Pete Doherty is a new man. Sort of.
ShortList’s Tom Ellen heads to Paris for a strange encounter with the musician-turned-actor
Pete Doherty is reading a text message in the bedroom of an immaculately furnished Paris flat. How he is reading it is beyond me; his iPhone screen is an intricate spider’s web of shattered glass.
“How is that phone still working?” I enquire.
“It’s Doherty-proof,” he murmurs.
Slumped in an armchair, guitar balanced precariously on his knee, the singer looks like he could do with a little Doherty-proofing himself. His spinning eyeballs, bandaged wrists and sporadic insistence that we’ve met before (we haven’t) suggest his Parisian emigration hasn’t exactly prompted a quieter life.
The 33-year-old is speaking to ShortList to promote his acting debut in French period drama Confession Of A Child Of The Century – a film that recently garnered column inches after Doherty revealed an alleged on-set fling with his (married) co-star Charlotte Gainsbourg. We’ll get to all that, but first, who was that text from? “The mother of my daughter [model Lindi Hingston],” he tells us. “She’s sending me vitamins and forms. My daughter’s taking my surname but I haven’t done the forms and it’s getting close to the deadline. She says, ‘Start taking care of your body, Peter’.” Which begs the question…
Are you taking care of your body, Peter?
[Laughs] I need to rein it in a bit. I’ve had two hours sleep since last Wednesday.
You’ve been partying for a week?
We don’t “party”. It’s not a rowdy weekend every now and again. This is how we live, 24/7. By “we”, I mean myself and a selection of very foolish people. Unfortunately, we fan each other’s flames. It’s another reason I think Carl [Barat] is wary of me because, in his heart, he’s a debauched son of a gun, but he’s got a kid now and he wants to shape up.
Will there be another Libertines reunion?
I don’t know. Carl came to Paris recently. He said, “Let’s have a meeting where we don’t drink.” He normally drinks when he sees me because he gets nervous. I stayed clean while he was here. Well, I wasn’t banging up in the café or anything. We’re tentatively making plans to do some shows next summer.
You’ve got bandages on your wrists. What happened?
A cooking accident.
What were you cooking?
I was failing to flambé. [Laughs] What’s this fascination with my arms?
Let’s move on. What prompted the move to Paris?
The French thing isn’t some idle vanity project – it’s in my blood. I have family buried in the [Père Lachaise] cemetery near here. I could probably qualify for the French water polo team.
Are you good at water polo?
Never played. Don’t know why I said that. I meant table tennis. I’m not some old lag, but I’ve been in prison enough times that I’ve got a decent backhand. Hang on, I’m talking b*llocks. In prison, there was a table but never any balls or bats. Weirdly, you were allowed darts.
Are you still friendly with people you met behind bars?
When you’ve been that close to someone – top bunk, bottom bunk – you can’t not be close on the outside. This one lad, Carl, he was my cellmate for a fairly long stretch and he came to my gig in Brixton recently. That was odd, because the last time I’d seen him he was shouting at me as I left the cell: “F*ck’s sake, Pete! Close the curtains!” He’d never been to a gig before. He texted me, saying: “What shall I wear?” I was like, “Mate, it’s a sweaty gig in a pub – wear what you like.” He goes, “But I’m a pikey.” I said, “Pikey’s cool. Go with that.”
How are the Parisian fans? Do they approach you in the street?
Yeah, I wander off on little adventures. I like getting in an old Jag and heading south. I did it in the summer. I stopped in Lyon and linked up with a girl who was an extra [in Confession…]. We ended up in the Pyrenees. I had to get out of Paris for a while. There were these fellas from London I had a bad debt with and they came to find me. They thought I was trying to fob them off but I was just waiting for this Kooples cheque [Doherty collaborated on a fashion range with The Kooples]. So, yeah, I had to leg it.
Is it all sorted now?
Oh yeah. It had to get sorted. Otherwise I’d have got sorted.
It must be refreshing to be away from the UK tabloids…
There’s a complete absence of that culture here. If people hate you in France, they hate you for a genuine reason. In England, there isn’t any depth to people’s distaste. Which is almost preferable because it’s so superficial and pathetic. I’m often praying that the real truth about me never comes out.
What is the real truth?
Nothing. I’m just a mild-mannered songwriter. This hideous f*cking Mr Hyde character that’s been established – he’s just a c*nt. When I read things about me, it puzzles me. People have a very fixed idea of who I am but they don’t know me.
