"Sometimes they just flow under the door," says treatment director Christine Kerr, twisting her rings in despair at the dissoluteness of her patients. Stern but fair, in a manner exclusive to matrons and nannies, you would not want her to catch you being naughty. When matron says "no fraternising" among potentially amorous patients, she means no fraternising. It extends to visiting journalists: my tour of Farm Place was permitted on the strict understanding that I would not approach the patients, famous or otherwise, or reveal their identities.
Christine Kerr makes no excuses for the prohibitive fees and no exceptions for the well-known names it is her duty to treat. "I usually have no idea who they are in the outside world anyway. I'm not very good at recognising people. In here they are sick people who need to be cured." It is gratifying to imagine her shaking languorous pop stars out of bed at 7am and switching their lights out at 11pm, never mind what they might get up to at the Beverly Hills Hilton.
"I think this sort of treatment should be available to everyone who needs it. But as it isn't, I don't think that should mean it is available to nobody," she explains. In fact there are cases of local health authorities paying for eight-week Farm Place treatments for NHS patients and occasionally people pay out of their health insurance. "We do get some in off the factory floor forging lasting friendship with people from completely different backgrounds. The strangest people get on here. Treatment as intensive and emotionally honest as this breaks down all kinds of barriers," she says.
The treatment begins as soon as you drive into the village of Ockley in which Farm Place is nestled. It looks like a dream of England as immortalised by Rupert Brooke and depicted in postcards sold to American tourists. There are old rambling houses with roses round the porch and a village green where boys amble in cricket whites. Helpful, friendly locals walk their obedient dogs, cows graze in pollen blurred fields and swans glide round lily pads on a pond. A discreet sign guides patients up the drive, past willow trees and banks of daffodils to the 17th-century manor house that will be their home for the next two months.
The house has large creaking doors, low wooden beams and peach-coloured carpets. In the reception area, homely bespectacled members of staff are waiting to greet you with curative, welcoming smiles, and sunlight sparkles on brass lamps and huge bowls of spring flowers.
The house sleeps 24 patients and there is usually an equal mix of men and women of all ages. Alcoholism and drug addiction are fairly evenly spread between the sexes, but those with eating disorders tend to be female. It is estimated that 80 per cent of people with eating disorders are also addicted to drugs. Ms Kerr claims that addicts are usually very intelligent - high achievers with a predilection for perfection - and she says that even when they have not had a top-class education they are noticeably brighter than average. "I'm definitely not clever enough to be alcoholic," she says. They do not accept patients under 16 because they cannot offer formal education, though they have a lot of calls from parents of younger anorexics. The youngest resident at the moment is 19 and the oldest they have ever had was an 85- year- old male alcoholic.
"Treatment is designed to help the patient learn to live without chemical support or abnormal heating habits," says the Farm Place creed, devised by proprietors and addiction gurus James and Joyce Ditzler. The goals are abstinence and recovery. Firstly, patients who need it are subjected to a strict five-day detox regime, before beginning the Minnesota Method Twelve-Step treatment with group therapy, tapes, videos, therapeutic tasks (hoovering/washing up) and recreational activities. The emphasis is on communication with peers and a greater understanding of themselves through shared experiences. In order to break the addict's tendency to isolate, patients are also required to share rooms.
The bedrooms are part of the idyll of Farm Place - most are large and light with sweeping views over the grounds. There are pink candlewick bedspreads and vases of tulips and lilies. Teddy bears belonging to the absent occupants are propped up on pillows, and bedside tables are adorned with Body Shop products, aromatherapy vials and cigarette lighters. Some are more austere, with mahogany panelling and imposing ottomans covered in Get Well cards. One room overlooking the large old fashioned swimming pool has a dizzyingly uneven floor. "I feel drunk just coming in this one," laughs Kerr. There are tissue paper Easter cards "To Mummy from Benjie" and fluffy pink slippers tucked under the bed.
Not much time is spent in the rooms, however, for the routine of lectures, written assignments (eg: "The moral implications of my alcoholism"/"My life story from the point of view of my alcoholism"/"How my habit has affected those around me"), peer evaluation and group meetings is pretty gruelling. Not least of all this is the Minnesota routine; from Step One - "We admitted we were powerless over the effects of alcoholism, that our lives had become unmanageable" - to Step 12 - "Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others who still suffer, and to practise these principles in all our affairs."
The only breaks from the programme are meals in the monastic, but friendly, dining room. These are difficult for both alcoholics who are used to drinking with food and for those with eating disorders. Attendance is compulsory and the fare is hearty. Ruddy-cheeked, big-bosomed women in white aprons prepare pork chops, mashed potatoes and fruit tarts, and cases of mineral water are stacked against the kitchen walls.
There are brief interludes for exercise in the gym or chatting in the smoking room, where the noticeboard has instructions on how to get to sleep and a newspaper clipping about Boris Yeltsin's little problem. Although Farm Place has patients from Australia, Portugal and Kenya, it has not yet had a Russian.
And the patients? They stream out of meetings chatting and laughing, bonds already forged, and most rush outside to smoke. They look wealthy but casual - pretty girls with ponytails and jeans, older men in brogues - all aiming to leave for a new and better life when the course is up. "People most susceptible are those who choose professions where drugs or alcohol are always available, like catering or medicine. They have to learn to cope going back to that same job," says Christine Kerr. Many of the staff are reformed alcoholics themselves, some of whom were treated at the Ditzlers' first home, Broadway Lodge, and they stand as testimony to the success of the system. "We had a publican once who didn't change his career afterwards," says Kerr. "They have to remem-ber that the rest of the world won't stay dry with them."
On the 'guest' list
HER HUSBAND, Earl Spencer, said: My wife would be happy for me to tell you that she has had a problem with addictions and eating disorders for 10 years, and this has been the first chance I've had to persuade her to go in for sustained residential treatment for serious psychological problems. My main concern is to keep her there, because that's where she is going to get the best treatment she can.
COMEDIAN and game show host: One thing I learnt from attending Alcoholics Anonymous and going to the Farm Place clinic is that I am powerless about some things. I can't do anything about people not coming to a pantomime mid-week when it's gloriously sunny outside. I have also learnt that next time I drink I'm not going to tell anybody. I'll drink under an assumed name.
MODEL: No one asked me to go. It was my choice. I had heard the programme was very good there. It's called the 12 Steps. It's a way of trying to lead a normal life. The treatment I actually had lasted for nine weeks. You know everyone on your course very well and later I went back for a reunion. It encourages you to look at things in a positive light where you might have taken a negative approach.
FORMER champion jockey: I woke up haemorrhaging from the nose one morning ... my brother, sister-in-law and my first wife put me in Farm Place for counselling. After two days something clicked. "That's it," I said, "I'm an alcoholic." I'm still afraid. But the fear of the unknown ahead is not as bad as the fear of going back to hell. I'll never be cured, but I'm happy. It's a wonderful life.Reuse content