- In his Paris hideaway, musician talks about that death plunge party
- Doherty opens up about his ‘nasty’ split with Kate Moss
17:01 EST, 24 November 2012
18:39 EST, 24 November 2012
Pete Doherty is gazing pensively out of the restaurant window. It is early evening and we are sitting in his favourite haunt: Wagon Bleu, a bistro near his apartment in central Paris. He is thinking about death and loss.
It is the mention of Amy Winehouse that has prompted his morose mood. Slowly, a single tear courses unchecked down his pale cheek. ‘This is difficult for me to admit,’ he says, shifting uncomfortably. ‘But, yes, it’s true. Amy and I were lovers. I loved her then and, well, I still do today,’ he adds, his head bowed. ‘But towards the end, as only lovers can, she became quite mean and cruel to me. She didn’t suffer fools . . . and believe me, she had a mean right hook.’
Winehouse’s death, in July last year when she was just 27, hit him hard. Clearly, too, her loss has brought back memories of another tragic death: that of Mark Blanco, a struggling actor and an acquaintance of Doherty, who fell to his death from the balcony of a London block of flats where both were partying in December 2006.
Pete Doherty was in a revelatory mood about much that he has always kept private
Today, it seems, Doherty is in revelatory mood about much that he has always kept private. He hasn’t spoken before of his affair with Winehouse, nor about what really happened to Blanco on that fateful party night, and suspicion has always surrounded his involvement in the tragedy.
Doherty and starstruck Cambridge graduate Blanco had rowed at the party in Whitechapel, East London, when the actor tried to persuade the musician to watch him perform in a play at a local pub. Doherty refused and insisted that the party host, Paul Roundhill, lock Blanco out of the flat.
Moments later the 30-year-old fell 12ft from a staircase and suffered fatal head wounds. Doherty insists that Blanco was alone when he fell. Roundhill later admitted he punched Blanco three times.
Since his death, Blanco’s mother, English teacher Sheila Blanco, has campaigned tirelessly for a police investigation into claims that he was pushed by one or more of the party guests. Doherty was captured on CCTV fleeing the scene, jumping over Blanco’s prone body in his haste to escape. Though police scrutinised the pop star’s behaviour, no one was ever arrested over the incident.
Six years on, Doherty says he feels ‘sick to the stomach’ about fleeing. ‘I can understand how it looks dodgy,’ he admits. ‘How ashamed do you think I am that I stepped over the body and legged it down the street?
‘In my heart, I pray and pray that his mother will stop punishing and torturing herself because she is convinced that there was foul play,’ he says. ‘But I am certain there wasn’t. The door was bolted and there wasn’t anyone from the party outside on the balcony with him.’
The musician opened up about his ‘explosive romance’ with Amy Winehouse
It is now two years since Doherty, the more infamous than famous front man of rock band The Libertines and one-time boyfriend of supermodel Kate Moss, moved to Paris. Mostly, he insists, it was to avoid the headlines that his drug-addled lifestyle, his court appearances and his subsequent jail sentence attracted.
Others would suggest he is fleeing creditors. But whatever his reason, physically, his departure from British soil has been good for him.
When we meet, he is wearing his trademark black fedora and a shabby blue greatcoat over a sharp black single-breasted suit, white shirt and black tie. He has lost none of that effortless shabby-chic aura he has made his own. Less plump than of late, his skin is clear, though worryingly pale. His eyes are bright and alert.
Our interview coincides with Doherty’s foray into the world of film. His first production is a French art-house movie called Confession D’Un Enfant Du Siecle, in which he stars with Lily Cole and Charlotte Gainsbourg, and which will be released in early December.
But for the moment, he just wants to talk about Amy. I remind him that when I last interviewed him, nearly three years ago, he had told me: ‘I’m kind of in awe of her because I do believe she is an incredible talent who has come out of nowhere. And like a lot of the greats she is irreplaceable so . . . we don’t want to lose her.’
‘Wow, I said that, did I?’ Doherty says, asking me to repeat the quote. Slowly, in resignation, he shakes his head. ‘Well we did lose her. There but for the grace of God go I, is what I say,’ he adds softly.
‘She had such a big heart but she was physically small and increasingly frail and I never once saw her eat anything solid, just milkshakes.
Kate Moss and Pete Doherty are now on speaking terms after a ‘nasty split’ the front man said
‘She came back to my hotel after the Libertines reunion warm-up gig at the Forum in Kentish Town in August 2010, but she had two huge bouncers with her. I told her she would have to leave them outside in the corridor, but she looked at me despairingly and said, “I can’t!”
‘When she left the hotel, the paparazzi followed her. It brought back unpleasant memories of when I was with Kate and how they would follow us around everywhere.
‘Amy couldn’t step outside her front door without a mob of about 30 blokes thrusting cameras at her. If you then include crack in the equation, it becomes a real killer – especially as Amy didn’t do things by halves.
‘Smoking crack leaves you tense and paranoid and if you’re already in that environment, it would drive anyone to the brink of madness.’
Doherty pauses, still clearly distressed. ‘I’ve written a song about Amy for my new album, called Flags From The Old Regime,’ he says eventually. ‘I’ve never done a song like it – it’s very slow and melodic. I’ve also got lots of lovely video footage of me and her just being together. But I haven’t been able to watch it yet.’
