As Mike Oldfield Releases A New Album, An Astonishingly Frank Confession

August 31, 1998
Andrew Valentine
The Daily Mail Monday

"After my success with Tubular Bells I turned to LSD and alcohol to escape. I was halfway down the corridor towards total madness."

Summer 1997 and dawn is breaking over Ibiza. Crowds of young British party-goers are pouring out of the clubs. Among them staggers a middle aged man with bleached blond hair and craggy features - howling and waving his hands wildly in the air, oblivious to everything around him.

This was Mike Oldfield, 46, the man who, in 1973, virtually invented middle-of-the-road pop with his groundbreaking semi-classical LP Tubular Bells.

Composed in a bedsit, with a teenage Oldfield playing 20 instruments, it sold eight million copies world-wide and spent fifteen months at Number One in Britain.

When Oldfield was finally knocked off the top spot, it was by his follow-up album, Hergest Ridge. He has sold 40 million albums - including Tubular Bells 2, released in 1993 - earning him a fortune estimated at 15 million UK pounds.

So why was one of our most celebrated musicians behaving in such a curious fashion? The answer is simple: he was out of his mind on red wine and the rave drug Ecstasy.

Oldfield spent two summers in this state after moving to Ibiza in 1996. "There’s something about that island which brings out the best and worst in people," he says. "For eight months of the year, Ibiza is deserted. Come summer and the whole place turns into bacchanalian madness.

"I tried to keep away from the club scene but was drawn back each time. Over there you eat dinner late, so you drink more. By the time pubs in England have long closed you’re onto your third or fourth bottle of wine.

"By that time I’d think "What the hell", and just rush out into the night. I did the craziest of things.

"Once, around six in the morning, I remember stumbling out of Pasha, my favourite club, totally out of my head, just screaming and waving my hands around in the air.

"Another time I crashed my car after being way over the limit and was banned from driving for a year. Mostly though, the drugs and alcohol would make me aggressive and depressed. The comedown was awful.

"People normally go to Ibiza for two weeks and spend the following fortnight nurturing a hangover; I’d have a hangover for three months.

Exhausted and depressed, Oldfield moved back to Britain in April, conceding that he can never return to Ibiza. Last week he put his cliffside mansion up for sale, complete with Mercedes, Jeep and powerboat. The total price 2 million sterling.

Some good, however, did come out of his stay. The island’s obsession with dance music inspired him to create a new, super-charged version of his most famous album, Tubular Bells 3, which hits the shops today.

None of which helps to explain why an extraordinarily gifted, fortysomething man - the son of a Home Counties GP - should find himself sucked into a sordid, drug soaked world populated by people young enough to be his children.

A large part of the answer lies with the demons that have haunted Oldfield throughout his career. He gave the Tubular Bells series it’s name because, to his ear, the sound of bells is ambiguous, denoting not only happy events, but sombre ones, such as death.

After undergoing intense psychotherapy, Oldfield is convinced that the roots of his darker side are buried in his unhappy childhood.

When he was 5 his mother became an alcoholic and manic depressive. She spent the next fifteen years in and out of mental institutions before committing suicide a few months after the release of her son’s most famous album.

"I’d experienced things that were just terrifying for a child", he says. "I loved my mother but, even as young as five, I felt resentment towards her for not being like my friends’ mothers."

Three years ago, intrigued by his background, Oldfield sent an investigator to the public records office in Dublin, where his mother had been born into a Roman Catholic family. The trail led to Surrey where the rock star found an aunt - his mother’s sister - whom he had never known existed.

"My aunt told me that one day my grandfather had gone down to the pub, got drunk and been press-ganged into the British Army and sent to the trenches.

"When he came back he was a changed man, and the four children born after that, including my mother, all grew up with problems. Then, at eighteen, she fell in love with a Protestant - my father - and was disowned by her family. It was a catalogue of problems leading ultimately to her alcoholism.

Even when my mother was in an institution, home was a nightmare. My sister, Sally, and my brother, Terry, would wait, nervously, for her return after her 30-day committal was over.

One stabilising influence to come out of Oldfield’s childhood was his love for music. He started to play the guitar at six, and was playing folk concerts at 13.

"Music became my salvation", he says. "Perhaps as a result of my home life I became very introverted as a child. There was something about me that people found very disquieting. I never had friends; I still have very few."

Oldfield left school at 15 and spent the next three years playing in the orchestra for the musical Hair whenever someone was ill. He was also in a rock band and spent hours hanging around the Abbey Road Studios where the Beatles recorded.

"I only ever saw Paul", recalls Oldfield, "and I don’t think he was very impressed with me. One day I left a hamburger in the canteen microwave for 30 minutes. I walked in to find him almost gassed to death by the fumes.

I was also thrown out of a studio so that John and Yoko could practise. They were Gods about the place."

Oldfield spent a year working on Tubular Bells before playing it to a young record manager he’d heard about called Richard Branson. The meeting was to make both multi-millionaires.

But Oldfield’s introverted nature ill prepared him for success. He turned to alcohol and LSD as a means of escape.

"I was halfway down the corridor to madness," he says. "Years after I stopped taking it I would still get hallucinations. I understood what it was like to be completely mad."

Oldfield started to have panic attacks, about which he was to develop a bizarre theory.

At 28 he went on a course called Exegesis which encouraged people to confront their fears. "During a three day session I turned into a baby. I was rolled up like a foetus on the floor, wailing.

The moment of my birth had come back to me. I realized that I hadn’t liked being cut off from my mother, picked up and whacked across the bottom. My first experience of life had, therefore, been blind panic.

Oldfield has married once, in 1978 to Diana Fuller, who ran the Exegesis course. They married six weeks after meeting but the union lasted only a month.

"We both had our reasons for marrying and we got exactly what we wanted out of it," says Oldfield. "We could have stayed together but we chose not to."

A couple of years later, Oldfield met a PR girl called Sally Cooper, with whom he had three children, Molly, now 18, Dougal, 17 and Luke, nine. "We decided to split just after the last baby was born," Oldfield says. "We just grew apart, really."

Oldfield’s next girlfriend was a Norwegian singer, Anita Hegerland, whom he met while touring. The couple had a daughter, Greta, but again the relationship failed.

"I left because I thought it was worse to stay. I was scared of it developing into a repeat of my own family, so I left in order to protect the children. It seems to have worked - they are happy."

By the time, three years ago, Oldfield started thinking about moving to Ibiza - a clifftop home had been a long cherished dream - his life was almost on an even keel.

So what’s his theory about what went wrong in the Spanish sunshine?

His time in Ibiza, he believes, was his second adolescence. And he reveals that his youthful excess was fuelled by the presence of a new girlfriend, a 28-year-old German called Miriam.

The relationship survived Oldfield’s drug induced mood swings and Miriam is now installed in his eight-bedroom mansion in Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire. "There was some doubt that she would come over because she’s a party animal. I’m glad she did because we’re very much in love"

On Friday, Oldfield steps back into the limelight with the world premiere of Tubular Bells 3, in London’s Horse Guard’s Parad.

Fittingly, at the end of the concert, at precisely 10pm, the bells of Big Ben will chime in Oldfield’s honour. This time, it is to be hoped, the bells will signal a purely joyful occasion.

Written by Andrew Valentine
P & C Associated Newspapers Limited 1998
The Daily Mail Monday 31 August 1998

Mike Oldfield
Mike Oldfield