City Beacon featured in The Times

Sex, drugs, drink and the City slicker

In the Square Mile, temptation is never far away. But Richard Kingdon is helping financiers to tackle their addictions

It’s ego. It’s fine wine, champagne, cocaine. It’s all about alpha males and excess up here,” Richard Kingdon says. “Third week of January is a killer. It’s a classic: on New Year’s Eve they say: ‘Right, this is my last binge. Next year I’m going to sort myself out, sort out my debts, maybe try for a family.’ Then third week in January, when they get paid, they’re off again because the resolve has gone and because they ain’t got no tools.”

Helping City workers to gain the “tools” — or life skills — to be able to give up binge drinking, cocaine or sex addiction is Kingdon’s speciality. “People think it’s about willpower, that you’ve just got to say no,” he says. “As if it’s that easy. That’s nonsense. Of course it ain’t.”

Suited and booted, a larger-than-life character with a confident, talkative manner, he could easily pass for a City broker himself. It is only the tattoos glimpsed, as he gesticulates, beneath his shirt sleeves that hint at a more colourful past.

Sitting in a small, nondescript office in an unmarked serviced block just a stone’s throw from the Bank of England, he explains how his own chronic drug and alcohol addictions led to him becoming sought-after by those with addiction problems in the Square Mile.

“Right now they’re using alcohol and drugs more as an anaesthetic,” he says in a broad southeast London accent. “Before, it was Ferraris and Lamborghinis — you know, all ‘Charlie Big Potatoes’, ‘loads-a-money’, whereas now everyone is terrified.

“I work with some senior people up here and there is a massive fear. We’re in uncertain times and no one knows what to do. People are scared of losing their jobs, losing all their investments. The bankers and brokers are getting an absolute kicking.”

His clients tend to be City workers in their late twenties and thirties who typically turn to him for help after 10-15 years of alcohol and drug misuse. “At the end of that, it’s costing you more than money,” he says. “It’s costing you your home life, your career, your kids, your health. The four Ls — liver, lover, livelihood or law.”

Many of the City high-flyers who learn of Kingdon’s services by word of mouth have “a whole package” of addictions including alcohol, cocaine, gambling and sex (extramarital affairs, sex addictions and/or visiting prostitutes). Heroin use, though, is “very, very rare”.

Kingdon founded the addiction counselling service City Beacon with the backing of a City professional whom he helped to overcome his demons two-and-a-half years ago. He says it was obvious that there was a growing alcohol and cocaine problem, and no services where people could seek one-to-one help while continuing to work in the City.

“It’s great doing role-plays and all that in a rehab setting but it’s nothing like real life, which is what I do — I’m up here with the clients and we are dealing with real life, whatever is going on, not what might possibly happen when you leave treatment.”

“I’ll go out with clients to bars. They know they’re safe, they know there is someone right here, right in the middle of the City,” he says. Clients pay £135 for an hour-long one-on-one session with him, and £500 a day if they want him to go away with them. He will see them in the middle of the night if necessary, and won’t charge them for “emergency calls”. Clients might telephone for help from black-tie events at the Grosvenor, he explains, or entertaining business associates at the lap-dancing club Spearmint Rhino.

Kingdon, 42, who describes himself as an addiction specialist rather than a counsellor, uses many of the techniques that helped him overcome “years of alcoholism, drug addiction and criminality” which began at the age of 12. At 26 he had a breakdown: “I knew it was do or die. It was a crossroads.” After years of rehabilitation and therapy he decided to dedicate his life to helping other addicts in a variety of settings, including maximum security prisons and rehabilitation centres, and as a private consultant to musicians, City workers and people on the council estate where he grew up. “Why was I saved when others died? I’m thinking maybe it was because I needed to do what I do.”

His background helps people to trust him. “They realise I come from a non-judgmental place. It’s about empathy.”

He sees clients personally, helps them to recognise their high-risk situations and triggers, and teaches them relapse prevention. Some also need to learn time management and how to take care of their emotional wellbeing. “I want to empower people, give them the tools so they can get on with their lives. It’s really about raising people’s self-awareness — that’s what people did for me. They got me to look at myself and encouraged me to take responsibility.”

