsense,” I said, “all it needs is a clean and a good coat of paint.” And so it was. With electricity and water restored (and a Biological Warfare team to remove the pigeon shit) the place acquired a distinctly bohemian air. The wording of the advert for the room (in London Property Bible Loot) required some care. “You have to say it’s a Squat,” insisted the Friends. “A Squat?” I said. “That’s unfair! I’ve been to far better Squats than this!” The phrase I selected, amid gasps from astonished Friends, was “requiring some decoration.” I also said the house had “a low carbon footprint” ie no central heating.

At 6am in the morning the ad came out the mobile began to jerk in a frenzied fashion. (The room, after all, was cheap and in one of London’s Most Fashionable Zones). “Wearily, I answered.

“Vloom you adletize in Root it flee?”

“No,” I said, “it’s gone.” The same applied to students, vegans and cheapskates who wanted to share the room with a spouse.

After five thousand frenzied calls, I’d selected a crowd to visit the house that night. Returning from work at 3 – I was surprised to see a gaggle of early Looters hovering outside the house. “The room,” I said, “is not ready.” The bed was still in the garage. A suspicious trickle of water was pouring from the roof. “Nonsense!” they cried, “it’s perfect! When can we move in?” Clearly location not sanitation was key in their quest.

An Evil Plan was forming in my head. “Not all of you can move in,” I said sweetly. “But there is the space downstairs?”   “The Garage?” a Looter asked. “I wouldn’t call it that,” I said. We trooped downstairs.

“The Car repair pit,” one sputtered, “it’s still here!” “Very useful,” I trilled, “for a sunken bed or bath.” “I’LL TAKE IT!” yelled one and that was that. I was a proper slum landlord, my only saving grace that I was living in the slum.

Despite a large hole in its roof, there was fierce competition for the room upstairs, which eventually went to sealed bids. The winner was a pretty young actress, unemployed of course, who was working in a local bar. In the garage I had the executive producer of TV show, Film 2000. Why on earth would he move in? Well the garage was dark enough to look like a derelict cinema.

The Matrix had been released, arguing that reality was an artificial construct created by machines. I decided to take this on board and mentally transformed the derelict garage into a 7 bedroom mansion with a swimming pool and off street parking for my 5 imaginary cars. The news was full of stories about the Millenium Bug. Businesses were (quite pointlessly as it turned out) spending billions preparing their computer systems for possible collapse. Luckily my garage, where all the fixtures and fittings were already vintage in 1922, was completely immune to the problems that beset the more high tech world.

As the end of 1999 approached something changed – dramatically – which shook our entire world. Not the dawning of a New Millennium – as this was no surprise. Dwarfing this, my flat mate scored a leading part in a TV soap. Her face was on the cover of every TV magazine and her wages shot up to £2,000 pounds an hour. Amazingly, she said she wanted to stay in my “house” saying the rain falling onto her bed was “quite refreshing at night.” Sack loads of fan mail – some clearly from the clinically insane – turned up at the house and were read in disparaging tones. She said she was too famous to walk down the street and started catching a cab to Tesco – at the end of the Road. Requests for washing up were dismissed with the phrase: “please email my PA.”

Celebrity hangers-on, with nasty habits, started to frequent the house and turned my perfectly respectable slum into something really squalid. Cigarettes were stubbed out into rotting plates of food and cocaine was firmly back on my menu. Unfortunately I was sleeping in the sitting room where the cocaine sessions took place.

I made a flimsy MDF wall to enclose my bed with a door held shut with electrical cable. My flat mate said this made her “feel excluded.” So, quite understandably, she chopped through the cable with a carving knife and burst into my bedroom one night, borrowing my cocaine. She must have had a toothache as the pharmacy was closed. I did enjoy the celebrity parties though, where I went wild dirty dancing with a 10 foot inflatable bottle of Banana Schnapps.

