David Charkham, Rock Star Recovery Coach

By Dufflyn Lammers 08/05/16

David Charkham is not the man I’d expect Ozzy Osbourne to say had “saved my life numerous times on tour.”

David Charkham, Rock Star Recovery Coach
Star saver. via Author

David Charkham is a sought-after Recovery Coach and Aftercare specialist. A dapper Englishman, he came to meet me with a flower in his lapel and purple corduroy pants. Not the man I’d expect Ozzy Osbourne to say had “saved my life numerous times on tour.” But then, Charkham’s own journey has led him from the spotlight to the street and back again. And that makes him the perfect man for the job. 

You were an actor for many years and at that time active in your addiction. How did your addiction affect your career? 

Well, it ended up taking my career. From 1965 to 1972 I was successful—children’s television, movies, radio, West End stage—but it wasn’t affecting my career until I got into Jesus Christ Superstar. And then it just took me over. The crossroads came when they were going to do something called the Superstar Choir, which went on to be hugely successful, and I was asked to be in it. But what it meant was I’d have to go into a dark dank theatre and rehearse and give up a sunny July afternoon smoking dope. I chose the latter. It was more or less the end of my career. 

Did you have a moment of clarity? Can you describe that? 

I suppose the moment of clarity was when the guy who twelve-stepped me—he’s dead now so I’m not breaking his anonymity—an extraordinary man called Lionel Bart who wrote a show called Oliver, he looked at me and he said, “David, you know you don’t have to use.” I understood the English but then I needed to go into an institution and get detoxed. I don’t believe you can receive any of the healing information until your brain is cleared of chemicals.

Since you got clean and sober you began working with other addicts and alcoholics as a Recovery or Sober Coach. How did that come about? 

After rehab I thought I’ve been a good boy—I don’t use drugs, I don’t drink, I’m going to meetings, I’ve got a sponsor—therefore my career should come back. But I’d missed the boat. A whole generation of actors had grown up, done their training, toured, learnt their profession, and didn’t take drugs on a daily basis for fifteen years. I had to face the resentment and the anger and the jealousy. I would walk down Shaftesbury Avenue—which is like Broadway in New York—I’d look at the names and the lights and I’d go, "That bastard was my understudy!" And the only work I could get was as an extra. Talk about humility. And then an old-timer called Dudley said to me, “David, have you ever considered that your higher power has bigger plans for you than you could ever understand?” Then they opened a men’s halfway house in Clapham. I went to work there and I invented David Charkham’s Recovery Skills from that moment, and I still practice it 27 years on. 

And you've worked with a lot of musicians—what is that like, to be on tour in this capacity? 

Once you’ve got over the entourage, the private jets, the police escorts, the presidential suites, and the money, you look at the underneath stuff. I am there to help the artist stay sober. And what I’ve learned is that I prefer to work with someone who wants to stop. As you know, it’s got to come from within. Underneath it all, the artist can be just as frightened, just as insecure, just as paranoid as any street addict that I’ve worked with.

Has there ever been a moment when you felt tempted or challenged on the road? 

Never tempted because I’m over 30 years sober and still actively involved in the 12-step movement. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no longer enough drink or drugs to fix me on the planet. It can be challenging to have a client who is surrounded by others who are not supportive. I’ve had one artist—there’s a hundred and twenty thousand people out there and he’s not wanting to go on. But I knew I could only do what I could do. Remember, you can only carry the message. You can’t carry the addict.

How did you get yourself and your client through that? 

Support, identification, non-judgement, just by being there. I’ve had an artist who would like me to be at the side of the stage so they can see me. And I remember we were on this tour in Australia, and we had a little razzmatazz getting home, and the artist was in a black depression. There was the roar of the crowd, the fireworks, and the sirens. And we just sat in the dark by candlelight and read part of the AA book in silence.

Simon Woodroffe, David Charkham, Susie Miller and Jimmy Page at Outside Edge Theater

Many celebrities are not anonymous these days (some by choice and some not). Do you feel that is good PR for recovery, that it inspires young people to think "Hey, if it's good enough for my heroes, it's good enough for me?" Or do you feel it's harmful? 

Well, twice this year, one there was a musician they (his rehab center) let the national press come and interview him—the guy hadn’t even finished detox. And even more recently, a rehab center I really respect, they said they have an anonymity policy, but this artist (who was undergoing treatment) wanted to make a statement so they let him. My feeling is, you don’t even know how to walk when you’re in rehab. Maybe if they waited a year, all very well, but what if that addict relapses and dies six weeks out of rehab? Americans appear to be very open. And I get the sense that maybe ten percent of the United States are in some kind of program. But I suppose the Victorian Britishness is still in some of us. 

You also have a workshop on recovery skills and I noticed at UKESAD (UK and European Symposium on Addictive Disorders) many of the participants came away with renewed creativity as well. One man in particular even wrote a poem. Tell me about that. Is creativity part of the workshop, part of recovery? 

I believe that every addict/alcoholic is gifted. So I do specific workshops helping clients to reconnect with a talent that may have been shut down by a jealous sibling, a distant unloving parent, an angry schoolteacher, a bully, or whatever it was.

And you are now working with Castle Craig on their aftercare program. Can you tell me about what you hope to develop there moving forward? 

This is to facilitate, maybe a little nudge here and there. It’s not a meeting, but it’s a gentle, reliable, safe place for them to share. I went to aftercare for a year after rehab. I needed to know those things—what happens when you go to your first party? What happens when you bump into your dealer? What happens when you go to your first funeral? 

Anything else you'd like to share? 

I did a film recently (The Imitation Game). I played Keira Knightley’s father. I was pinching myself. I’m in a room with Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch. And I’m a trustee of a theatre group that helps addicts. So I pitched them, I was trying to get them to become patrons. Jimmy Page and I are co-trustees there, Outside Edge Theatre. We just did a video interview on it. It’s a great charity that takes theatre to treatment centers. 

Dufflyn Lammers is a recovery coach, an actor and a writer. She blogs at www.recoverygirl.net and www.thelaactorsblog.com 

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