Tears of a Clown: Michael Barrymore’s Trial By Media

grey Tears of a Clown: Michael Barrymores Trial By Media

A young man drowns in the pool of television’s highest-paid enter­tainer. The star is branded a killer. But, says Mark Simpson, the case against the ‘OJ of Essex’ doesn’t add up. Now, as fresh evid­ence emerges, Michael Barrymore talks about that tra­gic night, his demons and why the facts weren’t allowed to get in the way of a good story

(Independent on Sunday, 02/03/2003 — uncut version)

FOLLOW THE BROWN SIGNS,” Michael Barrymore’s PA tells me when giv­ing dir­ec­tions over the phone for the Essex leg of my car jour­ney to the infam­ous “House of Horror” of the former Mr Saturday Night. “The ones point­ing to Paradise Wildlife Park,” he adds, without a hint of irony in his voice.

The 50-year-old comedian’s Roydon home may not be an offi­cial tour­ist attrac­tion, but since the body of 31-year-old Stuart Lubbock was dis­covered in his swim­ming pool in the early hours of 31 March 2001, it has become, like its owner, the ‘butt’ of count­less off-colour locker-room jokes. Many of these focus on the ser­i­ous sexual injur­ies the young man was said to have suffered.

But most of the Barrymore “jokes” didn’t come from the changing-room. They were sup­plied by the Fourth Estate. Most mem­or­ably, Private Eye ran a front-page pic­ture of Barrymore being asked: “What killed Stuart Lubbock?” His bal­loon reply: “Buggered if I know!” And also the front page of the Sunday Mirror (15 September 2002), two days after the inquest into Lubbock’s death delivered an open ver­dict and the press declared open sea­son on Barrymore, fea­tured a pic­ture of Barrymore and the huge, hil­ari­ously ser­i­ous head­line: “YOU ARE A KILLER!”

Jokes are irres­ist­ible ideas, as seduct­ive as they are pre­pos­ter­ous. Laughter, after all, is a very phys­ical response to some­thing we are reject­ing and accept­ing at the same time; a reflex loc­ated some­where between orgas­ming and vomit­ing. Over the past few months, this pre­pos­ter­ous idea of Barrymore, the tele­vi­sion funny­man, as a kind of mur­der­ing anal rap­ist has proved irres­ist­ible to the British media. It’s been hav­ing hys­ter­ics. Retching, rav­ing, shud­der­ing hysterics.

Barrymore, how­ever, isn’t laugh­ing. “I’m not let­ting that one go. At all,” he says of the Sunday Mirror’s “Killer” ver­dict. “It’s being dealt with. Action is being taken,” he insists. Written off only a few months ago, Barrymore seems to be regain­ing the ini­ti­at­ive. In recent weeks the per­jury invest­ig­a­tion against him, promp­ted by his ex-wife Cheryl’s alleg­a­tions, has been dropped and Essex police have reopened their inquiry into Lubbock’s injur­ies because of fresh claims that they occurred after he was declared dead.

According to Barrymore, the Sunday Mirror head­line was a form of revenge. “It only came out because they didn’t get their way,” he says. Apparently, the paper rang the day the inquest fin­ished ask­ing if Claire Wicks {Lubbock’s ex-girlfriend} could visit Barrymore’s house with her two chil­dren by Lubbock as they “wanted to see where their Daddy died”.

Not a prob­lem, we said. Would be very happy to have Claire and the kids here for the day. But, of course, they wanted pho­to­graph­ers and journ­al­ists to come with her so we asked, is this Claire’s idea? And they had to admit it wasn’t. So we said no. Two days later: ‘You Are a Killer!’” says Barrymore.

Possibly only Iraq or OJ Simpson’s house have been pho­to­graphed from the air more than Barrymore’s home. He is, after all, by decree of the pop­u­lar press, the Sodom Hussein of Roydon, the OJ of Essex. The bun­ga­low is not as large as it looks from above through a tele­photo lens, but it’s cer­tainly large enough, as are the vast, shiny leather sofas we are sit­ting on. The “death pool”, as the News of the World dubbed it, clearly vis­ible through the French win­dows, also looks smal­ler at ground level but it is also, alas, big enough to drown in.