But, at home, another thing was happening that was very strange indeed. My flatmate seemed to agree with everything I said and appeared to be just like me. She later said she was acting and “mirroring” everything I did to make me like her more. But, duped by this, I decided we were soul mates and “meant to be together.” I was falling in love with her. I was devastated when she said, just like Alex, that I was too short and that she liked tall women instead. And even more upset when she went off with the other lodger who was living in the cave downstairs. Rejected and excluded in my own home, I asked them to move out, saying building works were imminent, (although they weren’t).

In fact the tenders for the building project had come in massively over my budget, forcing the axing of the glass staircase and glass ceiling in the hall as well as the, less obviously useful, glass toilet and glass dishwasher. When the revised plans arrived, (sadly denuded of glass), I was surprised to see the French doors in the sitting room four foot above the ground. The architect recommended a flight of stairs taking up half of the room. I vetoed the stairs and said the plans had to be redesigned. But I still needed more money, and had a few ideas. I was desperate to have an ocelot and could start a breeding programme creating mini ocelots in the garage downstairs. Upon investigation, Harrods pet department had no ocelots, so I would have to try to beg my mother for more.              Sign up for updates on this blog

My mother had nearly ruined the Christmas of 1999 for me, saying as, I was preparing to go to Jamaica to visit her, that “there was no point my coming” as she “wanted some space.” The 5,000 miles between us were obviously cramping her style; she hinted our relationship would be better if I moved to Japan. I stopped speaking to her for weeks but then, after pressure from my Jamaican family, resumed contact again and booked the flight to see her. My family in Jamaica always excused my mother’s mad behaviour. For example, my mother had put all her property assets in London in her cousin-in-law’s name in an effort to avoid inheritance tax which I wouldn’t have been liable for anyway. I said this meant she didn’t legally own the flats but she dismissed my concerns. Instead she forced me to change my will, which she dictated to the solicitor, as she said now the flat in Maida Vale had been transferred into my name, if I died and it went to my father she would have a coronary. In the new will everything was left to her. Of course when I got to Jamaica, at Christmas, the first thing she said was “go and stay in a hotel.”

It was in the next year, 2000, that a disaster happened in my life. My mother had a massive stroke, possibly connected to the lobotomy. She had to go to a stroke rehab centre in Florida in the summer and I went with her to keep her company. But my feelings towards my mother were confused because of her abuse. She said I was selfish and uncaring because I didn’t visit the stroke treatment centre once. But I just couldn’t handle what was happening to her. To fly in like Florence Nightingale and want to look after her just wasn’t going to happen after the way she’d behaved. She had never really looked after me.

In Florida I had another accident in my attempts to “improve” my appearance. I wanted to grow my hair and had discovered Minoxidil maximum strength for balding men, aka “Amazon Head.” This said “do not use if you are a woman,” on the packet, “may grow facial hair,” but despite this I poured most of a bottle on my head. Suddenly my heart started racing and I turned purple in the face. If I’d checked on the packet I’d have seen that Minoxidil was a heart medication and that an overdose can cause heart attack. I was too embarrassed to go to A and E saying “I’ve overdosed on “Amazon Head.”” So I, perhaps dangerously, waited for the symptoms to go away. After my face returned to normal, I decided no more throwing funny chemicals at my scalp. This resolution lasted until I returned to England and the memory of the near heart attack had faded to (just another) beauty legend. This problem of my hair not growing, because it was Afro and would only get to a certain length, had beset me since I was a child. I hated going to the hairdresser to have it cut and dreamt of long flowing blonde locks like Rapunzel. But no matter how much I prayed, waist length hair was as much of a fantasy as winning the Oscar for best actress. I say fantasy, despite not doing any acting, I had already written the speech.

I returned to London and the building works began on September 9th 2000. As the demolition team went in and the house practically fell down on its own, the builders remarked they were surprised we hadn’t fallen through the rotten floors. The immersion heater exploded as the house came down.

When all that was left of my house was a hole, I was surprised to see a picture of my scaffolding headlining the one o clock news. I rushed to the house to find the street swarming with camera crews but not, alas, with builders whose legality was tenuous and had all disappeared. Paula Yates had died of a heroin overdose. I looked bleakly at the hole that used to be my home, wondering when the builders will be back. The BBC was hassling me to get an interview with Paula Yates nanny but she’d flown to Outer Mongolia to avoid the press.

