A Tiger's tale: party boy Gavin Lambe-Murphy on penning tell-all book of cocaine fueled party years
He was the Celtic Tiger poster boy always in the headlines - then Gavin Lambe-Murphy disappeared. Now, he's writing a tell-all book about the cocaine fuelled party years, as he tells our reporter. Portraits by Mark Condren
Published 24/01/2016 | 02:30
It was the moment Gavin Lambe-Murphy turned his back on the Dublin social scene. It was summer 2004 and after many months working with a private therapist to grapple with his cocaine addiction, the self-proclaimed It-boy "felt strong" and longed to be back clinking champagne flutes.
A dinner party was promptly organised at a plush Dublin restaurant. But Gavin was taken aback when, as soon as he had taken his seat, someone indiscreetly plonked a bag of cocaine down on the table and nonchalantly handed him a rolled up €50 note.
At that moment, Gavin recalls seeing an apparition of his mother. "I'm not joking you, I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but this is the truth - that's all I could see. I saw her face and I was f****** enraged," he confesses.
"My mum had said to me at the time that of all the things she'd been through - divorce and health issues - that was the most hurtful thing and the most damaging thing to her. It really upset her that I ended up on drugs. I was ashamed."
After dismissing fleeting temptation, Gavin used several unpublishable expletives.
"I said to them: 'Delete my number.' And I walked out of the restaurant. It was a great feeling of relief. Therapy does work, but you need to believe in it and you need to stay strong."
On subsequent advice from his therapist, Gavin distanced himself from the party circuit altogether. "There's a difference between doing a couple of lines at a party and coke doing you," he says. "One of the things the therapist told me was: 'You're not going to be able to go back into the same life. You can't keep going to nightclubs because these things are triggers.'
"I didn't wake up and go, 'I need to change' - I had to change. If I had continued we probably wouldn't be here today talking. I'm very lucky that I am here," he says.
At the height of his hedonism, Gavin says he was spending about €80 a day on cocaine. "(I was) daily doing coke. Some days more than others, about two grams a day."
Gavin reveals that he "collapsed twice in one week" just before seeking out professional help to save himself.
"Friends didn't think it was funny (at the time), but later the story was funny. I was walking across the street and I collapsed - and what saved my fall was two huge Brown Thomas bags! I know that sounds so gay and so silly and so stereotypical.
"Two women picked me up and put me on a bench and they said, 'Are you OK?' I said, 'I'm fine. I just need some breakfast'. And I phoned my brother and he said, 'See a doctor.' And the doctor said that I was suffering from exhaustion.
"To most people it was hilarious. They'd go, 'Exhaustion? You don't even work! How are you exhausted?' But it was the toil of the non-stop party, the non-stop boozing, snorting and smoking (dope). It couldn't be more different from the person I am now. I think of that lifestyle now and I actually want to throw up."
It's now almost a dozen years since this incident in the restaurant and Gavin (40) is still staying away from drugs - and from the social scene. He says that he is grateful for his second chance.
"I find time in my life to stop by a church from time-to-time," he says. "I'm not terribly religious but I do get relief from the tranquillity of a church. Also, it gives me time to remember friends who have passed away over the years. If I'm walking by a church I will go in and light candles for family and loved ones and ones who've passed.
"We've all lost close friends of ours. I've lost a remarkable amount of people who I was close to over the last decade and I'll go in and I'll reflect on that."
In the intervening years, rumours among the chattering classes held that he'd settled in the South of France with his fabulously wealthy Italian boyfriend or was in Manhattan working as a lowly waiter. But the truth is much more mundane - the formerly inescapable Gavin has been living in a mews house in Dublin 2.
He flies back and forth to Milan to see his long-term boyfriend, about whom he refuses to go into detail, saying only: "I spend a lot of time in Italy with the other half." Sheepishly, Gavin admits that he hasn't "really done anything" since stepping out of the spotlight. Not - it could be argued - that he did much besides shop and socialise before. He insists that he's never been on the dole, however.
"My mother looked after me for those years," he explains. "I took time out. Myself and my partner had a pretty nice time; we travelled, took it easy. I went through this crazy thing, which was just bonkers and after I said to my mum and my brother, 'I don't really know what I want to do'. And they said, 'Don't do anything because if you don't want to do anything just chill out. You don't need to do anything, you're not in a position where you need to go off and make loads of money to live'.
