Thursday 23 November 2017

Paul Gascoigne: Alive and kicking

Paul Gascoigne was a one-off – the most talented British football player of his generation. Then came the drink, the domestic violence, that Raoul Moat incident and rumors of an early death. Now back in rehab, playing six-a-side with his therapists, is he finally putting his life back together?

Paul Gascoigne

Paul Gascoigne

In June last year, a dark rumour began to circulate: Paul Gascoigne had two days to live. There were even stories that the former England footballer was already dead – after a car crash, of pneumonia, from the drink. Nobody wanted to believe the rumours, but there seemed to be a grim inevitability to them. A month later, Gascoigne proved he was alive in bizarre and equally dark circumstances. After Raoul Moat had shot three people, killing one, Gascoigne jumped in a taxi with a box of chicken, can of lager, fishing rod and dressing gown, and announced to the world that he was there to rescue his old friend from himself. It wasn't a good year for Gascoigne publicity-wise. But then it's been a long time since it has been. He made one more inglorious public appearance in 2010 – in October he was convicted of drink-driving after being caught four times over the limit. The judge told him he could either go to jail or to rehab for six months.

A year on, Gascoigne is still in rehab, living in Bournemouth and attempting to rebuild his life. After six months in residential care, he recently moved into a flat by the sea – the next stage in his recovery. We meet in a club in nearby Christchurch. Gascoigne walks in with his friend and mentor Steve Spiegel, a former heroin addict turned therapist who runs the Providence Projects. Gascoigne's face is still pale, his cheeks hollowed, and he's limping slightly because of a damaged hip sustained in the car crash, but he looks strong. He sits down, looks at the menu and decides it's time for a cigarette break. Gascoigne admits he's nervous about this interview – he's not done one for ages, and although he says he's in a good place at the moment, he knows more than anybody how fragile stability is.

He's more relaxed on his return: "I'll have a white coffee, and can I also have a ginger beer?" He looks at the waitress apologetically. "It sounds stupid, that, but never mind."

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By Simon Hattenstone