Eventually the builders came back. I thought things would return to normal. Wrong… The TV footage of the idyllic mews had caught the eye of film location scouts. An endless stream of film crews hit the street, blocking it for days each month with dollies, lighting rigs and Big Star Winnebagos. The entire equipment for the films was dumped outside my house. None of my builders or materials could get in and nor could I. I complained and was given a bunch of daisies to compensate.

When the building project started, I had moved out to a friend’s flat in Shepherds Bush conveniently close to the BBC. Although, since I’d developed the obsession with the house, my focus on work had deteriorated rapidly. My room in the flat in Shepherds Bush was too messy to be called a pigsty, (as a pig would have complained) with clothes all over the floor and samples of wood and stone flooring from the house in my bed. I needed to get close to the materials I thought. When I unexpectedly pulled an eligible barrister, he took one look at the room and said “you’ve got slabs of stone in your bed, it looks uncomfortable, perhaps I’d better leave.” He refused to give me his phone number saying it would get lost in the mess. So I took up with another bod at the BBC who said (after I’d puked on the floor) that there “must be something wrong with me,” because of the way I behaved on drink. I still didn’t realise I had a problem with alcohol.

Late in 2000, I went out one night to Shoreditch in East London with Susanna. I got completely shit faced drinking double vodkas and pulled an attractive artist, so said to Susanna I wasn’t going home, or not with her at least. By the end of the night, I wasn’t going anywhere, as I was falling on the floor and crawling around. He took my back to his flat, where I got lost on the way to the bathroom at night and weed in my handbag. Still resolutely anti casual sex I had refused to sleep with him when I was so drunk. But the next day I thought what the fuck and slept with him. After that I became totally obsessed dreaming of moving to East London to start a private zoo, and fantasising about him reading me Chinese poetry in bed. The fact that I wouldn’t understand it just made it all more Zen. The tiny problem that I hardly knew him obviously didn’t stop me at all given I had form for falling in love with men I’d never met. After a short fling he dumped me, saying he wasn’t over his ex. I was heartbroken and continued to fantasise wildly about living with him in an art co-operative/zebra hospital.

It was in the flat in Shepherd’s Bush that I had another of my disastrous attempts to “improve” my appearance. Having been told I was ugly all my life I spent considerable amounts of time trying to enhance myself. I had salicylic acid to treat my acne but instead decided that I was going to scrub my imaginary wrinkles with a toothbrush and the acid for an hour. I gave myself chemical burns that lasted a year.

At the end of 2000, running out of money, I moved in with my father, which was a total disaster as my step mother and I practically killed each other. And the bulimia, which had always been present, got completely out of control leading my father to say, “you’ve eaten everything in the fridge where do you put all that food?” The cat was no longer there to blame so I said their parrot had eaten it. It was at my father’s house that my obsession with the building project reached its crazy zenith. I was finishing work at 1am and, still fired up from my shift, would fly round to the building site to do some DIY. I was desperately short of money and had no option I thought.   I spent many nights out on the scaffolding painting and filling the front of the house at 3am, in the pitch dark, thinking it was strange that people painted in the day. I was laying floors with power tools at 4am. When my neighbours asked me to cut it out I just didn’t understand. Of course everything I did at 3am came out completely fucked and had to be done again. Meanwhile back at my father’s house, as the rows with my stepmother escalated, my father said I had to leave. I decided I’d better move into my almost completed property.

I finally moved back in when the shell of the house was finished in May 2001. I say “finished” although the builders had forgotten some minor details – like a hot water or central heating system.

As I still needed to raise some money for further works I then moved in three lodgers to the downstairs. The council had insisted that I maintain a garage in the house although I didn’t have a car or a license and had failed the test so many times that I was on the DVLA’s: “Top 10 (un)wanted drivers list.” The first lodger, sleeping in the converted garage fled after a flood came from the street under the garage door. Her replacement stopped paying the rent as works were ongoing and the carpenter had turned his bedroom into a workshop, covered in saw dust, while he was away for the weekend.

