Originally appeared in The Sunday Times Magazine in May 1998
We know the details: he was naked, he was hanging from a hotel door. But we could not imagine what drove a man who seemed to have everything – fame, fortune, a woman and baby daughter he loved – to take his own life. Here, for the first time, is the chain of events that pushed Michael Hutchence over the edge.
NEVER TEAR US APART
Sydney, November 22, 1997. It is 11.45 am. On the fifth floor of the Ritz Carlton hotel, a chambermaid is having trouble. Even with a master key she cannot get into suite 524, where a heavy object is banging against the back of the door. When she uses all her strength to force her way in, the body of a man, naked except for a belt around his neck, crashes to the carpet. Michael Hutchence, 37, looks vacantly towards the ceiling. His face is blue and he appears to have hanged himself.
The hanging is a grotesque puzzle. There is no chair behind the door, and no feature in the ceiling that would bear a person’s weight. It turns out that the belt was attached to the door- closing mechanism, just above the frame and not much higher than the adult’s head, until the maid’s final thrust broke the buckle away.
The dead rock star is now on his knees. He is surrounded by photographs of his partner, Paula Yates. Also on the floor are his bed sheets, next to pills and empty glasses. When the news breaks, the suspicion is that this is a sexual act gone wrong. Was he trying to deprive himself of oxygen? It looks as likely as suicide. There is no note, and at dinner the night before he had shown no signs of despair. Although worried about a court hearing, the singer was bubbly. ‘Vintage Michael’, his father says.
A darker tone is sounded by Yates as she flies from London to her partner’s body. Drinking champagne on the 22-hour trip, and so distressed that she may not know what she is saying, she blames the death on her ex-husband, Sir Bob Geldof. ‘That bastard killed Michael’, she says. Tears roll uncontrollably as she wanders up and down the plane, until cabin crew lead her away. Eventually, a coroner rules that the hanging is suicide.
Four weeks later: London, December 19. One of the dead singer’s friends, a godparent to his daughter, Tiger, meets a writer for this magazine. She wants an investigative journalist to inquire into his death. Her eyes have the puffy pink of fresh bereavement, but I am uncertain whether to trust her.
I know that Yates and Geldof are in dispute over their three daughters. If I take on the story, and find evidence that reflects badly on Geldof, it may affect the court case, and no writer wants to be used. But the friend says two intriguing things. She admits with affection, that Yates is not the most reliable witness, and that in her grief over her partner she is sometimes unable to distinguish fantasy from fact. The friend seems objective, and her motive for the approach is interesting: it is what Hutchence wanted.
For more than a year, she says, he urged her to publish an account of his suffering, a campaign she did her best to ignore. One Sunday in March 1997, he made it impossible to refuse. “I was sitting on the bed,” she says, “Playing with Tiger and chatting to her parents. “Do you have a pen,” Michael asked. “And a notebook?.” He began dictating a list of witnesses and events he considered crucial to the story. She remained unenthusiastic. She had no idea he would kill himself. Now she lives with the guilt. And so we agree to work together: the insider and the outsider, one who loved Hutchence and a stranger whose task is to see if there is really a tale to be told. Later, other friends say that if this material had been published earlier, the singer might still be alive. Nobody can know that; but these are the events he wanted described.
Hutchence longed to make public the truth behind the famous drug bust, in which police found opium in the home he shared with Paula, Tiger and the Geldof girls, leading to a sense of persecution from which he never recovered. He believed the drugs were planted. He thought a former friend of Paula’s had publicized the police raid, to increase the damage; one of his inner circle later speculated that this friend might even have killed her nanny to stop her from revealing what she knew.
The whole story sounds unlikely; the bust was in September 1996; no charges were brought. Why would a rock star who once admitted taking heroin, and for whom recreational drugs were routine, be so affected by a police raid that he killed himself 14 months later? And what’s this about murdered nannies? Before going further, however, let us cleanse the mind of caricatures.
This is what you think you know about Michael Hutchence. He was the lead singer of INXS, an Australian band that at its peak could fill Wembley Stadium but was now in decline. He did drugs. He hit photographers. He was addicted to casual sex. At one time he took so much ecstasy and invited so many girls into the back of the INXS van that the group almost fell apart. He died in a sexual experiment that went wrong.
You would not know that he was shy and gullible in a way Mick Jagger, say, would never be. That he was still exploring his potential, working hard on a solo album while a career in Hollywood beckoned. It is true about the sex, or it was when he was younger, and about the temper. Yet, he had so little confidence he sometimes needed telling he was handsome enough to go out. He cried a lot, especially toward the end. He doted on his baby to a degree some found embarrassing. According to Yates – whom he really loved, even if at times he wanted to escape – he feared that nobody liked him.
That was bound to appeal to her. Here is her portrait of a man she once adored: “I just sat in the flat in Chelsea daydreaming about him; he had lost his mother when he was only six, which made me feel maternal, and he had these long, skinny legs, which I didn’t. I think it was the chaos in [his] childhood that drew us together in the first place; I wanted to have a perfect family and he wanted a real home, as he hadn’t really had one…”
It was Geldof, but the words could describe her reaction to Hutchence; the defining moment in the Australian’s early years was when his mother took him without warning to live in Hollywood, leaving his brother Rhett, who was close in age, with a family friend at the airport. Hutchence would later relate how his pleading brother slid down the airport glass, saying, “Mummy, I’ll be good for ever.” Their father, who knew nothing about the split until Rhett telephoned in tears, confirms that the story is true. Rhett became a heroin addict. Michael’s legacy was a vulnerability that, when combined with his talent as a performer and the way his crotch filled his trousers, exerted a pull Yates found irresistible.