As Doherty’s gaze is drawn back to the window, he suddenly brightens as he recounts excitedly that he met his 11-month-old daughter, Aisling, for the first time last month.
Although he and Aisling’s mother, South African model Lindi Hingston, are no longer together, the three spent a weekend in Paris. ‘We hung out and did family stuff. I showed them some of the sights – Sacre Coeur and the Eiffel Tower.
‘To meet my little girl for the first time was a humbling experience. She’s got my eyes and a smile that just melts my heart. Lindi and I may not be a couple but I am the very proud father of a beautiful baby girl and I certainly want her in my life.’
Doherty’s most famous ex is, of course, Kate Moss. And though their parting was acrimonious, they are now on speaking terms again. ‘I got a call from Kate a couple of weeks ago, which came as a surprise as we haven’t exchanged a word since it ended,’ he says. ‘And believe me, it ended nastily.
‘But she was friendly and just asked me what I was up to. She wanted to know why I hadn’t written any songs recently and whether I was still taking drugs. She said she was staying clean and that she was very happily married. It came as a huge relief to hear from her and I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. It was a really important call because it put a few unresolved issues to bed for me. She told me that despite everything that had happened between us, she was still rooting for me and that was nice. It means a lot to me to know that.’
As Doherty orders another cocktail (a lethal local concoction called La Speciale), I think back to the first time I ever saw him. It was in 2001 when a friend dragged me to a tiny pub in North London to see what he claimed were the best band in the world. The Libertines had great songs, delivered an incendiary live performance, and in Doherty had a front man who oozed style, charisma and rock ’n’ roll rebellion.
Their first album, Up The Bracket, went platinum but on their subsequent world tour the naive and impressionable Doherty began dabbling in crack and heroin. His spiralling addictions culminated in him serving a month in Wandsworth Prison for burgling his bandmate’s flat. He was sacked from the band just before their second album was released. Now, perhaps, he is more famous for his subsequent turbulent relationship with Moss, whom he met when he played at her 31st birthday in 2005, than he is for his music. These days Doherty remains demonised and deified in equal measure, but is still a slave to addiction.
In August he spent three weeks in rehab in Thailand, where he tried but failed to curb his drug addiction. ‘It was an unbelievable experience for me,’ he says. ‘I went through the detox and experienced life clean of drugs. It gave me a vision of how the future should be. Unfortunately, I wasn’t ready mentally to commit and I ended up coming home. My plan is to finish writing my new solo album and head back there in the New Year. I want to have a proper run at it, scramble over the wall and land in a world of cleanliness.’
Despite his problems, Doherty surprised perhaps even himself by completing eight weeks of intensive filming last year, playing the lead in his film debut. He plays Octave, a dissolute poet living in Paris who is searching for love.
He says the director, Sylvie Verheyde, chose him for the part and asked him not to take acting lessons, just to be himself. ‘It was a major commitment for me and I know that in certain ways I have been somewhat lacking in self-control. But when push comes to shove, I can turn up on time and perform.’
Doherty, the son of a Catholic major in the British Army and a half-Jewish nurse, spent a lonely, itinerant childhood in various Army garrisons in Catterick, Dorset, Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Germany. ‘At school I was always the new boy so I always went in for the school play,’ he says. ‘It was a way of breaking the ice and making friends with pupils and teachers for however long I had before moving on.
‘I’ve always enjoyed acting, and there’s more than a degree of it involved in singing live on stage.’
The role, he tells me, has led to other offers. Next August he begins filming a gritty, modern thriller called Le Fevre, which will be directed by heavyweight French director Philippe Grandrieux. It is, says Doherty, ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey and then some’.
Acting has come as a bit of a life-saver, he admits. ‘I was in a dark place a couple of years ago. It brought me to Paris. I remember sitting outside a cafe with a coffee and a brandy on a bright spring morning, with the smell of fresh-baked baguettes drifting through the air. And I felt this huge sigh of relief.
‘Paris has been good for me. There is adventure at every turn if you choose to seek it out, but if not, then people tend to leave me alone and, believe it or not, I do like a bit of peace and quiet.
‘As I’ve got older I get more pleasure from song-writing than I would from going to a nightclub, picking up a beautiful girl and having a one-night stand. I’ve turned my back on fancy parties and red carpets. I’m a writer and if I did that I’d never get anything done,’ he adds – seemingly oblivious to the irony that it has been four years since he wrote his last album, Grace Wastelands.
France, Doherty confesses, has interested him since childhood. ‘I remember sitting in my nan’s house in Enfield listening to stories about my French great-grandfather, who left my pregnant Russian great-grandmother. They fled persecution, but only got as far as Liverpool before he ran off with another woman. Her child, my grandfather, was born into Merseyside poverty, in 1911, and was christened Paris Michelle – although he changed his name to Percy at 16.
‘He joined the Army in 1939 and, during the liberation of Paris, managed to track down the father he had never met. He was living in a hovel. Apparently Percy told him, “You, sir, are a bastard,” and then just turned on his heels and marched out.’
Though Doherty feels drawn to Paris, I get the sense he had hoped to leave his demons behind but has been disappointed.
As the light fades and Paris begins to sparkle, he shakes my hand, dons that black fedora and heads out into the cold night.