8 November 2023

Love, drugs and John Lennon’s hat: In conversation with Peter Doherty and Katia deVidas about their new film

A new documentary that follows Peter Doherty’s road to recovery from heroin addiction hits cinemas this week, HUNGER’s Devinder Bains sat down with the singer-songwriter and film director (and now wife) Katia deVidas to get the tea…

Is there anything we don’t already know about Pete Doherty? Or Peter as everyone is now calling him, I forget to ask him why but I fall into line and do the same. The musician and artist has lived his life in the public eye more than most and felt the full, brutal force of judgement from the mainstream media, having his battle with addiction splashed over the front pages, but a new documentary out this week, filmed and directed by his now wife Katia deVidas, offers a deeper understanding of The Libertines front man. 

In Peter Doherty: Stranger In My Own Skin, we get close-up and personal, we hear his darkest, heroin-induced, existential thoughts, we see him being fitted with an opiate-blocker in his stomach, glimpse a snapshot of time with his young son, all alongside his huge musical successes. We live the shambles before we follow his journey to recovery at Hope Rehab in Thailand. The documentary also offers subtle glimpses of a love story between deVidas and Doherty as they fall for each other over a ten-year period, in which she captured over 200-hours of footage.

We meet Doherty and deVidas at the Soho Hotel in London, they’ve driven overnight from their home in rural France with their baby daughter Billie-May in tow. They might be a bit tired with a long two days of plugging the film ahead (hence we only get 30-minutes for the interview and ten minutes for the shoot) but they’re both on good form and happy to answer everything frankly. Here’s how it went down… 

Photographer: Mark Field

Devinder Bains: For the Peter Doherty and Libertines fan who has read the books, watched the other documentaries and followed Pete’s career with a keen interest over the years – what can they expect that’s new, especially those who think they’ve seen everything already?

Katia deVidas: They’ll see the point of view of someone who didn’t know things from the past [deVidas started filming in 2006]. I was just hired as a camera woman for a job and so I just met someone who happens to be Peter and it was incredible, and we got along. I took some footage and after a few precious moments, I thought: ‘wow, I have some film there that can speak to a lot of people’.

Peter Doherty: Over the years, particularly during the period the documentary is set in, I used to do random YouTube recordings, like new songs, demos, I put them up a couple of minutes here and there, this gives you less of a presented moment and more of a snapshot of the everyday chaos. Although I am being filmed, a lot of the time it’s almost like I’m not. We spent so much time together with the cameras, a lot of the time I think I just forgot. I had so much trust and maybe I never thought it would become a real documentary. I really like the backstage stuff, maybe you don’t really see that often previously.

Bains: Peter’s just said that he didn’t think the footage would ever become part of a real documentary. What was your plan Katia? Did you think you might make a film?

deVidas: Not in the beginning. After a while, yes. I knew I was doing a film and I said it clearly, it was not like a hidden secret. But in the beginning, I think Peter is saying this because back then, he opened this door to a lot of people, he opened his door to film makers and nothing came out of it.

Doherty: Or it turned out to be a complete disaster. 

deVidas: Yeah, or it turned out to be a complete disaster. But I was into films. I loved films, it was my study. I worked in films. I love movies. So, after getting a few good precious moments, I knew I had a beautiful thing and so he just let me film, crossed his fingers and hoped it was gonna be a good one.

Bains: There’s a part in the film where Peter asks you to stop filming Katia, you say you’ve stopped but the camera keeps rolling and the scene has made it into the final cut. As a fan, I’m glad you kept it in, it shows Peter in a very raw and vulnerable place, talking about a very stressful time in his life ahead of a series of big Libertines gigs, he talks about his hope to survive long enough to watch the film when you’ve finished it, rather than have it played ‘the day after his funeral’. How do you feel about that part of the film now?

Doherty: At that moment, the reason that I said ‘stop filming’ was because I wanted to say something very specific. So weirdly, you get me insisting the camera’s off but you don’t get the thing I really want to say.

deVidas: I think you say it.