The INXS star was building a family with Yates in a manner that would have surprised his Australian friends, whose understanding is rooted in an earlier part of his life. “When you’re a rock star, you can have all the sex kittens you want,” says Josephine Fairley, a Londoner who witnessed the relationship from the beginning; “What you don’t have is the home life. And when you’ve had a dysfunctional family like he has, a family is the sexiest thing of all. It’s what you crave”.
The union with Yates was sexually charged. She also had a maternal role, buoying him against his insecurities and teasing him into lighter moods. Sometimes it was turbulent: they could argue spectacularly, and at times he found it claustrophobic. By the end, under huge strain from outside, they were both close to madness.
But they were trying to make a family together. That is, Michael was trying to make a family with Paula. Nobody was forcing him to do this; it was his choice; even now, nearly six months after his death, it is something no outsider has recognized. Hutchence is fixed in the imagination as the wild man of rock. That is the perception that sells records. It has truth in it – he was not a complete softie – but it is not the whole story of any 37-year-old man.
What happened in the home of Yates and Hutchence is the key to understanding what happened in suite 524. For a moment, then, suspend your disbelief, and pretend that part of Michael Hutchence, the raiser of hell, wanted a family. Pretend, just for a moment, that he was your friend who is a first-time dad, or your father or your son.
This is going to be intimate, so it is time for first names. Paula and Bob were together 18 years, and for 12 there was a picture of Michael on the marital fridge. Now and then, Paula had to get a new photograph, as Bob would write “c…”on his rival’s forehead. But he was not too concerned. Paula was always having crushes. True, this one had lasted for years, since she interviewed the INXS singer for The Tube, but such passions were part of her.
By 1993 the marriage was in trouble. On Christmas Day, nine months before the meeting with Michael that was to give her the courage to leave her husband, Paula sat in the car of an old friend and talked for an hour and a half about wanting to separate. “We went over all the reasons why she should and why she should not leave,” says Josephine Fairley, who advised her not to go. “The ‘anti were that the world would hate her because she’d abandoned Saint Bob, and that she wouldn’t find anybody [a partner] to take on three kids. And that Bob would make her life miserable.” Fairley, who knew the couple as well as anyone, saw Bob as a Victorian figure who tried to control his wife and disliked her spending money. But she had no doubt he loved her. “He’s always been obsessed with her,” she says. “I don’t think he ever really envisaged a future without her. I honestly believe he would take her back tomorrow.”
The pain of losing Paula was made worse by needless betrayal. She and Michael bruised Bob in ways they could have avoided. They made love in places that were special to him, such as a particular room of the Chilston Park Hotel in Kent. Part of the affair was conducted at home, in front of his children. One evening Anita Debney, the family nanny, went pale as the youngest gave the liaison away. “Daddy,” Bob was told on the telephone, “Mummy’s been kissing Michael in your bed.” In February 1995 Mummy moved out, taking the three girls and leaving a two-line note on the mantelpiece. She told Bob nobody else was involved, only to be photographed with Hutchence at a London hotel days later.
It can’t have been easy for Geldof. Soon the man on the fridge was playing father to his daughters. In this, Hutchence confounded all expectations, as most people imagined he would have wild sex with Paula and then vanish. “He absolutely adored them,” Fairley says. “He gave them time their father never gave them. Bob would come home and turn inward: he’d go to his office or play his guitar. He would not get down on the carpet with Barbie and Ken and act out Brief Encounter, as Michael did from the beginning. And he showered them with gifts. I remember a consignment of dresses from America. Real princess dresses that he sent soon after they started the relationship, for the girls.”
Press interest was intense. In March 1995 the lovers were tracked to a hotel – the Chilston Park – where they came down for dinner unaware that journalists had booked every table around them. When they checked out, photographers blocked their path. The rock star lost his temper and threw himself into them, earning a conviction for assaults, a £400 fine and a following among the paparazzi, who knew that a picture of the singer getting violent would sell. They did their best to provoke one.
Nothing was now private. Newspapers and magazines printed pictures of the couple’s routines: trips to the shops, the delivery of a take-away meal, the run to school. Rubbish bags were torn open in the hunt of insights into their life together. For her 38th birthday, Michael gave Paula the present she wanted more than any other: an 8ft fence to keep the press out. The intrusions never went away. Even when he died, and Paula was in Sydney, friends found footprints at the top of the tall gate that protects the entrance to their home in Chelsea. And somebody had managed to fish the post out of the letter box and open it, no doubt hoping for a suicide note.
Hutchence was not the real target of the press barrage, although he was the one it hurt. The flak that punctured him was aimed at Yates. Her decision to walk out on the hero of Live Aid and take up with a “rabid dingo” (Daily Mirror) secured the loathing of liberal and tabloid columnists alike. She offended tabloid sensibilities by being older, shorter and less attractive than Helena Christensen, the supermodel Hutchence left for her. Commentators on the broadsheets noted Paula’s failure to age quietly, the breast implants and tight dresses, and accused her of betraying feminism. Here is Barbara Ellen on The Observer: “Yates’ biggest public relations problem is that, she is, to use the taxi driver vernacular, ‘a bit of a stupid cow.’ A consummate self-publicist, with no common sense or dignity to speak of, she has been wandering the corridors of showbiz in too-tight/too young clothes too damn long now to merit anything like automatic respect. What after all, can one say in defense of a woman who started out as a groupie and went downhill from there? In many ways, she is a born loser. Even when she did Penthouse, she ended up looking as sad and badly-lit as a Reader’s wife. And those ‘post-Bob’ new breasts. Oh Paula, Paula, Paula…”
Although surprised by the intensity of the feeling against her, Yates was better at dealing with it. She was at home. Hutchence, a foreigner, was baffled. When GQ magazine put a near-naked shot of his ex-girlfriend on the cover with the words, “Seriously, would you trade her in for Paula Yates?” he exploded. “Do you not realize what damage this does to Paula?” he demanded. “She’s already her own worst critic and this reinforces it.”
