Why Calum Best is no longer looking back in anger at life with his football star dad, George
He's been criticised for writing about football legend George Best's failings as a father, but Calum Best says he only wanted to tell the truth. And despite it all, he tells Hannah Stephenson, he still idolises and adores his dad
Sharp-suited, tall, handsome and charming, it's difficult to believe that Calum Best has survived drug and alcohol binges, lurid tabloid tales, bankruptcy and accusations that he is living off his father's name.
But the model-cum-reality TV star might be given a little slack when you consider his childhood, growing up as the only son of legendary Manchester United and Northern Ireland footballer George Best, from his first marriage to model Angie Best.
George Best was the first celebrity footballer, long before the likes of David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney started grabbing headlines, and Calum was in awe of him. The youngster yearned for his father's love, which so often seemed unrequited.
Calum's parents divorced when he was five, but his mother recalls her vision of the father-and-son relationship - the small boy tugging at his father's trouser leg while his father, oblivious, reaches up to the adoring fans vying for his attention.
"This hits me hard. She absolutely nailed it. Deep down, I always knew that was how it worked between me and my dad ... I tried and tried to get close to him, to build a relationship with him, but he always pushed me away. He was more interested in other things - his fans and alcohol," Calum says.
It's nearly 10 years since George Best died in 2005, from illnesses linked to alcoholism, and Calum, now 34, has charted his relationship with his father in a new book, Second Best: My Dad And Me.
It reveals George's appalling behaviour towards his son, from the many occasions he failed to turn up to pre-arranged outings, to the time, after spending a wonderful day together at Old Trafford, he left his distraught 11-year-old on his own in a hotel while he went out to find a hooker.
Despite everything, Calum still idolises his father.
"My feelings towards my dad have never changed. There have been highs and lows, anger, sadness. Although the stories are sad, they are not meant to be attacking, they are meant to be for people to understand what it's like to go through," he says.
"I love him, I idolise him, I wish more than anything that things had been different. I'm sad he wasn't able to battle the illness and win. I'm his number one fan on the football pitch and I believe he wanted to be a good dad, he just didn't really know how to show it, because he was so alcohol-dependent."
George Best's sister Barbara McNarry, who was the sole beneficiary in his will, has said her brother would feel "betrayed" by Calum's autobiography, in which he claims the footballer once attacked him in a booze-fuelled rage. But Calum remains unrepentant.
"It (the criticism) is upsetting, but I have to stand proud and hold to my convictions and say this is my story, I have the right to tell it. I don't want to have to defend myself to certain people," he says.
"It's unfortunate that Barbara feels that way, but if she reads the book in full, she'll realise it's not a story about me betraying him, it's about me telling the truth.
"Before my dad passed, he had pictures taken of him on his deathbed for the exact same reason, to raise awareness and let people know that it wasn't the right path he ended on."
Clearly a rift has emerged between Calum and his father's wider family. He was left nothing in the will, nor have they given him any of his father's memorabilia, he says.
"My dad's sister and her husband didn't want to share anything with me - and I'm not talking about materialistic things, although they didn't want to share those either. They are now using this book to paint me as the bad guy, whereas realistically, I loved the man more than anybody," he says.
Calum was declared bankrupt in 2013, a legacy of simply spending too much money and not paying enough tax. But he says his perfume brand and health and fitness supplements' range are doing well.
"The bankruptcy was my last hurdle of the old me. It came to bite me on the a**, from when I was 25 years old and spending my money like an idiot. I'm better off now than I've ever been before. I created new businesses and new ideas and wrote this book. My businesses are booming and my life is good. I'm a hard worker," he says.
After the divorce, he spent many of his early years in California, where his mother was a personal fitness trainer to Cher.
As a young man, he embarked on a promising modelling career which took him all over the world - but spent money as quickly as he earned it, and gained a reputation as a party animal, a regular on the nightclub circuit, indulging in drink and drugs and chasing women.
He headed for London at 20, in an effort to be closer to his father, but found a man who was constantly in the pub and rarely sober.
"I worked for years trying to build a relationship with him. We had some great times, we talked about football, we talked about girls, we ate Chinese food together, but when my dad died, I had lost every bit of hope I'd had of any sort of stability or bond with him," he says.
Calum was 24 when his father died, aged 59. He tried to block out the pain with a seemingly endless cocktail of drink and drugs, hit the tabloid headlines through his bad treatment of girlfriends, including Lindsay Lohan, and was branded a 'seedy lothario'.
"Dad's death sent me on a downward spiral. I had no one to turn to. I dulled my pain by going out, getting bombed in nightclubs. That went on for two or three years," he says.
His mother moved back to London when Calum was 27 and at an all-time low. She helped provide the stability that had been missing.
"Six years ago, I was an insecure, blubbering mess, but I'm okay now. I'll always have some demons in me, but I keep them managed and controlled. I'm in a much better place now. I am happier than I've ever been," he says. He is currently dating model Ianthe Rose Cochrane-Stack, but remains tight-lipped about their relationship.
"I'm not going to dwell on that, but she's a lovely girl, we've been together for quite some time and I enjoy spending time with her."
He says he doesn't party as much any more.
"I went from doing shots of whisky to shots of wheatgrass. But I still indulge, although it's few and far between."
A patron of the National Association for Children Of Alcoholics, he explains that part of the reason for writing the book was to raise awareness, to let other young people who have alcohol dependency in their lives know that something similar can happen to anybody, in any walk of life.
What would George Best say if he saw his son today?
"I think my dad would be proud of the man I've become. I think he'd have some guilt in the fact that he couldn't do things differently, but he'd say, 'Go on son, make the best of your life and I'm proud of you'."
Second Best: My Dad And Me, by Calum Best, is available now, Bantam, £16.99
Life and times of footballing legend
- Born in May 1946, the first child of Dickie and Anne Best, and raised in the Cregagh area of east Belfast
- Despite earning a place at Grosvenor High School after passing his 11-plus exam, he was unhappy there as the school specialised in rugby, and moved to Lisnasharragh Secondary School, where he was able to play football
- At the age of 15, he was discovered in Belfast by Manchester United scout Bob Bishop, whose now-legendary telegram to United manager Matt Busby read: “I think I’ve found you a genius.”
- Made his First Division debut for the club, aged 17, in 1963, and by the end of the 1963–64 season, had made 26 appearances, scoring six goals
- His career with United included scoring 179 goals from 470 appearances over 11 years, and he was the club’s top goalscorer in the league for five consecutive seasons
- He unexpectedly quit the club in 1974 at the age of 27, but played for a number of clubs around the world, until retiring in 1983
- His celebrity status and extravagant lifestyle led to problems such as alcoholism, which affected him on and off the field. He famously said of his career that “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars — the rest I just squandered”.
- He was married twice, to former models Angie Best — with whom he had his son Calum in 1981 — and Alex Best
- He died in 2005, age 59, due to complications from the immunosuppressive drugs he had been taking following a liver transplant in 2002