Peter Kay: Counsellor who worked with Tony Adams at the Sporting Chance Clinic
Tuesday 24 September 2013
Peter Kay became known in recent years for his work with the clinic Sporting Chance, set up by the former Arsenal and England captain Tony Adams, to help footballers and other sportsmen and women affected by addiction. Kay was made Executive Director of the clinic, housed in a former country club set in 158 acres near Liphook in Hampshire, and is credited with helping to save the careers and lives of several prominent footballers, including Joey Barton, Paul Merson, Paul Gascoigne, Clarke Carlisle – chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association – and Kelly Smith, a prolific goalscorer for the England women's team.
Kay himself became addicted to drink and drugs in his teens and almost died in 1992, when he spent 21 days in a coma following an operation to remove two-thirds of his pancreas. He met Adams by chance at the home of the rock musician Pete Townshend, the lead guitarist with The Who and himself a recovering alcoholic. Kay, who had been a successful chef, had been invited by Townshend to cook lunch. Kay recalled that he and Adams "talked and talked, and ended up going for supper". The foundations were laid for a lasting friendship.
The son of an RAF flight lieutenant, Kay was born in Ankara but brought up in England after the family moved to Pinner, in Middlesex. He believed his own addictive tendencies were sparked by sexual abuse suffered at the age of eight at the hands of a local man who threatened to kill him were he to tell anyone. He was so ashamed of what had happened he didn't speak about it for 24 years. He became withdrawn, sometimes biting or bruising himself out of a revulsion for his own body. It was not long before he began to discover ways of escape. He sniffed bath cleaner, finding that it took him "to another world".
Kay was also stimulated, in a more socially acceptable sense, by cooking, his love for which developed when he spent holidays in Devon with his aunt, who had worked in kitchens in London before marrying a French sommelier and opening a restaurant in Exmouth. Even as young as seven, Kay imagined himself as a professional chef.
When he was 12 he earned pocket money washing up in a restaurant near where he lived, and it was not long before he was asked to make salads and prepare desserts. He later said that he enjoyed the atmosphere of the kitchen in part because it gave him a sense of belonging that home failed to provide despite the love shown towards him. His willingness to work also offered evidence to his father that he was trying to make something of himself, despite poor results at school. This was important in a family of high achievers. Kay's brother, nine years' his senior, became a chartered accountant, while his sister, who was three years older, was to work in the City.
Yet the kitchen environment pushed him further on a path towards addiction. When he had to choose between extra shifts and cricket practice, a promised bonus of two cans of a lager and 20 cigarettes made up his mind. By 14 he was already skilled as a sauce and dessert chef. At work he felt wanted and valued; there was a strong drinking culture in the restaurant industry, however, and his alcohol use became habitual. Soon he was experimenting with drugs as well.
None of this stopped him becoming a successful chef. Although he left school at 16 with a CSE in French, he was able to pass the professional chef's course at Westminster College. After two years working in South Africa, Kay was head chef at several London restaurants before becoming executive chef for a merchant bank in the City and then for British Imperial Tobacco. He married and had three daughters. Later he described his wife, Sharon, as "a marvellous woman" and said that he "adored" his three girls. But nothing changed the way he felt about himself nor persuaded him that he could function successfully without the twin props of scotch and cocaine.
Eventually, they brought him down. For the first time in his career he was sacked, after which he was turned down for jobs he would previously consider beneath him. He moved out of the family home, for a while living in a squat and meeting his children once a week in the garden of his favourite pub. In the spring 1992 he collapsed. Doctors discovered his pancreas to be so badly diseased most of it had to be removed. He suffered cardiac arrest, collapsed lungs and kidney failure. Twice his family were called to his bedside and told to prepare for the worst.
Yet he recovered, became head chef at Burlington's in London, then opened his own restaurant. He no longer drank or took drugs, although recurrent bouts of pancreatitis eventually forced him to retire. Adams, meanwhile, had spent £200,000 of his own money to set up Sporting Chance, which he originally ran from a single rented room near Victoria Station. The clinic expanded when Adams, whose own alcohol problems were well publicised, won funding from the Professional Footballers' Association.
When Kay became involved he drew on his own experiences to help the clients Adams brought to him. A tall, charismatic man with blond hair and strikingly blue eyes, he believed that shouting achieved nothing and concentrated instead on persuading his patients to draw strength from their good qualities, which he felt made them more likely to listen to advice on correcting their more destructive characteristics. He told footballers to step outside the macho world in which they lived and release their intellect. Joey Barton said that Kay "never lost faith in me, suggesting things but not telling me. He got me to use my brain and read, engage in debate about achievement and the psychology of men."
Failing health forced Kay to step aside from the day-to-day running of Sporting Chance in 2012, but not before he had established an education programme for the Premier League academies and organised up to 100 seminars a year, helping tackle dependencies on gambling, alcohol and drugs. Kay, who also worked alongside chefs Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal at Hospitality Action's Ark Foundation, a charity that deals with alcohol and drugs dependency in the catering industry, was married for a second time, to Melissa, but also divorced for a second time. He is survived by his daughters, Naomi, Francesca and Harriet.
Peter Kay, chef, and addictions counsellor: born Ankara, Turkey 14 May 1961; married firstly Sharon (marriage dissolved; three daughters), secondly Mellisa (marriage dissolved); died 16 September 2013.
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