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Meet the former soldier who lost a year to London’s chemsex scene

Danielle Goldstein

When army veteran James Wharton moved back to London after a break-up, he found himself experiencing the highs and lows of the city’s chemsex scene…

‘I joined the army when I was 16. I’d always wanted to be a soldier, and I started on troop service in Knightsbridge, riding a horse and carrying a sword on The Mall with the Queen. To go in the space of a year from a council estate in north Wales to being one of those soldiers on a beautiful horse was quite a culture shock.

After ten years in the army I left, wanting to do something else and prioritise my marriage. I moved to Windsor with my husband and our two dogs. But when we broke up a year later I ended up coming back to London. I moved into in a houseshare in Kentish Town and emerged back into the gay community. One night, someone invited me back to their flat. There were a lot of guys there, and a lot of drugs. I had stumbled into the London chemsex scene.

‘I lost 2015 to chemsex. I don’t even remember it, really’

The drugs were quite different to the drugs I’d known ten years earlier. It’s now mephedrone, crystal meth and G (GHB or GBL), which is like a liquid ecstasy. They’re addictive, of course, but the really addictive thing is the culture. It has all the things a vulnerable, insecure gay man looking for intimacy might become sucked into.

If you’ve just come from a relationship breakdown and find yourself with lots of good-looking strangers who are all interested in you, you can see how that might be an exciting situation. And you’re all taking the same drugs – inhibition-lowering, libido-enhancing chemicals, so you can have sex with everybody. Is it any wonder a lot of gay men have gone mad for that?

Something people don’t always realise is that the whole chemsex culture depends on your phone. I could update my Grindr profile to say that I’m having an ‘H&H’ party, which stands for ‘horny and high’. People would start messaging and then get an Uber over. I could use WhatsApp to order the substances I wanted and transfer the money to the dealer’s account immediately. Before you know it, you’ve got six people in your flat doing chemsex. One weekend I had about 35 people round and I stayed up for five days.

‘One gay man in London dies every 12 days from drugs associated with chemsex’

I lost 2015 to chemsex, without a doubt. I don’t even remember it, really. But I got to a point where I realised that I’d stopped doing the things I loved. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen my family back in Wales. I was constantly tired and looking like shit. I started to think: I’m not happy. I was getting gratification off the attention, but there always has to be a comedown.

Here’s an awful statistic: one gay man in London dies every 12 days as a result of taking drugs associated with chemsex. I was able to get help at the right time, and now I can confidently say that I’ve gone through chemsex addiction and come out the other side.

That’s why I decided to write about about my experience. I learned that there are some wonderful people out there providing support – they hold the keys to getting other people out of it. Like I said, every drug has a comedown. And when people are ready to come down and access support, I hope the book does a good job of reassuring them that they’re not alone.’

‘Something for the Weekend: Life in the Chemsex Underworld’ by James Wharton is out now, published by Biteback Books. For advice and support on chemsex, visit 56 Dean St.

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