The end of the bender? Stars embrace sobriety

Oi! Amy! Put that glass down! Haven't you heard that the days of rock'n'roll excess are over? As more and more public figures forsake alcohol in the name of health and sanity, and thousands of us follow suit, Rob Sharp explains why society is embracing sobriety

Saturday 22 October 2011 23:42

Never has being dry been more fashionable. Sobriety is in vogue - and in Celebrityland, everyone's at it. Perhaps it's a sign of the times: a psychosocial response to the credit crunch, a reaction against the millennial excesses of the early Noughties. But suddenly, it seems, clean-living role models are all around us.

For every pie-eyed party animal pictured leaving Chinawhite at 3am, there's a Chris Martin, a Natasha Kaplinsky, a Catherine Tate. Amy Winehouse may still be keeping the gossip columnists busy, but more and more of her partners in pop are sticking to the San Pellegrino and taking an early cab home.

Little Britain's David Walliams, a noted man about town, is never seen with anything other than mineral water in hand. Former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq may frequently be seen bouncing out of The Ivy, but in full control of her faculties. Note, too, the clear skin and bright eyes of the "alcohol intolerant" newsreader Kaplinsky, or Simon Amstell, presenter of television quiz show Never Mind the Buzzcocks, who also eschew all poisons.

The list goes on. Tate hates the "loss of control" she experiences when drinking. Martin of Coldplay, his missus, Gwyneth Paltrow, and The X-Factor's massively successful songstress Leona Lewis are noted abstainers.

And sobriety isn't just a celebrity-specific trend. Members of high society and politics alike are (and have) clean livers. Prince Andrew, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the leader of the free world himself, George W Bush, have joined the club.

And then there are the sports stars. Needless to say, all-nighters aren't conducive to being on top of your game, which probably explains why tennis ace Andy Murray is teetotal. Boxer Ricky Hatton abstains for most of the year before a fight, letting down his guard only for a brief, post-fight celebration (and who can blame him after spending 12 rounds getting his head punched in?).

In Hollywood, the actor Jared Leto recently described how he's more interested in putting on a good show with his band 30 Seconds to Mars than exploring the more hedonistic side of rock. Sober nights out wouldn't be dull in LA, of course, Leto could socialise with fellow abstainers Jim Carrey, Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson.

So are all these stars at the vanguard of a new post-alcohol era? Despite the widespread perception of a binge drinking culture in Britain, official statistics seem to suggest this is wide of the mark. In a recent study, the Institute of Alcohol Studies found that a growing number of Britons are abstaining from drink.

The Office for National Statistics agrees. Its most recent survey found the percentage of non-drinking women increased from 41 to 44 per cent between 1998 and 2006. For men, the numbers increased from 25 per cent in 1998 to 29 per cent. And believe it or not, the trend is borne out among underage drinkers. The number of boys aged between 11 and 15 who had never drunk alcohol rose from 38 to 46 per cent. With girls, the figures for non drinkers increased from 42 to 46 per cent.

All of which makes the antics of Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood especially striking. The 61-year-old rocker's recent drunken sojourn in Ireland, in the company of a 19-year-old Russian waitress, was as retro as it was rock'n'roll. When actor Rhys Ifans drowned his sorrows after splitting from Sienna Miller, he attracted as much opprobrium for his drinking as sympathy for his emotional distress. Peaches Geldof, three sheets to the wind again? Oh dear.

So what's behind the new vogue for clean living? Jessica Callan, author and former Daily Mirror gossip columnist, insists that there are no hard and fast rules as to why celebs are choosing to live clean.

"There are various reasons why celebrities choose not to drink," she says. "Some choose it for weight reasons – to pursue various diets, such as a macrobiotic diet – others, Chris Martin for example, choose to abstain because they simply can't handle alcohol. I interviewed him once and he said the reason he didn't drink was that he was a total lightweight.

"But generally, celebrities are control freaks. They don't drink because they don't want to slip up. David Walliams has been tagged in various newspapers as something of a ladies' man, which makes him a target for a kiss-and-tell sting. And as he does serious acting as well as comedy, he doesn't just want to be known for his love life."

Alexandra Shulman, editor of Vogue, believes that a reduction in people's consumption of drink and drugs is reflected in the popularity of the detox, essentially the recent trend for taking spa breaks. "The trend for going off to a spa and then coming back and steering clear of alcohol and rich food is a relatively fashionable and new phenomenon," she explains.

"So many more people are detoxing now. Everyone I know seems to go off to a health retreat once a year, certainly over the past five years.

"What one forgets is that people don't really stop drinking in their twenties. When they reach their late thirties, however, people begin to think about the effect drinking and partying hard is having on them. Additionally, there's more pressure on people nowadays to look great while still being able to party – and one way of doing this is by detoxing regularly."

The former Blur bassist and one-time legendary Soho party animal Alex James reckons the reason he curbed his notoriously excessive lifestyle was growing up and having children. The Noughties, he says, are less of a "party" decade than the Nineties.

"You can't be sloshing out the champagne in these credit-crunch days. Going on a good bender also needs a lot of time. You need to book a lot of space in the diary. Nowadays, people seem to want to get up and out in the mornings. I've gone from being a creature of the night to a daytime person. Of course, many of my friends also started having kids, which kind of disrupts the hedonism somewhat," he says.

"Adults make babies and babies make adults. Ronnie Wood is one of the best people to get pissed with, but he's a Rolling Stone. My boozing and shagging was cured by getting married. I changed as a person and my circumstances changed. Now I have something to come home to and responsibilities. It's getting old and boring that does it.

"It's brilliant in your twenties to be pissed and fabulous at 11 in the morning. But how old is Ronnie? He's about 82, isn't he? There just seems to be something a little bit wrong in that."

However, while more people are abstaining from drinking, the reasons are complex, according to Dr Rachel Seabrook, research manager for the Institute of Alcohol Studies. "Drinking behaviour is complex and affected by many things, including cultural and economic factors. While the evidence that increasing numbers of people aren't drinking alcohol is very welcome, more research is needed into why," she says.

One reason for the spread of sobriety is almost certainly the growth of alternative lifestyle philosophies. "New puritanism" resurrects Cromwellian ideals of abstinence. Adherents shun the consumer society, binge drinking, junk food, smoking and cheap flights in favour of a more wholesome way of life.

The straight edge movement, a recent import to Britain, is inspired by the Eighties' American punk band, Minor Threat. Those involved (and there's a substantial following in the UK) avoid drink, drugs and promiscu-ous sex. Straight edgers often draw a black cross on their hand, replicating the stamps given to under-21s attending gigs in the US (the cross is an indication to bartenders they should not be served alcohol).

Of course, for every back-handed cross, there is a drug or alcohol-addicted rocker. Dr Seabrook believes that recent research indicates that while fewer people are drinking, those who are, are hitting the bottle to excess, thereby polarising society.

Martin Smith, director for the addiction treatment programme at The Priory (a London rehab centre favoured by celebrities) says: "I think there have always been people who chose to abstain for lifestyle reasons. But sadly, it hasn't had any impact on the number of people seeking treatment for addiction. If you're one of those people who can just take things or leave them, you are unlikely to ever knock on The Priory's door. Of course, just because someone can abstain for a brief period doesn't mean they don't have a problem with addiction. I don't think the number of celebrities having trouble with addiction has changed."

The number of celebrities sober after a spell in rehab are, sadly, numerous. Kristin Davis, star of Sex and the City, is a recovering alcoholic, along with the television presenter Anne Robinson and the artist Damien Hirst. Big Brother presenter Davina McCall and comedian Russell Brand have had well-publicised addiction problems in the past, but are clean now.

The difference between those who resist the demon drink for lifestyle reasons and those who can't drink because they've had problems in the past is highlighted by Robinson, whose high-profile addiction to alcohol forced her to stop drinking in the late 1970s.

"On the one hand, in my experience, people are drinking less," she says. "The people I go out with of an evening quite often don't drink. Culturally, too, as a nation we don't drink like we used to. The circles I move in today are different from how they were when I was on Fleet Street 10 or 20 years ago.

"There are very obvious reasons for that. The culture of journalism, for example, where I used to work, has changed. Many articles are written by freelancers, who aren't in the office, so there is no collection of people who go to the pub together after work. In wider society, too, half of the pubs have turned into coffee shops, especially in London.

"But for the Robbie Williamses of this world, those whom you may describe as a former addicts, that is a whole different story. I defy anyone to prove that figures are getting better for that."

The socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, suffered from high-profile drink and drugs problems in the past, but is now clean, and warns of the perils of partying too hard.

"The crowd I hang around with aren't the party crowd any more," she says. "I've not been to a nightclub in ages. Nowadays, I prefer dinner parties on my terrace or going out for a nice dinner. Of course, you do get people who go out and want to go crazy. I've never understood that mentality. Then again, I am a bit of a contol freak, perhaps it's the Capricorn in me. Drunk people really scare me.

"But I've noticed that increasing numbers of people don't drink alcohol any more – and drugs are completely out of fashion. They're now seen as a bit seedy and unglamorous."

Posh mocktails: even better than the real thing
The coolest non-alcoholic cocktails to be seen sipping... as recommended by Davide Cade, head barman at Claridge's Bar,London

Cuban Cooler

Take a highball glass and add
a sprig of mint;
one teaspoon of sugar;
15ml apple juice;
15ml lime juice.

Mix with a spoon in the glass, then add 10ml cranberry juice on top for a bit of colour and fill with crushed ice to the top of the glass. Add a wedge of lime as desired as a garnish

Very Berry Fever

Take a highball glass and add
10ml raspberry juice;
10ml blueberry juice;
10ml blackberry juice;
a teaspoon of sugar.
Mix in the glass, add crushed ice as desired and 15-20ml of lemon juice.
Top the glass up with soda water.
Mix again with a spoon


Mix together in a cocktail shaker
a teaspoon of strawberry jam;
5 blackberries;
a teaspoon of sugar;
10ml lemon juice;
30ml of grapefruit juice;
30ml of pineapple juice;
a small amount of ice.
Pour into a whisky glass and garnish with a strawberry cut into three pieces.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments