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Drink agony of the Bests

George's sister lifts the lid on gene that blighted their family

By Lesley-Anne Henry

George Best's sister has spoken of the years of blight that alcoholism has caused to her family.

Speaking for the first time about the Bests' struggle with the disease, Barbara Best-McNarry said the late football superstar and his mother, Annie, shared the same gene that left them vulnerable to alcoholism.

She also said she believed the genetic link was shared by another sibling, Julie, who is still battling to stay sober.

"Alcoholism is a disease, an addiction. But not everyone who drinks becomes an alcoholic," said Barbara.

"Our belief is that there is a genetic link; that our mother and George - and our younger sister Julie - all shared the same gene that left them vulnerable to this most terrible addiction."

In her new book 'Our George, A Family Memoir', extracts of which are being published in the Belfast Telegraph today and tomorrow, Barbara describes how her mother - who did not drink until she was well into her 40s - started using alcohol as a crutch.

She recalled how a neighbour called to their house at 9am one morning to find Annie drinking a glass of sherry to help her "get through the day" .

Said Barbara: "Her drinking began slowly but built up gradually.

"It became increasingly obvious that she had a problem.

"She used to send Carol (my other sister) to the Rosetta Bar for a bottle of wine. She even sent me. Or she'd go herself.

"The change in her when she took drink was shocking. Before, my mum was a lovely, sweet- natured woman, a woman who never spoke ill of anybody.

"When she was drunk, she was argumentative and very difficult. She would taunt us and goad us.

"Dad tried everything. He pleaded with her to stop. He begged her to see a doctor. He even tried to get a hypnotist to help her.

"This was all futile. Nothing worked. For years she steadfastly refused to accept that she was an alcoholic."

Annie Best died just a couple of months before her 56th birthday in June 1977. Years later her footballer legend son died aged just 59.

Barbara admitted that there were pressures such as George leaving home at an early age and media intrusion that drove her mother to drink - but she noted that the bottom line was that she was an alcoholic.

"Looking back on those years, now I see that there are, of course, parallels between what we went through with mum and George's fight against alcoholism.

"There was the same sense of despair. The same desperation to try to help him, to make him stop. The same heartache.

"In the end there was nothing any of us could do about it."

  • Barbara Best-McNarry's book, Our George, will be formally launched in the Merchant Hotel, Belfast, on Thursday October 18. Barbara will also be signing copies in Easons at Bangor and Connswater on Saturday, October 13, and at Easons branches in Donegall Place, Belfast (12noon), and Lisburn (3pm) on Saturday October 20.
  • The fund to build a statue in memory of football icon George Best has just £1,000. The appeal, launched in 2006, was expected to raise £ 80,000 to build a permanent memorial in the grounds of Belfast City Hall. It had initially been hoped that the completed statue would be unveiled on May 22 next year - what would have been George's 62nd birthday.

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