Angie Best tells me merrily that she is ‘loving’ lockdown in her house near Henley in the Oxfordshire countryside. ‘It’s nice, it’s quiet, it’s peaceful,’ she says. ‘If it wasn’t for the fact everyone is dying I’d be a very happy girl.’
Angie’s idyllic existence, dispensing advice on Instagram in her unofficial capacity as wellness guru and living with her partner of 22 years, former professional ice-hockey player Mark Miller, and their three rescue dogs, couldn’t be more different from her turbulent eight-year marriage to footballing legend George Best.
The David and Victoria Beckham of the 1970s, the Bests were one of the world’s most beautiful couples — she was a model, former Playboy bunny and fitness instructor; he the Belfast-born former Manchester-United star and notorious party animal.
Yet George, who died aged 59 in 2005, was also an adulterous alcoholic, who made life miserable for Angie and their young son Calum — today a reality TV regular, popping up on the likes of Celebrity Big Brother (Angie appeared too) and Celebrity Love Island, who’s recently reinvented himself as a life coach.
Angie was a model, former Playboy bunny and fitness instructor; George was the Belfast-born former Manchester-United star and notorious party animal pictured with their son Calum
‘You couldn’t help loving George, everyone did, he was such a sweet, wonderful, loving man, but I had no clue at all what I was getting into with him,’ says Angie, now a glamorous 67.
She’s talking to me in her work-out gear from the Metaphysical gym she owns near her home. It’s closed to the public but she and Mark visit daily for a 90-minute workout. ‘There’s no comfort eating going on in my life!’ she exclaims. ‘I say: “Let’s come out of coronavirus gorgeous!” ’
The daughter of a bookmaker from Southend, Essex, Angie’s always led as healthy a life as possible (she rarely drinks). Yet as a young bride she had no idea how to deal with George’s addictions. ‘In the early 1970s, none of us had the faintest idea what addiction was. I thought George just needed someone who’d do his laundry, cook him a nice meal and give him a good home to come back to — beyond that I was clueless.’
The David and Victoria Beckham of the 1970s, the Bests were one of the world’s most beautiful couples
For years Angie refused to discuss George at all. ‘To bring up all those memories hurts,’ she explains. ‘I don’t want to go to the dark side any more.’
But as a one-off she’s breaking her silence in the context of her work as an ambassador for Charterhouse Clinic, a private addiction clinic with centres in central London and Flore, Northamptonshire, which alongside traditional treatments also offers a wide range of complementary therapies that Angie’s helping to develop.
The clinic also has a variety of online services, such as webinars on how to cope with self-isolation and how to detox at home — a huge boon right now for addicts and their families stuck together at home.
‘Charterhouse has given me a whole new lease of life,’ Angie says. ‘When you’ve been through what I went through with George it makes you determined to help others not to suffer like I did.
‘If something like this had been around at the time, I’d have had George in Charterhouse in a heartbeat and then I’d have kept my family together, we’d all still be together.
Angie Best tells me merrily that she is ‘loving’ lockdown in her house near Henley in the Oxfordshire countryside
‘As it was, he tried rehab twice — it was absolutely useless. All he did was end up having an affair with one of the clinicians!’
Angie moved to New York aged 19 to model, then to Beverly Hills where she became personal trainer to Sharon Stone, Darryl Hannah and Cher, who’s still a close friend. (‘We email every now and then. She’s busy in California lobbying for masks and ventilators for the hospitals.’)
In the mid-1970s, Angie met George, who was playing for the Los Angeles Aztecs, at a party in Malibu. He was already past his heyday and boozing heavily, but she couldn’t resist his charisma and good looks. ‘But it was also that I’m a helper by nature and George needed help. I didn’t see that then, but I do now.’
It was a stormy courtship: he was constantly disappearing on week-long benders, slept with Angie’s best friend and made a pass at her sister.
When they finally married in Vegas three years later, he was paralytic and stayed up all night, boozing and gambling.
You’d have thought someone as feisty as Angie would have long thrown in the towel, but — although she walked out on him at least once — she remained certain she could change him.
‘I didn’t want to give up on George, I kept thinking, “OK, there must be a way to fix this.” But we could never find one because what I realise now was George didn’t want to be cured. He had depression but in those days we didn’t know what that was.’
Angie and son Calum — today a reality TV regular, popping up on the likes of Celebrity Big Brother
That depression, Angie thinks, stemmed from George’s status as the first celebrity footballer, appearing on Top of the Pops, owning a string of restaurants and boutiques — and being followed everywhere by paparazzi. ‘He was the first of his kind, but he had nobody to show him the way, not like today when footballers have agents and managers and shrinks. We just had each other and I obviously wasn’t enough.’
