Standing at the bar of the Golden Lion in St Ives, Lord Toby Jug orders a cup of tea. Just over eight months ago he would be drinking something much stronger.
In September last year, Lord Toby, whose birth name is Brian Borthwick, had nowhere to go and was sleeping rough in St Ives. His mother and sister had kicked him out of the home and he was drinking himself into oblivion.
After a week on the streets, Lord Toby was spotted by a friend, though due to the alcohol he cannot remember who, and he was taken to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge.
“I was told that I was lucky to be alive,” he said. “My friends and family had endured enough and I had nowhere to go. You don’t think about paying for a hotel or food as all of your money is used to buy alcohol.
“I spent a week at Addenbrooke’s recovering and they told me I was lucky.
“It was frightening to be told that you’re six months from dying. You can go either way – straight to the pub and drink or be sober.”
At his worst, the 48-year-old, known for standing for the Official Monster Raving Loony party in most elections around St Ives, was drinking eight or nine pints as well as two bottles of spirits a day - roughly 300 units a week compared to the recommended 21-24.
He said: “The whole of September I don’t remember at all. That’s what alcohol does to you. I remember waking up in a coal cellar, but I don’t know how I got there. Once, during another problem, I woke up in a ditch, obviously the night before I had been on my bike and just fallen into a ditch.
“I was found by a milkman who gave me a lift home. It wasn’t so funny at the time.”
Lord Toby sought help from the Gainsborough Foundation, getting counselling, support and taking part in detoxification.
“By chance, my friend Debbie Richardson came across the Gainsborough Foundation website and gave them a call. If it wasn’t for Debbie and Nikki de Villiers from Gainsborough I wouldn’t be here today.
“I was surprised how quick it was to contact someone. In the past I have gone to my GP and then wouldn’t be able to get an appointment for three months, which is too long for someone in trouble.
“I still needed a referral from a GP but if it hadn’t happened that quickly, I would have ended up going drinking.”
Nick Charles, founder of the Gainsborough Foundation, said: “Toby is a binge drinker. He would have nothing to drink for months and then have one and not stop. He’d then recover, go sober and then have a drink and couldn’t stop, but the time would reduce each time until there was no distance between each session.”
Lord Toby said his journey into alcoholism started as a child. “It was really not a happy childhood,” he said.
“When I was about 14-15, as soon as I drank my first drink, it was like fireworks going off.
“Being a musician in David Sutch’s band, drinking formed part of the job. Drink was everywhere. As I got older, I started to increase the amount. You don’t realise it. People tell you to slow down but you don’t listen, you think they’re moaning.
“In 2003 I split from my partner and wasn’t able to see my son, which didn’t help.
“There were times that I’d be left shaking and vomiting if I didn’t drink. At the time the withdrawal symptoms were worse than drinking, so you drink to go back to a state that you can tolerate.”
Lord Toby is now eight months sober and looking forward to playing music again, but more importantly spending time with his sons Thomas, nine, and Jack, 16, who during his lowest points he was stopped from seeing.
He has moved back in with his sister and mother in St Ives and is almost ready to move out into his own home.
“I don’t have a choice now. I can’t drink. If I were to, it would be the end of me,” he added. “I will never fully recover, I will always be an alcoholic, but I’m a recovering alcoholic.
“I am feeling better than ever and I’ve got a second chance at life.”
Although a regular candidate in elections, he is not standing in tomorrow’s (May 22) contest, concentrating on preparing for the visit of a Canadian film crew which is creating a television programme on the top 10 eccentrics in the world.
Lord Toby also is without a party to represent, having dropped out of the Raving Loony Party, set up by his friend Screaming Lord Sutch, due to its association with drinking.
He is also working on a biography – The Breaking and Making of Lord Toby Jug – due out next year.
“Alcoholism is genetic – it runs in families,” Lord Toby added. “It can skip generations, my sister and brother are not alcoholics, so hopefully my sons won’t get the disease.
“Most people don’t have a problem but it does affect a number of people. Alcohol is more addictive than heroin and it’s freely available. I’m not talking today for sympathy or pity. I’ve been thinking about publicly admitting I’m an alcoholic for a long time. It’s difficult as there is a stigma that goes along with it. But if I can stop, anyone can.”
INFORMATION: If you are worried about your alcohol intake contact the Gainsborough Foundation on 07709 141201 or www.gainsboroughfoundation.co.uk.