They’ve travelled to this room from different worlds, but when Hollywood star Tom Hardy sits opposite charity worker Kenny Ross, they recognise something in each other.
The thirty-somethings share a common bond. At one time they were both hooked on drugs and drink. They are living proof addiction doesn’t care who you are or where you come from.
Tom says: “What I have is indiscriminate, like a bullet. If you are an alcoholic that is what you are.”
And the dark shadow of addiction is never far away. He goes on: “If I had four pints of lager and half a bottle of vodka I could turn this room into an absolute f***ing nightmare in about three minutes. I could destroy everything in my life I have worked so hard for.”
Both Tom and Kenny are now clean and making the most of their futures. But their paths before and after those dark years couldn’t be more different.
Whereas privately educated Tom grew up in genteel East Sheen, South West London, the only son of Cambridge-educated writer Edward Hardy and artist mother Anne, Kenny was taken into foster care at the age of four as his mother struggled on anti-depressants.
When he was returned to her aged eight he would have to buy his own tea every night with the pound coin she left out for him. He left home at 16 and lived in a hostel where his substance abuse began.
Now Kenny lives in Hull and works for a homeless charity trying to help others as unfortunate as he was.
Tom is a Hollywood star who played villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and starred alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in the blockbuster Inception. He’s also had roles in Bronson, Warrior, Star Trek: Nemesis, This Means War and Child 44, which is due out later this year.
He’s a doting father to his five-year-old son Louis and proud fiancé to stunning British actress Charlotte Riley.
But surprisingly, it’s A-lister Tom who sits most awkwardly at the meeting, organised by The Prince’s Trust, a charity which helps disadvantaged young people.
Prince’s Trust ambassador Tom giggles as he sits hunched in his hoodie, a bundle of restless energy, and repeatedly asks Kenny if what he has said “makes sense”.
When he was 11, the police visited his school and warned his class about the dangers of sniffing glue. But he thought: “I know where to find that now – bang.”
Hallucinogens, he says, were “fun and games” and by 13 he had careered off the rails and was dodging the police.
He was expelled from his boarding school, Reed’s in Surrey, for stealing, and eventually plunged into an alcohol and crack cocaine addiction which was to govern his life until his mid-20s.
He was once arrested for joyriding in a Mercedes with a gun. By 17 he was facing 14 years in jail and still can’t believe he got off the hook. Finally, after waking in a pool of blood and vomit on Old Compton Street in Soho in 2003, he checked himself into rehab and has been clean ever since.
Tom, 36, says: “I went in thinking I’d do it for a little bit until I can go out and drink and people forgive me. But I did my 28 days, and after listening to people who had been through similar circumstances I realised I did have a problem.
“I did something particularly heinous that allowed me to wake up.
“I had to lose something. Sometimes you have to lose something that is worth more to you than your drinking.”
Tom won’t expand on what he lost, but his marriage to ex Sarah Ward didn’t survive his drinking and drug use.
He admits now that although he’s in a great place as a devoted dad to Louis – his son with former partner Rachael Speed – and a massive film star, he’s always just a step away from falling off the wagon.
While Kenny now seems secure in his charity work, it’s Tom who laughs uncomfortably when he explains his fight to keep his demons at bay.
“I’m just a frightened bloke,” he says, wriggling in his seat. “Everything scares me. Not being in control, not knowing, anticipation, waiting for something to go wrong.
“Fear itself. I’m in a really good space today, but I can always find something to moan about, even sitting on a pedestal. It’s never that far away for me.”
It’s perhaps easier to understand why Kenny, 35, became an addict. In and out of hostels from 16, and unemployed, he felt isolated. He started drinking and taking drugs after falling in with the wrong crowd.
“I didn’t have anything to live for,” he says. “I spent any money I had on cheap cider and all kinds of drugs. I even started dabbling in heroin. I went out on the rob. Alcohol became my best friend. I started waking up in cells, robbing garages with a corn beef key.”
Tom was living a similar life in London, despite his top-grade education and parental support.
At 19, he entered a modelling contest on Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast and won a contract. He then turned to acting, explaining: “I wanted my dad to be proud of me, and I fell into acting because there wasn’t anything else I could do.”
He was expelled from Richmond College but went on to study method acting at Drama Centre London and got his lucky break, a part in TV drama Band of Brothers, followed by a role in Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down.
He’s amazed he managed it all while juggling his addiction.
“I didn’t want anyone to know I was out of control, but I couldn’t hide it,” he says. “Eventually, the body gives up. I was completely kaput. I was lucky I didn’t get hepatitis or AIDS.”
Help came for Kenny at the age of 22 when he was given a flyer by a Prince’s Trust volunteer.
“My support worker at the hostel was always pushing me with my music, my guitar, he could see where I was going,” he says.
Eventually he signed up for a music course. “I was only there a week and then my whole perspective had changed,” he says. “Two months later they invited me back as a volunteer assistant engineer.
“It went from there, and I started distancing myself from the people I was hanging round with. I went on a team programme and I went back to run the course after five months. Then I started working with the probation service.”
Tom’s helping hand came in the form of AA meetings and he admits his work has become a replacement addiction for him now.
“Sometimes it’s like drinking the next beer, I will do the next film and the next, keep going, keep going,” he explains. “If I stop working they might take it away from me. People will say ‘Tommy you’re doing well’ and I say ‘Am I?’ In my head I’m still the kid. Does that make sense?
“I love what I do, but it’s driven by a fear of not being able to do it. It’s the same with drinking – if I stop then who am I? What have I got?
“I have to watch that drive. It doesn’t matter how well I am doing, I’m only that far away from f***ing it all up.”
Kenny and Tom’s meeting was organised ahead of The Prince’s Trust & Samsung Celebrate Success Awards, which recognises young people who have managed to turn their lives around with the charity’s help.
The HSBC Breakthrough Award in association with The Daily Mirror celebrates those who have overcome the odds to improve their lives. The Mirror is proud to support the trust, which has helped 750,000 disadvantaged young people.
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