I’m actu­ally quite quiet,” says Barrymore, talk­ing about how people expect him to be the hoot­ing extro­vert they see on telly. There does appear to be a low-energy shy­ness to him. He’s sit­ting diag­on­ally across from me, ini­tially with his arms and legs crossed and his body quarter-turned away. But then, I am, after all, a journalist.

This is not a trial,” the cor­oner had declared at the start of the Lubbock inquest. The inquest, how­ever, was turned into a media show trial of epic pro­por­tions, and set the cli­mate for oth­ers that were to fol­low, such as that of John Leslie and Matthew Kelly. As with all show tri­als, Barrymore was guilty until proven inno­cent and then still guilty any­way — or “mor­ally respons­ible”, if you’re a broad­sheet reader.

I sug­gest that there has been an almost play­ground spite­ful­ness in some of the press cov­er­age. “Yeah,” he says, now look­ing at me dir­ectly, “but what have I actu­ally ever done to them? In the play­ground, or any­where? What have I done to them?” His gaze doesn’t waver. “Say they suc­ceed in fin­ish­ing me off, what good does that do them? They haven’t got you any more to exploit, have they? What do they gain from that? Tell me?”

***

IF YOURE GOING to drown in a celebrity swim­ming pool, choose care­fully. Not all celebrity swim­ming pools are equal. In March last year Daniel Williams a 23-year-old fire­man drowned in another male celebrity’s pool. But while Lubbock, a butcher by trade, became a house­hold name, Williams became yesterday’s news.

As with the events sur­round­ing Lubbock’s death, there was a party, Williams amused him­self in the pool at the London house, while the other guests drif­ted indoors. No one saw him drown. He was found sub­merged dead, or dying, in the early hours of the morn­ing. The toxicologist’s report showed that Williams had con­sumed the same quant­it­ies of alco­hol (nine pints), ecstasy (four or five tab­lets) and cocaine (a line or two) as Lubbock. Likewise, there was no forensic or wit­ness evid­ence of any struggle.

Unlike the Lubbock case, the press didn’t find Williams’s death mys­ter­i­ous or even par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing. They accep­ted the res­ults of the police inquiry (which, as with Lubbock, ulti­mately pro­duced no charges) and the Home Office pathologist’s con­clu­sion was that he had died by drown­ing. They didn’t splash each day’s (care­fully selec­ted) inquest “high­lights” across their front pages, print­ing spec­u­la­tion as sci­entific fact, or con­stantly inter­view Williams’s fam­ily and friends. Nor did they lynch his host’s career from the lamp­post of pub­lic indig­na­tion. Instead they treated the death for what it was, a ter­rible accident.

Why? What was the dif­fer­ence? Was it in part that Williams drowned, acci­dent­ally, in a swim­ming pool belong­ing to a mar­ried film celebrity — the actor Art Malik — instead of a very fam­ously gay and off-the-rails tele­vi­sion celebrity called Michael Barrymore?

There was how­ever another ‘fun­da­mental’ dif­fer­ence: the injur­ies to Lubbock’s anus, described as ser­i­ous and sig­ni­fic­ant by the patho­lo­gists, “fear­ful”, “night­mar­ish” and “hor­rific” by the press. These injur­ies, com­bined with his hosts very pub­lic homo­sexu­al­ity, presen­ted an irres­ist­ible idea — arous­ing all those column inches and mak­ing the inquest one of the most heav­ily and excitedly repor­ted — and dis­tor­ted — of recent times.

For example, the papers, tabloid and broad­sheet, told us repeatedly how Lubbock was found float­ing face down in Barrymore’s pool. Untrue. All the wit­ness state­ments agree that Lubbock was found at the bot­tom of the pool face up. Apparently, the image of a “hand­some”, “het­ero­sexual father-of-two” float­ing dead, face down, and arse up — lit­er­ally drown­ing in passiv­ity — in the pool of Britain’s most fam­ous ‘arse-bandit’ was just too seduct­ive for the press to resist.

