'I was immature, spoilt and out of control' - Gavin Lambe-Murphy on his Celtic Tiger 'It Boy' days
After kicking addiction, Gavin Lambe-Murphy tells our reporter he has come out the other side a better man - and learned painful lessons about life, love, and being true to himself
The phone goes. It's Gayle Killilea - who is aware that I am interviewing Gavin Lambe-Murphy about his new book, Diary Of An It Boy. "Gavin was born on November 3, 1975," she says. "The same day as my best friend since I was three, Lucy Coyle, who died in the tsunami. Another of my other best friends is November 3, 1976. So when I met Gavin we hit it off on a different level of just social friends. I connected with the real person."
What, after all, is an It Boy and who is Gavin Lambe-Murphy?, wrote Robert O'Byrne in The Irish Times in 1999, adding that, the answer to the former lies with the latter. Eighteen years later, the eternally charming Gavin Lambe-Murphy is older and wiser, mostly as a result of the experience of being known forever more as the Celtic Tiger's poster boy, not least after his 2002 appearance on ITV's reality show Young, Posh and Loaded.
"I guess people assume I am the same guy that I was when I was in my 20s," Gavin says in Peploe's restaurant last week.
Gavin grew up in Malahide. "My parents separated when I was a teenager. My mum is my rock. I remember her taking me to buy my first pair of Gucci loafers when I was in my teens." He studied fashion at the Barbara Bourke College of Fashion design in Grafton Street before going for a time to London. Upon his return, the 23-year-old blond bombshell started his career as an It Boy in earnest, when ginger gadabout John Ryan arranged to wangle Gavin, whom he met at a party, a column in VIP magazine and in the Sunday Times with Tara Palmer-Tomkinson in the same month in 1999.
"The whole It Boy character was never really me, and when people meet me, at first they assume I am going to be arrogant - up myself. Many times people have told me that I am a completely different guy to what they had heard or expected. At first I was surprised by this, but then when I look at the guy I was in my early 20s, I think it's a good thing, as back then I wasn't the real me, but rather an immature, spoilt character who was out of control on many levels. I mean, that part of my life started out as a joke, which then spiralled into something that not even I understand or liked."
I have to say I have, more or less, always liked Gavin. I am not entirely alone in this analysis in Ireland either. He did finish runner-up to Fair City's George McMahon on the RTE TV show Celebrity Farm in 2003. The result was "a huge shock to me, as I had expected to be booted out first - mainly because certain people told me that they felt the public didn't like me. I tried not to take notice, but it's hard not to, especially when you are trying to get your life back together. On that show I was very much myself, as I'd just come through the mill that is coming off drugs and seeing the light..."
Gavin Lambe-Murphy's life is a modern parable of redemption for a retired party king once trapped in his darkest (cocktail) hour.
He turned 42 last week. Gavin is "at a stage where I know who I want to be. Having spent longer than I'd hoped reshaping my life, I am finally at a place where I want to start over." GLM appears to be in a better, and more nurturing, space than I've ever seen him.
Asked what makes him happy, he replies, "my life now makes me happy. After a very long road, I am finally at a place where I feel happy with things", not-so-gadabout Gav says, adding that his time with his ex, Paolo, was "very special and whenever I touch down in Italy I instantly feel happy and the fact that we remain friends makes me smile". His childhood, too, was "special". He looks back on it with "happy memories".
Hardly unexpectedly for a man with his Truman Capote-like social skills, Gavin is full of stories, full of Celtic Tiger tales; like "arriving late at a party one night at the Berkeley Court penthouse. Pushing through the door, I bumped straight into then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and asked him to step aside, explaining my lateness - assuming he was the doorman".
"I was once again red-faced at my mistake," he adds.
On another night in Dublin he and the late John Hurt were going to meet Ronnie Wood nearby and Hurt insisted they take a taxi. "When we arrived at our destination he asked the driver to step out so we could get a picture with him with his taxi roof-sign in shot. John told me how he had a collection of similar shots with different friends.
"On another occasion," he adds, "myself, John and a few others were on our way to his then flat on D'Olier Street having been to lunch and picked up a case of wine at Berry Bros. The traffic was at a standstill on Dawson Street so he gave the driver his address and suggested that we hop out and walk to the flat via Trinity College. We strolled along laughing and joking... with one of the bottles of wine."
"All in all," he continues, "I'm grateful for the way my life has gone and even now, when I look at the period where I messed up, I take from it as a learning curve."
He mentions that his mother Anne was taken into the Mater Private for open-heart surgery a few years ago - "and that was when you realise what matters. It was a horrible time for us, but luckily she pulled through and bounced back. That was possibly the happiest moment, when we knew she was going to be OK. She is a trouper."
So, in many ways, is Gavin Lambe-Murphy. He has soldiered on when he might have not bothered - and fallen, permanently, into a self-destructive abyss.
