First published on 19 Feb 2009. Updated on 17 Feb 2012.
"And then I introduced Kylie to my heroin dealer..."
Ever since the first couple of times I'd smoked it, in my early 20s, I had always maintained a great interest in heroin. I'd sort of fallen in love with the warmth of it – the way it felt like crawling back into the womb. Heroin delivered. LSD does a bit, especially when all the things that are familiar to you peel away and you suddenly realise the fragility of how you normally see the world. Marijuana doesn't really, although it's a laugh for a while (I say that having smoked it constantly for a decade). Alcohol makes you sick and gives you a headache. Crack is like inhaling plastic, but so brief and flimsy and brittle as a high. Normal cocaine just makes you nervous, amphetamines are even worse, and ecstasy never really agreed with me. But heroin gets the job done.
All of us, I think, have a vague idea that we're missing something. Some say that thing is God; that all the longing we feel – be it for a lover, or a football team, or a drug – is merely an inappropriate substitute for the longing we're supposed to feel for God, for oneness, for truth. And what heroin does really successfully is objectify that need.
It makes you feel lovely and warm and cosy. It gives you a great big smacky cuddle, and from then on the idea of need is no longer an abstract thing, but a longing in your belly and a kicking in your legs and a shivering in your arms and sweat on your forehead and a dull pallor on your face. At this point, you're no longer under any misapprehension about what it is that you need: you don't think, "Nice to have a girlfriend, read a poem, or ride a bike," you think, "Fuck, I need heroin."
And I never had much trouble getting it, especially when I was working as a presenter at MTV's north London studios. Heroin was everywhere in Camden: little blue bags the size of, I suppose, two peas. That's how big a £10 (A$22) bag is – half the size of a Malteser, twice the size of a pea. Just in case you ever become a junkie and you need to score in north London, you can take this article with you as a guide to weights and measures. "That's not £10 worth, you scumbag. Look at this Malteser." Possibly that'll be the last sentence you utter before being flung into a canal.
The dealers keep the bags in their mouths. When you buy one they spit it into their hand and you have to put it directly into your mouth. Even though you want the heroin, a little bit of you is thinking, "Eeugh! He's had it in his mouth." After a while, though, you stop thinking that. It's a bleak day when that happens. You know that's another little boundary that you've crossed, another principle chalked off to experience, another thing you've put behind you, because there's so little in front of you.
"All my days are empty and the pages of my diary are all silver foil, with nought but an inky black snake carving its way through the days," I once wrote. Probably to impress a girl.
Once I started hanging out with homeless people in the West End of London, scoring heroin with them, I realised that there's this secret culture of people going up and down Oxford Street, whistling and yelping to each other in a kind of tropical slang – men on BMX bikes delivering £10 bags of heroin to be purchased with grubby fists full of coins; West Indian housewife-type women perambulating past, cheeks wedged with packets of smack.
You don't see this bustling underworld until you need to. There have been occasions, thrilling to me, when I went off to score, cutting a purposeful stride down past Tottenham Court Road tube station in the company of three or four homeless people, their sleeping bags worn about their shoulders, like the cloaks of Roman legionaries. I must have cut a ridiculous figure, dressed in my MTV-presenter attire – skintight white jeans, graffitied tops, Ray-Ban sunglasses – jostling along with them, as they set off in search of a bag in Covent Garden.
Until recently, when I gratefully gave up public transport, I would see people I'd scored drugs with begging in tube stations. There was one bloke – I don't know if he's still around – whose eyes were missing. First he lost his wife, then his house, then his shoes, then his eyes; heroin is a greedy drug, robbing you by increment first of your clothing, then of your skin; when it finally comes for your life it must be a relief...
Not content with damaging myself physically, I set about dismantling my career. Gritty was the main dealer I used to get heroin off when I worked at MTV. I liked the fact that destiny had allotted him the name "Gritty". Just as Ned Ludd, leader of the Luddites who opposed the Industrial Revolution, would have struggled to make such an eloquent case against the spinning jenny had his name been Fabrizio Zodiac, so the name Gritty seemed well adapted to the needs of his profession.
He seemed a nice sort of man, though. He had quite a caring side to him, for a drug dealer. I remember one occasion when I was buying drugs off him near Camden Bridge. Having just sold me my two £10 bags of smack and two £10 rocks of crack, he gave me a sincere look and said, "Be careful with that, won't you Russell?" I was thinking, "What do you mean, 'Be careful with that'? They're drugs. What does he think I'm gonna do with them? 'Oh no, I seem to have taken them. Why didn't I heed Gritty's prophecy?' "
One day Gritty asked me once if he could bring Edwin, his eight-year-old son, into MTV to have a bit of a look round. I said, "Sure, why not?" What could possibly go wrong? We could call it Bring Your Drug Dealer to Work Day.
The date that the inaugural BYDDTWD happened to fall upon was September 12, 2001, the day after the destruction of the World Trade Center. With typical restraint, I decided to go into work dressed in a camouflage flak jacket, a false beard and a tea towel on my head, held in place by a shoelace.
I had been aware of Osama bin Laden for about a year. He wasn't someone people of my age group generally knew about, but he'd been involved with some other bombings and he was top of the FBI's most wanted list, and I was fascinated by that sort of stuff. That day, I was going to present this programme called Select, where kids phoned in and chose videos for us to play, and pop stars would come on to flog their records. Our guest was to be Kylie Minogue. Me, Gritty and Edwin went into the toilet and the two older members of our party smoked some crack. Edwin didn't have any. He was just a little boy, and seemed quite upbeat about life anyway. Children don't need drugs, because they have sweets.
We blearily swaggered out of the disabled toilet. On the other side of the foyer - with its round console, banks of TVs, trendy turnstile and endless parade of beautiful young people of both genders and every sexual persuasion trundling in and out – I saw Kylie Minogue, all famous and everything.
Somewhere in my mind, the artist within me – the situationist within me – thought: "I can create a moment here. When am I ever going to get an opportunity like this again?" Before I knew it, I'd walked across that foyer, made a kind of "Woo-ooh" noise - in a mum-across-a-neighbour's-fence sort of way - and said: "Kylie, meet Gritty." Then I just stood back to watch it unfold.
What were these two going to talk about? It's the day after 9/11, and Kylie and Gritty are having a sort of awkward chat, with Gritty trying to be polite and Kylie asking, "What do you do?" sort of like the Queen would. And there's me standing beside them, still dressed as Osama bin Laden.
I thought: "It don't get any better than this." And it didn't, cos they sacked me about two days later.
Russell Brand's best-selling autobiography, My Booky Wook, is out now, priced $27.99, published by Hodder & Stoughton.
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