But this rel­at­ively minor kind of kinky dis­tor­tion was just the begin­ning. For example, in the space of his first few sen­tences, (13 September 2002) the Sun’s res­id­ent sod­omy expert Richard Littlejohn, forced all the import­ant facts to sur­render them­selves to the impa­tient heat of his pas­sion: “The inquest is finally under­way into the death of the man found float­ing face down [false] in Michael Barrymore’s swim­ming pool. Stuart Lubbock was pumped full of drink and drugs [false: in fact, he helped him­self to Barrymore’s drinks and tox­ic­o­lo­gist reports showed he was a long-term user of cocaine and/or ecstasy], and had been rogered sense­less [fantasy]. Pathologists agree he suffered a ser­i­ous sexual assault [false].”

In fact, the patho­lo­gists were divided as to how the injur­ies were caused. It was not even estab­lished that the injur­ies were caused by sexual activ­ity. Indeed, DNA test­ing showed that Lubbock had not had sexual con­tact in the hours before he died.

Since it seems to have been such an import­ant part of the cov­er­age, I ask Barrymore if he fan­cied Lubbock when he met him in the Millennium, the nightclub in Harlow that the star atten­ded with his then-boyfriend Jonathan Kenney before return­ing home in a taxi with Lubbock and two other party guests, Kylie and Jonathan Merritt, who he had met that even­ing (Kenney fol­low­ing later). “I spoke to that many people at the Millennium that night. I wouldn’t have picked Stuart out. It was repor­ted that I couldn’t even remem­ber his name. Well, I didn’t know his name. He jumped in the taxi with Kylie and Jonathan and I thought he was with them. When he was here he did whatever he was doing, like most of the other guests; I just said here’s the drink and here’s the music. Most of the night I was with James Futers and Simon Shaw, who I knew from the vil­lage. If I was try­ing to chat Stuart up, I think I would’ve spent a bit more time with him. Besides, my boy­friend at the time, Jonathan, was here.” Barrymore adds, “It just doesn’t tally up.”

Barrymore is con­vinced that the papers built the story the way they wanted to build it. ‘That’s why most of them didn’t men­tion that there were three girls at the party, because it got in the way of the “Gay Sex Orgy” headlines.’

How many of the guests were actu­ally gay? “None. Just me and my boy­friend,” says Barrymore.

So not much of a gay orgy then. “Nope. Not much of an orgy of any kind. No sexual activ­ity took place what­so­ever,” insists Barrymore.

I ask him about the only indis­put­ably culp­able thing he did that even­ing: his depar­ture from his house after Lubbock’s body was retrieved from the pool — and catch a glimpse of the evas­ive­ness that irrit­ates many. “Yeah, well, it was wrong,” he says quickly, “but I’ve answered that. I didn’t run away… imme­di­ately — I ran into the house and got Jonathan who knows about resus­cit­a­tion, while the lads {James Futers and Simon Shaw} were get­ting Stuart out of the pool. I wouldn’t have know what to do… there were four people work­ing on him… it wasn’t my idea to leave the house. James and Simon said, ‘Come away, there’s noth­ing you can do here.…’

I’ve admit­ted it was a stu­pid thing to do,” he con­tin­ues, sound­ing irrit­ated, per­haps with him­self as much as the ques­tion, “but no one knows how they’re gonna react… it was just a night­mare. I rang my PA to tell him where I was going so that I could be con­tac­ted. Why would I do that if I was run­ning away?” Barrymore’s call to his PA, which was repor­ted in some papers as a call to his PR (“some­thing I’ve never had”) was taken as fur­ther evid­ence either of his guilt or his celebrity arrog­ance: “I’m a celebrity, get me out of this!” Of course, it was pre­cisely his celebrity status which meant that his fears about what the press would do were well founded.

