Voices of Gary... Doris Stokes
The young girl was pretty with long red-brown hair falling over her shoulders and she was sobbing her heart out. She was hunched up on the back stairs at the SAGB (Spiritualist Association of Great Britain) crying as if the end of the world had come, not caring a bit who saw her. My friend Nancy and I had stepped out of the lift on our way back from a quick sandwich lunch and we stopped dead.
"Whatever's the matter love?" I asked gently
"I've just lost a very good friend" she gulped between sobs "and I can't get into the demonstration...It's full." and the tears started to fall again.
"Come on, love" said Nancy "We'll get you in, even if you have to sit on the floor."
It was one of those days. I don't often get the chance to do a full day at the SAGB and when I do it's usually packed out. I'd had to leave home before 10:00 that morning for the first session and there was only time for a quick bite and a cup of tea before I had to start all over again. They'd wedged them in like sardines in that hall and the central heating was going full blast despite the fact that it was a mild day. It was like stepping into a Turkish bath.
Nancy had a word with a man on the door and a box was pushed beside the grand piano for the young girl. It didn't look very comfortable but it was the best we could do. I started to work normally and then to my surprise a faint light flew directly over the girl's bright hair and a young male voice said "I was found dead in bed yesterday."
Yesterday, I thought, no wonder the poor girl's in such a state.
"I've got a young man here who was found dead in bed yesterday" , I told her. "Does that mean anything to you, love?"
"Yes!" she cried and bust into tears again.
The young man tried to tell me his name but it was difficult for him to communicate so soon after passing and I could hardly hear him.
"Was that Gary, love?" I asked.
"Yes" said the girl "His name's Gary."
He was trying to give me his surname too but I couldn't catch it. It was something like Alton or Almon.
"No I don't think I've got that right" I said to him, "try me again Gary."
To my surprise he laughed and started whistling instead. What on earth's going on I thought? If I can't make out what he's saying, how's whistling going to help? Then I realised that the tune sounded familiar. It was like a pop song, yet it wasn't a pop song because I'm not very good at those and I knew this tune well. Then I realised where I'd heard it before. It was the theme tune to one of my favourite TV programmes Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.
"It can't be" I said out loud in shock. "Surely it can't be Gary Holton from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet?"
"Yes it is" said Gary and his friend simultaneously.
Gary Holton was the talented young man who played the popular cockney character called Wayne in the TV series. His sudden death the day before had been all over the morning papers but I'd left too early to see them and knew nothing about it. The episode really shook me. I come across tragedy all the time in my job of course but to have someone you watch every week on TV turn up suddenly amongst the spirit voices when you didn't even know they'd passed is quite a shock.
Gary went on to mention quite a few other names but the girl was so distressed I felt it would be kinder to move on to another contact. Making a mental note to have a word with her at the end, I continued with the demonstration. It passed smoothly enough with no more unpleasant shocks. Afterwards I collected up my things and looked round for the girl, but she had gone.
"Oh, she left you this," said the man on the door, and handed me a slip of paper. It was a hasty note thanking me for my help and signed Melanie - no address, no telephone number. Oh well, never mind, I thought, that's the end of that and I went home, sad that we'd lost a bright young talent but certain that we'd heard the last of the affair. Which just shows how wrong you can be even when you're a medium!
Gary Holton was quite determined to come back for a long chat because unbeknown to me, he'd made an un-official appointment three weeks before he passed and he still intended to keep it even though he was now on the other side! It happened like this. A friend of mine met Gary and his girlfriend Jahnet in Marbella, Spain where the Auf Wiedersehen, Pet team were filming the Spanish scenes for the series. Over drinks in the hotel bar, my name was mentioned and Gary and Jahnet said how much they'd like to meet me. The upshot was that my friend agreed to bring them over for a cup of tea on my first day off after Gary had finished filming. No one could have guessed that Gary Holton, apparently fit, healthy and full of life, had only three short weeks left on this earth.
The TV crew stayed on for an extra week or two, then they returned to Nottingham to shoot the final scenes. It was a hectic schedule and every minute counted. Everyone was working very hard indeed but Gary didn't seem to be showing any more strain than anyone else. On the thursday afternoon he finished his work in the Nottingham studios and set off for London to be ready for the read through at the rehearsal rooms the next morning. He never got there. On friday morning Jahnet found him dead in bed.
Yet Gary obviously hadn't forgotten that planned meeting with me and I believe that one of the first things he did when he found himself over there was set about organising it. First he prompted Melanie, a young actress he'd worked with who knew a lot about spiritualism, to come to the SAGB at short notice despite the fact there were no places left. Then he made sure Nancy and I returned from lunch at just the right time to bump into her and he also made sure he got a message through. He's clearly a very determined young man when he puts his mind to it. Jahnet of course quickly got to hear of Melanie's message, and remembering the discussion in Spain she was keen to keep the appointment.
