From a present-day Newcastle hero to a former Geordie great. What to do with – or without – Paul Gascoigne was the question posed by the Channel 4 documentary ‘Surviving Gazza’ (initially entitled ‘Saving…’ until, predictably, that didn’t happen).
Monday’s 80-minute programme observed the perennially “troubled” ex-footballer’s erstwhile wife Sheryl and her children as they continue to struggle to cope with the hopes for, and fears of, a man hell-bent on self-destruction.
Eyebrows were raised earlier this year when the divorcee and her children appeared to be helping ‘Gazza’ back to health after he’d been sectioned under the Mental Health Act, a la Frank Bruno, having been cited as a danger to himself more than others.
Some will simply surmise that Mrs Gascoigne is cashing in on his enduring misery and infamy, and that her glamour model daughter Bianca, 22, is doing likewise, keeping a name that was never theirs for starters – an accusation aimed at two of the many loves of the late George Best.
However, while one-sided (it had to be after Gascoigne, whose idea it was in the first place, did another disappearing act) the story of a happy home that quickly turned to turmoil, and is still a house of pain a decade on, came across on screen as genuinely heartfelt, and heart-rending.
Gascoigne’s long-drawn-out demise from soccer superstar to alcoholic/drug addict and disorder sufferer extraordinaire has been traumatic to watch, even from a distance. With the television cameras in tow it was an understated exhibition of the sheer emotional wreckage one man can wreak.
Thanks to Gascoigne’s chaotic lifestyle, he’s helped create a clearly dysfunctional family: his 12-year-old son Regan, having had no relationship to speak of, other than watching him at his sick, sickening worst, seeing him as a nuisance, best kept at a safe distance; his step-kids, remembering the few good times, unable to let go of the past.
His adopted son Mason, 19, refused to give up hope until he realised after a final angry confrontation with a ravaged Gascoigne in Portugal that they’d done as much as they could.
The tragic reality is that barring some minor miracle, ‘poor Paul’ (and, for all his faults, he is that) is headed for a fate similar to, if not worse, than Best, the man he’s been most compared to: not for their skills, but rather their ills, compounded in each case by countless double-measures of regret for what might have been, had it not been for the drink. “I’m bored with life,” an addled Gazza said on screen. But not bored with the bottle, oh no.
Georgie had a lot more going for him than Gascoigne – higher intelligence, a steady, seemingly loving long-term relationship, a new liver – and yet he still succumbed to his terminable psychological weakness when it came to alcohol. His death was excruciating and, for all the eulogies, mortifying.
Gascoigne has been diagnosed with more mental and medical problems than a team of experts could cope with, never mind one man of brittle body and will left to his own devices. Not to mention his best friend Jimmy ‘Five Bellies’. He’s tried and tried and tried, but failed miserably in the end. And it’s almost always someone else’s fault, no matter how many offers of help and forgiveness he’s been handed.
Paul McGrath, touch wood, has turned his life around. But you never know. For now the Irish Paul is in a better place. The English one is still tormented, as his oldest son says, “on death row”, though he’ll still take his call if he rings in 30 years’ time.
Less optimistic, his youngest child sees his drunken dad as a helpless case and acknowledges “he’s probably going to die soon.” Sadly few would bet against it, even if Gascoigne claims to recognise he’s in the “last chance” saloon. Entering rehab in the south of England yet again, he told The Sun (who else): “I know I can’t have another drink or it’ll kill me.” We’ve heard it all before, Paul. And how many times did Bestie say the same?
In agreeing to being fly-on-the-wall fodder, the family were possibly at their wits end, hoping that it just might bring him to his distorted senses. He sees Sheryl’s motives in terms of money, claiming, improbably, that she’s cost him £17m over the years (she says the settlement was £600,000); presumably, to his mixed-up mind, more than compensating for the beatings and anguish he’s put them through.
Gascoigne said last week he wouldn’t be watching the programme, and, of Regan’s participation, reckons “It’s a disgrace to use a child like that.”
It’s a disgrace to abuse a child like he has too.