Likewise his repor­ted silence at the inquest was seen as cal­lous and sus­pi­cious. In fact, he answered all the ques­tions put to him — save those relat­ing to illegal drug tak­ing in his house. Barrymore’s exer­cise of his legal right to refuse to incrim­in­ate him­self was seen as doubly incrim­in­at­ing. Much was made in the press of the alleg­a­tion that, dur­ing the party, Barrymore tried to rub cocaine on Lubbock’s gums; how­ever, leav­ing aside the fact that Lubbock was a long-term user of drugs, the small amount of cocaine — a stim­u­lant — in his sys­tem was not iden­ti­fied at the inquest as a likely factor in his death.

It’s worth men­tion­ing that per­haps that the most unbe­liev­able thing about that night for some was the fact that television’s highest-paid celebrity would attend a nightclub in Harlow, and invite working-class strangers back to his house for a ‘chill-out’ party simply because he might enjoy their com­pany, and that he might not want to treat a butcher like a piece of meat. “It wasn’t unusual for me to have people back for drinks. Wasn’t a reg­u­lar thing. Just not unusual. It’s partly my Irish back­ground and it’s partly that I don’t like being alone,” explains Barrymore. Much of the broad­sheets’ hos­til­ity to Barrymore, their almost uni­ver­sal fail­ure to cri­ti­cise the tabloid gang-bang of his repu­ta­tion, and indeed their com­pli­city in it, was down to class: Barrymore was a vul­gar man who enter­tained vul­gar people in a vul­gar way. Worst of all, he was paid vul­gar amounts of money for doing so. (A senior editor on a lib­eral broad­sheet, explain­ing shortly after the inquest why no, he def­in­itely would not be run­ning an art­icle ana­tom­ising the press’ dis­tor­tions, told me in no uncer­tain terms that Barrymore was ‘low life’.)

Born Kiernan Michael Parker into a work­ing class fam­ily in Bermondsey in 1952, this Norman Wisdom fan and former Redcoat’s adop­ted stage moniker (‘there were too many Parker’s on Equity’s books’) became a house­hold name with his mad­cap com­edy per­form­ances on the TV game show Strike it Lucky in 1986. Barrymore brought the phys­ical, audi­ence involve­ment com­edy that he had per­fec­ted on the workingmen’s club cir­cuit to the rel­at­ively up-tight and staid world of prime-time com­mer­cial TV with great suc­cess. By 1992 Barrymore was one of TV’s highest paid enter­tain­ers, and a prime tar­get for tabloid gos­sip. After many run-ins with the press over his drink­ing, drug abuse and sex life, this mar­ried work­ing class hero finally came out as gay in 1995 — the first fam­ily enter­tainer to do so. ‘I thought I was fin­ished,’ he says. In fact, more awards and hit TV shows fol­lowed, and he remained ‘Mr Saturday Night’ — even after Lubbock’s death in his swim­ming pool in 2001. It wasn’t until the uni­ver­sally damning cov­er­age of last September’s inquest that his career finally ran aground.

However, the real inquest into Lubbock’s death, rather than the vir­tual one repor­ted in the media, largely went well for Barrymore. It emerged there was no evid­ence that he, or his guests, were respons­ible — even indir­ectly — for Lubbock’s death or injur­ies. However, the sum­ming up of the cor­oner, Caroline Beasley-Murray, seemed to assume, des­pite evid­ence to the con­trary, that Lubbock’s injur­ies must have occurred at Barrymore’s house, and appeared to cri­ti­cise the party­go­ers and the host for not being able to explain them. This and the open ver­dict — itself not uncom­mon in inquests — provided the press with enough rope with which to hang Barrymore again and again.

If his injur­ies occurred here,” asks Barrymore, “why was there no blood on his boxer shorts? Why is there no blood in the house? Or in the pool?”