Angie found herself far from family and friends, in a foreign country. ‘It was a one-man battle. I was desperately lonely, I had no friends I dared confide in because it would have ended up in the next day’s newspaper.
‘Thank goodness at least, there was no social media back then and I only had to contend with the photographers constantly sitting outside the house — that was a nightmare.
‘Women couldn’t stand me because I’d stolen their George and men hated me because I was trying to stop their George having fun with them.’
Angie tried and failed to control George’s partying.
‘Being married to an alcoholic makes you such a horrible, ugly person,’ she sighs. ‘I’d make him take his Antabuse [tablets which cause vomiting if alcohol is consumed afterwards] every morning, sticking his tongue out to prove he’d swallowed it. But he’d hide the pills between the gap in his front teeth. Weeks later, I’d find them in his jeans’ pockets.
‘Once it got so drastic I broke up a sleeping pill and put it in his tea to try to make him stay home — he slept for 24 hours, it was terrifying. I didn’t try that again.
‘You want to say to their friends, “Don’t let him drink” but they don’t give a s***.’
She recalls the year they returned to London, when George played for Fulham.
‘I remember once going to a pub to pick him up. I was taking him to a health farm to dry him out a bit.
‘He was standing at the bar with all these men. I said to the man next to him, “Please, I’ve got to get him to this place before midnight when they close.” He said, “Sure Ange,” and then turned his back on me and said “Another bottle, bartender!” ’
After Calum was born, three years into their marriage, Angie found herself even more alone.
‘Calum was three weeks old and George went on a bender for two weeks. I sat on my chair with the needlepoint and the baby, looking out of the window all night long every night, thinking, “Is he all right? What is he doing?” I’ll never forget that pain.’
Yet all these years on, despite her positivity, Angie’s clearly still devastated she couldn’t keep her family together. Pictured in 2016
Was she livid when he returned? ‘Oh no, then he’d have gone straight back out again. No, I’d have George in my clutches, I’d let him sleep it off, give him good food and vitamins to make him strong again. That would last for a week and then he’d be gone again.’ Calum was one when Angie decided she could take it no longer.
‘I’ll never forget the moment I knew I’d had enough, I was driving to take Calum to a check-up, it was raining, which it rarely does in California and I saw this poor befuddled, huddled, drunken-looking creature walking down the middle of the road. I thought, “Jesus, someone is going to hit him!”
‘Then as I got closer I realised it was my husband. I thought, “I cannot put myself through this agony any more.” It was a moment of incredible sadness, but I knew I deserved better.’
After their divorce in 1986, Angie remained in the U.S. but allowed Calum to regularly see his father in the UK.
Yet those visits were often disastrous: once George left his 11-year-old son alone in a hotel room all night, while he went drinking. On other occasions, he physically and verbally abused him.
‘It was so heartbreaking. Calum would come back with terrible stories and I couldn’t say or do anything, because getting mad wouldn’t have changed anything. George couldn’t see past the end of his nose, let alone be a father to his son, but I still never, ever stopped Calum from seeing him.
‘A child needs both parents, so I had to allow him to go down this path. If I’d put blockages in the way he would have just found some way round them.’
George had a liver transplant in 2002 on the NHS, but was soon back on the booze.
‘I think with his new liver, he was overcome with guilt at all the things he’d done to his friends and family.
‘I don’t think he could live with that so he started drinking again,’ Angie says.
His death sent Calum into his own ‘tailspin’ of drug and alcohol abuse. Angie had no choice but to leave California and return permanently to the UK.
Calum Best with his mother Angie Best on Celebrity Big Brother in January 2017
‘I thought, “Oh my goodness, history is going to repeat itself.” Calum needed someone to be there for him and to talk to, to help him wake up out of the fog and depression he’d been in after George’s death when he lost all hope. This wasn’t about fixing him, he didn’t have an addiction, but I did have to point out the different paths he could go down — one which would be a dead end and the other which would be wonderfully productive.’
Calum’s now renounced his playboy lifestyle. Angie FaceTimes him every day, ‘but not for very long because he’s so busy — his spiritual talks are keeping everyone’s brains healthy, bless him.’
Angie’s now blissfully happy with Mark, whom she met in a gym in Malibu. ‘The relationship I have got now is the one I want. Mark doesn’t drink and he’s perfect. He’s the same organic and healthy person that I am.’
It must be a huge relief not to feel the need to change him.
‘Oh God, I would suggest to anyone who has a man she wants to change to run a mile!’ she exclaims. ‘No one can be changed unless the desire for it comes from them.
‘It has to happen from within.’
Yet all these years on, despite her positivity, Angie’s clearly still devastated she couldn’t keep her family together.
‘But no regrets. I wouldn’t change any of what happened, because now my son is a guru and I have an amazing life.
‘It’s just such a shame George is not here to see it all. But that was his choice.’