Thursday 19 April 2018

Jo's shocking account of the Ronnie Wood years

Jo Wood wife of Rolling Stones Ron Wood.
Photo: David Conachy.
Jo Wood wife of Rolling Stones Ron Wood. Photo: David Conachy.

Margaret Carragher

Book Review: Hey Jo: A Rock and Roll Fairytale Jo Wood Harper, €18.75

On the evening of Sunday, August 26, 2007, as The Rolling Stones wrapped up their world tour in London's O2 Arena, Jo Wood, wife of Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood, was suddenly seized by a morbid feeling that everything was about to change, and that her life would never be the same again.

In less than 12 months her premonition came horribly true when, following their daughter Leah's wedding, her husband of more than 20 years left her for an 18-year-old cocktail waitress he'd met in a lap-dancing club. And while this particular dalliance would soon fizzle out amid booze-fuelled rows and accusations of assault, Jo Wood had finally had enough.

Now, more than two years on from their divorce, Wood has embraced life outside the "golden prison" of rock'n'roll, and used the diaries she kept during her time on the road with one of the world's most debauched bands to document their crazy years.

Wood pulls no punches. There is no whitewash here, no sanitising the excesses of lives lived on the edge of drink and drug-fuelled madness. But while her candour is admirable, it is also frequently shocking, as evidenced in her breezy admission of supplying drugs to her teenage kids.

"Irresponsible?" she asks of giving her youngest son Ty a packet of coke to experiment with in the family home. "Perhaps. But I would much rather he learnt about these things under my roof, where I could keep an eye on him, rather than in some dodgy club taking God knows what."

Wood uses the same skewed logic to justify her 18-month addiction to freebase – a highly addictive form of cocaine that is mixed with baking soda and water and inhaled through a pipe.

During this time her almost empty diary – "11 June 1980. Woke up this morning, I think" – tells its own tawdry tale. Yet Wood insists that, because she never did drugs in front of the kids (although she was often still high as a kite when they woke up) she was a good, fully functioning mum; and that she has "no regrets" about doing freebase – a drug not even Keith Richards, the band's walking pharmacy of narcotics, would countenance.

It was during this period that, having got caught up with a gang of drug-runners on the Caribbean island of St Maarten, Wood and her husband spent six nights in a prison cell surrounded by male inmates, many of whom had been locked up for years awaiting trial. Luckily, prior to being incarcerated, Wood had thought to hide incriminating evidence of their misdeeds – a golf ball-sized lump of cocaine – in her young son Jamie's water wings.

"May this experience be a lesson to you not to get involved with drugs in the future," cautioned the judge as he let them off.

Later, as their chartered plane took off for Miami, Ronnie Wood turned to one of his lawyers. "Give us a drink and a line," he said. "And I knew," wrote his long-suffering wife with admirable understatement, "that it wasn't going to be quite so easy".

Wood's meek acceptance of her husband's increasingly unreasonable behaviour throughout their marriage is frankly bewildering: his all-night drinking sessions; his unexplained disappearances, often for days on end; his vicious verbal assaults.

During one particularly bad binge, maddened because he couldn't find any more vodka in the house, Ronnie Wood threatened to throw acid in his wife's face. Next morning he couldn't remember a thing about it.

Wood says she tolerated such behaviour because her self-esteem was in tatters; for all her rock babe posturing, the years of demeaning treatment at the hands of her husband had convinced her she didn't deserve better.

But being dumped for someone young enough to be her granddaughter was a step too far. After sobbing for two weeks and shrinking to a size eight on a "heartbreak diet", she was finally ready to move on.

These days Wood is enjoying life beyond the confines of her "golden prison" on the global rock circuit.

Having off-loaded her angst to a counsellor and dumped her rock'n'roll memorabilia, she now savours life as a single woman, regularly hitting London's hot spots with similarly scorned Stones ex Jerry Hall.

Always eco friendly, Wood hopes to develop Mrs Paisley's Lashings, a pop-up organic restaurant she opened in her London home following the break-up; and get her organic beauty business back on track, having lost it in a failed business venture with her errant ex-spouse.

Reflecting on life now, Wood refers to a note which her mother slipped between the pages of her diary back in 2002.

"If you are not happy, you must make yourself happy," it read. "It is easier to wear a pair of slippers than try to carpet the whole world."

"Things are very different these days," she observes. "Now I am proudly wearing my slippers day in, day out."

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