In the meantime my drinking was out of control again. After a friend’s party in which I’d fallen to the floor, (after snogging an Anthurium) I had to be carried out of a bar in Notting Hill by the entire staff. And then, although it was June, I started singing “Auld Lang Syne.” I apparently danced to “Thriller” on the pavement (perhaps it was convulsions instead) and had to be airlifted home. I woke up the next day with my trousers still on but, curiously, inside out. I panicked thinking I’d slept with someone. But when I phoned my friends they said I’d gone into the loo at the bar and emerged, rather green, with my trousers inside out. I was obviously too un-coordinated to manage a complex task like pulling my trousers down. One of my best friend’s, Imran, said “you really have a drink problem and you have to do something about it.” I said I didn’t have a drink problem I’d just been drinking on an empty stomach. It would never happen again, I swore. A portion of chips would cure my alcoholism. Another night I ended up in bed with someone from work. He asked me when I’d last had sex and, too drunk to censor myself, I said “I think it was last night but I’m not sure it went in.” He politely declined my offer of sex, thinking I was a slut, and went home instead. The reality was if I hadn’t been for alcohol I would never have had sex at all; but now it was turning me into something so far from the virgin I used to be.

The artist came back on the scene, newly interested saying I’d “gone up in the world” since I’d moved into the house in Notting Hill. Of course I got back together with him but the fantasy of living a highbrow literary lifestyle with him was dented by the fact that he couldn’t spell in texts.

Then I had a disaster with a neighbour. One night I woke up at 2am to find a strange man in my bed. Thinking it was one of the lodgers who’d made a mistake, I turned on the light to shoo him out. It wasn’t a lodger it was my neighbour who was totally pissed and lying flat out in my bed. I tried to shake him awake but he kept calling me “mummy” and saying he wasn’t going anywhere. I had to call 999 to get rid of him. I later found out one of my lodgers, who was very weird, had let him in and he’d bolted up to my room. He reacted very badly to me throwing him out starting a campaign against me and sending me hate mail written in a circle, (like a snail’s shell), saying I was “the spawn of Saddam Hussein.” Unfortunately he was a locksmith so I felt entirely unsafe as he could have broken into my house at any time. But the police weren’t helpful at all, saying that they couldn’t intervene as he might have ended up in my bed as part of Neighbourhood Watch.

My mother had been phoning me all summer begging me to come to Jamaica to spend time with her, sounding increasingly desperate and weak. So I decided to take a career break from the BBC to spend six months with her. I owed it to her, despite our difficulties, without her I would never have bought my dream property. If I hadn’t been leaving anyway I would have had to move house because of the psycho locksmith opposite. I headed off to Jamaica in October 2001, leaving the lodgers at large in the house.         Sign up for updates on this blog

Next week: doing time with my mother, misplacing the Jamaican Prime Minister and preparing for Queen Elizabeth, the Invisible Head of State.

Breaking up with Mr Right, hooking up with Mr Wrong, and getting down with the Mime Minister, Tony Funfair, at BBC News 24

BBC PICTURE 22 05 2015

Despite the chaos of the trip to Sudan, which of course I glossed over to the BBC, denying there were any cock ups but saying the circumstances were “challenging,” my documentaries went well. Apart from when I tried to do a feature for the World Tonight on Radio 4 and they told me I was too disorganised and sent me back to reporters’ nursery. But my profile as a reporter had improved, I was on my way to getting a stringer’s job (a reporter abroad for those not in the trade). I just hoped that it wouldn’t involve carting around lots of equipment which would end up in the wrong continent. Indeed I had the honour of being “banned from Sudan” because of the piece I did on the government using food as a weapon against the South. This was in addition to the (spiteful) ban from driving on UK roads by the DVLA after I’d failed my test 36 times. I settled into an attachment at the Aramaic Service, still pestered by Gogol the Gargoyle. He wasn’t troubled in the slightest by the fact that I had a boyfriend, who he thought I would edit out of the picture along with his wife.