Doherty: I don’t make it clear. It was at a time when I had really bad debts with really bad people and I needed to do these Libertines gigs (to pay them off). And I was complaining basically about not being able to get the money in cash and upfront and it was gonna take six months. I didn’t want to just be moaning about money but I wasn’t well enough to do the Libertines gigs but I did them anyway because I needed the money, but I don’t think that comes over.

deVidas: That’s absolutely in there. Absolutely. 

Doherty: I just go ‘bang bang bang’ which I meant to mean ‘to pay debts’. I don’t actually say it.

deVidas: Clearly, you said that. Does he say it?

Bains: Honestly, I didn’t get that from watching it, I got Peter saying he’s too ill to be doing the show but he has to do it, I don’t remember him mentioning the debts. Now I know it’s about debts, it seems obvious. I mean, I’ve watched it once, two weeks ago – I could be wrong! I’ll watch that bit again.

deVidas: Yeah watch it again (laughs).

Doherty: You don’t get that from it, it doesn’t sound like I’m going on about money. Which is why I wanted the camera off.

(This light-hearted back and forth goes on for a while. For anyone who wants to know for sure exactly what is said – the scene is about 58 minutes into the documentary. As a clue: deVidas won’t be happy).

Bains: I was watching the trailer for the film again and there’s really positive responses, people commenting that they’re glad you survived and also people saying that they hope this is your happy ending. And how do you guys feel about that? Do you feel like this could be the happy ending?

deVidas: Obviously yes, but I also have too much knowledge of Peter’s illness to know that addiction is for life. The addiction is always going to be there even in ten years. So it’s a happy ending because he’s cleared of hard drugs but you know, the addiction is not gone. He still has it in him. So happy ending, yes, and happy ending – I need to be aware. 

Doherty: Happier ending.

Photographer: Mark Field

Bains: And why now for the film’s release? Were you waiting for this happier ending?

deVidas: It’s been done for a while, it’s just a coincidence it comes out now. I needed time to finish the film and time to try and sell the film during a pandemic!

Doherty: Katia’s a bit of a perfectionist as well I think. I think she quite enjoyed the editing process but it did take a long time [laughs]. Like the sound editing, I didn’t work on it but i would overhear conversations because a lot of it happened over the pandemic, I’d come in and it would be like week-long conversations about 10 seconds worth of sound, and I’d be like just fucking put it out! But they were like: ‘No, no, no’. And that was really like the work, those years of editing – which I can’t really understand…that level of detail.

deVidas: I was going to say it’s like you putting out a demo, but actually you love just putting out a rough demo (laughs).

Doherty: I think they were the best, those rough demos, they capture everything, the history. Katia likes to get everything just right. 

deVidas: You gave me so much trust and I wanted to honour that trust. You really opened a door for me then, as we weren’t together when I was filming. You gave me a lot of access and transparency and you have to honour that trust and do something that’s right, that’s to the point, that’s honest and raw and not forgo it, that takes time.

Bains: And you had free rein on the editing?

deVidas: I was editing alone and when I came to a two-hours-and-a-half rough cut, I thought this is the moment that I should show it to Peter.

Doherty: A few things had to come out, just some of the archive footage mainly, the small clips of songs that I’m playing acoustic cost about 30 grand to keep in, Johnny Cash had to go to, Trevor Sinclair’s overhead kick for QPR in the FA Cup had to go – BBC Sports wanted like 13 grand for six seconds.

Bains: Was there stuff that came out that wasn’t to do with licensing fees?

Doherty: Not from me.

deVidas: No. He is so easy going. He is so ‘this is me – like it or not’. Even when he gives an interview to people: ‘this is me – like it or not’. He’s taught me that you’ve got to not care what people think. That was a good life lesson babe –  thanks!

Bains: You weren’t together until much later in the documentary, and we only glimpse that when you hold hands on camera during Peter’s rehabilitation, but some people have actually described the film as a love story. What would you say to that?

deVidas: To me…no, but I hear that people say that and I get their point because we are as a growing team and a growing relationship. I like to be transparent and invisible in the field. But I understand why people are saying that. Peter, what do you think? Hello? Are you tired? 