Much of what was written was untrue. It was assumed that Michael must be bored by Paula, perhaps trapped by a pregnancy he had not wanted. Therefore, the “incurable hellraiser” must be philandering. One photograph showed him apparently misbehaving with Patsy Kensit. The actress had her hand down the front of his leather trousers, spoiling Yates’ Sunday because she considered Patsy a friend. Then someone pointed out to her that the image had been manipulated. Although most of Kensit’s hand was down his trousers, two of her finger-tips were still magically attached to his arm.
Michael did not sue. Lawyers could tell him that he and Paula had reputations so low that nothing could be said to damage them. Besides, he was a rock star. Behaving badly is part of the job description. He could certainly play the star, just as he played the Aussie bloke: if bored, he might jump from one sixth-floor hotel balcony to another, or take you as passenger while he accelerated his motorbike towards a brick wall. But at the centre was a courteous man – or “big girl,” as Yates teased him – who read widely, worried about mortality, and was unsure about himself. “Anything said about me hurt him so badly,” Yates says. “The thing people didn’t realize about Michael was that he was so sweet, fragile and insecure. So while he would see people come up to me in the street and give me a hug, or builders shout funny, supportive things to both of us, he read and believed the press and it hurt him. He felt he was under siege, trying to support us emotionally, doing the school run every morning, and yet trying to cope with the wave of untrue stories, most of them being fed to the press but not knowing how to counter them.”
There were other complications. Yates lost her job in television soon after the affair became public – the program was made by Planet 24, a company founded by Geldof. Expecting a swift and amicable divorce, she borrowed heavily to buy a family house in south London. This was a mistake. The proceedings were slow and sour, further feeding media interest. As her debts grew, writs arrived threatening bankruptcy. Lawyers told Hutchence not to bail her out in case it affected the divorce settlement. After the drug bust in 1996, Yates also lost her column in The Sun, and did not work again. (On her partner’s death she was forced to sell interviews to pay the bills, setting off new tut-tutting. The will is in dispute.)
Hutchence was frustrated with INXS, which was burdened with a 1980s sound and lacked the will to reinvent itself. He was wounded when Noel Gallagher of Oasis called him a has-been at the Brit Awards, and was too sensitive to treat it as a joke. Meanwhile, the paparazzi competed to make him lose his cool. They baited him by insulting Yates, jostled him, shoved lenses in his face. On a good day there might be one or two snappers camped in cars outside their home. On a bad one, when a development in their lives was suspected, photographers marked out their pitches with stepladders, standing in rows of 10 or 20, three or four deep. Reporters offered the neighbours money for information; there would be a photographer across the bonnet as Michael drove off. Although baffled, he coped. He survived everything up to the bust, which, like Patsy Kensit’s wandering fingers, was not all it seemed.
One name comes up repeatedly when friends of the singer talk about his mental decline. Gerry Agar, a mother whose children were at the same London School as the Geldof girls, is vilified. She grew close to Yates for a while, then behaved in ways the couple found alarming. Only a few of his friends met her, since her time in their circle was brief. That she got there at all is revealing. “It says something about Paula and Michael and their judgment of people,” says Catherine Mayer, a friend who has supported Paula since the hanging. “The nastier the press were, the more they fell prey to just about anybody who was nice to them.”
Agar knew people in newspapers. Her star contact was David Montgomery, the man at the top of The Mirror and The Independent, whom she knew well enough to get to a dinner party. In late 1995, she started working on Paula’s behalf. There was no formal arrangement, and Paula says she was never more than a mother on the school run. This is unfair: Agar set up a meeting to discuss getting her friend back into television, and Paula did not object if she introduced herself as helping with public relations. Agar also placed a number of minor newspaper stories to embarrass Bob in the divorce case.
In fact she threw herself in the task. She saw Bob as satanic. “I thought he was the devil incarnate,” says Agar, who had heard Paula’s tales of injustice. “I thought, ‘You’ve got to die, you can’t be in this world. You’re too evil’.” She loved Paula; she worked hard to promote her, too. “She used to drive me crazy,” says Chris Mould, a television producer who was bombarded with faxes. “It was just tedious hearing how wonderful Paula was. Wonderful mother, wonderful wife, wonderful Michael, wonderful everything. Paula was the Virgin Mary incarnate and Tiger, the most perfect baby.” But Agar was having doubts and soon her theme changed.
A clue that something was wrong was a newspaper interview. Agar made the cover of The Sunday Telegraph Magazine, an unlikely achievement considering that her fame was based entirely on knowing Yates and Hutchence. (Her other clients, “from novelists to city designers,” were a mystery she wished to be discreet about.) She was described as having returned from a holiday with the rock couple that had not happened. And although she didn’t say so in this piece, she was beginning to claim that, as well as being Paula’s PR, she was becoming Michael’s manager. Hutchence was angry. He made sure she understood his position: she did not work for them, and never had.
It was August 1996. The singer’s refuge at this time was a stuccoed villa near Grasse in the south of France, standing in extensive gardens behind high walls. On warm evenings, meals would be served on the terrace, or by the small pool set away from the house among cypress trees. There were often visitors. On the only weekend that Agar was to stay, she was given a room at the other end of the building from Michael and Paula, who wanted as much distance from their guests as possible.