Our meeting is interrupted by a mother keen to get help for her heavy-drinking son, but Kingdon is adamant that it is the drinker himself who needs to seek guidance: “Lots of people need help but unless they want it, it ain’t going to work.”

He is reluctant to talk about success rates, as he doesn’t “play the statistics game”. He says: “I’ve worked with lots of people who have sorted themselves out and never looked back. And I know people who have stumbled here and there, engaged again and redoubled their effort.”

Although most of his City clients pop out of work to see Kingdon for half an hour or an hour, he will go away with people if he feels that they could benefit from intensive help “for maybe a week, ten days or two weeks — just me and them, somewhere quiet where there are no distractions. You’re not going to be missed at work, are you, if you go away for a week or so? Whereas you go away for two months to rehab, that’s pretty on top, ain’t it?”

“There is a nasty side up here too, with people ready to put the boot in [if they think a colleague is going to rehab]. Everyone wants to go up the career scale, and anyone who can find any information or weakness on you, they’ll use it. That’s why some people won’t engage in groups [such as Alcoholics Anonymous] as well.”

He is keen to point out that not everyone with an alcohol problem is an alcoholic. Many of his clients are habitual four-day-weekend binge drinkers. “They come up here as trainees and they’re all doing it. They’re indoctrinated,” he says, adding that many City workers don’t know the risks of addiction: for instance, that mixing alcohol and cocaine is particularly damaging, and that most cocaine is far from pure.

“You’re more looked down on here for smoking a cigarette than you are for doing a line of gear,” he says. “It’s easier to get cocaine than cigarettes, I reckon. It’s mad.”

According to Kingdon, thousands of City workers have some form of addiction problem: “You could have 50 rehabs up here and it wouldn’t touch the problem. HR will turn a blind eye while you’re making money, know what I mean? But now they ain’t making too much money.

“I’m not a knight in shining armour who can cure the City. But if I can pull a few people out, that’s good. Because you’re not just pulling that person out, you’re pulling that wife’s husband out, those kids’ dad out. It’s not just one person with a drink problem.”

A City worker’s tale

As a child I was riddled with feelings of fear and insecurity, I remember the constant feeling of unease and my stomach being in knots.

Looking back, after a lot of work on myself and understanding the nature of addiction, I can now see how the feeling of unease became addiction.

My childhood feelings of insecurity meant I had a deep feeling that everything was going to be taken away, so I took as much as I could before it was taken away. I became a master manipulator — “elbows up straight to the front” was my philosophy — and I got there.

I ended up at the top of a City financial institution, travelling the world, fuelled by a huge salary and 200 per cent bonuses. My behaviour was outrageous — no one could tell me I was wrong. My pay cheque validated everything I did: alcohol, cocaine, prostitutes, whatever. No one could get through to me — not my partner, family or even my children.

I would get in the shower at 6am after arriving home at 4am, riddled with shame and tiredness and terrified that my behaviour of the day and night before would be found out.

I’d sheepishly arrive at work after probably not returning the previous lunchtime — and as soon as I realised I’d got away with it, off I’d go again.

I did this for years, surrounding myself with like-minded people — and there are no shortage of those in the City and West End of London.

Inevitably the money, girls, power cars and houses slipped seamlessly into unemployment, and broken relationships with everyone close to me.My health nosedived. My champagne days of first-class travel and fast cars ended abruptly when I simply stopped functioning and ended up penniless, alone and in rehab.

When I met Richard he showed me that the indescribable feeling of loss I felt was actually the feeling of surrender and the starting point of recovery.

If you have any identification with me as a boy — if you crave approval and see outward validation — the City is to be avoided at all costs. It takes away the pain, fear and insecurity of early life. But at the time to pay, the piper will come when you’re least capable of paying.

The symptoms I had were there long before I was in the City, but the combination is lethal to all but a lucky few who come out the other side.

report by Carol Lewis from The Times on January 10th 2012