* W A R N I N G *
The themes in the following post may be distressing.
She was just a year old and her brother, James was aged three the day her father walked out. It meant the end of her mother’s career, moving across the country and restarting life as a family of three.
The years that followed were beyond troubled.
Suffering with insomnia and bullied for being slim, she developed an eating disorder in her teens. Alongside trying to maintain a relationship with her father, she found it extremely difficult to connect with people. It was during this time that she discovered a therapeutic and horrific ritual that, whilst distressing for her mother and brother, was the only thing that made her feel alive.
She cut herself.
Suffering from depression she self-harmed regularly before discovering drugs. In fact there was barely a drug that she didn’t take although heroin was her go-to. Her spiralling self-destruction continued into her twenties and almost with catastrophic results. She planned her own suicide and even tried to hire a hitman to do it for her. Put simply, she was a punk kid who'd be lucky to make 30.
At the age of 24, scarred and tattooed, the safest place for her was the psychiatric ward. When things came to a head, she was detained and closely watched; her life depended on it. She was, for a short time at least, safe from the hitman, the heroin and herself.
The word 'remarkable' doesn't even come close to what happened next. According to Forbes in 2009, this distressed young woman was the most powerful celebrity on the planet.
On the planet.
For someone who found daily life so excruciatingly difficult, how, in the name of Rocky and Bulwinkle, did she find the resilience to reach the very top of her game? As Sharon Salzburg noted (meditation guru, best-selling author and provider of the quote I was looking for):
"You are capable of so much more than we usually dare to imagine." This is a truth. Especially true when it comes to takeaway pizza.
Anyway let's examine the facts about this extraordinary woman. She is a mother of six (by adoption as well as birth), an academy award winning actor (throw in a few golden globes for good measure), a writer, a director, an entrepreneur and a global humanitarian (working with the United Nations). As if that wasn’t enough, she achieved this through three divorces and a double mastectomy (to prevent the cancer that her mum suffered and took the life of her Aunt). Oh and in a final middle finger to her past mental health troubles, she decided to share the emotional experience of her consultation, operation and recovery publicly (despite a challenging history with the media) to encourage other women at risk of breast cancer. Her decision led to an unprecedented and sustained increase in gene-testing around the world as thousands of women faced their fears and stepped forward.
She stared death in the face and death blinked first.
She sat in the darkest of thoughts, across her formative years, yet went on to achieve truly incredible things in the oppressive glare of the public attention worldwide.
But despite all of this, Angelina Jolie will, in her own words: “always be a punk kid with tattoos.”
Mental health support:
Samaritans (UK): Call 116123 - www.samaritans.org
SPL (USA): 1-800-273-8255 - www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
“Do you wanna buy some pills mate?“
A man in his early twenties stared at me with the eager (wide) eyes of any young entrepreneur spotting a sales opportunity. He was wearing a slightly grubby white T-shirt covered by a baggy khaki overcoat. I found it hard to understand him at first; he had the broadest of Glaswegian accents and the bass was rebounding off the sides of a giant and sweating marquee in a field somewhere in Ayrshire, Scotland. It was the year 2000 and Moby was gyrating around the stage.
We silently leaned in together for a second go:
“Sorry mate?” I said.
“Do you want some pills mate?” Despite telling him to fuck off, there must've been something about my demeanour that inspired his persistence. “Are you sure? I’ve got loads!” He reached inside his jacket and produced a plastic Tesco shopping bag gathered at the neck, full of ecstasy pills and about the size of a bowling ball. I looked at the bag then looked at him, his face radiating with and adventure.
I looked at the bag again.
That was a lot of fucking pills - 600-700 - maybe more. I felt sorry for him; not because I wasn't buying but because at the time I was a serving police officer assigned to a special project team developing tactics on the prevention and arrest of dealers at large scale music events. I was literally his worst nightmare.
Or was I? My ego likes to think so but I wasn't really. No, his worst nightmare was the twelve undercover members of the Strathclyde Drug Squad who had just bought me a beer as their shift on the covert drugs operation finished.
