Pete Doherty: ‘My advice for Harry and Meghan? Pay some local kids to attack the paparazzi’ (2024)

“It did tickle my interest the other day to see Prince Harry in that weird, high-speed car chase through New York,” says Pete Doherty. Pursued mercilessly by the tabloid press through the chaotic, early Noughties years of his chart success, drug addiction and relationship with supermodel Kate Moss, the rock star would like to pass on some “real simple advice for Harry and Meghan”. He suggests they “pay some skint local kids to attack the cars of the paparazzi. That’s always a good’un to stop any chases.” For a more direct approach he tells me: “I used to have this old Victorian policeman’s cosh I used to charge at them. I miss that. I also had an old Zulu spear that came in handy a few times…”

I think Doherty is teasing me...I can’t find any photographic evidence of him with the eccentric weapons. Although it’s hard to be 100 per cent sure. I’ve called at a pre-arranged time – to discuss his upcoming headline slot with The Libertines at British festival The Secret Garden Party – but he doesn’t seem to have got the memo. “Sorry, I didn’t know I was meant to be doing an interview. I’m just getting out of the car at the airport… I’m on my way to Barcelona for a gig with The Libertines…” He’s sweetly polite about the mix-up, though, promising to call me back once he’s checked in. And he does, while “just going up and down the same escalator while I’m talking to you. I must look a bit weird!”

Happily settled in France for years now with his wife Katie de Vidas, also the keyboardist of his new band Peter Doherty and the Puta Madres, Doherty now leads a very different lifestyle. Three weeks ago the couple – who keep chickens and have a couple of dogs – welcomed a baby daughter. Doherty is already a father to son Astile, 19, with singer Lisa Moorish and daughter Aisling, 11, with South African model Lindi Hingston. But this is the first time he’ll have been fully present and sober. He’s reported to have been clean for over three-and-a-half years.

Now silver-haired, healthy-skinned and burly, he looks very different from the gaunt, sweaty, hollow-eyed character once seen stumbling through the streets of Camden. There have been unkind comments about his weight gain online from those drawn into the grotty romance of his heroin chic. But a reformed British media has been more supportive. I ask if he thinks he’s being recognised, as he loops the airport escalator.

“I’ve got a level of recognition that I don’t… I dunno… our connection to famous people is all about angles, isn’t it? You catch a glimpse of a complete stranger and you have the feeling you know them,” he says, thoughtfully. “Maybe that’s what falling in love is… y’know. Maybe that’s what the fame industry’s all about. Trying to trick you into falling in love with someone who is probably a really terrible person. Hmm.” Does he think that’s happened with him? “ No! Not at all!” he laughs. “I don’t even know what I’m saying. I think I’ve got to a point where I’m just gibbering.”

It’s been over 25 years since Doherty formed The Libertines with Carl Barât. The two frontmen’s rackety love-hate bromance generated a series of rabble-rousing indie-punk hits including Don’t Look Back Into the Sun and Can’t Stand Me Now. Doherty’s drug problem led to his estrangement from the band and, in 2003, he served two months in prison for burgling Barât’s flat. They’ve made up and fallen out many times since then, both embarking on a series of side hustles including Doherty’s bands Babyshambles (2003-2014) and Peter Doherty and the Puta Madres (2019-present).

The situation between 44-year-old Doherty and 45-year-old Barât still sounds messy. Doherty tells me he’s currently “not allowed on the premises” of the Margate hotel they co-own (called The Albion Rooms). He’s previously described a period of “annihilation and chaos” at the Victorian hotel they’ve made over as a popular gothic-hipster B&B, complete with a live music venue. Doherty apparently irked Barât by bringing “various characters” into the building whose presence didn’t sit well with Barât’s presumably more commercial vision for the place.

But the pair have also just finished recording a fourth album called All Quiet on the Eastern Esplanade which is named in honour of the hotel’s location. Are the songs about the hotel? “God. No. That would be awful. It’s themed around… Inadvertently or not, some of the songs are set in Margate so… y’know actually it is about the hotel in a way. We wrote quite a few of the songs there…”

Doherty says fans can expect to hear the first singles this autumn and the whole record next January. But when he tells he’s hoping to play quite a few of the new songs at The Secret Garden Party his manager reins him in and he sounds chastened. “OK, well, maybe just one or two then…” Some critics have been sniffy about the reformation of Britpop bands like Blur, Pulp and those like The Libertines who emerged in their wake. What does Doherty say to those who feel that Britpop should be laid to rest? “That would be like when they tried to lay Jesus to rest. He came back from the dead! These men are our living gods. Your Jarvis co*ckers, your Graham Coxons and Damon Albarns... even your Gallaghers. They are our gods and why would we deny ourselves the pleasure of timeless music?”

Doherty loves music festivals. He’s still a sucker for the “magic” that occurs when “you’re outside a tent thinking: ‘Wow, that’s amazing, who’s that?’”

