Legless in Gazzaland

Pub by pub and club by club ... Paul Gascoigne might be out of the game, but his spirit lives on in Newcastle
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I'M TRYING to get served in The Vault, a disco bar in the central Bigg Market area of Newcastle. The place is heaving. On giant screens around the ceiling there is a video compilation of all the best fights that have taken place on the Jerry Springer Show. "Everybody was kung- fu fighting" is playing so loud I can actually feel the bass line running along the bar counter and up my right elbow.

I am competing for the barmaid's attention with a thick-set, big-faced Geordie who is wearing false eye-lashes, a backless dress and a bright pink Afro wig. For an exhilarating moment I imagine it's Gazza in disguise. He's broken out of the clinic like that big Red Indian chief at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and returned to Newcastle for a night on the razzle.

Next I can hear the DJ offering a bottle of champagne to anyone who will do a Full Monty. Immediately, this thuggish-looking bloke gets up on stage. Except for his bleached, Gazza-style pudding-basin haircut, he could pass for the Missing Link. The DJ has to restrain him until he can cue up Tom Jones's "You Can Keep Your Hat On", then, when that exultant brass section starts up, the bloke starts shedding his clothes as if it's the moment he's been waiting for all his life.

"Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the star of the new Wonderbra ad," shouts the DJ as the shirt comes off, exposing a half-decent pair of breasts. Above his right nipple is the word "Light", and above his left the word "Bitter". I get the impression it actually takes far less than a free bottle of champagne to induce this man to get his kit off in public. "You've got to keep your pants on, mind," the DJ reminds him, as this impression strikes him as well.

I order a triple vodka and coke in sign language and push my way into the heaving throng. I've got a lot of catching up to do. Julie is wearing a dress that she could carry around in her purse if she wanted to. Except she has lost her purse down the toilet. She'd had it in her mouth, she tells me, and when she turned round to push the flush, the purse fell out of her mouth at exactly the wrong moment. It's not as disastrous as it sounds: she only had about pounds 3.50 in it.

Julie is 18. She hasn't been going to pubs and clubs for long because Northumbria police are very hot on the issue of under-age girls drinking in nightclubs, and she has a baby-face.

I tell her I'm looking for Gazza, and ask her what she thinks about him "He's a right maniac when he's out drinking with his mates. I've seen him. He drinks pint after pint. Just downs them one after another. If anyone so much as gives him a look, he goes mental shouting and swearing and that. I think he's a prat, me."

After the Vault, I take a walk through the town to Julie's, a club on the newly gentrified quayside. Julie's is another of Gazza's favourite clubs, apparently. On the way I see hundreds of young women with next to nothing on roaming the streets in shrill gangs. Also I see a woman with hardly any clothes on withdrawing money from a cashpoint machine, while continuing her conversation with a man in drag who is urinating against the wall.

At the door of Julie's, a bouncer with a face like a jigsaw puzzle stops me and two others and asks to see our watches. We bare our wrists for him. "Lady's watch," he says of the first man's watch. The other man's watch has a peculiar, futuristic face. The bouncer is horrified. "F***ing poof's watch that, man!" he exclaims indignantly.

When he turns to look at my watch, I show him a bare wrist. "Where's yours, pal?" he says to me, suspiciously. "I haven't got one," I say. This throws him for a moment. Then he puts an arm around my shoulders and gives me some serious advice. "What you want is a Raymond Weil watch, pal," he says, and he kindly spells "Weil" for me. Then he waves us inside.

There is an eclectic crowd ... studenty types, suits, druggies, thugs, gays, blacks, Asians, rich people, poor people, people with learning disabilities - you name it. All bobbing up and down to the regular throb of the techno music and not a hint of violence. It really was a great place. But I can't dance to techno music unless I'm on drugs, and I'm not on drugs.

So I leave Julie's and walk along the quay to the Pitcher and Piano, another of Gazza's old haunts.

The Pitcher and Piano is extremely posh. It's all polished wood and piped jazz and deep sofas and big windows and chrome hand dryers in the toilets. This is unexpected. I nearly get an inferiority complex and walk out of there as well.

But it was also possible to hold a conversation without bawling in someone else's ear, so I order up a treble vodka and coke and sink into one of the sofas and ask Robin what he thinks about Gazza.

"Personally I think Gazza is a class hero," says Robin. "So what if he hasn't read Jane Austen? Good luck to him, I say. And frankly, I think it is a bit rich for journalists of all people to slag Gazza off for drinking too much and being unfit. They'll be having a go at him for being sober in a minute. The poor bloke can't win.

"I used to be in the Marines, where there is just as much of an obligation to maintain one's personal fitness for the good of the team as there is in soccer. And there's none of this sanctimonious tut-tutting if someone comes off the rails through too much drinking.

"Serious cases are simply enrolled on a basket-weaving course for a couple of months and they come out of it with a useful skill. A friend of mine made 900 beer mats in just under eight weeks."

Couldn't agree more, I said, ordering another treble from a waitress.

OTHERS WHO HAVE LIVED AND DROWNED IN PUBLIC

KEITH CHEGWIN

Came to prominence in the early 1980s with energetic game show, Cheggers Plays Pop. Drink wrecked his marriage to TV presenter Maggie Philbin, and interrupted his TV career until he returned, mid-1990s, to present The Big Breakfast.

PAULA HAMILTON

The English-rose model who kept the VW Golf car keys, but dumped everything else in the 1980s advert. Drink wrecked her marriage, but she refused to be beaten. Has since presented low-key TV shows.

GEORGE BEST

NO alcoholics list would be complete without Britain's most gifted footballer. Embarrassed himself (and Terry) with his infamous drunken appearance on Wogan. Still has lapses.

PETER COOK

BRITAIN'S most talented iconoclast found life dragged because of his enormous intellect. Drank to ease boredom but, at 57, the boredom was cured and he was dead.

SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS

Staged a notorious walkout from the National Theatre Macbeth in 1974 . He ran to America, survived a coma, re-married and became Britain's highest regarded film actor. Still attends AA meets when he "feels a wobble".

MICHAEL BARRYMORE

Game show host who admitted to alcoholism in 1994 and, one year later, to homosexuality. Completed drying out in 1994, but has since wavered.

CAROLINE AHERNE

Back writing scripts for a new BBC1 sitcom, Mrs Merton and Malcolm, after a champagne-and-pills suicide attempt earlier this year. Self-confessed alcoholic, now sticks firmly to the orange juice.

OLIVER REED

Most infamous of many drunken public appearances came on the Channel 4 programme After Dark, where he abused fellow guests and refused to leave the set. Now 60, he is banned from many TV stations.

JOHN HURT

Once claimed to have drunk seven bottles of wine a day while making Midnight Express in 1978 (and he still received an Oscar nomination). Has now "lost interest" in alcohol.

TONY HANCOCK

Legendary lugubrious 1960s comic who couldn't cope with life's mundanities. He drank heavily before his death from an overdose in Sydney.

SID JAMES

Carry On actor who binged on a bottle of scotch a day, and died on stage in 1976.

TONY ADAMS

Title of Arsenal and England footballer's recent autobiography says it all: Addicted. Now as reformed as they come.

GARY OLDMAN

Confessed to alcoholism two years ago. Since directed Nil By Mouth, a film inspired in part by his drunken father.

DOMINIC WOOD

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