Friday 28 October 2016

Willie like a Thorne without the rose

Willie Thorne and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are addicts, but Thorne could keep it hidden longer, writes Declan Lynch

Published 24/05/2015 | 02:30

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan

We were presented last week with images of two famous men who have gone to hell.

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Jonathan Rhys Meyers was pictured in London emerging from an off-licence in a state of advanced dishevelment, already drinking from a bottle of vodka which he had purchased, apparently with some difficulty.

The pictures provided such a perfect illustration of a man in the grip of an alcoholic fever. They might have been deliberately staged for some textbook on the subject, with an asterisk informing us that the drunk person in the photographs is "played by an actor".

Yet there is a desolation in the eyes of Rhys Meyers that no actor could convey. A sense that this really is as bad as it gets. And, as such, these pictures contain certain information that may be of value to Rhys Meyers or to those who are close to him.

If his alcoholism was ever in doubt, even after several spells in rehab, there can't be much doubt about it now - always in these situations, an acknowledgement of the true nature of the problem is at least a start.

Snooker legend Willie Thorne, even in the most extravagant phases of his addiction to gambling, gave no such indications that anything was wrong at all.

In figurative terms, the state of Willie's gambling soul might have looked quite similar to the state of Rhys Meyers coming out of that off-licence, yet Willie walked through the storm dressed immaculately, talking smoothly in his TV commentaries and his after-dinner speeches, witty and urbane.

Whereas the drinking man, in a perverse way, can be helped by the obvious extremity of his condition, the gambling man can stay out there much longer, giving off no clear signs of distress until he is destroyed - a point which was reached recently by Willie Thorne, when he took himself to a hotel room with the intention of killing himself using a kitchen knife. He had written letters to loved ones; suicide notes.

Somehow, his wife Jill Saxby found him there, and last week, the two of them could be seen on ITV's This Morning show, describing how Willie was down about a million to various loan-sharks and lending institutions, and even a few celebrity friends from whom he had borrowed money to keep betting.

One of the more powerful images he gave us, featured money-lenders threatening to cut off his wife's fingers for the jewellery to pay back Willie's loans.

Some viewers, looking at the charismatic Willie Thorne now completely broken, may have had a vague memory that Willie had been in a spot of bother a few years ago with the gambling, but had eventually managed to control it. Seems that it got out of control again.

And all that time, though he had a problem as debilitating as the one that has seized Jonathan Rhys Meyers, he could pass himself off as a reasonably prosperous man, even a much-loved English character.

But there is another difference in the way that we perceive these addictions - alcoholism is generally regarded as a major societal issue, with a celebrity victim such as Rhys Meyers, for all his notoriety, regarded as one among many victims of the malaise.

With the gambling, it is still possible to read in a respectable broadsheet organ that less than 1pc of punters are "serious problem gamblers".

Less than 1pc is literally next to nothing, it would not be humanly possible to have a lower reading on the old addiction-ometer unless the margin of error came into play and you found that the true figure is actually in the minus range.

By this measurement, all the voodoo of the online phenomenon about which we have heard so much, has had virtually no effect at all on the overall condition of the punting masses, it has not even bumped up the rate of "serious problem gamblers" from 1pc to 2pc, it is only the complete freaks, such as Willie Thorne, who are keeping that number out there at all.

There is a certain acknowledgment that the "less than 1pc" of full-blown cases may contribute about one-third of all revenue to the bookies, but even this admission is made grudgingly.

Meanwhile, there's an equally "conservative" estimate that about 7pc are "at risk" of developing a major problem. Which leads us to wonder: if you are "at risk" of developing a major problem, is this not a major problem in itself?

And if so, could we reasonably scrub that 1pc off the boards and change it to something like, say, 8pc? And take it from there?

I don't know what the true percentages are, but I don't believe that anybody else does either. Because another essential difference between the way we look at alcohol, and the way we look at gambling, is that we still underestimate the way that the online culture has changed the very nature of gambling - think of a powerful new shot being added to every pint of beer, and you realise, in every sense, you're in some strange new place.

Then think of the oceans of secrecy which are as yet undiscovered, the way that a charming man such as Willie Thorne could be hiding such a multitude of obsessions and anxieties, and the only thing we can say for sure, is that there is so much that we do not know.

Sunday Independent

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