Agar had inveigled her invitation by saying that “her best friend,” a journalist called Robert Tewdwr Moss, had just been murdered. She begged to be allowed to visit. The hosts, intending to break off contact since her interview a fortnight earlier, felt compelled to relent. They had already invited Mould, after meeting him though Agar; the other guests were Josephine Fairley and her husband, Craig Sam, and Andy Gill, a guitarist and producer, and his girlfriend, Catherine Mayer.
Yates took to her room on Agar’s arrival, claiming exhaustion, which was believable as Tiger was not yet six weeks old. She confided to Fairley that she could not bear to be in the same room with Agar. Hutchence hid a similar aversion and treated Agar with his usual affability. The new visitor told them about the murder of Tewdwr Moss, producing a sheaf of newspaper clippings from her bag and describing the grief that had propelled her to France. She showed no distress. But at dinner she was out of her depth. “We’d be having a normal conversation,” says Fairley, “And then Gerry would tell some story that had nothing to do with anything any of us had just said. There would be a pause while we registered what she’d said, then we’d go on with what we were talking about.” It must have been a difficult weekend for Agar. She wanted to be accepted. Later, she would say that she longed to go home, to comfort herself with beans on toast.
All in all, Hutchence and Yates were proving a disappointment to her. Earlier that summer, she had tried to sell the rights to photograph the rock couple with their new baby. She says she got OK! to bid £160,000, arranging for herself a commission of £40,000. But the new parents refused to cooperate. It was Paul Craig, then Hutchence’s manager, who dealt with the pictures, and he went to the newspaper for which Yates was a columnist, for £8000. Money was not the only issue here. Yates was under contract to The Sun, and it was thought that if she and Hutchence did the paper a favour, one tabloid at least would allow them some peace. Agar also asked Paula for £5000 for her PR work. This, too, was refused. These rejections may have been unwise. On September 12 the couple left for Australia. While they were away, Agar telephoned Mould. She asked him what opium looked like. Mould takes up the story: “I said: ‘Why?’ and she said, ‘You will find out.’ I think she said, ‘You will find out, read the newspaper,’ and it was the following day or the day after that there was this drug bust. She later rang me and said, ‘Yeah well, what do you think?’ and I said, ‘If you’ve got anything to do with this, I think it’s disgusting…how can you do this to someone who was so hospitable to you a couple of weeks ago?’ She just freaked, got abusive, and said, ‘Well, I’ll leave you to your sad little life…”
The newspapers were now unrestrained. The custody case was widely, but sketchily, covered. Since reporting restrictions deprived the writers of fact, the vacuum was filled by opinion. Most pundits sympathized with Bob and sniped at Paula. For Michael, used to the adulation of fans, the role of public enemy was a shock. He had underestimated the nation’s natural sympathy for the abandoned husband and the esteem in which they held Sir Bob. Now he was being accused of putting drugs in a tube of Smarties in a house where there were four children. He was outraged. And he was convinced that Bob had something to do with it.
These days Gerry Agar lives quietly in a rented farmhouse in Somerset. There is a smell of incense in her sitting room, where she is busy with a new baby. Hearing the story brings a surprise. Although many parts strike the listener as improbable, others seem highly plausible. To judge which is which, you need some background on Paula Yates.
Most of Britain struggles to like Yates, who is trapped inside an image of her own making. She was television’s professional groupie, whose heart pounded for some of the musicians she profiled on the Tube, and who would later flash her knickers, and sometimes forget to wear them, while interviewing celebrities on a bed for Channel 4’s Big Breakfast. But she is much more complicated than that. She is a hopeless flirt, bright, funny, manipulative, vulnerable; in fact so insecure she is wonderfully close to insane. These qualities make her a delightful raconteur and friend. They also make her a frustrating witness. Nothing she says can be trusted. Even though much of it is true. Everything has to be checked. Some of what she tells you is the direct opposite of the truth.
Oliver James, a clinical psychologist who worked with Paula in television 11 years ago, calls her a borderline personality who took refuge in fantasy during unhappy childhood. Now she tends to blame external circumstances for internal problems. In some cases this can lead to full, deluded madness “where normal people have a stable, secure self,” he says. “Paula has an insecure, shifting void. She is liable to feel that she does not exist unless she is at the centre of a crisis which, despite protestations to the contrary, she wants the tabloids to chronicle because they make her feel significant.”
Paula finds these remarks hurtful, and perhaps they are unfair. James, who is also a journalist, is responsible for some of the most unpleasant words about Paula ever published. However, she told me twice that Bob is sleeping with her mother, which I do not imagine to be so. While researching this story, I would hear from unimpeachable sources – sad, frustrated sources, who love Paula and do everything they can to protect her – that she had behaved in a particular way and then get a different version from Paula, casting herself as victim. Her friends would later explain that she has been deeply vulnerable since Michael died. She was not like this before.
Even so, a new possibility arises. It is only a possibility, and the suggestion is tentative. Michael was gullible. He loved Paula. He grew to believe there was a conspiracy against them, masterminded by Bob. It is possible he shared Paula’s interpretation of events when sometimes he should have been more questioning. Was his growing sense of persecution fed by failing to remain detached? Do not make any judgments yet. Despite what you have just read, there is evidence that Paula and Michael were done an injustice; or, if not an injustice, a very rough justice, about which questions need to be asked.
