Peter Doherty
Peter Doherty
Peter Doherty: ‘Shooting heroin became a military operation’

Peter Doherty can look back on his junkie days with some objectivity now he’s clean and happily married to the woman who spent almost a decade filming his most degraded moments. The British singer and guitarist — now 44 and preferring Peter to Pete — was almost as famous for his heroin addiction as his music with The Libertines in the early 2000s. Now the group is back, with “All Quiet on the Eastern Esplanade” out April 5 - only their third studio album in the 22 years since their debut “Up the Bracket”.

Doherty, in typically droll and self-deprecating form, told AFP how the release date had to be shifted twice to make way for releases by Ariana Grande and Elbow. “They’re more famous than us now,” he said. But he was meeting AFP to discuss the documentary “Stranger In My Own Skin” — a brutally uncompromising look at his years of drug use — ahead of its release in France.

Its 90 minutes were whittled down from more than 200 hours of footage shot by Katia de Vidas, who began as a film student recruited to follow Doherty by French magazine Les Inrocks, and ended up as his wife. Doherty remains philosophical about his addiction: “If I look like I’m suffering and lost, well humanity is suffering and lost — but sometimes you try to distil that and get drunk on it.”

He can also be darkly funny about those times, as when he recalled the moment in the film where he struggles to find a vein to shoot heroin. “After seven or eight years of shooting up, it can be very difficult. It wasn’t narcotic relief anymore — it was a military operation to find a vein! It was really sad, it was tragic, but it was also celebratory for me when I found (a vein).” He wanted to use footage of a particular goal by his beloved Queens Park Rangers football club to illustrate the feeling.

“We had the most amazing collage of uplifting explosions of energy, but in the end we couldn’t afford any of it, and after that I lost interest in editing forever,” he dead-panned.

The best and the worst

The film does show the explosive success of The Libertines and Doherty’s other band, Babyshambles. But the focus is clearly the drugs. “It talks about creativity, a strict childhood, the weight of success, but, yes, inevitably addiction, so that more people understand,” said Vidas. “If you show the best, you have to show the worst.”

Doherty eventually got clean in a rehab centre in Thailand. “I was supposed to be promoting their centre so they were watching me carefully,” he said. “There was one moment when I managed to escape to Bangkok but they said it had to stop.” The couple are now writing a fiction film—a black comedy set in Normandy, where they live—but Vidas said she is proud to see her documentary finally airing in her native country.

Doherty can’t help another gag at his wife’s expense: “I said let’s just put it on YouTube, but she wanted to make some money out of it. “She told me at the start that I would get 12,000 euros ($13,000) in a paper bag. I’m still waiting for it!”—AFP

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