Tag Archives: Tony Thompson

Frost/Wells: when David Frost quizzed me on drugs*

1 Sep

ImageR.I.P. David Frost, one of the true giants of British broadcasting, who died of a heart attack last night on the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship, where he was to have given a speech. He was the Paxman of his day, but without the beard.

Starting as a satirist in That Was The Week That Was, he moved on to more “serious” interview programmes, and was a co-founder of London Weekend Television in 1968, and of TV-AM in 1983. How many news presenters have had Michael Sheen playing them in a Hollywood movie? (Frost/Nixon, 2008)

Slightly less earth-shatteringly than Nixon, I, too, was one of Frost’s interviewees. It was in 1994, and for the first time I had just devoted a whole issue of Time Out magazine to a single topic: drugs. I ran a four-page news investigation by Tony Thompson; a readers’ survey (86% had smoked dope, and about half had taken ecstasy, LSD and cocaine); a consumer guide to the different drugs, listing both beneficial and harmful effects (put together by Andrew Tuck, now editor of Monocle, and Susannah Frankel, who became The Independent’s fashion editor); and, most illuminatingly, I got five journalists to keep a diary of their experiences while actually under the effect of five different drugs.

This wasn’t done in a cavalier fashion. I had had enough friends lose their minds or their lives. And yet the prevailing political attitude was “all drugs are bad”, symbolised by Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” campaign. If the rhetoric held cannabis to be as harmful as heroin, it’s not surprising young people stopped believing the official line, and started necking anything they could get their hands on. They needed a voice they could trust, to tell them exactly which drugs did what – what, in short, the highs and the lows were. That voice, I thought, should be Time Out’s.


David Frost in 2005, conducting an interview with Donald Rumsfeld

It won me the first of four BSME Editor of the Year awards, and also landed me on ITV’s The Frost Programme, an audience-based news show a bit like Question Time. An unexpectedly articulate Rat Scabies of punk group The Damned was seated next to me. Rat, or “Mr. Scabies”, as Frost kept calling him, was on the pro-drugs side; some Tory MP supplied the anti; I was the moderating influence in between.

Two things stand out in my mind, 19 years on. One was being asked outright by David Frost if I had ever taken drugs myself. This was not something public figures admitted to in those days; it would be years still before Bill Clinton’s typically evasive, lawyer’s answer that he had smoked dope but “didn’t inhale”. These days Obama can ‘fess up to it whole-heartedly with scarcely a dent in his ratings. My candour brought a round of applause.

The other was that I interrupted the Tory MP in mid-flow. He was holding forth pompously about the perils of drug-use, reciting a pre-prepared list: “Side-effects include nausea, dizziness, euphoria, short-term memory loss…”

“Excuse me,” I butted in, “but it seems to me only a Tory politician could describe ‘euphoria’ as a harmful side-effect.”

It got a laugh, and the Tory MP struggled to regain any authority. Good times.

* Quizzed me about drugs, that is. Frost himself was not on drugs at the time. Or not that I know of.

#8: Secret Cannes diary of a Time Out Editor, aged 33¼

24 May
Continuing the extracts from my Cannes diary from 1997. This time: partying on the Soho House boat with a young Anna Friel, Sadie Frost, Jude Law, David Thewlis…
May 10. Woke up at 9, or so I thought — my watch had stopped, and it turned out to be 12.30. Started off feeling terrible, then thought hey! It’s Cannes! And the sun is shining! And immediately became annoyingly cheerful.Forced down some bread and pate, then watched Jon and Paul (Ronson and Kaye, see previous blog) rehearse the new character Jon’s been writing for him. I giggled in the kitchen, even though I’d heard the jokes before; Paul’s delivery brought them to life.

Nothing planned till 5.30, so spent much of the afternoon wandering up the Croisette, where the crowds prevent you moving any faster than a zombie, and overheard a smart French woman tourist say, “Oh, mais il n’y a même pas des starlets nues.” Bought a phonecard and phoned Jonathan Rutter of DDA to beg tix for a party the next evening, which he said he was giving to only three people, Jon and I being two, then off to join the Young British Talent.

Normally you can’t get into the colossal Palais des Festivals without an accredited pass. Bureaucracy is such that I had prepared a speech in French for when I was inevitably  refused entry despite having a printed invitation to the roof-top reception, but no problems. There are gorgeous views from up there, and the view improved even more when the Brits arrived.

They’d all been styled in designer gear, and looked stunning: Joely Richardson in a ’30s-looking, calf-length shimmery dress; Sadie Frost with little horns, a tattoo, and killer blue eyes (and later in bare feet); Anna Friel (above) thin and poised in a black dress with plunging back, behaving like a naughty schoolgirl during the speech and making signs to Sadie; Catherine McCormack in Doc Marten’s beneath her dress; and then the boys — Rufus Sewell, Jude Law, Jon’s friend James Frayn — all dressed to kill in Paul Smith tuxes and exuding a raffish charm.

I introduced myself to Anna Friel and thanked her for being kind to Brian Case (Time Out‘s legendary Senior Editor) when he went on location recently for Landgirls. Brian had told me he was worried that his drinker’s reputation had preceded him, because Anna always seemed to have a bottle of wine to offer, even in the morning; but she said that’s just what she always did, with a deliberately insouciant air that shouted “See? I may come from the soaps but I’m a bad girl, really!”

Jon turned up late, and still gloomy, having a Bad Birthday. He introduced me to ??, head of MTV, who had produced his Jon Ronson Mission, and cheered up  when I told him the young stars were all off to dinner at the Soho House boat — so we could mosey along and somehow inveigle our way in…. which we did.

Barry Norman (the BBC film critic) was standing proud on the top deck, gazing into the distance like an Admiral, very much in command and in his element. We ligged into the bar area for free champagne and Sea Breezes, where Jon had two coups and two foot-in-mouths.

Catherine McCormack was effusive in her praise of Jon’s Omar documentary (earlier he’d said his great ambition was to meet Mike Leigh, but he was too frightened he’d snub him. I had joked that he’d probably say “Jon Ronson! I’m a great admirer of your films…”). This delighted him, though he spoilt the warm glow by saying to her, in the end, “So what do you do?” Oops. Mind you, I hadn’t realised she had starred in Braveheart, either.

Same with David Thewlis, who actually sought Jon out to praise him for his documentary; but when Jon started going on about meeting David’s ex-wife, and how he really liked her, it spolit the mood…

I meanwhile patched things up with Richard Jobson, who I worried might bear a grudge for a nasty Sideline in Time Out years back making fun of his dyslexia, which at the time made him furious. But no: he wanted to make a deal with Time Out to help out with his series of London movies [our News Editor Tony Thompson eventually co-produced with him], and sorted us out with VIP tix to the massive MTV party that night…

In the next episode, a fight breaks out at the MTV party… click here to read