Gay? No problem. Cocaine? Slap on the wrist. But Ecstasy...


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The Independent Online

In The unlikely event of finding yourself in a world-famous boy band, and wanting to get out, there is now one bomb proof escape route. Brian Harvey, singer in East 17, demonstrated it last week. On Thursday he announced that he not only took Ecstasy, but couldn't "see the problem". "If you bang one, you go out, you have a good night." By Saturday he was sacked. An Ecstasy tablet may not cost you your life - but it is now guaranteed to cost a pop star his career.

What made Harvey's fairly unremarkable drug-user's remarks unacceptable were two key points: one, that he was talking specifically about Ecstasy. And two, that he was not making a confession.

"My drugs hell" celebrity stories are not only acceptable but practically de rigeur, as Elton John and others will testify. Harvey's crime was to tell a "my drugs heaven" story.

More specifically, however, it was a "my Ecstasy heaven" account. In post-Leah Betts Britain, Ecstasy is the equivalent of slaughtering babies. Stars can get away with almost any other drug; Liam Gallagher's court appearance this month for cocaine was tolerated, albeit censoriously, as rock star excess.

Even sexual revelations can no longer be relied upon to dent a teen idol's appeal. Take That actively encouraged an aura of sexual ambivalence, and a Spice Girl's response to a recent question - would she sleep with a woman? - was a what-a-dumb-question "of course". East 17's own manager, Tom Watkins, is an out homosexual with a "my cocaine nightmare" chapter to his name, and also manages an openly gay band, Two Thirds.

What makes Ecstasy the lethal image killer is that youngsters can afford to take it. It is a tabloid dream - both sensational, and also threat- to-the-nation stuff. East 17's decision to sack Harvey was an urgent, business response to a commercial disaster. The singer's very public apology on Friday - "Ecstasy is a killer. Don't do drugs" - sounded like a PR attempt at damage limitation.

All of which makes Harvey's initial comments the more surprising. Surely a product of a carefully marketed boy band would know the effect such remarks would have? There is a strong rumour doing the music industry rounds that the singer knew exactly what he was doing. Relations in the band are known to have been strained, and whispers that he had resigned were circulating last month. He pulled out of two recent TV appearances, and Tom Watkins was quoted calling him a "liar and a little idiot".

Having been sacked, Harvey will now enjoy a substantial pay-off. "I can't believe what has happened," he told reporters at the weekend, at his Essex mansion, looking tearful and shocked. Perhaps, cynics may suggest, he cannot believe that it all worked out so well.