Real Life: A junkie at Millfield: The doors of the most exclusive schools are always open to ex-addict Phil Cooper. Angela Neustatter reports

PHIL COOPER is not the sort of chap you would expect to find in a prestigious public school. An ex-junkie from Liverpool, 54-year-old Cooper has used every illegal drug you can name, dealt them and been to prison. His record would bar him from taking the most menial job on a school staff. But, because of it, schools such as Millfield, Eton and Gordonstoun pay him pounds 200 a day to give their pupils his insiders' knowledge about drug abuse.

Standing before an expectant audience of 150 13 to 18- year-olds at Millfield, Cooper grins and launches into a spiel about Ecstasy. 'Great stuff isn't it? Who hasn't read the reports about how good it makes you feel, how you love everyone and have endless fun? And your friends, the people who count, have taken it and they tell you how great it is.'

Then he points to a display of press cuttings, picking out tales of youngsters who have died or been very ill after using Ecstasy. Feigning surprise, he says: 'That's not meant to happen is it? Haven't you all heard that E is safe? Or have you heard some of the less happy stories like I have? Would you know what you are buying? The other day I bought a couple of Es to see what quality they were - one was filled with worming powder, the other with crushed glass from a light bulb.'

A Department of Health report shows that children as young as 13 regularly use drugs and that dealing at school is commonplace. The DoH has just launched a pounds 2m education campaign, aimed at parents. Drugs cause huge concern in all schools, but independent schools have an additional problem. Pupils are assumed to have money and dealers focus on them with particular dedication.

Phil Cooper started taking drugs aged 11, when he was put into care by his single mother. An older child offered him amphetamines, and cannabis and barbiturates followed. By 18, he was meeting musicians who were shooting up. He began to buy and sell, was sent to prison but started again each time he came out.

It was love that broke the pattern. He met a woman who ended their relationship when she found him dealing. He managed, slowly, to give up and they got married. The marriage didn't last, but Cooper began writing poems about drugs and started to be invited into youth clubs and schools to talk about his experiences.

During the one-hour session at Millfield, Cooper touches on crack as the 'no hoper' and sketches in a few lurid tales of what he's seen, but he's more concerned to 'give them the full story' on amphetamines and LSD because these are currently popular. There's a chat about the pleasure, the heightened vision you might get from a trip, but then there's his experiences: 'hellish, terrifying nightmares from which there was no escape and which raged for hour after hour inside me.'

But what about cannabis, by far the most widely used drug among teenagers and which many people want legalised? Cooper says: 'All I know is that cannabis makes you feel good because it changes how you feel and I don't believe anything that does that is harmless. I've talked to countless students who've smoked a joint a day to 'mellow out' then felt so relaxed they had no motivation to work and failed their exams. Suddenly future plans fall apart. What about those who escape problems by being stoned all the time? And kids who develop an addiction to tobacco because they mix it with their dope? To me those are harmful effects.'

He never tells youngsters that they shouldn't take drugs. His message is, 'Get informed, know the facts and then make your decision'. But, he says, drugs have wrecked his life. 'I'm still paranoid - I have voices in my head, and waking dreams. I have severe headaches all the time. I've had

two mild heart attacks and ulcers and I don't expect to live very long.'

His audience has listened attentively, amused and bemused by turns. Ben Dunevin, 17, is sure he has learned a lot that he would never have picked up through the usual drugs education available at school. 'What Phil says makes me realise I need to think pretty hard about what drugs might do to me,' he says. Alice Faye, 17, quite likes the idea of cannabis but the fact that 'Phil seemed to be on our side but let us know that, based on his own experience, he thinks drugs are so harmful, makes you think.'

If Phil Cooper can 'make them think' then, thinks Christopher Martin, headmaster of Millfield, he is doing a good job: 'The pupils do not see him as part of our value system - something they may be rebelling against. I have no idea whether in the end Phil will have had more impact than we can, but what I have seen tells me he probably does and in these terrifying times he is a chance worth taking.'

(Photograph omitted)

News
people
News
people
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Associate Recrutiment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

    Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

    £120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

    PMLD Teacher

    Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

    Day In a Page

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

    Time to stop running

    At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence