How Russell Brand is flirting with his old enemy, self-harmKeith Dovkants
In the darkest days of his heroin addiction, Russell Brand wrote down a number of goals he hoped to achieve if he could get off drugs. "Keep radio show" was one. "Don't f**** up jobs I have" was another. For a comedian who has built his career parading and mocking the world's cruel ironies, his current situation must feel like life imitating art. Brand beat drugs but he is hooked on something equally perilous. He calls it self-sabotage, the practice of damaging himself just when it seems everything he dreamed of and striven for is working out.
The image of the flamboyant, tight-trousered poseur, spouting surreal babytalk while cutting a swathe through the female population has served him well. Work in Hollywood and other offers have poured in and tonight television viewers can see him in a new series of his show, Ponderland, on Channel 4. It is another excursion into his bizarre mental meanderings, including a take on sex with animals. Some may feel this brings him dangerously close to his problems at the BBC but the programme is scheduled to go out at 10.35pm.
His decision to abandon his Radio 2 show after the row over the obscene phone call to the veteran actor Andrew Sachs will disappoint his many fans. They may think: so what? Bad taste and anarchy are part of his appeal. He, too, may feel bruised and the victim of an over-reaction.
He may also feel he has flirted with an old enemy, self-harm. From childhood, Brand cut himself on a regular basis. He would slash his arms until the blood flowed. As a young man, he smashed a glass and used it to lacerate his chest. Sometimes his injuries were frightening but the thing he came to fear most was damaging his treasured status as a star. As his career soared, "don't f*** up" became his mantra.
His fear of destroying his own yearned-for success emerges strongly in his bestselling and award-winning autobiography, My Booky Wook. Brand, 33, was born to a working-class couple in Grays, Essex. His father, Ron, sold double glazing, then water filters and was an occasional photographer. He left Brand's mother, Barbara, when Brand was six months old.
"Some of my earliest recollections are of seeing Dad on Saturdays - him leaving me watching the TV at his flat in Brentwood while he read the papers or didled birds in the room next door. I would mainly watch comedy videos, Elvis films and porn", Brand recalled. He also remembered that when he was 17 his father took him on a tour of Thailand's brothels.
Brand's sexual adventures have been well-chronicled not least by him. It was his relationship with Andrew Sachs's 23-year-old granddaughter, Georgina Baillie, that prompted the telephone call to the Fawlty Towers star. Intriguingly, Brand seems to have always known that sex would get him into trouble.
In 2005, he checked into a clinic in Philadelphia to receive treatment for what he told friends was his "sexy addiction". He had been persuaded by his manager John Noel to seek help after it seemed his compulsive sexual behaviour was becoming not just a constant worry, but a threat.
Brand was seducing anyone he could, which meant a high proportion of the women he met. He has put the total at 2,000 and rising quickly. He was also using prostitutes, often two at a time. There was something manic about his approach to sex.
Whatever the problem was, the Philadelphia clinic seems not to have solved it. After his "treatment", the red-top tabloids were full of stories from young women who claimed they'd had sex marathons with him.
Regrets appear to be few. Two former girlfriends, contacted by the Standard, sprang to his defence over the phone call row.
Former Big Brother contestant and model Imogen Thomas said: "This whole affair has been totally blown out of proportion. I know Russell, we've been friends for years and he's a really nice guy. I haven't spoken to him about it, but I doubt he meant any offence by the telephone calls."
Makosi Musambasi, a Big Brother housemate, met Brand in 2006. She said: "Russell is a lovely guy. It wouldn't be fair for him to be dismissed over this. He's a genuine person and not malicious at all. I don't believe there were any bad intentions behind those phone calls. He is not the kind of person to do anything out of malice. Just like when we met, he had no malicious intentions. He'll bounce back from this - and it will be with something even more outrageous."
Brand specialises in outrage. The BBC can hardly have been surprised by the Sachs incident and the real wonder is that Brand was not watched more closely. He had spectacular form, after all. One of his first radio jobs was at Xfm. It didn't last long. Brand was fired after reading out pornographic material on air.
At MTV where he presented a dance music programme, things seemed to go well. Although he was almost permanently drunk and high on heroin at the time, no one seemed to notice. That was to change. Brand was buying �10 wraps of heroin from a dealer near the music station's Camden studios and the day after the 11 September attacks in America he arrived for work dressed as Osama Bin Laden. He was fired.
Brand kicked his drug habit with help from the Hare Krishna sect and a lot of patience from his friends. People who get close to Brand tend either to adore him or dismiss him as a psychopathic egotist. Bob Geldof once called him a "c***". In certain circles that is not an entirely isolated view.