Agar had been uncomfortable that weekend in France. When she got back she talked with Anita Debney, Geldof ’s nanny, who believed Michael and Paula’s drug use was out of control. The nanny was anxious about Tiger, who was breast-fed: she slept a lot and rarely cried.
In time, Debney told Agar the story of Bob, Paula and Michael from the beginning as she saw it. How Paula had manipulated the events, encouraging Michael to leave his supermodel by ensuring their affair became known. Michael might complain about the newspapers, but it was Paula who made sure they knew about everything in the first place! She had asked her nanny to tip off reporters that she was having a relationship with a member of Take That. This ensured she was followed, leading to the discovery that her affair was with the star of INXS. Going public helped her stay firm about leaving Bob, and the supposed pain of the publicity gave her reason to seek a comfort from Michael.
Then there was the story of Paula’s fertility pills. Debney describes to Agar how Paula had begun a treatment in November 1994, hoping for a baby with Michael. The nanny thought Paula had tried to get pregnant to encourage Michael to leave Helena. (To help assess what Debney says, you should know that Paula and Michael were close to dismissing her, and that she became a witness for Bob in the court battles. She is desperate not to lose touch with the children.)
Agar was already worried about Paula. She had come to believe that the tales of injustice she was offering the papers on Paula’s behalf were unfair to Bob or untrue. Now Debney’s words added to her fear that she had taken the wrong side in the couple’s marital dispute. Then, in the early hours of Sunday, September 15, the alarm apparently went off on Michael’s dark green Jeep. He was in Australia with Paula and Tiger; Debney searched for the car manual to silence it; in her employers’ bedroom it is said she found opium in a Smarties tube. Agar called round later that morning. Worried about the children, she persuaded a reluctant Debney to join her in what she calls a “rampage” through the house, looking for more drugs. Agar says she came across heroin, although unfortunately she threw it away, so there was nothing the police could do about it. But she and Debney kept the opium. Then they had to decide what to do.
“I had to weigh things up,” Agar says. “I’d just done a deal with OK! Magazine for the baby pictures, of which I was going to get 25%. And she [Paula] had no money, so I hadn’t been paid for all the work I’d been doing. So I was just about to land quite a lot of money. OK! was going up and up and then there were other things that were coming into fruition. So I literally spilled the beans two days before this money came in.”
By spilling the beans, Agar means that she went to Bob and told him about the drugs. It was a week before the police raid. “So I forgoed [sic] all the money. I think I forgoed 40 grand. And I didn’t have any money, I really did not have a bean. And I thought, okay, all right, I could have the money in the bank, but there could be a death. How could I face Bob with his eyes streaming with red tears because he’s been up all night because his child’s died because there are drugs in the house, and I’m all right because I’ve got 40 grand in the bank? I’ve got to meet someone one day at the end of my life and try and explain that. That I’ve put money as my priority to someone’s life.” Agar says she visited Bob at his temporary home round the corner, a house that had been Michael’s. She found him making jelly for his youngest daughter. Announcing nervously that Paula and Michael were on drugs and the children in danger, she apologized for pushing untrue stories about him on the press.
“I told him that I was the one who had set him up, that I was helping to make his life a bloody misery. And I vowed to him that day that I would always be completely on his side; and do it from a great distance. Because that’s my way of showing him friendship; because he might be going through another custody case and she has this weapon that it’s he and I together in cahoots against her. So I deliberately do not have anything to do with him so that she doesn’t have that on him. Because I made that promise to him.” Agar did more than tell Geldof about the opium. She took a piece of it and carried it round with her in her brown purse, trying to find out what it was. After a few days she put it back. And that, she says, is why the police found her fingerprints on the drug when, after a tip-off from an undisclosed source, they raided one week later. Police also found close-up pictures of Paula and Michael having sex. These had been hidden elsewhere in the house but were discovered by Agar and Debney on their rampage. According to Paula’s lawyers, when the drug squad arrived the pictures were in a box with the Smarties.
So Agar handled the opium and threw away the heroin. The next problem she presented the police was that, having given a statement about the drugs she and Debney found in the house, she withdrew it. (Debney withdrew hers, too.) Agar says she did this because her child was being threatened by someone who knew Paula.
Naturally the police questioned Bob to confirm that he had nothing to do with the drug find. He said he had not been in the house for some time. Paula’s legal team was astonished, therefore, when they went round on October 1, the day Paula get back from Australia, and found a box of prescription tablets on the hall table. The date on the box was September 23, two days before the bust, and the name on the box was Bob’s. Paula had to be restrained from running out into the street and showing the photographers.
Did Bob forget something when he spoke to the police – that he had crossed the threshold when picking up the children from Debney, perhaps? (Paula took only Tiger to Australia, leaving Fifi, Peaches and Pixie in London.) Later Paula found a letter written by Bob, which she says was inside a magazine in the bedroom where the drugs had been. Again it was dated September 23. Bob can explain the letter: he says he dropped it round to be delivered to a government minister who lived opposite. As for tablets, he seems truly mystified.
Nobody is saying Michael didn’t do drugs: he took ecstasy during the weekend in France, and cocaine was in his blood in Sydney. Sometimes he smoked heroin. But the case against him is odd. Much of Agar’s story makes little sense. Why would OK! magazine offer £160,000 for baby pictures that had been in The Sun two months earlier? Why do the telephone records for the house, which The Sunday Times has viewed, fail to show the calls to the Drug Hotline that Agar says she and Debney made from the bedroom to get advice on their find? Why, when I asked Agar if she had stayed the night and slept without Paula and Michael’s knowledge in their bed, did she hesitate for a long time before suddenly remembering that, yes, she had – two days before the opium turned up? It also transpires that other rock musicians were in the house while Michael and Paula were away (Debney’s brother came to dinner on the night Agar stayed over, bringing the lead singer in his band.) It is difficult not to conclude that Michael may have been right: the drug bust was suspect.