It’s a vital ques­tion. Lubbock’s anal injur­ies, lacer­a­tions as well as bruis­ing and dila­tion, would have involved a sub­stan­tial amount of bleed­ing and even small blood­stains are notori­ously dif­fi­cult to erad­ic­ate. Moreover, since the inquest, Stuart Nairn, one of the A&E nurses who worked without suc­cess to resus­cit­ate Lubbock for over two-hours, has provided a detailed sworn state­ment to Barrymore’s soli­citor which has sparked the new invest­ig­a­tion by Essex police and thrown the coroner’s pre­sump­tion about where the injur­ies took place into even more doubt.

Nairn’s assigned task for the entire two-hours was repeatedly tak­ing Lubbock’s tem­per­at­ure rectally with a small, thin, thermal probe. Nairn per­formed this oper­a­tion 16 times, pulling apart Lubbock’s but­tocks and open­ing his sphinc­ter each time. His state­ment makes clear that he saw no evid­ence of the injur­ies described at the coroner’s inquiry. Indeed he noticed no dila­tion or sig­ni­fic­ant bruis­ing (accord­ing to the patho­lo­gists’ report, even if Nairn’s small tem­per­at­ure probe were actu­ally quite large, he would not have needed to open Lubbock’s sphinc­ter muscle at all). “I am sure that I would have noticed this,” says Nairn. “Moreover, I would have repor­ted this to the doc­tor.” He also men­tions that aside from a small smear of blood on the probe towards the lat­ter stages, which was not unusual given the num­ber of inser­tions, there was no evid­ence of bleed­ing. (Perhaps this level of inform­a­tion is dis­taste­ful to you — per­haps, like Yasmin Alibai-Brown of the Independent, you are keen to assert it makes you ‘want to throw up’; but Lubbock’s anus has been made an object of such fas­cin­a­tion and sym­bolic import­ance not by Barrymore but by the Great British Press and its readership.)

Nairn was due to appear as a wit­ness at the inquest but the police say they lost con­tact with him. A sim­ilar state­ment by Nairn was read out at the inquest, but it was dis­missed by Professor Crane, one of the patho­lo­gists, who claimed that someone in A&E would not have had time to notice such injur­ies, and would have been pre­oc­cu­pied with other things any­way. Nairn’s second state­ment makes it clear that he would have noticed. In fact, he prob­ably spent more time observing Lubbock’s anus than any pathologist.

If, as now seems likely, the injur­ies to Lubbock occurred after he was finally pro­nounced dead at Harlow General Hospital and Nairn’s treat­ment ended, then they must have occurred in the seven hours between this time and the body’s exam­in­a­tion by the Home Office patho­lo­gist, who was the first per­son to record them. Essex police are unable to con­firm that the body was guarded dur­ing this time. Instead they can only say that this mat­ter, and the issue of who had access to the body dur­ing this time, is “part of the cur­rent investigation”.

Does Barrymore have any idea how the injur­ies occurred? “Well, I have my ideas about it, but it would be wrong for me to spec­u­late,” he declares. “That’s for the police to invest­ig­ate. I’m not about to point fin­gers at anyone.”

If those injur­ies did occur after Lubbock was pro­nounced dead, it seems pos­sible it was Barrymore’s spe­cial kind of fame, which was to blame. At the inquest, Emma Bowen, another former girl­friend of Lubbock’s, who was at the Millennium in Harlow that night, stated that when club­bers spot­ted Barrymore with his part­ner Jonathan, they “were shout­ing out: ‘That’s Barrymore’s boy­friend!’ ‘Up your bum!’ and other such com­ments.” Perhaps “for a laugh”, someone couldn’t res­ist stick­ing some­thing up the bum of the dead man who had been found in “that Michael Barrymore’s” swim­ming pool?

The tabloids were given more ammuni­tion by the scorn of Barrymore’s ex-wife and former man­ager, Cheryl, and her book Catch a Falling Star about her mar­riage. It was pub­lished imme­di­ately after the Lubbock inquest and was lur­idly seri­al­ised in the Daily Mail with front-page head­lines includ­ing “The Night Michael Tried To Kill Me”. Her claim that Barrymore lied to the inquest when he said he couldn’t swim, sparked a per­jury invest­ig­a­tion, which has now been dropped.