The Tesco bag and the person holding it disappeared under a pile of unwashed law enforcement. He'd had better Saturdays.
Heathrow Airport, London circa 1991
The British Airways 747 direct from Bombay (now Mumbai) landed a few minutes ahead of time, which was the worst of circumstances for Charlie. An extra twenty minutes to gather himself and recover from the effects would have been helpful.
Smoking had not yet been banned on all flights, but as it wasn't tobacco he was smoking, he felt it was both polite and sensible to leave the cabin and head to the toilet for a smoke in private. Chasing dragons in public is still taboo in 2020, never mind 1991.
But this was not your average, garden variety heroin of the kind sold in £20 bags under railway arches, council flats and nightclubs - I am reliably told that the price has halved. This particular heroin was 100% pure and uncut. Charlie had been sleeping with about £100K worth of this powder underneath his pillow, at his digs somewhere east of Bombay for some two weeks. Up until this trip, which was his first abroad, he had never tried the stuff and had never particularly wanted to either. He'd been smoking and selling weed since he was 12, but now five years later, his curiosity to try harder drugs had been triggered by his new employer, Mr K.
Like many curious teenagers, Charlie wanted to find out what all the fuss was about for himself.
Five grand in cash is a lot of money to anybody. But if you are sixteen year old Sikh boy living in a council estate in White City, London in 1991 having been kicked out shortly before your 15th birthday with no qualifications, you have no job, no plans and a violent alcoholic father, the idea of smuggling a small package of innocent looking powder into the UK was not only an adventure, it was a no-brainer.
In fact it was for these reasons that Mr K recruited him. He would have done it for half the price of course, but didn't mention that to Mr K. Anyway back to Heathrow, specifically the green channel at terminal 2.
What you are about to read will sound like stupidity but trust me Charlie is no fool. He is very smart. Street smart. He was just a kid, on his trafficking apprenticeship and on a very steep learning curve at the school of survival. But he made two key mistakes. The first was not anticipating the significant weight loss caused by two weeks of daily heroin use. It meant that his clothing didn't fit him particularly well and even with his belt on the tightest notch, they kept falling down to his knees as he walked. Anyone behind him would have enjoyed a clear view of his pants (they were brown, he told me) as he shuffled his way to the entrance to the green channel. He drew attention to himself, albeit comically, but of course not ideal while smuggling class A drugs into a country.
His second mistake was a little worse. Charlie had smoked so much pure heroin on the flight he was still high by the time he reached Customs. Yes, smoking pure heroin had relieved the boredom of a long flight and the anxiety of approaching the finish line but unfortunately he now, not just a little stoned, but REALLY high; the falling asleep kind of really high.
Halfway along the green channel corridor, some 8 or 9 metres from the door to the arrivals hall, Charlie stopped innocently for a rest. He leaned against the wall and with a wave of tiredness, melted into the plasterboard and slid slowly to the floor. At the same time, so did his jeans. You would not need to be customs officer of the year to spot that a young man with the physique of an addict, his waistband at his knees and fading in and out of consciousness may be worth of further investigation. Charlie told me the only thing he really remembers was the Customs Officer summoning him in slow motion with blurred movements of his index finger.
I first met Charlie in 2008. After spending most of his adult life involved in crime, and having lost at least ten years of it to heroin addiction it was fascinating to learn from him how he got himself clean of all drugs and alcohol, attended the gym regularly and managed to get a BA in fine art (2:1 with honours). Pretty impressive for a dyslexic addict ex-con with no qualifications. His life was fully back on track.
Also, his art was outstanding. Challenging, but outstanding. He had a unique view of the world and a real talent for expression. He offered an insight into the darkest parts of humanity. This man really has been to hell and back several times, but had begun to see that his extraordinary life and adversity could be his superpower.
Through his art he was able to he was able to tell people the truth about what he'd seen. His passion was for taboo subjects of abuse, addiction and the reality of growing up surrounded by drugs and violence out in the open to start conversations, rather than be hidden behind closed doors and whispers.
He's not answering my messages but we will make a cracking movie when he does.
CEO & Co-founder of the PopUp Business School.