He is candid about his episodes of dishonesty which, at one point, bordered on criminality. As a struggling actor he became an expert at fare-dodging and resorted often to shoplifting. His favourite trick was to pick up groceries in a supermarket while eating a sandwich. When he'd finished the sandwich, he'd simply put down the shopping basket and walk out.
He has confessed to cheating his close friends by selling them cocaine he had mixed with white powder from indigestion tablets. His meanest trick, perhaps, was the one he pulled on a long-suffering girlfriend he called Kerry.
In My Booky Wook he writes: "After Kerry threw me out, bin-bags crossing the border back into Kentish Town, I used keys I had cut for such an eventuality to return to the flat and steal things. I was a total cad."
Strangely, perhaps, he continues to inspire loyalty. George Weiss, founder of the Rainbow movement of surreal politics, was a friend of the late Peter Cook whom Brand revered. Brand especially liked Cook's thought that when he gazed up into the heavens and saw the stars he was struck by just how insignificant they were. Cook and Weiss were neighbours in Hampstead and Cook would often call on Weiss and soliloquise.
Weiss said: "Russell came round one day because he thought Peter was the best. He's got a shrine to Peter in his house. I was impressed by Russell from the beginning. He has this messianic quality. He thinks he really has something to give to the world, and I share that view."
Weiss, who has appeared on Brand's radio show three times, was due to be a guest on the fateful night of the obscene phone calls. He said: "When they got hold of Jonathan Ross, I was booted off. Pity, really, because if I'd been there I don't think any of this would have happened. Jonathan was definitely winding him up. He (Brand) is not really at fault. I have never heard him even swear on air and the sort of people who listen to the show, late on a Saturday night, know what to expect."
As do fans of his Channel 4 series, Ponderland. Brand is back tonight with a new programme, about eccentric people and their pets. He introduces a series of clips including one in which an American woman talks about having a sexual relationship with her dog and says she fantasises about having sex with her horse. Brand muses on what the dog might be saying when the woman's husband takes it for a walk: "This is awkward for me as well," he offers, then, pointing out that he is about to defecate, the dog tells the husband (Brand says): "Legally, you are obliged to pick that up."
Not everyone buys into this kind of humour but a lot of people do. This is Brand's strength. One can imagine him looking at the fuss over the Sachs affair and saying: I don't need this." Indeed, it might be argued that BBC radio needs him more than he needs it. The audience for his Saturday night show is around 2 million.
And rewards the BBC can offer may be paltry compared with what Brand is earning in Hollywood. His role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall was a success and he has a leading part in a new Disney movie, Bedtime Stories, due to be released at Christmas. Other films are being discussed.
But even in Hollywood, on the brink of a stardom he could hardly have dreamed of when he was being thrown out of London drama schools, the risk of self-harm looms.
Brand says he received death threats after presenting the MTV Video Music Awards in Hollywood earlier this year. In a crass misjudgment, he offended a large section of the American audience by calling George W Bush "that retarded cowboy fella". In England, he said, Bush "would not be trusted with scissors". He also hailed Britney Spears as a "female Christ" and mocked the purity rings worn by a highly popular American act, the Jonas Brothers.
Some pundits said his ill-advised cracks had done his career in the United States irrevocable harm. Brand claims MTV wants him back to present next year's awards.
He is now trying to distance himself from the BBC radio furore but he knows that whoever takes him on in the future will have to weigh the benefits of his zany style against the damage he might cause. He also knows that however grave that might be, it is nothing like the damage he is capable of inflicting on himself.
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I really find Russell Brand funny...why are all these politicians going over the topand old Michael Parkinson and other lack lustre comedians.......I am a pensioner myself...i think Manuel can take it..his grandaughter is making money because of it!!!
- Jean, lONDON England
Of the two Brandt was the lesser offender...he at least showed a frission of shock when Ross led the attack and seemed to be trying to reign him in..its probably his sucessful fight against heroin that gave him this slight edge of cognaissance over Ross who had no sense of self control at all..and remember he was the older and supposedly more professional of the two...Brandt seemed to try and give the totally dishonourable discharge some honour even going as far as proposing marriage....??? They are both eeijuts but i find Ross the bigger eeijut!
- Anne Marie, paris france
Gone are my days of acting on impulse ,i now have the capacity to think before i act .With insite it's not great to always be the life and soul of the party or to be the one that always says what they think.Two years later and i still cringe at that person i'd become and the things i'd done .The diagnosis Bipolor ! It's that old cliche ,Laugh and the world laughs with you,cry and you cry alone .Ask anyone from mental health their thoughts on Brand and Ross and see what they come up with..........
- Diane Darby, Hastings East Sussex England