She arrived one grey winter morning with her friends Brian and Susie. She was still suffering from shock. She was wrapped in a thick fur coat, the collar pulled up to her ears, yet she still looked frozen, just the same. "Come in love and have a cup of tea" I said, quickly getting her indoors and turning up the fire. Her friend Susie looked almost as cold. Only Brian seemed calm and unruffled. Gary came through almost straight away but it was difficult to keep up with him. His voice was instantly recognisable, that broad cockney accent and the language at times! Well it's a good thing I'm unshockable. But despite this, there was a great deal of confusion around him and at times his voice was so faint I could hardly hear a word he said.
At this time Jahnet was still waiting for the outcome of the inquest and we didn't know the official cause of death, although the papers were full of speculation. Shortly before the tragedy it was revealed that Gary had been a heroin addict and of course now everyone was saying that it was a drug overdose which killed him. Gary was annoyed about this. "I didn't do it. It wasn't drugs," he insisted. "I'd kicked heroin. Don't let them say that."
Then great waves of confusion would come flowing in, he didn't seem to know how he'd ended up on the other side. It had been a great surprise to him at first. "I was very angry, very bitter when I realised what had happened," he said with his voice getting agitated again. "I was just making. Finally I was making it and then this had to happen. It's not fair."
"Don't upset yourself love" I said gently "Let's talk about something else".
"It's okay, I'm at peace now" he said calming down, but he changed the subject all the time. He mentioned the names John and Tony.
"John's his manager and Tony is a reporter who's writing about him at the moment," said Jahnet "And now he's talking about Amanda and Lisa" I explained. "They're girlfriends of his." explained Jahnet who didn't seem at all bothered or jealous of them.
"I borrowed a tenner from Brian before it happened," Gary went on. "Sorry mate, you won't get that back." Brian smiled ruefully. He clearly didn't begrudge Gary the money. But talk of events leading up to the tragedy set Gary reassessing his life again.
"Five years. I've wasted so much time...I was f*****". I hastily censored the word. He went on to talk of his wife Donna and his long time girlfriend Susie and predicted that there would be a lot of confusion and nastiness over the funeral. "But I had good friends in Brian and Jahnet" he added. "We understood each other, we could tell what each other was thinking. There was nothing we couldn't talk about."
But Gary was slipping into sadness again. "I lived my life and made a mess of it..." "All right love, don't go on about it." I said "What's been happening lately?" At first I didn't think he was paying attention but after a second or two, very faintly, I heard something about a house in the country, near Little something. There was the hiss of an 's' sound but that's all I could make out.
"It must be Little Saxham," said Jahnette, "We went to look at a house out that way because we wanted to open a centre to help heroin addicts." "That's going to happen," said Gary determinedly. "With Pip, I'll still help you. Just put out your hand and I'll be there."
Then Gary started to laugh. "I'm thirty-three you know but the papers said thirty-two. Don't take any notice of the bloody papers. You can't believe a word they say. And never mind what they said about Jahnet and Brian. The happiest time of my life I have them to thank for. They're true blue. We loved each other. I had a lot of girls on the side but we understood each other."
He was still very concerned about his friends. "You've been a very mixed up little girl" He told Jahnet "but now you're beginning to get yourself together. The tears you've shed. We've cried in each other's arms, talking about wouldn't it be better if we went. Promise me you'll learn something from this. Do something positive."
And as for Brian he was worried that he wasn't making the most of his talent. "Brian's the sort of bloke who gives up if things don't go right. Lazy bugger. He has so much talent but he doesn't use it. He can write. I love Brian as a soul mate and I don't want him to fritter his life away. He's got lyrics in the drawer that have never been used. Get on with it mate and I'll help you."
By now Gary was wandering back and forth between the two of them. "That girl held me in her arms as I sweated and shook, but I never sorted myself out and then this had to happen. It's not fair. I would have shown them. I frittered away a lot of money but I was also screwed out of a lot of money. I trusted people. I had no business head."
After Gary's passing the papers had been full of terrible stories and he was particularly upset about one report which linked him to an 11-year-old girl.
"I had three children. I wouldn't have touched an 11-year-old, I've got three kids of my own. Oh I'm well off out of it." he finished angrily.
This puzzled me because I could have sworn I had read somewhere that Gary had only one child, but Jahnet explained. "Yes I know what he means. He is talking about Max, Susie's son from a past marriage, and Danielle, my daughter, as well as his own son. He loved them and thought of them as his own children. He would say he has got three kids".
"I always supported the baby", Gary went on, "But Brian listen, I have creditors. I owe money. My kid won't get anything unless we are careful".
By now the power was fading badly and it was a strain to make out his words, but still Gary went on, remembering his friends "Amanda, she's only 19. Give her my love. I was a bit of a sod but I loved her. There is one thing Jahnet. They said they loved me and I wondered if it was because I was famous but I never thought that about Jahnet. She loved me for me, warts and all. I took advantage of all those others. But then who wouldn't?".
