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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 December, 2004, 01:16 GMT
Pete Doherty: Cool icon, hard drugs

By Kirsty Wark
Presenter, Newsnight

Pete Doherty - copyright Jasmine Worth
Doherty and fellow band member Carl Barat were named NME's Cool Icons of 2004
Along with Carl Barat, who he once likened to his other half, he was the creative force behind the Libertines - whose music has been described as "rock'n'roll for the 21st Century".

But before their second album, eponymously titled The Libertines, was released to huge applause in August 2004, Pete Doherty was kicked out of the band - his drug addiction so destructive, the rest of the group could no longer take it.

Doherty is a hugely talented songwriter and poet, but his talent or rather weakness for hard drugs - crack cocaine and heroin - has caused mayhem for his family and his friends.

Their patience and indulgence has been stretched beyond the limit.


There have also been many false starts in rehab.

I had a romantic vision of taking opium. I didn't think of it as smack
Pete Doherty

Controversially this month Doherty and Barat were named NME's Cool Icons of 2004, an event which fuelled even more headlines of the "My Drugs Hell" variety about Doherty's potentially tragic antics.

Throughout all this he has continued to write and perform - albeit letting down his loyal fans with a fair amount of no shows - with his new band Babyshambles. Their first single Kilamangiro shot straight into the Top Ten.

The Newsnight interview had to strike a balance; discussing both his music, creativity and his drug abuse.

Was he clean when we recorded it? During that two hours, who knows but he was pretty lucid. He didn't display the self-obsession that is a hallmark of addicts, and certainly the hallmark of his past behaviour.

He was courteous and solicitous. Credit for helping him at the moment should go to his manager James Mullord, who has been doing his level best to remove him from temptation.


I know where the self destruct button is, I just have to resist the temptation to push it
Pete Doherty

Doherty appears younger and more childlike than his 25 years, but he's also pretty savvy and the Byronic image is not an accident, witness a quote in a Sunday Mirror article: "My dealer was always smoking roll ups and I asked, 'Is that opium?'

"I had a romantic vision of taking opium. I didn't think of it as smack."

The venue for our interview was The George Tavern on the Commercial Road in London's East End, where Babyshambles are due to play before Christmas.

On the subject of his status as "Cool Icon" he was keen to point out that his fans asked him about his music and his clothes but never for his dealer - suggesting they are smarter than he is.

When I asked him about the trail of destruction and violence that accompanies heroin's journey from the poppy fields to his body - particularly the plight of mainly female drug mules - I don't think he'd given it any thought.


Pete Doherty pictured during the interview with Kirsty Wark
Doherty said he would like to play with The Libertines again
He does think about his music - obsessively - and when he played "Music When The Lights Go Out" during the interview, it was magical.

He also talked about his childhood, "I was always sung to and read stories from an early age, which is very important for a child and their creativity," he told me.

He then recited one of the poems that earned him a trip with The British Council to Russia to perform at the age of 16.

Talking about his fall out with Carl Barat, I had the sense he wanted to mend fences, and he said he would like to play with The Libertines again.

His addiction, though, is an ever present spectre.

"I know where the self destruct button is," he said, " I just have to resist the temptation to push it."

This interview was screened on Tuesday, 21 December, 2004.

Newsnight is broadcast on BBC Two at 1030pm every weeknight in the UK.

Clip of Pete Doherty singing 'Music When the Lights Go Out' during the interview

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