(Doherty is reclining into the sofa)

Doherty: No no, I’m not tired, I was supposed to be fluttering my eyelids at you – not being tired (laughs). 

Bains: So in the documentary, you’re his friend, the filmmaker, and now you’re his wife, what have been the biggest challenges. and now what are the biggest rewards, in seeing everything through?

deVidas: Biggest rewards are a beautiful life, with a beautiful daughter, beautiful dogs, beautiful husband, he makes me laugh every day. And the challenges…

Doherty: How long you got left? (laughs)

Bains: Do you feel that you’ve changed, Peter?

Doherty: I don’t think I have changed so much. Maybe I’m just without this forcefield or whatever you want to call it – the heroin. I’m just more receptive to other ways of living. Missing out on things, seeing clips of me and my son as a five-year-old, that’s quite hard to watch. I can see myself, it’s really quite heartbreaking, I see myself and I’m trying to be there, but I’m not really there, always got one eye on something else. So that’s changed.

Bains: So, you’ve learned some lessons…

Doherty: I could never live like that again. Aside from the psychological and emotional things to do with drugs, the physical effects became so heavy, you just can’t keep up that level of toxins, just can’t keep up with that level of abuse.

Bains: Talking of change, you live in France now and seem very happy but what do you miss about Britain?

Doherty: It’s not a particular thing, but I just know that when I come back, I get like a Ready Brek glow in my stomach. It’s hard to define.

Photographer: Mark Field

Bains: What don’t you miss?

Doherty: See, if I go into a bar or cafe, I like to sit down, just drink my coffee and read the paper, that’s my idea of a good time these days, it’s kind of difficult to do that in Margate or in London. But the truth is, when I was here that’s not what I wanted, I wasn’t looking for a quiet life, I was looking for the next adventure. I don’t know what I’d be like in England being clean, I don’t know if I could do it, I can get overstimulated quite easily, carried away. So, it’s best just for now, not to put myself in that situation because most the time I was using, I didn’t do it to make myself miserable, I was getting something from it, some sort of weird camaraderie you get from using – especially in England where It’s a proper scrap just to get in five minutes of quality time. So, just different types of quality time for me now, family and dogs and quiet newspaper reading in the cafe.

Bains: The Libertines have a new album incoming (All Quiet on the Eastern Esplanade is out next March), how did you guys decide what you sound like after so many years…

Doherty: For the first Libertines albums we had the songs all written, they came very quickly to me and Carl and we would just teach them to the band who would do the music, this time was very different, we had the bones of songs and then we had to go in the studio and do the writing there, which we had never done before. Carl was insisting on it being a drug-free, alcohol-free environment, which was pretty stressful for me at that time but we did it, we got some amazing songs – we put a lot into this new album. Now I think about it, we gave it everything, I didn’t want to just make it half-arsed, as I get the impression now that Carl thinks the third album wasn’t as good as it could have been.

Bains: Yeah I read that, but I love that album.

Doherty: I know! It shocked me as well. So, we really tried to raise the game and maintain standards too, so I ended up giving a couple of songs that I had planned to use myself and I think he did the same with songs I think he was going to keep hold of too – so it was a real collaboration.

Bains: Ok, I’ve been told to hurry up by your team, I have time for a couple of readers’ questions. What’s your favourite theme tune?

Doherty: Ahh that’s impossible to answer…

(deVidas starts humming the tune to Hancock’s Half Hour)

Doherty: Yeah, that’s immediately what comes to mind, Tony Hancock – so beautiful, but there’s so many, The Likely Lads theme tune (Doherty breaks into song), then there’s Minder, Only Fools and Horses, I love all those sitcoms, Rising Damp, Steptoe and Son. They’re eternal melodies.

Bains: That Old school Britishness! So, what’s the most common thing people say to you on the street?

deVidas: You’re so tall.

Doherty: Or you’re taller than I thought, I’m not even that tall (he later tells me he’s 6ft 1 and a half).

deVidas: He also gets: ‘you look a lot like Peter Doherty’.

