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24-hour party pooper; MADCHESTER WILDMAN SHAUN RYDER ON WHY HE'S DITCHED HARD DRUGS FOR FRUIT SMOOTHIES.

Byline: EXCLUSIVE By CLAIRE DONNELLY

TAKING the longest drag on a cigarette I've ever seen, Shaun Ryder puts down his beer and sighs.

"The problem is that I've got a f***ing big image to get rid of. I've always been seen as a druggie and it's very hard changing that.

"Kids still think I'm their age - they're always offering me drugs and accusing me of being false when I don't do them.

"I'm like, 'That was 20 years ago, mate, now f*** off before I pull your head off'."

Smiling through stained teeth that betray two decades of larging it, he adds: "I've had enough, to be honest. My partying has come to an end - it took a while to wind down but it's over.

"I like walking and going sledging on the hills - that's my life now."

There was a time when it would have been hard to imagine Manchester's original 24 Hour Party Person ever settling down.

But I'm seeing it with my own eyes as Shaun, now 41, sits in his local country pub, pointing out the hills where he showed his two-year-old son snow for the first time and telling me how friendly the staff are here.

As the frontman of scally band the Happy Mondays, swaggering Shaun set the standard for Madchester's drug-fuelled excesses, with top-selling albums such as Pills 'N' Thrills And Bellyaches.

Fame afforded the group the kind of lifestyle they had dreamed of - swanky hotels, tasty women and an unlimited supply of Ecstasy, heroin and crack cocaine.

For 15 years, the party rumbled on, then 12 months ago everything went wrong and Shaun hit bottom.

Unable to earn any money because of a legal dispute with his former managers - at the moment, every penny he makes is claimed by them - he fell out with everyone, including his dad Derek and brother Paul, and was forced to confront his drug problems head on.

AFTER three years on the road with the reformed Mondays, he turned up at his cousin Pete's house in Perth, Western Australia, strung out and skint.

"I was f***ed," he explains. "I was falling back into that trap - doing cocaine, drinking too much.

"The first year on tour it was fun. After two, I was shaky and by the third I knew it had to stop."

Shaun spent time in rehab and rediscovering music in his cousin's home studio before coming back to England to start again.

When I ask about his mental state at that time he goes quiet. Squirming, he admits he was depressed but is reluctant to give anything else away.

"I just needed to chill out," he mumbles. "It was, you know... hard."

Thankfully, things are easier now. Although he has to rely on friends and family to pay his living expenses and the pounds 465 rent on his terraced house, he seems to have found the domestic normality he missed out on for so long.

Living with partner Felicia, 26, and two-year-old Joseph, in Hadfield, near Glossop, Derbys - where the League Of Gentlemen series was filmed - he spends his time socialising with neighbour and old band mate Bez and touches nothing stronger than cannabis and beer.

His girlfriend doesn't smoke or drink and he credits her with helping him adjust to life off hard drugs.

"She's very sensible. She's a good Catholic and believes in doing things the right way.

"She doesn't care about showbiz or parties and that's what I need. Unfortunately, she worries a lot - mainly about my health." It's not surprising really, though after years of battering his body, Shaun looks in OK shape. And the trademark cocky grin is still there - especially as he recalls his drug-fuelled past.

HE says he became involved with drugs long before he got into the music business. "I grew up in Little Hulton, Salford. It was rough and drugs were a way of life there.

"We really were 24 Hour Party People but I believed that drugs were a way of making life better and that when mine was going well, I'd stop.

"When the band took off I said I wasn't going to need drugs any more but, what I didn't realise was that once you're hooked, you're hooked."

At their height, the band were blowing a fortune on their recreational pursuits.

Stories of flying to Rio to score cocaine and turning squaddies on to Ecstasy helped shape the Mondays myth.

"We had everything. We made our first million and lived in style. We'd look for a hotel and think, 'Madonna stays here, we'll have this.' I didn't miss out on anything because of the drugs - I was still waterskiing and snowboarding on crack. Heroin didn't make me sit in a corner..."

But by the time the band split in 1993, Shaun was addicted to crack and smack and at loggerheads with his bandmates.

"It all fell to bits because, apart from me and Bez, they turned into pop stars," he sneers. "We were always seen as the druggies of the band but the others were doing it too. In the end they said, 'We'd rather be on the dole than work with Shaun and Bez.' And that's what happened. They split the band, then realised they'd made a big mistake."

EVEN Shaun's relationship with his guitarist brother Paul didn't survive. "We don't get on at all," he says. "My brother has severe problems - that's all I've got to say."

In the years that followed the break-up, Shaun started a new band, Black Grape, and had two daughters - Jael, 13, with Trish McNamara, and Coco, 10, with folk singer Donovan's daughter, Oriole Leitch.

In 1995 he had a No.1 album with It's Great When You're Straight... Yeah! Two years later, he had stomach implants to get him off heroin and methadone.

As he says: "When you've been using heroin since you were 16 it doesn't happen overnight. It took me three years to even be able to speak to people."

IN the same year, he sacked his Black Grape managers, Gloria and Nik Nicholl, who then successfully sued him for unfair dismissal.

Ryder was left with a pounds 250,000 bill - everything he has earned since then goes straight to them. "If I keep anything I go to prison," he says, getting agitated. "I've had to live off nothing."

Shaun is fighting to overturn the order but, in the meantime, has to rely on handouts. His struggle is followed in a new BBC documentary, which also shows the fallen star's attempts to reinvent himself.

Shaun, who uses fruit smoothies to boost his vitamin intake and Rennies to beat his heartburn, finds it hard to live down the past.

"I'm going on 42 and my life has changed," he shrugs. "If you look at people like Jagger and McCartney, they did drugs and were jailed, and now they've been honoured. No one gives them s***.

"I don't regret anything - we had an image but that was then."

Now Shaun is going back to his roots - making music without the showbiz baggage that got in his way before. "I never wanted to be famous as such," he says.

"I was never comfortable being a frontman but it had to be done. When I do it without drugs now I find it tough. I haven't done anything without drugs before.

"But I'm starting other stuff now, producing bands and Bez's first solo single.

"It's come full circle. At the start, we were mates doing music, then there was all this rubbish about being pop stars and drugs. Now I'm doing music again."

WHEN we go outside to take pictures, Shaun calls me over to a muddy field where he's being nuzzled by a friendly horse.

"Here y'are," he shouts. "You can get a picture of me here. He knows me - I usually have carrots for him.

"It'll be a good photo this. Shaun Ryder in the countryside. My life now. Great."

As I head off to my car, I look back to see Shaun ambling off up a country lane, beer and ciggie in hand.

Let's hope this time it really will be great when he's straight.

Shaun Ryder - The Ecstasy And The Agony, is on BBC3, February 15, 9pm.

CAPTION(S):

LEGEND: Mondays' frontman; COOL: Shaun as pop pin-up; COUNTRY GENT: Shaun likes the quiet life Picture: Andrew Stenning; LARGING IT: With DJ Chris Evans
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 9, 2004
Words:1402
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