He talked of his friends Steve, Melanie and finally of Ben. "I am glad he's mentioned Ben" said Jahnet "Ben is Keith Moon's son and Gary helped him through a very difficult time in his life. He thought the world of Ben".
But Gary was gone and I was exhausted. Yet the sitting wasn't quite over. Jahnet's friend, Susie, had been sitting quietly curled up in an armchair throughout the conversation. The poor girl seemed very subdued and it wasn't until Gary had finished that she shyly mentioned that one or two of the names Jahnet hadn't been able to place might have been intended for her. It turned out that young as she was, she had been recently widowed and was still suffering badly.
I couldn't let her leave without some word of comfort, so I tuned in once more, gathering up the last shreds of power. Fortunately it wasn't a struggle. Her husband, John, had been hovering close trying to get a word in throughout the sitting. In fact one puzzling comment I had heard soon after they arrived now became clear.
In the middle of the confusion surrounding Gary, I made out the words "We parted on bad terms. I am sorry. I forgive you" and the words were spoken very definitely to Susie. There was no question of the message being intended for Jahnette or Brian.
Susie, however, was puzzled. "No it can't be for me. I never met Gary". She said.
No one present could understand it and we let it go but now I realised that it had been Susie's husband trying to interrupt right at the beginning. The story was particularly tragic because they had parted company unhappily, the husband had gone abroad and had been killed in a car accident. "It was two days before I was due home, just two days that's all".
He talked of the accident, the sons he had left behind and some of the problems of the marriage. It was only a mini sitting because by now I was exhausted but it seemed to cheer Susie quite a bit.
Afterwards over a cup of tea Jahnet explained a little more about poor Gary's mixed up life. Apparently he had had quite a wild time. He had been a child actor, then a pop singer and he got involved in drink, drugs and goodness knows what else. Then came his unexpected success in the first series of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and instead of bringing him pleasure it seemed onluy to create more problems. Work poured in and to cope with the work he leaned more heavily on drugs. His relationship with his girlfriend Sue, the mother of his son, began to suffer and he was soon in a pretty bad way.
Jahnet found him in her local pub in a distressed state as he tried to escape the unwelcome attentions of a group of fans. She took him home and soon he was more or less living with her steady boyfriend, Brian. It might be a funny idea to an old lady like me, but it seems to have suited them. Gary had other girlfriends and Jahnet had Brian but the three of them lived together without jealousy.
"Gary managed to kick heroin", said Jahnet "and he was really getting himself together. We had great plans. He was just starting to realise what he could achieve. He was very concerned about drugs and young people and he felt he could use his fame to do so much to help drug addicts because he had been through it himself. He wanted to open a special centre in the country. The only problem was money. The way he had been living he had run into debt. He had earned a lot of money but he had spent even more, so he was working very hard to get straight. He had come out of a year in a play which is very tiring itself, straight into the second series of Auf Wiedersehen Pet. It was such a tight schedule and everybody had to work incredibly hard, but as soon as filming was over Gary was getting ready for a season in pantomime".
The week before the tragedy was particularly unhappy. Sensational newspaper reports seemed to follow Gary wherever he went and that week his heroin addiction was revealed.
"He was very upset about it", said Jahnet "he thought that no one would believe he was cured and that his career would be ruined. Then that last day, Thursday, something changed. It was as if all the fight went out of him. I am sure deep down, he knew he was going to die. I was with him at the studios in Nottingham and he went round saying goodbye to everybody. He even tried to see his little Nottingham girlfriend to say goodbye to her. We came back to London and Gary had a few drinks in the pub but he wasn't at all drunk. Afterwards we went to visit some old friends of his and we sat up very late talking. We were too tired to drive home so they let us sleep on a mattress on the floor. The next morning when I woke up, Gary was gone. He was still lying beside me, but I knew as soon as I looked at him he was dead".
At the inquest it was revealed that traces of alcohol and heroin had been found in Gary Holton's body, enough to have killed him. I found the heroin part strange, because Gary had been adamant about not taking drugs when I spoke to him. Jahnet too finds it hard to believe.
"I can't understand it", she said "Gary wasn't a saint but he hadn't had much to drink that night and he certainly didn't have another drink after leaving the pub. As for drugs, they said he must have taken the heroin an hour before he died. But I found him at 9.00 in the morning. We were sleeping on a single mattress and my arm was still across his body. He couldn't have got up without me knowing. I think he died because he had had enough. He lived very fast and he was worn out".
Well it's a sad story. Gary Holton was a confused boy and the confusion surrounds him still. It's such a pity. He was so talented and when I was talking to him I realised that he was one of those rare people who have the gift of making people love him. Yet in the end it wasn't enough.
It's a great shame he was too busy to come to see me before he passed. Who knows, perhaps I could have given him some reassurance. But it was obviously not meant to be. I firmly believe that there is a time to be born and a time to die and it was clearly Gary Holton's time to die. At least he won't be lonely on the other side. There are so many other tragic young actors and pop musicians already there, he'll have plenty of company.