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'It was a huge, awful mistake, I'd had a couple of drinks and couldn't get a taxi so I got into my car... I'm so ashamed but now to apologise, to do something positive I want to educate people and help save lives'

Alex Best, who is returning to Belfast on Monday to take part in a play in honour of her former husband George, tells Leona O'Neill about her remorse after she was found to be over the legal drink-driving limit after a minor collision near her home in Surrey earlier this year - and how she still thinks about the late football legend every day

Alex Best
Alex Best
Alex Best with late husband and Northern Ireland football legend George
Alex outside court after losing her driving licence following her drink-drive collision

Nearly 14 years after footballing legend George Best passed away, his former wife Alex is returning to his home city of Belfast for a viewing of a poignant play in his memory.

Living the Dream is a tale of dark times and the light of hope, something Alex (47) knows all too well after being caught drink-driving near her Surrey home in May.

She has spoken to the Belfast Telegraph about her remorse and shame over the incident and about what 'coming home' to Northern Ireland feels like.

"I'm coming back to Northern Ireland on Monday for the Eastside Arts Festival," she says. "Northern Ireland very much feels like home. I lived there for two years and made so many friends. I love coming back. It's like a home from home from me. It gives me a chance to catch up with everyone. Any excuse for me to come back is great.

"The reason I'm going is that I formed a production company with my business partner, John Warrington, whom I met through George. They worked together for 25 years and he is probably the only person George used to show up for work-wise.

"Years ago George showed John a letter written by a Romanian political prisoner which was addressed simply, George Best, London. The letter said that he and John Lennon were the essence of the word 'freedom' and had given hope to so many prisoners like her. So it is all very poignant.

"John thought about this for a long time, and through his dedication to George - as he always wanted to be remembered for the good things, not bad - he wrote a musical play called Living The Dream, which is being shown at the festival, which is brilliant.

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"I am doing a questions and answers session at the end of the play. I will be asking the cast questions about it all. George is played by local actor Daniel Leith. It is all so positive and all so good."

Living the Dream also features John Altman, best known for playing EastEnders bad boy Nick Cotton, reading the part of John Lennon. Another former EastEnder, Debbie Arnold, who played April Branning in the soap, also joins the cast. This showing is a sneak preview before it heads to Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Other Palace Theatre in London next year.

Alex says that it will be the first time she has seen the play in George's home city. She says it will it be a poignant moment for her.

"We are just really introducing the play, and what better place to do that than on George's home turf," she says. "It will then go on to show in the West End in London at one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's theatres.

"It is always so lovely to come back to Belfast and I think George would have loved it. He would be chuffed to bits about these positive things to come from him. I will have to take a packet of tissues with me for sure."

Alex says she is forever linked to George and is constantly reminded of him.

"It doesn't hurt to be reminded of him, it makes me proud," she says. "I was married to him. You look back and it seems like another lifetime. Once you get past the initial raw grief, you can remember the good times.

"When I think of George - and I think of him every day - I remember every single wonderful time that we had, which we did. I do not dwell on the negative. I am a positive person. George was a big part of my life, he was a big part of my growing up.

"He taught me a lot. I got married when I was very young and we were together for 11 years in my 20s, which is an important era in your life. He was a big part of that and I have such fond memories of him. We had such fun."

She says she feels very protective of his memory.

"That is why I am an advocate of this play," she says, "because it is all very positive. I think everything about George nowadays is so positive. It's such a shame that he can't see that.

"No one will ever forget George. He is a legend, an icon. You can't forget him if you are flying into his airport. He was a one-off. I think he would be proud of his legacy. I don't think he understood how deeply and lovingly everyone thought of him. He was an inspiration to people, and if he made a difference at all he would be very proud."

In the play George's spirit helps the main character. Alex says she often feels George's spirit near her.

"George helps the woman in the play through the association of freedom and when she was in this awful situation and John Lennon and George were giving her hope," she says. "It is quite a dark play. The moral of the story is to hold on, that things will change, that you must hold on to hope.

"I have always have George's spirit with me. I ask him questions when I'm feeling low, ask him what he would do."

Alex had her own troubles back in May when she was banned from the roads after being caught drink-driving near her Surrey home. She says that it was "a stupid and horrendous mistake" and one she is ashamed of.

"It was a huge, awful and terrible mistake," she says. "I am not proud of it at all. I got caught for drink-driving. I would never advise anyone to drive after drinking. I was caught in a situation when I couldn't get a taxi home and I did the stupidest thing and I got into my car and drove home.

"I was going to the shops and I saw some friends over the road outside the pub. I had a couple of glasses of wine. I tried to order a taxi, but it was Grand National Day and there were no taxis around. My dog was at home and I wanted to get home because it was his feeding time and I did the most stupid and horrendous thing and got into my car.

"On the way home a cat ran out in front of me and I tried to avoid her and I went into a hedge.

"I phoned the police myself. My car was in the middle of the road. I held my hands up, it was such an awful thing to do, it is just terrible and I am so ashamed. I don't think I have been through such a stressful time such as this.

"I think it's thinking about the 'what ifs'. What if I had killed someone? What if I'd had a passenger? It just doesn't bear thinking about. The remorse and the guilt that I feel about the whole situation is just immense and horrendous."

She says the incident has made a huge impact on her life.

"I think it's more about remorse," she says. "I just think all the time about what could have happened.

"I live in the countryside and it has had a huge impact. Thank goodness I have got very supportive friends and family who are helping me out. At the end of the day I don't really want to drive anymore. It scared me so much, it scared me off driving altogether.

"I am a positive person, so I think I have done wrong and I have to pay the consequences and just get on with it."

Alex says that she is now looking to the future and getting her production company up and running. She says one of her first projects will be a documentary about drink-driving.

"I have started a production company, called Krafty Entertainment, with John, and I have a lot of exciting things planned and that is what I have been trying to think about, about all the positive things," she says.

"It is quite a Northern Ireland type name, I think maybe that is George's influence. We are working on quite a few documentaries at the moment. One of them, in fact, is about drink-driving.

"I have just done an educational course and there are so many things that people don't know about driving and alcohol units. That is why I want to do something that will explain these things, to give something back, to educate people so that out of a bad situation I can do something positive.

"It's another way of apologising and educating people so that they don't do it, hopefully help people and save a few lives. If I can do something good out of this bad situation, then that is what I want to do."

Living The Dream is at the Strand Arts Centre, Belfast, on Monday at 6.30pm as part of the East Side Arts Festival. For more information and tickets (£15 or £12 concession) visit strandartscentre.com

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