"I decided to just chill out for a while and see what happened. And I'm glad I did because it's like when you take time after anything that really shakes your world - it's like, say, you lose a close friend or a family member - you don't think it's going to hit you, but it does hit you eventually.
"And this is what happened to me. I'm not comparing it to losing a loved one, but it was a big upheaval in my life. I went from happy-go-lucky Gav, to arrogant Gav, to shell-shocked Gav. So, I just took time out."
So where did "arrogant Gav" - the poster boy for the Celtic Tiger and king of self aggrandisement - come from in the first place?
Gavin Lambe-Murphy grew up in what he describes as a "comfortable" background in the seaside town of Malahide in north county Dublin. He studied for his Leaving Cert alongside Colin Farrell at the fee-paying Bruce College and then went on to study fashion marketing in Dublin.
He won't discuss his parents, and is vague on the details of how he landed at the heart of the city's then thriving social scene, saying simply that's "just how life panned out".
As for his "monster It-boy persona", Gavin claims that he created it as a bet. "This is the story that never actually got out there. It's hilarious! My flatmate said, 'You need to go get a job.' I said, 'I bet you anything I'll be in the papers by the weekend'. And he said, 'What's that going to achieve?' And I said, 'Watch what I'm going to do.'"
Inspired by London's It-girl Tara Palmer-Tomkinson - who he'd met the previous week at a party - Gavin sent out a precocious press release declaring himself as Dublin's very own It-boy. It was 1999 and he was 23.
"I can't remember the exact words, but it was like, 'Gavin Lambe-Murphy is available to do interviews, photocalls, blah blah blah'. It listed a load of crap basically, that if you read it as an editor you'd be like, 'Who is this?'"
The late Angela Phelan - the Irish Independent's influential social columnist - picked up on Gavin's brazen antics and wrote a comical article with the headline "Little Lambe's Sheepish Act!" It was the beginning of a rollercoaster ride.
"Once you make it into a high-profile column, all of a sudden there's interest in you and people are like, 'I want to know more'. So, she created the monster," he laughs. "That's how it started. I think the next day the Herald picked up on it and the Sunday Independent did a huge piece on it. All of a sudden I was thrust into the media spotlight.
"Within six months I was being recognised on the street. There was an article in a magazine saying I was more recognised than the Lord Mayor of Dublin! It was hilarious - but obviously for all the wrong reasons."
He may have come from a relatively privileged background of yacht clubs and tennis courts in Malahide, but it was light years away from the flamboyant, mega rich socialite that he brazenly passed himself off as. And today Gavin says that this wealthy and arrogant image was all just a façade put on to lampoon the Celtic Tiger - a claim that some people may find hard to swallow.
"The Celtic Tiger was the catalyst for it. Ireland was on the turn and people kind of accepted the arrogance of somebody who was, 'Look at me!' because, at the end of the day, most people were going, 'Look at me!' as well with their two BMWs and their Louis Vuitton handbags and their holiday house in Marbella and their seat on a private plane.
"I'm not super rich at all by any stretch of the imagination. The character portrayed that we built up but then spiralled out of control was completely: 'I'm super rich. I've everything'. I was alluding to all kinds of stuff because it was fun.
"What is an It-boy? It's so ridiculous. The whole thing was so stupid. It was created. Papers often wrote that it was 'self-styled' as if it was meant to be an insult. Of course it was self-styled, it was a piss take for God's sake."
Perhaps inevitably, it wasn't long before Gavin began to buy into his own hype. "What started out as a bit of a laugh then became, 'Oh my God! We have to keep this going'. We were pissing ourselves laughing but it was spiralling out of control. It was getting bigger.
"The It-boy character became a real person because of the situation I found myself in with the arrogance due to the cocaine and this, that and the other. Cocaine does turn people from meek and mild into crazy and wild."
Whether Gavin was ever meek and mild is debatable, but his public profile at the time was certainly anything but. In-demand as a socialite, he was writing columns for newspapers (one for a Sunday newspaper memorably called "I'm It"), doing TV shows and personal appearances. He had a publicist and a PA, but Gavin says he was making a pittance from it all. However, being cash poor was not a detriment to his sudden fame which gave him access to endless pseudo-glamorous events and rounds of free drinks.
