The day George Best told Calum 'You're not my f***ing son'
Calum Best says it was finally time to unveil the truth, however controversial, about his father George, how he was 'a shit father' - and how their relationship was damaging because of George's far deeper relationship with alcohol
Published 06/04/2015 | 02:30
George Best had gone on the missing list for Calum. As the soccer icon once said himself of his infamous missing routine - Miss UK, Miss Sweden. Miss World. George, so the story goes, flew his son - then just 13 - to London over from America, where Calum was born in California on February 6, 1981, to help him celebrate his 50th birthday. The birthday party was not at George's home but rather at his second home, Stringfellows, 'the gentleman's' strip club in London. Calum was at the party but his dad wasn't. He was too drunk to attend and left Calum to be minded by the club's proprietor instead.
"It was good, because Peter Stringfellow looked after me," Calum told The Observer in 2008. "He took me under his wing. And he always has looked out for me, ever since. And I go there, all the time, but not for the girls. I go for the steak." Strip club grub notwithstanding, you don't have to dig too deeply for examples of alco pop George Best's bad parenting. There is also the sad story of Calum, barely 15, being deflowered by a friend of a former flame of his father's in London. Calum told journalist Polly Vernon a few years ago: "I was in a pub, with me mates, because it was like the first time we could go out in a pub and drink legally . . .So she phoned up, she goes: I heard you were in town, why don't you come over and say hello? I go over and she had a flatmate who was about 37 and I ended up losing my virginity to her! And I thought to myself, 'Bloody hell, I just lost my virginity to my dad's ex's flatmate!'"
The last time I met Calum two years ago, I said to him that those stories are entertaining to read about, but they also must be psychologically damaging on some levels to him, because he lived them.
"You are not wrong," Calum replied in 2013. "I can laugh about it now. But when you think about it in hindsight - you think, Jesus, I was 15 years old, I had come over to see my old man, his ex girlfriend invited me to her house and I lost my virginity to a thirtysomething-year-old woman. It is pretty mad shit when you think about it. Those things can damage you . . ."
Today, in the Westbury Hotel in Dublin, Calum Best is here to put in perspective the damage his alcoholic father did to him. It is all in his new book, Second Best: My Dad and Me. The title gives a slight indication perhaps of the sort of parenting skills George exhibited. After taking Calum, then 11, on his very first trip to Manchester United's home ground Old Trafford - "Everywhere we go, people are treating him like a god; This is the place where he became a legend" - George abandoned his son alone in a hotel room and didn't turn up until the next day. "He doesn't apologise or act like what he did was anything out of the ordinary, let alone wrong," Calum writes.
Calum says now of his complicated relationship with his responsibility-resistant dad that having a universally idolised sporting icon as a dad meant that Calum had to almost self-censor his own thoughts and keep his truth about his father under strict lock and key inside his heart. "I wasn't able to speak my mind that I had a shit dad and a shit upbringing with him," he tells me.
"It was only shit because of his alcohol dependency. I know, deep down inside, he wanted to be a good dad and he wanted to be a good man but he was so ill the whole time I knew him that it f**ked us up, big-time. It f**ked up any relationship we could have had. Although we did talk football, we did talk women, there was no depth to the relationship.
"I'm at a point where the f**king pressure off the shoulders of getting this thing out there is so nice. It's like, everyone knows now what have been my thoughts and feelings about my dad and I. I'll always love him. I will always be his number one fan. But," he pauses, "there is more to it than that.
"And this is my story with my father and I," he continues. "I get tweets from lads in Belfast going: 'You're f**king ruining your dad's name.' I'm like, 'No, dude, I'm more of a George Best fan than you are.'"
As Paul Hayward pointed out in last Wednesday's Irish Independent: "The question, as ever when re-assessing the famous dead, is whether a white picket fence should be erected around their stories; whether we want the flicker of our own memories to remain inviolable or can handle the prising apart of light and dark."
Darkness, regrettably, is everywhere in Calum's book. Some have found it unnecessarily black bordering on treachery about a man who is not yet dead a decade.
Calum's aunt Barbara McNarry, in particular, was not best pleased by the book, saying that her late brother would have felt "a great sense of betrayal" at Second Best: My Dad and Me.
"This has been a very painful experience for the entire family," she said recently in the Belfast Telegraph, "We are not angry or bitter, we are just hurt and simply want to defend his father's memory. We are all very disappointed by all of what has been alleged about someone who had his flaws but is still admired and loved by many fans throughout the world."
"This book is in no f**king shape or form to put my dad down," Calum says. "There was some press from Belfast. I can totally understand where Belfast is coming from, especially my dad's sister. Well, not my dad's sister, but ..." he backtracks.
George is Belfast's boy, I say.
"But you know what? He is more my boy than he is their boy. I don't want to take anything away from Belfast but I have shared my dad with people my whole life. But this was my opportunity for me to say this is what I went through with my dad, who unfortunately, throughout the whole process was poisoned by alcohol dependence.
"I want to put it out there because it has been in here, for as long as I can remember. In my head and my heart and my soul. I had to share him my whole life. If people read this book in its entirety they will go: 'Holy shit, we had no idea.' I also think they will say: 'Fair play to you.' I didn't know my dad without alcohol dependency."
In truth, George Best once wrote in his own autobiography: 'Having Calum proved one thing - alcohol had become the most important thing in my life. More important than my wife and even more important than my newborn son. I felt guilty that I couldn't stop drinking even for him, and probably drank more because of my guilt, which is just about the worst vicious cycle you could get.'