When Paula came back from Australia, she went into hiding from the press with her oldest friend. “We spent the whole time trying to be Miss Marples,” says Fairley, who says she had not seen Paula drink or take drugs in 15 years. (Before the bust was teetotal.) “I said to Paula, ‘Look, you can tell me if they were your drugs and I won’t be judgmental.’ And she said, ‘I promise you, I have never seen that Smartie’s tube, I have never seen those drugs, I don’t know where they came from.’ And, as you know, I was sure because if they had been guilty they would have shut the f*** up! They wouldn’t have gone on and on for 14 months before Michael died.”
It is instructive to ask why the Crown Prosecution Service failed to run a trial. “Do you know Gerry Agar?” comes the reply. “She was why we ended up without a prosecution; the Metropolitan Police were being manipulated, to a degree. In fact, the judicial system was. What occurred came about for the benefit of other proceedings.” Geldof was not the manipulator, says the source, an official with an intimate knowledge of the case. “He probably went with the flow. Foolishly, I would say. But I don’t think he was up to any skullduggery.”
In fairness to everyone, here are a few final acts about this period. Paula did begin her fertility treatment while Michael was still claiming to be with Helena, on November 2, 1994.
She is adamant that this was with his knowledge, even though the affair was only a fortnight old, and although she says herself that in January she was “desperate” for to make things work with Bob. She can prove, however, that Michael later went to the doctor with her to give semen samples, and friends recall him saying that he and Paula had bantered about having a baby when she interviewed him years earlier. Let nobody be in doubt: Tiger, conceived in November 1995, was a child he wanted.
The infant was soporific. Andrew Young, Paula’s Sydney-based barrister, says that this was because Paula was breast-feeding while on Prozac (and Rohypnol, the sleeping pill known as the date-rape drug.) Could Debney have innocently mistaken the effects of Rohypnol for those of heroin? When Bob became very worried about the couple’s drug use, could he have been acting on duff information?
After the bust, Agar continued to give interviews. She told journalists she had “quit ” as Yates PR adviser, prompting a new round of stories. (Yates, of course, says she was never such a thing to start with). “At the end of the day it’s the children that come first,” she told the Daily Telegraph. “I have had to make a moral decision which wasn’t very pleasant because it seems as though I’m turning against a friend. Once this is straightened out, of course, I will be there for Paula as a friend but right now, my main concern is for the kids.”
The very next day, there was a new tale for the front pages: she had seen Paula buying opium. “Troubled, Paula Yates carried out her sleazy drug deal in front of her greatest ally – her public relations guru Gerry Agar,” News of the World readers were told. “Ultra royal” Gerry had stood “just a few feet away as money for the opium changed hands.” “I have a reputation for being Paula’s staunchest protector,” Agar was quoted as saying, which was true, although the same energy was now going into rubbishing her. Later the paper printed an apology. Not to Yates: after all, she has no reputation. It was to Steve Strange, the “nightclub king” Agar had named as supplier.
Late last year, 15 months after the drugs bust and a month after Michael’s death, Agar was still at it. Britain was informed that, according to a friend who “had spent the summer” with Michael in the south of France, “Hutchence was wild until the end.” The account had a single source: Agar, whose time with Michael in France totaled one weekend in 1996. You would never guess, from reading her description of Michael behaving like a madman, that after this weekend, she wrote a letter thanking her hosts for “a wonderful and much needed rest,” adding that “a magic healing” had taken place.
Hutchence was never the same after the bust. Before he had been preoccupied by the battles with Geldof and the battering from the tabloids, but he had kept some perspective. Now he became obsessed with setting the record straight. He came to identify all his difficulties in Britain as having to do with Bob. The custody case, Paula’s drawn-out divorce, the drugs, the hostile press – all of it, he believed – was affected by Bob’s influence as “Live Aid hero” and founder of Planet 24. Paula and their friends introduced a rule that he was to spend only one hour each evening, known as “Bob Hour,” talking about Geldof. It failed. Michael was beginning to feel persecuted. The subject polluted every occasion, even Christmas Day, 1996, when he opened the door to friends promising not to talk about Bob, and then immediately did so.
A few weeks after the bust, Michael flew to New York to see his manager, Martha Troup. “And for an hour,” she says, “We were sitting at the bar and he was just crying. He said: ‘What did I do, Martha? Why are people attacking me? I just want to be with Paula. I just want to be with my baby.” The decision not to prosecute took another 6 months, and by then Michael was on tour.
From the outside, being a rock star looks enviable. There’s the money. There’s the adulation – the knobbing, as Geldof once called it. There’s all the travel. But it’s not true: a new album is an ordeal. First there are months locked in the recording studio, in Hutchence’s case up to 5000 miles from home. Next comes a grating round of press interviews and promotional work, and only then, the tour. On top of that, Hutchence was working on his solo album and trying to develop a film career. Although being away from home gave him freedom, he missed his family and fretted. He returned whenever he could, but by summer 1997 his mind was growing vulnerable.
In September Yates was planning to get back to court to try to overturn the property settlement she had reached with Geldof. “I really wanted her to,” says Fairley, who believed a sympathetic judge would order a new settlement, “But it was taking such a toll on Michael. He felt fantastically guilty that she was going through all this while he was away on tour. He felt completely powerless in the whole thing and it really got him. He hated the fact that she was suffering this, and he hated the fact that she would have to go to court again.”