Barrymore’s views on his ex-wife’s inter­ven­tions are clear. “She jumped in on the drown­ing affair, demand­ing, ‘I wanna know what happened!’ when it was noth­ing to do with her what­so­ever, but she star­ted to get involved as if she cared about Stuart and the Lubbocks and that, and yet has never been to see them once, yet made all these state­ments. What for? To sell a book. And then in the middle of it turns round and tries to get me done — pos­sibly seven years — for per­jury, say­ing that I lied in court about not being able to swim! The police went to speak to the list of friends of hers that she said would cor­rob­or­ate her state­ment and not one of them did. They just said, ‘I’ve only seen him stand in the shal­low end.’ That’s why they dropped it. They didn’t even get as far as ques­tion­ing me.”

What about her alleg­a­tions that he was viol­ent towards her in their final years together? “It got heated some­times,” he admits, “but I’ve never, ever punched her. I pushed her away. If she comes fly­ing at me then I’m not going to stand there and get scratched to bits. I’d push her away. The way she dram­at­ises it, well, it just makes you sick,” he says.

Barrymore com­plains now that she wanted to con­trol him, but I put it to him that per­haps the things that drove him away from Cheryl were the things which attrac­ted him in the first place. “Yeah, well I was quite happy to hand over the con­trol, and most of our 18 years together were very happy. But the con­trol got com­pletely out of con­trol. I couldn’t make a move without her say so, even if I went out fish­ing it would have to be with some­body who worked for us. Somebody who could then give her a run down of everything that happened. That’s one of my weak­nesses, I allowed it to hap­pen. It suited me.”

How easy has it been to live without it? “Well, I’ve got free­dom from that. It was the thing that was killing me. Or one of the things that was. I just couldn’t live with it any longer.”

But free­dom doesn’t appear to have cured Barrymore of his addic­tions. “Being in a rela­tion­ship or being free, drink­ing and drug addic­tion is entirely dif­fer­ent — it’s the dis­ease which takes con­trol.” Barrymore says he attends AA meet­ings almost every night. “It’s all or noth­ing. One drink’s too much, 1,000 isn’t enough. You have to keep it in check on a daily basis. I’ve had 21 months of sobri­ety now, have got involved more [with AA] and become secretary.”

One of his dogs, a Jack Russell, jumps on my lap. “JD! Get down!” says Barrymore. His dogs are called JD and Sprite, his former favour­ite drink. Since the police inquiry was reopened, Barrymore has had a few offers of work. It was only in November of last year that Granada finally released him from his exclus­ive con­tract, hav­ing put him on ice for over a year. “‘We’re not using you,’” they said. “‘We’re not pay­ing you. And you can’t work for any­one else.’”

Given the head­lines, can you blame them? “I’m not respons­ible for what the press has done — but the net­work made me respons­ible. So that means that they base their busi­ness on, on…”

What’s pop­u­lar?

Even if it’s incorrect?”

If Barrymore is feign­ing inno­cence of the ways of the world, he’s con­vin­cing. “That’s a bit sad isn’t it? They were the ones who sug­ges­ted in caring tones that I go to rehab. I haven’t had one phone call from them since. Haven’t phoned me to ask if I’m well, or have kept off the drink. They haven’t phoned once to ask my office or me, ‘Is this or that true?’”

Maybe they’re not inter­ested. Maybe they’re only inter­ested in what sells.

If I don’t sell, then why is Strike It Lucky on twice a day on Challenge TV? If I can’t be on fam­ily time, as they said in one of their let­ters, why was I on GMTV the other day at eight in the morn­ing? I was on The Salon the other day on C4.”

It’s slightly pathetic that Barrymore, once the unchal­lenged king of prime-time, should be invok­ing re-runs on cable tele­vi­sion, or an appear­ance on an exploit­at­ive real­ity tele­vi­sion show, as proof of his pop­ular­ity. But then, this is a man who, after the inquest, was pub­licly branded by TV exec­ut­ives as “fin­ished”. Questions were asked about him in Parliament. His auto­bi­o­graphy, com­mis­sioned long before Lubbock’s death (though por­trayed in the press as a ‘cash in’ on it) was dropped by BBC Books. Daily Mail colum­nist Lynda Lee Potter declared that she would “rather stick pins in her eyes than watch Barrymore on TV again”.

