How Ramsay saved brother from heroin
Sun 1 May 2005
WHEN he first looked at the envelope, Gordon Ramsay could have had no inkling that its contents would change his life. But the correspondence inside would save the life of Ronnie, the brother he had lost to heroin addiction for the last eight years.
While Gordon had risen to become the star of the London culinary scene with his Michelin star restaurant empire, Ronnie was on the streets with no job, no fixed address, and no future. That letter changed everything. "I have my brother back," says Ramsay.
The writer was a former drug addict, working on a Voluntary Service Operation for the Red Cross in Bali after the 2002 bombing. He had a friend, a chef who admired Ramsay greatly. He had got to know a lot about Ramsay through this friend and decided to write to him about his addiction, telling him it had cost him everything that was important in his life. But he had survived. Reading between the lines, Ramsay guessed he might be the key to Ronnie’s survival too.
Ramsay employed the anonymous ex-drug addict to be a 24 hour a day, seven day a week buddy to his younger brother in a bid to help him overcome his addiction. Scotland on Sunday can reveal that Ronnie Ramsay is now free of drugs and working as a volunteer in the area devastated by the Southeast Asian tsunami.
In an exclusive interview, Ramsay says that Ronnie had undergone many failed attempts at rehab over the years and Ramsay knew they had to try something different.
After a detox programme at the "phenomenal" Clouds House in Wiltshire, he handed his brother over to the mentor whose qualification for the job was having beaten his own addiction. "They just went everywhere together and it worked," says Ramsay.
Just over a year ago, Ronnie was seven and a half stone and on the verge of self-destruction. Now, says Ramsay, he is a new man. "Ronnie’s confidence has come back, he’s got fit, doesn’t drink, has stopped smoking, his eyes are bright blue and he’s got a girlfriend now. It’s quite extraordinary listening to him on the phone. He’s like a different man. I can’t wait to see him."
It is five years since I first interviewed Gordon Ramsay and there have been several interviews since. Usually, I am not that keen to return to interviewees, but Ramsay is endlessly fascinating. He has immense personal energy but also interesting contradictions. His loud, belligerent, thick-skinned exterior has always encased a much more emotional inner centre. And one of the ways he has consistently revealed that is through his turbulent relationship with Ronnie.
Last time we spoke, Ramsay expressed his anger and frustration, but more especially his despair, over Ronnie. "I’m doing well and he’s doing f***ing terrible," he said then.
Gordon and Ronnie epitomised that potent cocktail of sibling love and rivalry that so often exists in families. "There was competition there," Gordon once told me. "Ronnie always had a bit of an inferiority complex because he’s smaller, but he was very broad and stocky. He was strong. He used to box and was a fearless goalkeeper. He said his nose was a lot better looking than mine because mine was fat and ugly."
Now Ronnie is well, I can ask the obvious question. Was Ronnie’s problem the fact that he was Gordon’s brother? "You know, I didn’t realise how hard it was for him until... He used to tell me how awful it was for him, me being successful, but I thought it was addict’s talk and I wasn’t really prepared to listen. I just blocked it out. But it’s fascinating... We were sitting at dinner and I had a glass of wine and he was drinking apple juice. He started saying, ‘You know your success has been hard to deal with,’ and I said, ‘What are you on about?’ He said, ‘It put me in hiding, made me hibernate.’
"He couldn’t talk about it because no one was listening, and he needed to talk as part of his therapy. I had to prepare myself. You don’t know that at the time..."
But, I tell Ramsay, I think subconsciously he DID know. In our last interview, his outburst of frustration about Ronnie came when I asked why he felt guilty about him. "Deep down inside, yeah, you do know," he acknowledges. "But deep down, f***ing hell, you don’t want to admit it, do you?" He knew he couldn’t stop being successful just because his brother wasn’t.
"You’ve got to sort of store it. I never got rid of it. It was always on the back burner. Every time I looked at a four-ring gas stove, I always imagined my little brother on the back ring, simmering away. You could never forget. You’d have to be a very callous, hard bastard in life to conclude that you can write off any member of your own family."
Ramsay’s success wasn’t Ronnie’s only problem. His father, who has been dead for six years, was violent to his mother. "It was down to Dad’s relationship breaking down with Mum that Ronnie started being affected. It wasn’t really his fault, my little brother’s." Ramsay is just glad to have been part of the solution. "I’m relieved that I was part of fixing it back. That’s where I get my comfort from. That eradicates the guilt."
Ronnie is about to sign on for another two years’ VSO and Ramsay believes it is the perfect therapy: rebuilding his own life by helping others to rebuild theirs. "It brings a sense of justice to his life."
A couple of weeks ago, Ronnie phoned asking for some simple food recipes. Ramsay recalls: "He said, ‘They’ve promoted me, I’m the cook now.’ I said, ‘Oh do me a favour.’ He said, ‘It’s not exactly your kitchen. It’s out of the back of a truck.’ I said, ‘You told me you were helping with carpentry and laying concrete foundations... It scares me that you’ve started to cook.’ He said, ‘It’s in the family.’" Ramsay laughs. "I’ve never had that sort of conversation with him before."
In February, when Ramsay was filming in the US, Ronnie returned briefly to Britain. Ramsay’s son, Jack, had been disappointed that in his dad’s absence he would miss his Saturday football. Uncle Ronnie took him instead. "Not only did he take Jack, but he took Megan and Matilda as well. Three of them. He took the car, went to football, got them an orange juice and muffin for breakfast. I’d never have thought it possible barely 13 months ago."
There is a new sense of delight replacing old despair when Ramsay talks of Ronnie. This last year has been special. The "transformation of Ronnie", he calls it. And there’s one other person Ramsay cares deeply about who is affected by this transformation. He always says how much he admires his mother for standing by her children in the face of her husband’s violence. And now he has been able to repay her by helping return one of those children to her.
"Mum said to me, ‘It’s like winning the lottery having my son back.’"