Camera captures life of former street drinker

Ellen to caption. 3005JM41
Ellen to caption. 3005JM41

Derry film maker Gavin Patton first met Pat Campbell in 2004 when he was recording footage of Derry’s street drinkers.

At that point, Pat was drinking every day. He was a familiar face around Derry’s city centre where he was part of a community of alcoholics who survived by looking out for one another in a busy world which didn’t have time to recognise them.

A few months ago, now sober, Pat saw the footage of himself on Gavin’s Youtube channel and got in touch with the camera man to tell him how his life had changed. As a result of speaking to the ‘Journal’ about his films, Gavin’s viewing figures have soared into the thousands, and he’s had interest in his work from all over the world.

Pat says he’s delighted for Gavin, whose work shows a side of society that people would rather wasn’t there.

Pat himself grew up in Fahan Street. He didn’t take his first drink until he was 21.

“I remember it well, it was a half pint of Harp down in Buncrana,” he says.

“Those days, being 21 was a big thing. You got the keys of the house, you were nothing till you reached 21.”

Looking back, Pat says his first experience of alcohol was a bad one.

“I should have listened to that first half pint of Harp, because it made me so sick.”

At first, Pat was a social drinker, enjoying a few pints if he was out at the weekend but after moving to London, where he spent the 1980s, drink started to become a bigger problem in his life.

“It just crept up on me, I went from being a social drinker to drinking every single day. In London, I’d go out and buy the Sun newspaper in the morning and the shop that I went to sold drink so I’d buy a half bottle of vodka with the paper and I’d have it drank before I got back to the house. Drink started to take control of me from there.”

Pat lived in London for 13 years, working for Westminster Council as a grounds keeper. On Christmas Day 1990 he returned home to his family home in Creggan.

“The drink problem was still there and I suppose at that stage I introduced myself to the city,” he laughs, referring to his positioning as a familiar face among those who drink on Derry’s streets.

“There’s nowhere in Derry I haven’t had a drink, except most of the pubs. I never caused trouble, and I never had any trouble, I find if you’re polite and nice and show respect to people, you get that back and it’s surprising what you can get. There was a woman who used to come into the bus station in Foyle Street every Wednesday, I don’t know who she was but every single Wednesday she’d give me a burger, a cup of coffee and £5. That’s the kind of kindness some people showed. Of course there were people who just ignored me too and some people who’d shout and tell me to get a job. I suppose in life, you meet all kinds.”

Seven years ago, Pat made his way to the Foyle Haven where he was found support and eventually found the path to sobriety.

“I’ve been off it seven years and I’m a lot happier now. I’m still the same person, just not a drinker any more. Now I volunteer at the Haven.”

Asked about his 2004 interview for Gavin’s film ‘The Cure’ Pat says:

“It’s strange looking back, but that’s who I was then. That’s why I was so keen to get in touch with Gavin and let him know how things had changed for me. Gavin’s filming has done a great job in showing people the true story about the drinkers on Derry’s streets.