There is no point asking what went on in the courts for Bob and Paula because the law says it cannot be reported. But the scale the conflict was taking on Michael’s mind can be seen in what each side was saying about the other. Paula’s people claimed Bob didn’t really want more time with his children, and that the aim of his maneuvers was to cause maximum disruption to the Yates-Hutchence household. They speak of deliberate prevarications and changes of mind. Those close to Bob say that Michael and Paula were drug users who could not be left in charge of youngsters, and that something had to be done. And that by the end, they lived in a world of paranoid fantasy. It is impossible to know what is true.
When the album Elegantly Wasted pushed Hutchence into a series of promotional interviews, he tried to communicate the pain and confusion he was experiencing. It made for good copy, but in Britain reviews for the album and for INXS’ performances were mixed. By this stage one could no longer distinguish between bad notices and personal attacks.
From time to time he would deliver a monologue. “Basically it was, why wouldn’t Geldof leave them alone?” Andy Gill says, who co-wrote Michael’s solo album and spent extended periods with him in France and London, witnessing the change in Michael’s attitude to his domestic problems. “He was being, oh, victimized by Geldof, and he also felt that the British media were against them: against Paula, against him. And he would quote things: ‘Did you see what they said in such and such and such last week? They called Paula this and that and the other’ – and it genuinely hurt him. After years in the public eye, he’d never come across the kind of vicious personal attacks that the British press is good at… and he’d just get in a very black mood and sit and get very depressed. Then, once he got out of his system, he’s be casual, happy, like he normally was.”
Michael was usually charming company; unlike many performers, he had no need to be centre stage. He was a listener, trawling conversations for ideas and pieces of knowledge in an endearingly uncritical way. He was easily impressed by, easily gulled. But now he was becoming a person who delivered monologues. When he went into a dark phase, friends would tried to lift him. “This will come to an end,” Gill would say. “The courts will reach a resolution. There will be a turnaround in the way people attack you and Paula in the papers.” “No, there won’t,” Hutchence would answer. “Why would there be an end to it? How is it ever going to end?” As Gill says now, “He was right.”
Being on tour does allow an escape, and at times he fled into older habits. In South Africa, he met a would-be model. He knew her for a matter of hours, but she followed him to London, got a job as a waitress, and described their encounter to the Sunday Mirror, claiming they had had sex, which Michael always denied. The effect of the story on Paula caused him anguish.
You can say that he had only himself to blame, but that’s an easy judgment. “He rang here,” says Mayer, speaking in the flat and music studio she shares with Gill at Tower Bridge. “He was crying so hard you couldn’t make out what he was saying. He started to talk and then he couldn’t get the words out. I had literally 10 minutes of him howling. When he did get the words out, what he kept saying was, ‘It was all so wonderful and they just want to spoil it. They just want to destroy it.’ He kept saying ‘they,’ it wasn’t Bob, ‘they are never going to let us be happy.’ And also, he kept asking me, over and over, how Paula was going to survive everything. He was so worried about her by that stage. I think that’s very much where the final slide was starting, the summer before he died. He was very, very worried about how much the strain was going to tell on Paula.”
Josephine Fairley recalls similar conversations, “He was going, ‘Don’t let my family break up. Don’t let them break up my family,” she says, explaining that by now “my family” meant all four children.
Hutchence knew Mayer had a demanding job as the London correspondent for a German magazine. But after coming off the telephone from Paula, he would regularly ask her to stop what she was doing and drive to Chelsea, as he was in another country and worried. He made similar demands of Fairley and another friend of Paula’s, Belinda Brewin. His instincts were rights. One day in September, Paula, who was not used to alcohol, swallowed enough Bailey’s and Valium to kill herself. Bob was in Ireland when his mobile rang: it was one of the girls saying “Mummy is unconscious on the carpet.” The attempted suicide was intended as a message to Bob. The person it really frightened was Michael.
And so the walls closed in. He hated being in England, mainly because of the press. He loved Paula, and didn’t want to live without her. He thought she was going to kill herself and felt powerless to save her. Like the Princess of Wales, with whom he identified, he thought their only chance of peace was to move abroad. Paula had talked of living in Australia for more than a year, since before the drug bust. But Michael knew that he could never ask her to choose between him and the children. They would have to come, which he wanted in any case. That depended on Bob. And Bob was a father too.
If you doubt Michael’s commitment to his family, listen to his manager, Martha Troup, to whom he was like a son. It was on her machine that Michael left the final, despairing message cried by the coroner, “Martha, Michael here. I f***** had enough.” On his fateful trip to Los Angeles and then Australia, they spoke twice a day until he died.
He was embarrassing, she says, like being a first time mother. Last year she went with him to more than 50 film meetings. None passed without a mention of Paula and Tiger. He was supposed to be seeking Hollywood roles. Troup got used to kicking him under the table. “Oh man,” she says, “We were at a table last February, a big boardroom, the heads of Polygram and all were there, and he takes out this clock with a picture of Tiger on it and says ‘You want to see?’ and every person had to pass the clock round with the picture of Tiger. I was sitting there, talking about big budgets and thinking, “He is showing a clock!” In one of the last film meetings we had, this guy had these great toys on his desk. So he goes, “Listen , I have this daughter, Peaches….”
And then, last autumn, Michael suddenly got dangerously optimistic. The INXS tour was coming to an end. He would be able to work outside the band again. He would finish his solo album and spend time in America, where his mother says he had two girlfriends (a point she made to Paula during an emotional exchange after Michael died.) His film meetings were paying off. Quentin Tarantino wanted him for a project, as did other big names. But first, he and Paula planned a trip to Sydney, lasting at least three months.
