Tim Minns – columnist of the year

The award-winning columnist who knows things better than anyone

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The Home Office has now finally got around to addressing the problem of so-called “legal highs” and is proposing a ban on unclassified drugs such as GBL and BZP by the end of this year. And thank goodness they have, as it’s long overdue in my opinion. This issue has been around for many years but the governing parties in this country have always buried their heads in the sand over it. I know better than anyone the dangers of real (and fake) drugs as one of my first jobs in the media was writing for Melody Maker back in 1988 during the so-called “Second Summer Of Love”. I was actually among the first group of journalists to try the dance drug ecstasy (which had just been invented at the time) several months before it was released to the public. People in the club scene were buzzing about this crazy new drug that could make you dance all night, but in my view it was overrated. As a young music writer I went to several house parties around that time and, whilst there was a lot of ecstasy about, it wasn’t the only thing available by any means. GBL and BZP were probably the most popular drugs in the underground scene and those of us in the know preferred them over ecstasy because they were more exclusive and not so commercially available. The problem with ecstasy was that it became old hat the moment anyone other than music journalists took it, so whilst it became popular in the provinces very quickly it died here in London by the autumn of 1988 as the underground scene was already moving on by that point.

Whilst GBL and BZP were better drugs than ecstasy the downfall occurred just over 18 months later after a young person on the underground scene (another music journalist who was also a good friend of mine) died as a result of mixing them with ecstasy. I knew better than anyone on the scene at the time that drug cocktails would become more and more dangerous as scenesters searched for more subversive chemical highs over the years, and despite the constant warnings I gave him he pushed the boundaries too far and died in January 1990, aged just 22. I decided to write an article detailing his life and death in the underground dance scene and it ended up being published in the Observer magazine. It was my first major article for a mainstream publication and I was pleased that it maintained an edgy, underground feel throughout. I felt that, although I had lost a good friend, I was lucky to be in a position whereby I could communicate with the people of my generation about this issue without being preachy or condescending. Who knows how many lives I potentially saved by writing that article…

If only the government at the time had read it…

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On the subject of drugs, you may remember in one of my columns last month how I mentioned that the death of Michael Jackson was more than likely down to the pharmaceutical drug propofol. At the time there was a lot of speculation surrounding the exact cause of the singer’s death but I knew better than anyone due to my friendship with his doctor Conrad Murray. Conrad was always very concerned about prescribing sedatives to someone in such a weak physical state and I shared his concerns. I remember a long trans-atlantic phone call we shared a few weeks ago in which he told me how he’d lost confidence and was considering quitting medicine. I said to him “You’re as good a doctor now as you have ever been. Don’t let media pressure affect your decision-making.” He was all over the place and was close to tears. He asked me what I would do in his situation and I told him that I would administer propofol, but only in small regular amounts so as not to place too much strain on his heart. I know better than anyone about propofol, as it was popular in the underground scene in the late 1980s for getting over the come-down from BZP. It was a drug that we always used in moderation and you had to respect its’ potency.

He was thankful for my help and actually offered to introduce me to his brother Jermaine next time I went to visit. When I did go to see Conrad he was indeed true to his word and I met Jermaine several times during the trip and we became good friends, although tragedy struck when Michael died before I got the chance to meet him. I was touched when Jermaine invited me to Michael’s memorial concert which was a moving and poignant tribute to such a wonderful and influential artist.

I only wish I could have got to know him myself.

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Finally I’d like to offer my congratulations to England’s cricketers who this week won the Ashes 2-1 against the old enemy. You may remember that was my prediction in this column on the eve of the first test match. I don’t like to brag or anything…..

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