Does he have any regrets in life? "I guess the path I chose destroyed what could have been a great career. I was offered radio and TV work both here and in the UK but I was a mess. I continually screwed things up - arriving late to booked jobs or on many occasions not even turning up at all. I regret letting people down, genuinely I do. I was so self-obsessed that I didn't give it another thought. I also regret not coming out as gay sooner," he says. [Gavin waited until his 30s.] "I should have just been the real me and who knows, I may have had more 'love stories' to tell you about. I do regret not telling more people to f**k off. Certain people who took advantage of me or spoke/wrote about me in certain ways. But, it's the past... so we move forward with lessons learned."
Gavin is unfailingly honest company, possibly even too honest. He talks about the moment in the mid-Noughties when he woke up to realise "that you have an addiction. When I was partying hard and out every night, it all felt so normal to me, as I surrounded myself with people who were all doing the same thing. I woke one day to find that I was functioning from day to day, rather than really living. I would go through the motions, but life amounted to nothing more than long lunches that somehow became all night parties, getting to bed at sun up, or in some cases not at all, which is clearly pretty dangerous when expected to do live radio or TV the following morning".
Asked how he feels now when he thinks back on that past life, Gavin says: "It makes me feel ill. But when you are in it, it seemed normal. I chose it, but soon it was all I knew and I was hooked, even though I hated it and myself most of the time. We all know that feeling when hungover after a night out, this was that feeling times 100. And it was every day.
"I'm not looking for sympathy," he continues, "After all, if you choose to drink, take drugs or whatever else, it's you and only you that is to blame."
Gavin claims he knows certain people have many personal reasons or circumstances that led them to a road of addiction.
"I didn't. I was just stupid and greedy. It all went to my head, mainly because I was so out of my mind that I believed my own hype - huge lesson!"
He survived and crawled out of the wreckage of his life. Gavin recalls a close relative sitting him down in 2005. He told him the game was over and that he had to get help. "Like most who find themselves addicted to whatever their weakness is, you don't want to admit it and lash out at those who clearly want to help you. I could tell that he was right, but there was no way I was taking his advice..."
Within days of the close relative's intervention, in which he outlined his serious concerns, Gavin had "collapsed on the street and was taken to hospital; where I was told that I was suffering from severe exhaustion, due to my excessive party lifestyle".
Gavin had lost interest "in everything"; the only thing he was interested in was "being high".
"It went from a social drug to the most anti-social drug possible. At the time I lived next to the Merrion Hotel and found myself going days on end without leaving my flat. I would only leave when completely necessary - to get cigarettes or alcohol," he continues. "Most times I could only make it as far as the hotel before rushing home. I lost all interest in my appearance, and became something of a recluse, with very few people in my life; those with similar interests as me." His otherwise lovely home became a place "that I now look back on as horrid".
"Extremely paranoid", Gavin was nonetheless aware that his life was "imploding". Eventually his mother stepped in and "took me out of the whole social scene to get help".
As anyone who has gone through the process of therapy or rehab knows, it is horrendous on so many levels, he explains. "You start out angry, become scared, lost and after what feels like an eternity you begin to see light, if you are lucky enough. For me, I'm so grateful to my family for being strong enough to take me to that point and fixing me!"
When Gavin slowly re-emerged, there were people "who laughed in my face," he says, and "told me that 'I never had an addiction', or that it was a 'publicity stunt'. These are the people who are still using cocaine today, It's why you have to change your entire life and circle of friends."
Gavin remembers his therapist telling him that he wouldn't be able to go back to nightclubs. His initial reaction was: "WTF?" Gavin would agree with him for a peaceful life. Once Gavin was back out in the real world, however, he understood the wisdom of what his therapist was trying to impart to him. "Within days I was being offered drugs and the same crap again. I may have been weak, but luckily I wasn't that weak, as I changed everything and deleted a lot of people and never looked back. Again, I'm not blaming anyone else for my mistakes," he says, "simply I realised that I couldn't continue doing the same thing and expecting different results.
"Another thing that came back to me when I was writing my book," he says referring to the rollicking good read that is Diary Of An It Boy, "was that I am aware how I dropped some real friends... those that I shared a lot with over a long period of time. My new lifestyle was so different to my old one that I simply moved on and forgot about those who mattered."
Gavin adds that he was, in hindsight, "horrible", rejecting his true friends' calls, not turning up to their birthday dinners. "Nothing life-changing, but obviously hurtful to those on the receiving end."
Over time, Gavin managed to resolve issues with certain people, "and we remain good friends to this day. Others, not so much".
"I guess," Gavin says, as he gets up to leave Peploe's, "you can't have it all." And that perhaps is the most cautionary tale of the night.
Diary Of An It Boy by Gavin Lambe-Murphy is available on Amazon.