The most vicious part of the cycle, controversially, is in Second Best: My Dad and Me. It is horrifying to read. You can only imagine what it would have been like to live through it. Now a grown man of 34, Calum remembers being 14 and playing cards with Alex Best, George's second wife, a former air hostess, when George came home rolling from yet another session of GBH of the liver at the local pub in London. He then proceeded to accuse his young son of having a covert affair with Alex. "What the f**k do you two think you're doing?" George raged. "Nothing, Bestie," Alex told him. "We're just playing cards, that's all." "Dad," Calum said, "we're just hanging out, waiting for you to come home."
"No - you're f**king not," George screamed. "I know what you two were doing!"
"Dad," Calum remembers trying to calm his father, 'this really is not what you think.'
George's reply, he remembers, was the drink and the devil talking in his father: "F**k off, you piece of shit," he raged "F**k off. You're not my f**king son."
"What do you mean I'm not your son?" Calum replied, tears welling up in his eyes. Calum then writes that his father proceeded to grab him by his young throat, pushing him against the wall with a thud, his feet lifting off the ground, with Alex shouting at him to "Stop!" All George would say as he let his son go: "You're not even meant to be. I hate you."
Calum says now of that incident 20 years ago: "Like f**k! Do you know what I mean?" he says now looking back. "He was engaged to the woman! I mean, she was only a few years older than me, bless her, to be fair!" he laughs, "But good on him! He had a young hot missus!
"He was wasted. He wasn't even himself. I looked him in the eye when this happened and it was like a f**king demon. It wasn't George. The eyes were taken over by someone. The whole person was taken over by someone. Who the hell is this? It was a scary time. And I kept that shit inside me for years. That's traumatic. So, I have a right to tell my story about my father."
When I bring up fatherhood for him (Calum never mentions that he has a child already by a former glamour model Lorna Hogan with whom he had a very brief, and subsequently very messy, relationship in 2005), Calum says maybe a tad edgily: "When the time is right, and the person is right and the situation is there, then. . ."
I say to him that he appears to have a pretty good relationship at the moment with model Ianthe Rose Cochrane-Stack, whom he met last year while she was appearing in Olly Murs' video Wrapped Up.
"Yeah. But let's not even go down that road. We're in early stages!" he says, possibly displaying his dad's commitment issues. "I'm lucky with the stability I have in my life now I'm lucky to have a really cool girlfriend," he says. "She's with me in Dublin and she's a really cool chick, but if I'm honest with you, it's not what I want to make this about. It can be part of where I'm at - in my good place - but I don't really want to quote on that one. She is a good woman. She's really cool but it is still early stages, dude."
When asked about his ex, Georgia Salpa, he says he would prefer not to talk about her. "Because this is such a serious topic, I would rather not bring Georgia into it."
I tell him that she is about to get married.
"I wish her all the best," he says almost robotically.
A few years ago, with grim tabloid tales of cocaine and hookers and the like stacking up, Calum seemed to be spiralling towards the same oblivion that destroyed his father. (When I met Calum's mother Angie Best in 2007 she told me that she knew Calum, who had attained something of a tabloid notoriety himself, "will be all right.")
I ask him how did he stop himself sabotaging his own life. "I just grew up a bit. The key factor was: when my dad died," he says of November 25, 2005 (the aforesaid glamour model Lorna Hogan alleged Calum was late for his father's memorial service because he had been romping with her the night before), "I came to the UK and I had nowhere to go. I was depressed. I was f**king morbid. The only people I knew that were welcoming were nightclubs and they welcomed me with open arms and they were there to talk to me. I was a young lad growing up in public with an iconic father. I made mistakes. I drank too much. I partied too much.
"I lost my dad, you know?" he adds. "That was the ignition for madness. I was dulling my senses but in a really extreme way. That lasted for a good two to three years. I am not blaming my dad. It is my coping mechanism, because I knew what the drink did to me and I knew what a bit of whatever did to me. I knew that it would help dull it but, yes I partied here and there - but I was still in the process of bettering myself. I have never been an addict. I have never needed rehab. That's not me. That's never been in me. I cook every night for me and my girlfriend. I go to the gym for a morning session then I go for an evening session. I cook health foods. I drink health juices."
When was the last time Calum had an alcoholic drink?
"F**k, man. I'll have one tonight. But I train. When I drink, it is few and far between. I have my missus with me here," he says referring to Ianthe Rose Cochrane-Stack. "So we will go for dinner and a few drinks, but we won't go on a f**king two-, three-day session . . .
"I'm 34," he continues. "I've been in the public eye for a while with my old man and with myself. I'm at an age now while I'm comfortable with who I am. It has taken a while for me to get to this point. I'm at a point now where there is so much stuff going on in my life and so many good things happening that I've had this stuff inside me for years.
"I wanted people to know my story. I wanted people to know my journey - what it was like living with my dad and having my dad and alcohol dependency constantly in my relationship. The amount of people who have come out and said to me when this book came out - 'Thanks for putting a problem to a name'. I didn't know my dad without alcohol dependency. People would assume that it was a life of fairy tales and butterflies because it is George Best's son.
"That's why I have done this story. It is not a story that tries to put my dad down. It is a story that lets people know the truth. It was a constant battle of trying to know a father and trying to build a relationship with someone who is alcohol dependent. That is God damn close to impossible.
"For every good time that we almost have, it is ruined by his drink problem. It has been a constant throughout my whole life. There was never a point in my life where I knew my dad sober and it caused me insecurities, it caused me demons. It is now that I am actually comfortable to talk about it."
When did Calum exorcise his demons - in as much as demons can fully ever be exorcised?
"Well . . . they'll always be there. I think it is part of growing up and living more of a sober life and training and being healthy and focusing on my career and thinking about what I'm doing in the future that made me able to manage the demons better, and put them behind me. When I say put them behind me, more like put them in a book," he says, his words possibly echoing all the way to his dad's birthplace in Belfast.
Second Best: My Dad and Me, published by Transworld, is available in bookshops now