Shaun Bailey, the Tory candidate for London mayor, has condemned “polite” drug use by professionals. If Bailey wins the election next May, every company with more than 250 employees will be expected to sign a drug-testing charter, with regular tests and the results published to name and shame the worst companies. “There is a responsibility for polite drug users to have a look at themselves,” Bailey says.
He hopes this will stamp out middle-class cocaine use and the role this plays in fueling gang violence. Which raises the question, exactly what is “polite” cocaine use? And just how common is it?
Well, I can tell you.
It is in Paddington, Piccadilly, Primrose Hill and Holland Park, Petworth and Padstow. Restaurants, bars, clubs, weddings, Christmas bashes, festivals, christenings, horse races, polo matches, holidays and 30th, 40th, 50th, even 60th birthday celebrations; for a certain section of the middle classes, all these private events are a good excuse for a cheeky little drink and big fat toot.
How do I know this? There was a time when two out of every five dinner parties attended by your north London-resident reporter would include a Colombian/Peruvian course and a good West End night out would be enlivened by a series of snifters in a club WC with a couple of lairy mates.
The civilized dealer-to-customer transaction, the unwrapping and chopping, the stoic, ritualistic 20-quid note-rolling, the laughable, faux-clandestine nature of the three-in-a-cubicle partaking — this was all part of my “polite” drug-taking experience. No one got caught. Raids, stop-and-searches, arrests and fines were/are unusual. The quantities were strictly “personal”. Nothing too criminal; just a bit of nasal naughtiness, a happy gak-cident. Dads would feel more shame if their offspring got done for drink-driving than they would for a bit of harmless tooting.
Cocaine’s blizzarding ubiquity in these rarefied environments has engendered a louche casualness among users and vendors that would have been shocking ten years ago. Just last week, outside a trendy west London gastropub, a friendly young man I’d been small-talking to while waiting to be served passed me his business card. He was white, 30-ish, good looking and well-spoken. The card’s text spelled out his name, a mobile number and — the wink-wink giveaway — “24/7”. A cocaine dealer’s business card. “Call me,” he said with a smile. That I am old enough to be his father didn’t seem to be a problem.
I know of one dealer who works exclusively across the moneyed north/west/Soho patch of London supplying professionals only; actors, sportsmen, aristocrats, property tycoons, artists and rock stars mainly. He regularly flies by private jet to Ibiza, spends weekends working at big country houses and serves as dealer-in-residence at house parties and private clubs. His customers regard him as a friend, and why wouldn’t they? They hang out with him four nights a week.
Weddings, Christmas bashes, christenings, horse races and 30th, 40th, 50th, even 60th birthday celebrations.
How about the garage forecourt in the Cotswolds where weekending media types, hedge-funders and celebs park their Range Rovers and wait for the local “county lines” dealer to show up? Sound too risky? The restrictions of lockdown have meant cocaine has undergone a Deliveroo-ifaction. Yes, the pandemic may have slowed down international trafficking and put the prices up, but dealers are reporting an increased demand in dark-web-facilitated home-delivery orders.
In April the support group Cocaine Anonymous hinted that lockdown would turn every day into a weekend and that an epidemic of drug abuse was inevitable, despite the obvious fact that sharing a pile of powder, a mirror and grubby banknote with a group of friends would be an easy way to catch and pass on the virus.
I know of one dealer who regularly flies by private jet to Ibiza.
There is a twist, however. None of this ubiquity has helped to maintain cocaine’s brand image. If anything, it has long been tarnished by an ugly and impolite overfamiliarity. As with one of those once-desirable clothing labels that get bought out by Mike Ashley then denuded of fashionability and exclusivity by a stack ’em high, sell ’em fast strategy, cocaine’s dreary ubiquity has rendered it not cool, chic, elitist or glamorous anymore, but a dull dinner party staple as common as coffee or carbonara.
And the drugs don’t even work anymore; the substance that is supposed to get the party started is also a reliable buzzkill. The “personality powder” is actually cliquey and excluding, liberating the tongue, but killing conversation. Everyone is talking — repeating themselves mainly — but no one is listening. There’s nothing “polite” about that.