Barrymore thinks the tele­vi­sion bosses should go with him on his trips to Tesco. They can take him four hours because so many people greet him with smiles and laughs and hand­shakes, ask­ing when he’s going to be on the telly again, and then call up their mums, dads and kids on their mobiles and ask him to bark “Awoight!” down the phone. “They feel that they can approach me,” he says. “With someone else fam­ous they might say, ‘Oh look there’s so and so over there,’ with me they come up and shake my hand. It’s what my act is based on. If you tried to fake or con­trive that you’d be sussed out straight away.”

I sug­gest though that these are the very people that buy the papers which have attacked him so viciously. He doesn’t dis­agree. “It’s gos­sip, isn’t it? The tabloids save you chat­ting over the garden wall.” I press the point fur­ther: couldn’t their cas­u­al­ness towards him be because, like the press, they con­sider him their prop­erty? “They con­sider me part of the fam­ily,” he cor­rects. “Because of the way I work on telly, which is about approach­ab­il­ity and vul­ner­ab­il­ity. And because,” he adds, resign­edly, “yeah, because much of my private life has been acted out in the tabloids.”

How much of Barrymore, or for that mat­ter of Michael Parker (his real name per­haps offer­ing an anonym­ity which he might be for­given for miss­ing now), is left after all of this? Has his latest and darkest exper­i­ence of the celebrity cycle taken the edge off his appet­ite for ‘success’?

He comes up with a para­dox­ical and pos­sibly self-deluding reply. “You ask your­self, do I need all this? But thing is, what they’ve done this time in being relent­less is they’ve allowed me to get well. Because what used to hap­pen before was I’d go straight into rehab then come back out, go straight into a stu­dio and be ill again. But this time that hasn’t happened, so I’ve had a chance to get well prop­erly this time.”

Oddly, for all the accus­a­tions of self-pity, Barrymore hasn’t played his main vic­tim card. He has not cried “homo­pho­bia”. Several times in the course of this inter­view I’ve given him the oppor­tun­ity to men­tion it, but he hasn’t taken the bait. Perhaps it’s down to his wish to reclaim his stake as a main­stream enter­tainer; per­haps it’s down to pride. Whatever, it’s clear that the way the press played the Lubbock story was in large part, a delayed but appar­ently highly sat­is­fy­ing back­lash for his com­ing out sev­eral years ago (a move which, if noth­ing else, deprived the gen­tle­men of the press of one of their favour­ite sports: bul­ly­ing the closeted gay celeb).

Barrymore, whose act and pop­ular­ity depended on cross­ing bound­ar­ies of taste, class and genre (and sexu­al­ity), grabbing and man­hand­ling mem­bers of the audi­ence, male and female, was cast as the pred­at­ory gay rap­ist of the public’s night­mares, and his deceased guest as an awful example of what hap­pens when a homo­sexual man­ages to get between a straight-man’s back and the wall.

This, against the evid­ence of the case and also, iron­ic­ally, des­pite the fact that pen­et­rat­ive sex, accord­ing to Barrymore, ‘is not my bag’. As Dr Freud poin­ted out, we like to laugh at what we fear, and by the same token we also fear what we laugh at. One irres­ist­ible idea can lead to another. In the same way that laughter provides a socially accept­able way for people to vent their anxi­et­ies, the Barrymore-Lubbock affair provided an accept­able route for the media and the pub­lic to ‘out’ pent-up fears about male homo­sexu­al­ity, that ‘gay-tolerant’ con­tem­por­ary Britain oth­er­wise might feel slightly embar­rassed about.

