Unusual and affecting reflection on the toxic combination of achievement, addiction and celebrity culture, as embodied by the decline of one-time soccer champion George Best (1946–2005).
In 2003, as a neophyte reporter, Daily Telegraph feature writer Walden (Harm’s Way, 2008) received an unusual assignment: to “babysit” Best on behalf of their mutual employer, the newspaper that published Best’s ghostwritten column. Sometimes referred to as the “Fifth Beatle” for his youthful charisma in his prime, Best’s fortunes had suffered due to a severe alcohol dependency and a failed marriage that played out in the tabloids. After tracking Best down in Malta, Walden and her subject developed a strange friendship, with Walden playing a combination of minder and earnest conscience, as Best’s marriage faltered and he attempted to quit drinking at an expensive spa, only to give in further to it. Walden observes that Best “felt for alcohol what the glutton feels for food: it hijacked every one of his senses.” The author portrays the milieu of British celebrity journalism as fueled by mindless competitive aggression, upon which Best provides wry commentary. The grim narrative spectacle of his decline is leavened by the pair’s irreverent exchanges (Best appreciated her tart honesty) and Walden’s prose, which is often observant and strikingly original. Despite his frequently boorish behavior, including hitting his wife (the offense that finally cost him the newspaper column and its much-needed income), Walden captures Best in sympathetic, nuanced fashion. He was a bright, charismatic sportsman whose early achievements led to a confused life of excess, always in the public eye.
Will have strong appeal for soccer fans and observers of celebrity culture, though such readers may not enjoy the questions Walden’s tale implicitly raises.