But all was not well between Tarquin and me. I was getting younger and younger, and was practically a stem cell. And there was an upsurge in the bulimia, which seemed to have got worse since I stopped being clinically depressed. When Tarquin took me to expensive restaurants he would say it was a waste of money as, “the food only stays in you for 10 seconds before you sprint to the loo.” My behaviour became so outlandish that it was only because Tarquin was infatuated that he kept a straight face. We went to a very posh wedding in a stately home. I sneaked down to the kitchen at night and ate the top tier of the wedding cake, replacing it with a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. Of course it was all regurgitated down the loo. Despite an aversion to dogs, I developed an obsession with chewing dog biscuits and had to invent an imaginary job as a dog walker to convince the pet shop that I wasn’t running some kind of illegal dog cloning programme.   I also started sucking on frozen fish fingers, as a more diet conscious version of lollipops. And when I would try to throw food away, an hour later I would just fish it out of the bin, once chasing the dust cart when the bin men had taken it away. To save time and rapidly rid myself of calories, I started eating over the loo, and became so comfortable doing this, I moved the TV in there.

Crazy cravings weren’t my only concern. Unfortunately, though living with Tarquin, my unrequited feelings for Alex, my friend from Oxford, started to rear their ugly head. I suddenly decided I was “in love” with Alex again. I told Tarquin but he loved me so much he swore he would stay with me. I cut Alex off, saying we could no longer be friends, at first without explanation but then saying I was in love with him. He was still not interested in me. Despite this I started fantasising about marrying Alex, which was only marginally more sane than my fantasies about the Sudanese rebel leader, John Garang. At least I’d got over that ludicrous idea a few months after getting back from Sudan.

For the first time in my life, I voted in the general elections of May 1997, of course choosing New Labour star Tony Blair. I had absolutely no idea what was in Labour’s election manifesto, they could have said they were sorting the UK’s housing crisis by colonising the moon, but I thought Blair was an exciting new leader and wanted a change after 18 years of Tory rule. Everyone I knew, apart from my family who threatened to withdraw to a nuclear bunker if Labour got in, voted for Tony Blair and Labour were elected by a landslide. The whole country, apart from my family who thought voting Conservative was as essential as going to the loo, was sick of the Conservatives following a series of political scandals, squabbling over Europe and the events of Black Wednesday in 1992 when the pound crashed ignominiously out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.

Oblivious to the seismic change in the political landscape, Susanna and her boyfriend from Madrid came to stay. This caused massive contention with Tarquin, as he’d told me he didn’t want me doing drugs with Susanna on my own. He clearly didn’t quite trust me to keep my knickers on. Despite this, Susanna and I went out getting off our heads on magic mushrooms in the local garage, which we thought was a spaceship docking on Mars. When we went into a bar where everyone looked gigantically tall with elongated heads, we thought we were on a reality TV show with the inhabitants of Zog. This is why I’ve spent all that money on therapy, I thought, to un-disturb my mind so that acid actually works. But fearing the gigantic size of all the alien penises around me, my sex drive remained on earth.

On the 31st of August 1997, Tarquin and I had been out clubbing, as usual strictly observing the Ecstasy Eating Plan ie handfuls of pills and no food at all. He woke me up the next morning, very sombre, saying I should know that Princess Diana had died. Funereal music was playing on Kiss FM and all the dance music stations – most of the country was in shock and mourning. Because of Diana’s bulimia and mental health problems, I identified with her and was profoundly affected by her death, feeling the only member of the Royal Family I had any affinity with had gone. Tarquin and I, who stood on Kensington High Street watching Diana’s coffin move slowly from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey were amongst the three million mourners on the streets of London that day. It was the height of our connection and love. As I stood in the crowd next to Tarquin, I thought, this is exactly what I want with my life. Alex was boring, he didn’t do drugs anymore. With Tarquin I could be myself which, by then, meant taking drugs.

