Surgeon grieves for 'a very brave person' and blasts drinks culture

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The Independent Online

George Best's surgeon, the liver specialist Professor Roger Williams, has told of his grief at the loss of a man who had become a friend as well as a patient - and attacked Britain's drinking culture that killed him.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent on Sunday, Prof Williams fondly remembered the man he did not recognise when the legendary footballer first came into his clinic five years ago.

"Mr Best was a very brave person, and I was very fond of him," Prof Williams, 74, said in his office at University College London's Institute of Hepatology. "He had a simple, straightforward charm about him, and was a very nice man, in spite of all his failings. He never complained, and was always apologetic when he went off the rails.

Prof Williams preferred to remember the charismatic Northern Irishman's periods of sobriety. "George came to an all-party parliamentary reception I had at the House of Commons shortly after his liver transplant three years ago," he said.

"He was still abstinent from drink, and had such a natural way of going round, talking to people and being straightforward. When he hadn't been drinking he was a good person. It was just the booze that made everything go wrong for him."

Prof Williams, made a CBE in 1993 and author of more than 2,000 scientific papers, largely on the liver, said people such as Best and their families would continue to suffer until the Government took drastic measures to tackle heavy drinking. He called the extension of drinking hours "a terrible mistake".

The number of people dying from alcohol-related diseases in the UK jumped from 5,525 in 2000 to 6,525 last year.