Doherty: Yeah Yeah, I get that a lot in France, in fact I get ‘you’re a tall version of Peter Doherty’. But mostly where I live in the village, most people just say, ‘Hello Peter, how is Katia?’ It’s usually one of her cousins or uncles because her whole family is there.

Photographer: Mark Field

Bains: Ok, next one, name a high profile friend that people will be surprised that you know.

Doherty: Jane Birkin – I know she’s dead. Catherine Deneuve.

deVidas: You met Paul McCartney and you’ve got John Lennon’s Hat…

Doherty: Oh yeah I have got John Lennon’s hat and sometimes when I have it on, I can feel his spirit guiding me, like ‘turn left here’ ‘no no U-turn’.

Bains: How did you get John Lennon’s hat? Bought it? Stole it?

Doherty: No no – from his son.

Bains: How do you feel about fashion in general? Do you enjoy picking clothes, do you like certain brands or are you just putting on whatever you want?

Doherty: All of the above. I just love the dandy element of British culture, from the Wildean dandies, and the Dilly Boys to the Suedeheads – I love it all. And freebies are always good, it’s always nice to get freebies off people that you respect like these boots I’ve got on, or if Celine and Dior are offering anything nice. Or if you’re doing a shoot, it’s always nice to nick something from them. And then just random second hand designer clothes shops, markets, flea markets, all fake fur, braces, cravats. big hats – although you can’t fight in big hats.

Bains: That’s still your style as it’s always been really isn’t it?

Doherty: Yeah, it’s strange because you can’t deny the fashion world can be a really superficial place and yet, I do believe that you can tell a lot about someone’s soul from the way they carry themselves in what they wear, I do believe that sometimes more so than after an hour long conversation.

Bains: A person that you’d like to collaborate musically with, that you haven’t already? 

Doherty: Hak Baker. I have tried to collab with him but we haven’t recorded anything yet because he’s so mad busy at the moment, at some point I’d like to do it properly with him.

Photographer: Mark Field

Bains: A lot of our readers are really struggling with the cost of living, what would be your advice to them as would-be musicians, artists and filmmakers?

Doherty: They’re going to have to scrap like hell and boot in as many doors as they can, it can take years but if they really believe in themselves and what they’re doing, I don’t want to make promises, but it will come. Just keep scrapping, these are difficult times but there’s still a squatting culture out there, if you’re really strapped, they’re being really lenient with shoplifters now as well I think. Just crack on with what you’re doing. Networking and career plans are all very well but you’ve just got to focus on what you’re doing, whether it’s writing, designing – just get stuck in.

deVidas: I agree, you have to put your heart and soul into it, you have to work, work, work. Talent is not enough, its talent and work, work, work. Stick to it and just crash where you can, stay at home if you can for as long as possible.

Bains: One last thing, I’ve just ordered Swansea to Hornsey (the mostly autobiographical debut novel) by Trampolene front man Jack Jones, someone you’ve toured with a lot…

Doherty: Oh my god yeah! It’s unbelievable! I heard it when he first wrote it, I heard the rough edits because he read them aloud to me when we were driving on long journeys but now that it’s been edited, not that it wasn’t good before, it’s really come alive. It’s amazing, it’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, it’s a stark portrayal of growing up in Swansea on the welfare state. It’s about Jack’s amazing, weird, fucked up childhood but at the same time it’s very funny as well.

Bains: You were obviously really taken with this book because you’ve actually set up Strap Originals to publish it right?

Doherty: Yeah! It’s our first venture into the dog eat dog world of publishing. I go on stage with that book now, the tour I just did in France I took it on stage, I mean no one knew what I was talking about, but I said: ‘When you learn english, read this book!’ I always wanted to be involved in books.

Bains: Well we look forward to seeing a Peter’s Book Club, like the Richard and Judy one.

Doherty: Yeah yeah yeah! 

Peter Doherty: Stranger In My Own Skin, directed by Katia deVidas, will be released in UK cinemas from November 9, 2023. Watch the trailer here

  • Writer Devinder Bains
  • Photographer Mark Field

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