But when I was alone with Tarquin, everything changed. I was like a different person, very abusive, screaming at him when he didn’t do what I wanted and telling him I’d only fancy him if he had plastic surgery. He loved me so much he almost went ahead with this disastrous plan. Thank God he didn’t. He stopped dropping me at work, which he’d done every day, as I kept shrieking it was his fault every time a traffic light went red. One time he popped into my bedroom to tell me he loved me as he was going on a skiing trip on his own. I left 25 abusive messages on his mobile shouting that he’d woken me up. I denounced his un-glamorous Audi saloon, saying it was too tacky for me to drive around in and forced him to buy a Mercedes convertible instead. At first he was heartbroken by this behaviour but later, as he detached, he would just laugh at me. I didn’t understand what I was doing at the time. But now think, that as I felt safe with him, I was taking out my unexpressed anger towards my parents on him. And I was too naïve to realise I didn’t fancy him and felt trapped by the relationship like a hummingbird in a bird eating spider’s web.

Tarquin had told me he would “never love another girl as much as me.” But despite this, as the screaming continued, he started to pull away. When we went on holiday with his friends they all asked what was wrong as we kept pretending to forget each other’s names. We had a “break,” always a presage of doom, and it was then that I realised the perils of ecstasy. I had gone out clubbing on my own with his friends and, off my head on ecstasy, said to Tarquin’s best friend: “well if it doesn’t work out with Tarquin, what about you and me?” I then tried to snog his ear. “I could never do that to Tarquin,” he nobly said, although I later found out he fancied the pants off me.

This led to months of embarrassment for me, having to apologize and backtrack furiously. I started to wonder whether the desire to confess all your darkest secrets on ecstasy was actually a good idea. At a later date, after revealing my soul to someone I’d met at a party who announced I was a “freak,” I decided it wasn’t and that ecstasy wasn’t for me.

Eventually Tarquin said he couldn’t go out with me anymore. Although my feelings for him were confused, I was devastated. He had wanted to marry me and have kids although I had no real idea what that meant. I spent hours on the phone to him crying from the Aramaic service at work, barely able to write at all. Even Gogol the Gargoyle temporarily stopped hassling me. I felt like I’d ruined my life by pushing Tarquin away and that I would never find someone who loved me as much as him. But despite everything I was still too naïve to realise the real problem: I just didn’t fancy him.

With the break up from Tarquin my alcohol use started getting out of control. I would go out binge drinking with Susanna and have to be carried home in a wheelbarrow. I told my GP who said that binge drinking was a form of alcoholism. I thought this was a joke. There was no way I could be an alcoholic. Alcoholics, I was convinced, were very loud people in Newcastle who’d been filmed multiple times assaulting the police. I was loud, while drinking, but I had never been filmed and had no experience of Newcastle. When I woke up from a Rohypnol and alcohol induced blackout, in the middle of having sex with someone I had definitely not wanted to fuck, I just shrugged off this near rape experience as “one of those things that happen when you’re having fun.” Of course despite the fact that it was all over the papers as the date rape drug, I still didn’t stop mixing Rohypnol and alcohol.

Despite the increasing chaos of my life outside, I never let it interfere with work. I was obsessed with work, I never drank when I was going in the next day. And now Tarquin (and my free drugs) had gone I’d stopped taking cocaine. At the office things were going well, I had moved to TV centre and was learning how to produce TV news and write for TV. This was exactly what I needed if I wanted to be a reporter abroad. But I would still be running into the loo to cry over Tarquin 15 times a day. I said my bladder had shrunk, after chemotherapy. I started off at World Service Television news, covering foreign affairs. I had an interview to be the BBC’s Central America correspondent, based in Mexico. But despite being the favourite to get the job, I withdrew before the final interview, saying I couldn’t possibly go as my father had broken his toe. I think this was because, after the trips to Sudan and Argentina, I thought I was too disorganised and would fuck up the job.

As for my father, I wasn’t speaking to him after he’d said I looked like a “dundus,” a very insulting Jamaican word to describe a black albino, who Jamaicans think look like freaks. Reacting to the racism from my father and society around, I was going through a white phase with red hair extensions and green contact lenses. My step mother helpfully said I looked like Michael Jackson.