Paula had worked lined up for the first time in two years; they would arrange school for Pixie and a private tutor for Peaches, and send the girls back to Bob for Christmas. Fifi would stay at her boarding school. And they got the idea into their heads that Bob had consented. They believed it was going to happen. Perhaps they even hoped to get the three girls settled and to make the move permanent. But Bob changed his mind – partly because he’s a father too, and he was frightened he was going to lose them. He said no. Paula took him back to court.
You probably know someone who has suffered an injustice. The obsession takes over their lives. Michael Hutchence suffered rough justice, at the least, and was ill equipped to cope with it. Paula’s friends are adamant that Bob did behave badly, trying to disturb the household of his wife and the man she loved; but perhaps there are no true villains in this story. Even Agar, who says much that seems improbable and who sees herself as working on Bob’s behalf, believes she is doing what is right. She did not murder her nanny, as the inner circle wondered, by the way. Although 23, Agar’s nanny died of natural causes. But it was unfortunate for Michael that she and Paula ever met at the school gates.
In the end, we should hold on to this. Michael Hutchence really loved Paula Yates, and was extremely proud of Tiger. He would have married her and soon; two friends confirm he said so. Although at times he needed to escape, he was trying to create a family with his partner and the Geldof girls. What stopped him? In Greek tragedy, the end is brought about in part by the flaws of the hero. Everyone in this story is flawed, as everyone is human. Michael’s flaw was that he could not rise above the hostilities. It is a tragedy for all of them.
The last time Troup spoke to her star was at 1am Sydney time. He was in his hotel room with Kym Wilson, an actress with whom he once had a fling, and her boyfriend, Andrew Rayment. “He came back from dinner with his dad,” says Troup, who, like several others in this story, is making an exception to her normal policy of refusing to talk about Michael. “I called him up and said, ‘Hey’ and he goes ‘Martha,’ and he was in a brilliant mood, a very good mood, happy. You could tell he was drinking. And he said, ‘I’m here with some film people,’ and I said, ‘Film people?!’ “You know, always the mother. And he was just laughing and he goes, ‘No, no, no.’” “When you spend day in and day out with someone, you know what ‘no, no, no’ meant. Like ‘No, Martha, this is not a thing with a woman, I am with a couple’ and then we started talking about Quentin’s movie…” But Michael was also very nervous. He was waiting for the outcome of the court hearing. The couple were with him for nearly six hours, drinking vodka, beer, champagne and daiquiris. He wanted them to stay longer, in case the news from London was bad. But by 4.30 am Rayment was falling asleep at the foot of the bed. “Michael just looked at him,” Wilson says. “He looked at me trying to keep up the conversation, and said, “Oh, look, you two go home.” They did. They would wake up to the news that he was dead.
In London, the court was unable to hear the case, which was adjourned until the week before Christmas. The result was that the family that meant so much to Michael would not be coming. When Paula told him soon after 5 am, he howled. (She used the same word as Mayer.) He said he would ring Bob, and beg him to let the children go, doing so at 5.30. When that conversation made no difference – it was the courts that were refusing to let the children leave, said Bob, a fact Michael may not have realized. He was probably hit afresh by the belief he had expressed to Andy Gill: that there was no escape, it would never end, nothing was ever going to change.
Only one person knows what was said in that telephone call, although a second, the resident of the room next door to suite 524, was woken by Michael’s shouting. Bob will never talk publicly about Michael and Paula. But in private conversation he is willing to relate what was said, doing so in the singer’s accent and mimicking his soft voice; if what he says is true, the call turned bizarre. Michael would go off on tangential flights as Bob, feeling like Peter Mandelson, tried to keep him “on message,” returning him to the facts of the case: that it was they who had made the court application, that it was now out of his hands, there was nothing he could do.
One line, which Michael may or may not have spoken, sticks in the mind. “Your f****ing children hate you man, I’m their father, little man, when are you going to realize that.” The conversation lasted 20 minutes. Then Fifi, the eldest of the Geldof girls, got off her school bus on the Embankment, and ran up to hug her father hello. “Michael?” said Bob into his mobile, “Fifi is here, I’ve got to go.” There was no goodbye: the line was already dead.
Hutchence rang Troup and left his message. Later, he left a short series of calls on answering machines. This time, his voice was different: it was slow and deep. Hutchence made his last call, to an ex-girlfriend, Michelle Bennett, at 9.54.
He cried down the phone. Bennett said she would come to the hotel straight away. When she knocked on the door, there was no answer.
Nobody can know exactly what happened in suite 524. Paula needs to believe it was a sexual experiment because Michael would never have left his Tiger. There is no evidence either way. (The ‘certain information’ she refers to in interviews does not exist, as she acknowledged in quiet moments.) Among the few who knew the singer well, there is a majority for accepting that it was suicide.
“All they wanted was to be listened to by one person,” Fairley says. “They felt so victimized. They wanted somebody to listen to the other side of the story and not leap to conclusions. And they wanted some of their friends to stand up and speak out and be counted. That’s all they wanted. Just somebody to listen and believe them.”
In Britain, the newspapers reported that Michael Hutchence had died in a sex game, after an orgy of drink and drugs. The likely truth is sadder. Like many people with a difficult early life, he wanted the best for his children, his natural daughter Tiger and the Geldof girls. He wanted to protect Paula and make everything all right for her. But at the end, he was obsessively locked in another conflict. He was always uncertain about his talents. Early one morning last November, after waiting nervously for news from London, he came to an inescapable conclusion.
That he had failed.