Have you spoken to Charlotte Gainsbourg since your comments about your fling?
No. It’s sad, really. She’s a strong, intelligent woman but she’s living in a protected environment. She’s basically French royalty – since the Revolution, it’s been her, her father [Serge Gainsbourg] and Napoleon. The people around her are not my biggest fans. One of the last things she told me was, “A friend of my mother says it’s your hobby to break up families.” She’s stopped every interview she’s done [for the film] within five minutes. She’s too caught up in the machinery of it all.
I read that, for your next film, you have to get a six-pack…
Yeah, I’m playing a crack-head porn star, so I’ve got to be fit.
You’ll be hitting the gym, then?
No, no. They’ll have to f*cking Photoshop all that. Take me as I am, darling [laughs].
You weren’t invited to Amy Winehouse’s funeral. Do you feel you’ve had a chance to say goodbye to her properly?
No one got the chance to say goodbye. It was such a shock. There are so many things I’m resentful of [about the situation], but I almost feel that it’s not my business. I wouldn’t want to offend anyone. A few times there have been tragic deaths of my friends, and their families have made me feel less than welcome in celebrating their memory. Like I was held responsible for these deaths.
Could you ever call Amy’s dad Mitch and clear the air?
No, I don’t think I could. I don’t think he’d want me to.
You’ve said you’re using lyrics written by Amy on your new solo album. Did you have more plans to work together?
We always planned to do some Billie Holiday songs together – Good Morning Heartache and These Foolish Things. Whenever we’d get together with guitars, we’d go through them.
As a QPR fan, are you missing Joey Barton?
Yeah, he’s one of what I thought was a lost breed. Call it f*cking “character” – there’s a lack of it right now. It’s all very well dying your hair, but Joey Barton… you know he’s going to go down fighting for your team. Plus, he likes The Smiths. A complicated, interesting man.
Do you have a French team that you support yet?
Actually, my flatmate is a ballerina and she teaches Pilates to the Paris Saint-Germain team.
Has she got you into Pilates?
[Sings to the tune of Volare] “Pil-at-es, oh, oh, oh/Don’t start-ees, oh, oh, oh.” No she hasn’t. I just sing that while she’s doing it.
ShortList interviewed Shane MacGowan recently and he mentioned that Mario Testino once photographed you two naked…
[Laughs] Yeah, it was supposed to be a classy shoot but Shane was like, “This isn’t rock‘n’roll – get your knob out!” He pounced on me, pulled my new suit trousers off and we fell through the immaculately sculpted white backdrop.
What happened to the photos?
[Darkly] Oh, they’re around. Very embarrassing – it was a cold day. Shane’s got quite a big knob, so he was all right.
Have you talked to Shane about cleaning up/coming off drugs?
Yeah, he made it clear to me I have to [get clean] at some point. He said, “You’ve got to give yourself a chance, some clean time, then decide. Don’t decide in the midst of it, either way.”
Have you given yourself a deadline for getting clean, then?
I haven’t set a date when I’ll stop [doing drugs] or anything. But I know now, for the first time, that there has to be a point where I get clean. It’s the only way forward. There are a lot of hats in this room… [starts trying on hats, while dancing].
Do you find that without a hat, people don’t recognise you?
[Laughs] Good question. I was out the other night and there were some policemen around and one said, “Here he is, with his trademark trilby.” I was like, “[Mutters] It’s a fedora, you c*nt.”
What are you up to for Christmas?
I hope to see my little boy [Astile, 9] and little girl [Aisling, 11 months]. I met my little girl for the first time recently. And my son came to France for the shooting [of the film]. He was running around set shouting, “We want to make The Goonies: Part Two!”
Finally, you wrote on your website recently about being banned from French SNCF trains because of an incident involving “missing rail guards’ uniforms” So, what happened exactly?
I wish I’d never written that. When I get the Eurostar now, the guards are like, “[French accent] What is ze problem with zese SNCF boys?” As if I would nick a French train guard’s uniform! Twenty years ago, when they still had braces and capes, maybe, but now, it’s only the shoes that are worth nicking. The f*cking prices you pay for train tickets, shoes should be included anyway. I saw these shoes on the train – I didn’t know they were SNCF shoes. They were unlabelled, my size and – no joke – I was in a pair of hotel slippers at the time. So, half an hour later, I’m heading to Perpignan and there’s a ticket inspector back at Gare De Lyon with no shoes. I’ll happily post them back to him, though.
Confession Of A Child Of The Century is at cinemas nationwide from 7 December