Health: Beating the booze with a dry sense of humour

Nick Charles was the sort of drunk who slept rough and knocked back meths and hair lacquer. Twenty-one years later he has helped 8,000 people beat alcoholism By Katherine Miller

NICK CHARLES can still remember a time he was so drunk that he jumped from the window of a rural police station into a vat of sour milk from a neighbouring dairy farm. Recovered alcoholics invariably have great stories, but, as Charles reminds patients at his West London clinic: "Any story about drunkenness is only funny if you're not going to do it again."

He has been sober for the last 21 years, and has devoted the last nine to helping other alcoholics at the Chaucer Clinic in the grounds of Ealing Hospital. Since founding the clinic nine years ago he's helped some 8,000 alcoholics "unlearn" their habits, claiming an 87 per cent success rate. Last September, he received the MBE for his services to alcoholics.

Charles, a straight-talking Midlander, is modest about his achievements, personal and otherwise. He stresses that he is not in recovery, but rather "just a guy who doesn't drink any more. I couldn't even tell you if my wife has a bottle of wine in the fridge." No mean achievement for someone who spent years sleeping rough, knocking back meths and hair lacquer. After being hospitalised 23 times, he finally quit drinking when he discovered that his mother had been killed by a passing car. The funeral had already taken place and Charles will never know whether her death was suicide, or was caused by a moment of absentmindedness. Either way, his father said she was "distressed" by her son's alcoholism.

Ironically, it was his father who offered the teenage Charles his first drink. "Suddenly, I was better-looking, more confident, a better driver, everything I wanted to be." If only. He is, he admits, one of "the unfortunate few for whom drink opens the door to an inner world where real life does not exist". Social drinkers cannot appreciate what that means. Charles says: "Doctors, social workers and journalists may try to be sympathetic. But they can never grasp the extent of conceit, delusion and dishonesty in the mind of the alcoholic."

Charles married for the first time at the age of 21 and divorced six years later, "by which time I was unemployable". His second marriage, which he recalls only dimly "through the bottom of a glass", lasted nine months. He now lives in Surrey with Kelly, his third wife and soul-mate for the past 21 years. His grandfather, a senior policeman, died of drink, and Kelly's mother was an alcoholic. Convinced that 90 per cent of alcoholics have a genetic intolerance to alcohol, the couple decided long ago not to have children.

Instead, Charles has his patients and his staff, usually former alcoholics. The Chaucer treats 36 patients at a time, whose weekly fees of pounds 268 are paid for by the DSS, the local authority and from each resident's income support allowance. Along with the celebrity names, residents have included footballers, army officers and a headmistress.

Alcoholics Anonymous, "the only alternative to my clinic", didn't work for Charles, and he is critical of the programme because it allows people to prolong their "recovery", in some cases for a lifetime, and thus swap one dependency for another.

Alcoholics stay at the Chaucer clinic for at least 13 weeks, but no more than eight months. The programme begins with detoxification, when a patient is supervised by a doctor and, if necessary, prescribed Librium to counter withdrawal symptoms, which can include profuse sweating, anxiety attacks and fits.

After detoxification, patients are given work therapy. They may repair furniture, paint walls, cook, clean, or work in the office. "Alcohol has been their dearest friend for years and when you take it away from them you leave an enormous void, so a day lasts for ever," says Charles. "Some of them have not worked for years." During their free time, clients are encouraged to pursue childhood hobbies, take up new ones, or share their expertise with others.

The third phase of treatment involves group discussions and individual therapy, designed to help patients confront the trauma that triggered their alcoholism. The stories can be harrowing, although Charles says there is the odd miracle amid the tragedy. One man was there for seven months before he could admit he had accidentally run over and killed his own child. He turned to drink for consolation, and was thrown out by his wife. Yet therapy finally helped the young father to achieve sobriety, and he returned home to resolve his marriage.

For referrals to the Chaucer Clinic contact Nikki de Villiers (0181- 571 4616).

Nick Charles's autobiography, `Through A Glass Brightly', is published by Robson books, price pounds 16.95

Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?