I decided I wanted a change of direction in my career and went on an attachment to BBC News 24. News 24 had just started, had very young and inexperienced staff and was going through teething pains. It was using experimental TV technology which required expert handling. Alas the staff at News 24 were only expert at muddling things up. There was an issue with live feeds going down, video clips going to black, and a persistent problem with badly spelt Astons. Astons are the captions that come up giving someone’s name or other information on TV. At News 24 it was as if Dada, Dali or Picasso had written them. Thus “The Prime Minister, Tony Blair,” came out as “The Mime Minister, Tony Funfair,”   and “the Chancellor Gordon Brown,” emerged on News 24 as “That Chancer, Gordonn Browwn.” News 24 was the only area of TV news that was using this digital technology, where we didn’t use physical tapes to run the news. The main TV bullets were still using old fashioned tapes and manually inputting Astons and would chuckle merrily at the cock ups on News 24. The BBC had watered down their criteria to recruit the staff of News 24. They were not primarily from Oxbridge, in fact some of them spelt so badly they must have bunked off their spelling tests at primary school. There was an atmosphere of chaos at News 24, but also of an exciting project that was just getting off the ground.

Desolate after the break up with Tarquin, I had taken up with a married BBC producer I’d met on a training course. Having been abandoned by my father, who’d left the family for his girlfriend and proceeded to transform totally – dropping the shagging around and worshipping her – I thought that the “other woman” was the more powerful position to be in. Without realising it, I wanted to replicate the situation with my father, without being the one who was left. But when the producer said he “wasn’t quite ready to leave his wife,” I said, “you must be joking, I don’t want to break up your family.” The adult part of me didn’t but the child was confused. Above all, it was some welcome attention and a shoulder for me to cry on. And we had sex in exotic locations – once just before lunch in the disabled loo at TV Centre during Prime Minister’s Question Time. I have to admit that was my idea. It’s always fun having sex at work, (or anywhere you shouldn’t), but I didn’t fancy him enough and still thought an orgasm was something that only happened in Jilly Cooper books. Still at least the whole affair got my drinking back under control and I was able to return from nights out on the town vertical and without my clothes on my head.

The thing that particularly appealed to me about News 24, (apart from the disabled loo), was the entertainment programme, Zero Thirty, that was on at half past midnight every night. This covered showbiz and, as my reading material had increasingly strayed from the Economist to Heat magazine, I thought this was just the ticket for me. I became a reporter and producer on the programme going to film premieres, celebrity photo exhibitions, musical festivals and concerts. When you’re standing on the red carpet at a film premiere it really doesn’t feel like a job. I had never had so much fun in my life. And I didn’t have to get into work till 3 pm. I still managed to be late. The only fly in the ointment was of course, with my disorganisation, I would sometimes fuck things up. Thus I would be due to arrive to film the start of an important showbiz event, but would turn up, after a curling tong crisis, too late to witness it. Of course the great thing with TV was that the camera man did the technical side instead of you. They were always on time and staunchly reliable. It was when it was left to me that things would go wrong, I would be so obsessed with getting the right library pictures for a piece that the piece would be ready a week after it was due on air. But generally I scraped by and I was on TV, no one was saying I was ugly now.

News 24’s entertainment reporter was strangely absent from the job, so I practically took over as their main showbiz reporter. Of course, I was working as a producer as well so didn’t sleep for six months. I met Ewan McGregor, Rachel Weisz, Michael Caine, David Bailey and Snoop Dogg. Snoop was tall and very attractive padding around like a jaguar. One of his sidekicks asked me to spend the night out in London with Snoop and the Boys. I had to say no as I had to go back to work to edit my piece. But that would have been a crazy night, fuck knows what would have happened to me.(well I can guess)

I was flying ahead with my career, out on showbiz stories every night, although the editor of the programme didn’t like me as he thought I was too posh. I could continue like this indefinitely I thought. But then something happened that would change my life and cause me to crash.

Next week: when celebrities destroy your house and cut through your bedroom door with a carving knife, saying, “I miss you.”   Sign up for updates on this blog