He may not quite real­ise it, he may not want to real­ise it, but Barrymore, the nation’s most pop­u­lar, most ‘loved’ funny man, has just been star­ring in his latest, biggest, if pos­sibly final, hit show. The cur­rently ongo­ing police invest­ig­a­tion at Harlow General Hospital may or may not show con­clus­ively that the injur­ies to Lubbock’s anus occurred after he arrived there. But whatever the out­come, it will most likely prove dif­fi­cult for Barrymore to rehab­il­it­ate him­self — after all, his ‘crimes’ were com­mit­ted in the minds of the great British pub­lic, and they will be unlikely to fully for­give them­selves such thoughts, or him for pro­vok­ing them.

The writ­ing was on the toi­let wall as long ago as 1995. After he had outed him­self, the front page of the new, ‘gay-tolerant’ Sun joked, “WERE RIGHT BEHIND YOU MICHAELBUT NOT TOO CLOSE!’ In fact, they were there all along — and much too close. Just wait­ing for Barrymore to drop the ball.

Independent on Sunday, 02/03/2003

UPDATE 3/10/2006

  • A month after this piece appeared Essex Police con­cluded their (reluct­ant) invest­ig­a­tion into whether the injur­ies to Stuart Lubbock occurred at Harlow General Hospital or not by say­ing: ” We are as sat­is­fied as we can be that the injur­ies did not occur at Princess Alexandra Hospital.’
  • The Home Office Pathologist, Michael Heath, the man who first dis­covered the anal injur­ies and the only patho­lo­gist to exam­ine them in per­son (rather than pho­to­graphs) resigned this year after it was estab­lished that he found foul play in at least two other cases when there was none, lead­ing to inno­cent people being charged for crimes which had not occurred.
  • Whilst Barrymore was in the BB house Stuart Lubbock’s father, Terry, Barrymore’s nemesis, appeared almost daily in the papers denoun­cing him and tried to obtain per­mis­sion to bring a private pro­sec­u­tion against Barrymore relat­ing to the death of his son (it was even­tu­ally thrown out of court for lack of evid­ence). Shortly after Barrymore left the house in tri­umph Terry finally agreed to meet him and told him ‘I don’t blame you, Michael’ (accord­ing to The Sun’s front page head­line). Though he later appar­ently retrac­ted this. And then un-retracted it. Now he has reportedly penned a book with well-known homo­phobe Anthony Bennett called ‘Not Awight: Getting Away With Murder’ due for pub­lic­a­tion later this month and is pick­et­ing Barrymore’s book-signings call­ing him a ‘liar’ and con­demning him for ‘mak­ing money off the back of Stuart’s death, how low can you go?’.
  • Shortly after Barrymore’s CBB vic­tory and The Sun’s volte face, Essex Police announced they were ‘routinely’ re-opening the invest­ig­a­tion into Lubbock’s death. Both Barrymore and Terry Lubbock have wel­comed this, though for appar­ently dif­fer­ent reasons.
  • Essex Police invest­ig­ated but declined to charge one of the wit­nesses from the fate­ful party for per­jury, fol­low­ing her retrac­tion of her sworn state­ment that Barrymore had rubbed cocaine on Stuart Lubbock’s gums that night. She made this retrac­tion when faced with a lie-detector test organ­ised by Barrymore’s new ally — and long-term abus­ive co-dependent in this celebrity mar­riage from Hell — The Sun.

UPDATE 29/12/2012

Barrymore gives the Independent what they bill as his ‘first in-depth inter­view to a national news­pa­per in ten years — i.e. since the one he gave me above. Although he never did suc­ceed in win­ning back the Nation’s hearts, time seems to be vin­dic­at­ing Barrymore’s claims of a set up by the press:

He claims he has been “framed” by the press over the death of a man, Stuart Lubbock, found float­ing in his swim­ming pool in 2001. He also says he sus­pects he fell vic­tim to a “con­spir­acy” to fab­ric­ate an earlier alleg­a­tion in the News of the World that he raped a rent boy in the toi­lets of a nightclub in cent­ral London. Evidence from med­ical staff sup­port his claims over the tim­ing of injur­ies sus­tained by Mr Lubbock.