Britain’s The Guardian published a curious but poignant article last Friday on the motives of the rampaging youths who, hidden under hoodies and face masks, pillaged, torched and murdered their way last week to center stage in the UK. Poignant because of its tone, which was not only more personal but in many ways more comprehensible than so much else published about the events. And curious because of its byline: Russell Brand – a figure most people associate with the gossip media.
"I often attended protests and then, in my early 20s, and on drugs, I enjoyed it when the protests lost direction and became chaotic, hostile even,” wrote Brand, who was born and raised in one of the very neighborhoods that exploded last week.
He went on to explain that he “was intrigued by the anarchist ‘Black bloc,’ hooded and masked, as, in retrospect, was their agenda, but was more viscerally affected by the football ‘casuals’ who'd turn up because the veneer of the protest's idealistic objective gave them the perfect opportunity to wreck stuff and have a row with the Old Bill [police].”
Russell Brand is the guy with the crazy, in-your-face camera persona, husband of singer Katy Perry, star of the Hollywood comedy “Get Him to the Greek.” That Brand, when he wants to, actually has something to say is something most people would never have suspected.
When he first started to get noticed, as an MTV host in 2000, the English tabloids didn’t even have to start digging up his past to come up with dirt on the provocative metrosexual. Brand himself rubbed it under everybody’s nose in his strong Essex accent, stopping at nothing.
And since the publication of his autobiography, “My Booky Wook,” four years ago, surely everything that could possibly be said about the self-described narcissist has been said, including the fact he claims never to have Googled anything other than his own name (at this writing, a Google UK search brings his name up 43 million times).
That’s 20 times more hits than “Grays,” where he was born, but a fifth of the results that come up if you enter a search for superstar pop singer Katy Perry, Brand’s wife. If you want to get some kind of handle on the hirsute phenomenon that is Russell Brand, the place to look is between those two poles.
One striking thing is that Brand’s biography is so laced with trauma that the “privileges” he mentions are difficult to fathom.
Brand was born in the eastern part of England in the summer of 1975, the only child of a couple who divorced the following winter. He grew up with his mother, who suffered from uterine cancer, then breast cancer, and later lymphatic cancer. When he was seven years old, a teacher abused him sexually. He tried LSD, amphetamines and Ecstasy at a very young age, and during puberty was manic depressive and suffered from bulimia. His father, with whom he maintains contact to this day, took him along to the places he frequented, ranging from soccer games to whorehouses.
When he was 15 years old, Brand appeared in a theater play put on at his school. His talent was so patently visible that he was offered a scholarship to the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London. However, because of drug use, he was soon kicked out. A second attempt at acting school – the Drama Centre in London – failed because, after Brand was criticized for a performance, he self-harmed by cutting his torso with the shards of a broken glass.
After being expelled, Brand made the rounds as stand-up comedian, host, actor, Guardian columnist and writer. During those years, he lived in a lot of areas that periodically broke out in violence.
In an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung, Brand was very open about his different career failures. Also very much in evidence was his often borderline humor. "I lost my job at MTV, because on September 12, 2001, I appeared on-screen dressed as Osama bin Laden," he explained. Another time, he was fired for making fun of a guest’s wife, who had recently undergone surgery.
Astonishingly, despite all this, Brand kept getting new jobs. He somehow managed to charm fans and critics alike with his blend of chat and cleverness and mainly his openness. And it was exactly those three qualities that made his take on the UK riots as approachable and moving as it is – much like his homage to Amy Winehouse that also appeared in The Guardian three weeks ago.
If Brand’s past is one of controversy, it’s also one of obsession: with himself, sex, and a medley of substances. Heroin and alcohol used to be part of his daily routine, privately and at work. Once he brought his dealer to the MTV studio to meet singer Kylie Minogue. His agent finally got him to go to rehab where he managed to get clean.
Later he also went to rehab for sex addiction, apparently with somewhat less successful results. Thanks to a plethora of one night stands, orgies with strippers, hookers and B-list celebrities, and an affair with Kate Moss, he managed from 2006 through 2008 – three years running -- to win the “Shagger of the Year” award handed out by the British tabloid The Sun. (Since then, the distinction has officially been known as "The Russell Brand Shagger of the Year Award.")
So when he hit Hollywood five years ago, the 6’2’’ Englishman was expected to behave like something of a tragic clown. But the opposite seems to have happened – he’s mellowed. He no longer goes to parties, doesn’t drink, doesn’t do drugs, and doesn’t sleep around. He calls his mother daily. It sounds kinda dull. "Actually, I don’t have a lot of reasons to get off the couch.” But if his bourgie life means that Brand gets around to writing stuff like the articles published of late in The Guardian (and also on his blog www.russellbrand.tv), then hats off to his new sofa-based reality.
Brand doesn’t excuse what happened in Britain. But equally unacceptable would be not to search for answers, he says. “Unless on the news tomorrow it's revealed that there's been a freaky ‘criminal creating’ chemical leak in London and Manchester and Liverpool and Birmingham that's causing young people to spontaneously and simultaneously violate their environments – in which case we can park the ol' brainboxes, stop worrying and get on with the football season, but I suspect there hasn't – we have, as human beings, got a few things to consider together.”
Read the original article in German