by Tanith Carey

Whenever someone shoots from relative obscurity to the stratosphere of fame, cash-in books are guaranteed to follow, as journalists scrabble through the cuttings libraries to cobble together unauthorised biographies before their subject falls back down to earth.

With Russell Brand, even the least diligent of researchers isn’t going to be stuck for material. The last year has seen him appear in almost every tabloid, almost every day. His womanising ways, druggie past and pantomime flamboyance make great copy – and on top of that, there’s his own frankness in talking about his mistakes and misdemeanours.

His lack of control has provided him with plenty of outrageous material for his stand-up show, and he’s always been equally open in talking about his actions to journalists, on TV and on his radio shows.

With such a glut of information, the latter chapters of Tanith Carey’s book – the first on the comic the tabloids have dubbed ‘the sextraterrestrial’ – is pretty familiar, as she recounts his liaison with Kate Moss, his run-ins with Rod Stewart and Bob Geldof, the shameful behaviour of his heroin-junkie days, and every kiss-and-tell to have appeared in newsprint since sleeping with Brand became a sure-fire way of making a few grand.

But this author has not been so lazy as to simply repeat every morsel of raunchy tittle-tattle; she has also delved into Brand’s less well-documented early years, piecing together the story that got him to where he is now.

Brand’s parents, Ron and Barbara, split just six months after he was born in Grays, Essex, on June 4, 1975. While he had an unbreakable bond with his mother, to whom he remains very close, Russell didn’t have a father figure in his formative years. He remembers Ron – the stereotypical Essex man - taking a cavalier attitude to the Saturdays they were meant to spend together, as he would be ‘set out in my little coat waiting for a man who never came’. Russell also never saw eye-to-eye with his stepfather Colin, a macho type. ‘I felt he hated me, this flouncy kid.’

There’s tales, too, of his sexual precociousness. At just six, he remembers an attractive female neighbour allowing him to remain in the room as she had a bath. She presumed his innocence, but Russell remembers thinking: ‘I know exactly what I am doing’. But it was not until he was 15 that he had his first girlfriend, who Carey has tracked down.

At this time Brand became bulimic – a rare condition in young boys, binging and throwing up to try to lose his puppy fat. He found, like so many who eventually become comedians, that larking about in class brought him popularity, and a sense of being in control. Recognising the potential, Barbara sent him to drama school, but after initial interest and a talent recalled by many teachers, Brand couldn’t be disciplined or focussed enough to be an actor, nor share the spotlight with others, and the course was never completed. It was a rare knockback on the road to the one high Brand has, seemingly, always craved above all others: fame.

Given this combination of ambition and ill discipline, no wonder he found an outlet in stand-up, requiring no collaborators and nothing more than a room above a pub to perform. He made it to the final of the 2000 Hackney Empire New Act Of The Year competition, but his unfocussed, overpowering rant landed him only fourth place. Agent Nigel Klarfeld of Bound And Gagged, however, spotted his potential and telegenic style, and subsequently signed him up.

His fledgling career is perhaps the most fascinating chapters of this book, including his digital TV show Re:Brand in which he put himself in extreme situations – from a rage-fuelled boxing bout with his father in an attempt to expel the demons of abandonment, to pleasuring a man in the toilets just to see whether you could ‘become’ gay.

But his drug use and sexual exploits spiralled out of control, turning to prostitutes for a quick fix, attending grim orgies in miserable tower blocks, and becoming a slave to heroin.

He was given a £250,000 budget to make a TV show, but lacked the focus or vision to imagine what he was doing – instead just assuming that pointing a camera at his bizarre shenanigans would make good television. It didn’t. And his sacking from MTV for showing up at work in the week of September 11, 2001, dressed as Osama Bin Laden is well documented, not least by Brand himself. At the Edinburgh Fringe, he was thrown out of the Gilded Balloon, damaging a glass door – and gashing his leg – in the process. He was thrown off the Steve Coogan special Cruise Of The Gods for his appalling behaviour. That lust for stardom was looking as if it would go unfulfilled.

But, with the help of a new agent, John Noel, he managed to avert his self-destructive descent before it reached the conclusion that would once have seemed inevitable. Perhaps it as just that his cravings for fame was ultimately stronger than his compulsions for drugs and women, and he cleaned up his act, reinvented his look into that of a louche, Gothic philanderer with a penchant for a Dickensian turn of phrase and landed a job hosting the Big Brother spin-off show initially called Eforum – and the rest we know.

Brand – or at least his people – are said to be unhappy with Carey’s book, and threatening legal action. It’s hard to see how they can be too upset at the content, which fleshes out stories Brand himself has been frank enough to discuss before.It’s a life story that makes a compelling story, allowing the vicarious enjoyment of outrageous anecdotes, and the dramatic highs and lows of a lost figure seeking answers in sex, drugs and comedy. (See, it really is the new rock and roll).

As the comic shows a determination to take his fame up into another league, this book is a good primer to the story so far. The legal threat may be because the publishers have stolen a march on Brand’s autobiography, due out later this year in time for the lucrative Christmas market. But while Carey is good on facts and background, she is never going to be able to capture the extremes of Brand’s life in the way a first-hand account will, relying instead on cod psychology.

Nonetheless, this book deserves its place on the bookshelf of any Russell Brand fan – or comedy fan, come to that. It’s more than just a celebrity cash-in, designed to part Brand’s youngish fan base with their cash, but a genuine attempt to tell his fascinating story.

Review by: Steve Bennett

Russell Brand by Tanith Carey is published by Michael O'Mara Books, priced £16.99. Click here to order from Amazon at £10.17.

Published: 18 Feb 2007

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