EXCLUSIVE: POGUES' SHANE TELLS HOW HE MADE IT TO 50
Smoking, drinking and partying keep me alive
It's a milestone most people thought Shane MacGowan would never live to see. But on Christmas Day the legendary Pogues hellraiser will celebrate his 50th birthday.
And as the booze-loving Irishman raises (presumably several) glasses to toast his half-century tomorrow, he is determined that the party will carry on right into the New Year.
Why break the habit of a lifetime?
Here, in an exclusive pre-birthday chat with the Mirror, Shane - the man behind the controversial Christmas classic Fairytale Of New York - gives his, surprisingly coherent, opinions on everything from the Spice Girls to his teeth. And even offers some advice to fellow caner Amy Winehouse.
But first things first. Given that he has the sort of thirst that keeps the average off-licence in business, along with well-documented drug problems, did he ever expect to reach 50?
"To be honest, I never thought too much about getting to 50," says Shane.
"But if everybody is making bets that you are going to die at 4.30 tomorrow afternoon you just tend to think, 'F*** it, I'm not going to die as long as those f****** are alive.'"
We meet a few hours before he is due to leave London for his combined Christmas and birthday bash in Ireland with his long-term girlfriend Victoria and his parents.
His luxury room in a Knightsbridge hotel is a scene of hard-partying devastation.
Half-finished and empty bottles of cider, vodka, port, Dubonnet, wine, lager, gin and beer sit on every available surface.
Books - biographies of Eric Clapton and Sam Cooke, poetry by WB Yeats, and a biography of Stalin - are strewn everywhere, while piles of CDs, clothes, a bedside pack of Tarot cards and several overflowing ashtrays add to the general debris.
Wearing the same shirt and trousers he wore on the previous evening for a night out with Kate Moss and various other celebrity pals, Shane - whose skin has a deathly white pallor - lies flat out on his bed while his ghettoblaster belts out Led Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven at full volume.
While we chat he takes regular swigs of retsina, slugged straight from the bottle, and chain-smokes, holding his cigarette perilously close to the bedclothes.
The empties scattered around give a good indication of how he plans to spend tomorrow.
"I'll just drink wine, cider and gin - and anything else I can find," says Shane. "I think Victoria and her sister might have something special planned.
"I used to go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, but if I don't manage that I might go on Christmas Day. I go to Mass every now and then.
"Smoking, drinking, partying - that's why I've stayed alive as long as I have. And I've got better with age, that's what's meant to happen.
"I party my way through life, it's what I like to do. I'm even partying right now, only I'm doing it on my back. Booze is definitely good for your voice - it greases the whistle."
Then he laughs his distinctive laugh, releasing a sound like steam escaping from a broken-down engine.
At an early birthday party thrown for Shane at his favourite North London pub The Boogaloo, all his exes - including former Pogue Cait O'Riordan - were in attendance. How has he managed to stay on good terms with them all?
"Well, I'm a nice guy and a romantic at heart," he says with a smile that exposes raw, bloodied gums and barely any teeth at all.
But the longest-standing affair of his life has been with alcohol.
Shane began boozing before he'd even started school...
SHANE ON BOOZE..
"I was actually four when I started drinking, I just remember that Ribena turned into stout and I developed an immediate love for it," he recalls.
"There have been times when I was doing loads of acid when I didn't drink so much, but I don't like not having a drink around."
SHANE ON HIS LOOKS..
"It's quite frightening to see pictures of myself because I sometimes remind me of my dad, but my skin is as smooth as my mother's," says Shane, who seems totally unconcerned by the fact that his years of hard-partying have taken their toll on his appearance.
In fact, he adds: "That's where I get my good looks from - in 1954 my mum was Colleen Of The Year, she did a bit of acting up in Dublin too."
Still there is one thing about the way he looks that he is not very happy with and intends to change.
Next year, Shane - the most infamous walking dental disaster area in rock history - plans to address the appalling state of his teeth.
"I am going to get my teeth done - emergency dentures to stop my face falling apart," he says.
"It's not painful but your bone structure is kept in by your teeth, so I might get some dentures in and leave it at that, or get them done gradually."
SHANE ON FAIRYTALE OF NEW YORK..
Last week The Pogues' most celebrated song, Fairytale Of New York, hit the headlines, thanks to the BBC's hastily withdrawn decision to censor it. The controversy helped propel the single to No.4 in the Christmas charts.
Of the furore, Shane says: "That's just typical of the way this country is going down. I mean, it's practically a police state."
The song holds mixed emotions for him ever since the tragic death in December 2000 of Kirsty MacColl, who sings on it.
"Kirsty really made that record, she had the character down properly," he says. "There was a lot of chemistry between us. She was a great laugh.
"But I still think that Kirsty is alive. I don't know exactly how it all works but I know that some people's molecules hang around - and Kirsty is one of them.
"I think God, the Tao, the force, the spirit, whatever you want to call it, is all connected."
SHANE ON AMY WINEHOUSE..
Hard-living singer Amy certainly earns Shane's admiration.
"She'll last quite a while," he says. "She has great lyrics and sounds much more grown up and mature than all the screeching f****** harpies that are around - you can't tell one of them from the other.
"But Amy really stands out." What about the personal problems Amy has had to face, can Shane advise her on how to cope?
"I was 14 the first time I was busted and I'm still here," he shrugs. "People worry about kids and drugs and all that, but it's been going on for ever. It's all part of life.
"I don't have a mobile phone, I don't have a computer or an iPod - I don't have any of that crap. I think it's much better to be like Amy Winehouse than to be aged 24 and stuck in front of a computer all day.
"If you are stuck in front of a computer you aren't actually living, you're living by proxy."
SHANE ON THE SPICE GIRLS..
Mention of The Spice Girls' reunion brings a particularly villainous chuckle from Shane.
"That's what you get for having free speech," he jokes. "I wish 'em luck. Posh Spice is the one that's got it together the best - she's rich, in the news all the time and looks good.
"I'd like to hear them do a Pogues song, they'd be great screaming along to The Boys From The County Hell or doing the dance of the seven veils to The Dark Streets Of London."
SHANE ON THE FUTURE..
He might be laid flat out, but Shane - the Yuletide Miracle Man - won't be kept down. He plans to carry on, as usual.
"Early death doesn't run in my family, both my mother and father's sides tend to live well into their 90s," he says. "My parents are still alive, they are in their late 70s and don't want to die. And neither do I."
We'll all drink to that, Shane...
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