"People gravitate towards you once you have access to the media or are in demand. You will surround yourself with people who will say, 'Oh, no, I'm buying dinner'. 'Oh, no, we're flying you to America'. There was a lot of that.
"I had people calling up saying, 'We want to sponsor your party'. It used to be, 'We want to be at your party because your party has all the right people and you get all the right press'. It was a very extravagant lifestyle on a superficial level."
But the growing cocaine addiction soon turned it all into a horrifying blur for Gavin. "The whole thing did become very confusing. I'd be reading the columns that I was here that I was there, that I was dating so-and-so. In hindsight, if I was looking at somebody now doing that I'd be like, 'What a f****** idiot!'
"I was reading it going, 'My God! How out of it was I? Were we in St Tropez last weekend?' And of course I had people working for me; I had agents, that was their gig to make sure things were kept in the paper. But it wasn't a difficult job once you're out every night of the week and you're falling from one party to another - and I mean literally falling because they are ramming drink into your hand at every event you go to.
"A lot of the time what you see and read and hear is, I'd say, 60pc fiction - with me it was slightly more," he jokes.
The laughter suddenly dies when I ask if, aside from the drug abuse, he has any other regrets about his behaviour in that period? Without hesitating, Gavin admits that he's still mortified by his appearance on ITV's reality show Young, Posh and Loaded and a subsequent "car crash interview" with Philip Schofield on the breakfast TV show This Morning to promote it.
An early entry in the then emerging reality TV genre, Young, Posh and Loaded first aired in 2002. It was, according to ITV, an opportunity to "take a peek at the lives of young people who use their wealth to live life to the full". Other participants included the likes of nightclub heiress and model Donatella Panayiotou, Lord Raj Sharma, and politician's daughter Victoria Aitken.
Much to the disbelief of viewers back home in Ireland, Gavin ludicrously spoofed on the programme that he could splash out £25million cash for a penthouse in London and that his family "owned" the Irish Midlands. He was also quoted as saying that his pet hates were people who took public transportation and ate Marks & Spencer ready-meals.
"It was the most embarrassing moment of my life," he says today. "I was so off my own head on coke that I don't know what was going on. As everybody knows, coke is dangerous - can you imagine it on live TV?
"That was possibly the most embarrassing moment - and not for the fact that I said stupid stuff, but the fact that I was on a TV show like that in the first place.
"Number one, I had no right to be there at all; number two, it was mortifying; and number three, they came back to me three months later and offered me the chance to do season two. I was like, 'Get the f*** off my doorstep!' It was probably a turning point when I realised that I just didn't want to do that s*** anymore. I think even I had enough of me." (That said, the following year Gavin took part in RTÉ's much-derided reality series Celebrity Farm, finishing as runner-up to Fair City star George McMahon.)
Now aged 40, Gavin describes himself as "the cleanest person in the world". He says he can be found most mornings at 6am jogging in St Stephen's Green. "I will run the Green 10 times, which is 10k. And I come home and there is that euphoria when you come in."
And 2016 could finally be the year that Gavin steps back into the spotlight. He tells me that he is part of an international art brokerage consortium being launched shortly, which he put together thanks to his "strong international connections". "I have been in a privileged position that I've been invited - and also made it my business - to travel to meet with certain art collectors. We've sourced an awful lot of very important art that's all off market, which we'll be looking to sell."
As well as that, Gavin's also busy working on a novel about his celebrity past. He's been signed up to the prestigious Linda Langton Literary Agency in New York who, he says, are in talks with major publishers.
"I'm doing a 'factional' book about the life and times of an It-boy. It'll be set, as the life was then, on private planes and in public toilets. I gave my mother the book and she went, 'Oh my God - people are going to know it's you.'"
No doubt some people will be twitching nervously at the prospect. "We've changed things around for obvious reasons. I said this to people and they said, 'A lot of people will be scared.' I said, 'We're not out to scare people'.
"I know a lot of information about a lot of people that I'm sure they wish I didn't know, but I have no intention of ever using it because it's not who I am. So, the book is more of a tongue-in-cheek look at the life on an It-boy," he concludes. "It's like the highs - literally - and the sex, the scandals, and the lows."