As the son of strict, military parents (his father was a major in the Royal Signals and his mother was a lance-corporal in Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps) Doherty tells me he was not allowed to attend music festivals when he was growing up: “They were forbidden fruit. They always seemed like this mystical realm of adventure and wonderment.” By contrast he reminds me that Barât – who he sweetly describes as “my mate in the Libertines” – was “taken to Glastonbury as a kid. He used to tell me about it and swore that one day we’d play there.”

Doherty spills an amusing anecdote from when he was performing at a Dutch festival, “embarrassing myself a bit” by pursuing The Smiths’ Johnny Marr through some fields pestering him for a duet. “All I can remember is me in my pants, dancing around him trying to get him to play This Charming Man so I could film myself singing it.”

It sounds like this incident occurred before Doherty finally kicked his drug habit. Last year he told the Mirror that at his lowest he nearly lost his feet “just because of the injecting. That’s what happens when you run out of veins. It all seems so long ago now though but it was a hell of a ride.”

In 2019, he described a period at the height of his notoriety when he felt he was being “passed around like a f---ing tin can used as an ashtray at a party. I don’t want to be a Primrose Hill dild*.” When asked what a “Primrose Hill dild*” is, Doherty replied: “Good-looking lads who make the mistake of falling in love with people who are incapable of falling in love back.” Sister AmyJo once described him as the “Houdini of rehabilitation centers”, noting that “once he called us from Bangkok. He was in pyjamas and needed money because he had escaped from an isolated monastery in the mountains”.

This month he posted a video on Instagram in which he explained how ice baths and breathing exercises helped him kick the crack and heroin. “The only way to stay healthy is to abstain,” he tells me “Which, for me, takes an enormous amount of discipline and willpower… it isn’t easy.”

The media wasn’t kind to Doherty during the years of his addiction. The paparazzi stalked him and his friend (and at one point lover) Amy Winehouse, who died aged 27, competing to snap the most degrading picture of two talented-but-troubled souls, spattered in blood, stumbling off kerbs. Lost, angry and overwhelmed, rebellious, fame-hungry and socially anxious, I don’t think they knew whether to take the attention as validation or condemnation but at varying times they embraced both.

When I mention Winehouse on the phone to Doherty today he misunderstands my critical reference to “papz” as a reference to Winehouse’s “pops”. He calls me “mean” and ends the call just after conceding that we’ve crossed wires and I’ve triggered his “paranoia”, then tells me that he’s never had an issue with paranoia. It must be a tricky issue for an ex-addict, because journalists like me really were once out to get him.

But once his manager has convinced him that I’m “sound” Doherty answers some more questions by voice memo, while being served his breakfast in Spain. A picture of him eating a 4,000 calorie cooked breakfast in Margate – four bacon rashers, four eggs, four sausages, a burger and chips, plus plenty of trimmings – went viral in 2018. Today he reflects that “it’s sad that one of my best known achievements is eating an oversized cooked breakfast.”

He tells me that the hotel has mostly lived up to his artistic, if not financial, expectations. “Unless you whack the prices right up it’s difficult to make a profit, but it’s successful in a lot of ways. We decided we weren’t going to have any televisions in the hotel,” he says. “Every room was going to have books, records and a record player. Every room did have its own typewriter but people just walked off with them. Actually, to be fair, I know I would have. I mean I think one of them was actually taken from a hotel in Tel Aviv… It got redistributed.”

It’s been reported that Doherty lived in a storage container in Ramsgate after being barred from the hotel. He says it’s true. “I’ve lived in a few over the years, I lived in one under the Westway, one in Hamburg, one in Puerto Rico and the one in Ramsgate was the far superior one. It even had electricity and a lock!”

He says he hopes that he’ll be allowed back into the hotel soon and is “winning back trust”. How is he doing that? “It’s difficult, particularly with Carl,” he concedes. “I suppose there’s two ways of going about it. One is bribery and flattery which hasn’t been working. The other is a long, painful legitimate process. Good behaviour, I suppose.”

Admittedly, Doherty does seem to be on good form. He tells me that the “quiet, laid back” pace of French life suits him better than London now. And he’s missing his baby who’s “all milkified or mumsified”. He tells me she’s “eating and sleeping and living a pretty charmed little life. I look at her and think: ‘you’re never going to be as happy as you are right now.’” he chuckles. “I keep saying that to her and my wife says ‘Don’t say that! She’s going to have a life filled with many moments of happiness.’ But I don’t mean it in a bad way.”

Is Doherty happy, too?

“I’ve been in a state of perpetual bliss for years now,” he assures me. He’s got his British passport, his French ID card and a collection of Hunter S Thompson essays in his hand, ready for the plane. “I think that’s all I need to be happy,” he says. “My collection of Hunter Thompson essays, my policeman’s cosh and my newborn baby.”

The Secret Garden Party runs 20-23 July in Huntingdon, Cambridge. Tickets:

Pete Doherty: ‘My advice for Harry and Meghan? Pay some local kids to attack the paparazzi’ (2024)
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