As his father strapped a kilo of cocaine to his back and chest with gaffer tape, six-year-old Charles Weber was blissfully unaware that he was about to be used as a child drug mule for some of the biggest rock stars on the planet.
He was all smiles at London’s Heathrow Airport while on his way to southern France to visit Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, the front men of the Rolling Stones who had become family friends – and who happened to be A-list clients to his drug smuggling father Tommy Weber.
His brother Jake, only a year-and-a-half older – who would later become a Hollywood actor starring alongside the likes of Patricia Arquette – was also loaded with packets of the party drug.
‘I wasn’t nervous at all,’ Charles, now 57, told the MailOnline this week, ‘I didn’t really know how bad it was at the time, although I do remember the look of horror on my father’s face when my packet was suddenly sticking out of my shirt, but he dragged me to the bathroom and quickly fixed me up.’
While it may seem shocking by today’s standards, this was 1971, at the height of the ‘counterculture’ era, when hedonistic hippies ruled and psychedelic drugs came hand-in-hand with rock’n’roll.
Fleeing the taxman, the Stones had absconded to Villa Nellcote in Villefranche-sur-Mer, Côte d’Azur, where they spent a legendary six months creating some of their best work while hosting a non-stop house party – with a lot of the drugs supplied by Charles’ father.
Charles Weber sits in the back of a red e-type convertible with Rolling Stones icon Keith Richards in the summer of 1971 in southern France. Sir Keith is chatting to the owner of the ‘local go to’ restaurant in Villefranche.
Charles (far right) sits in the back of a convertible as Keith Richards gets behind the wheel, with his girlfriend Anita approaching
Charles Weber (left) with his big brother Jake, who were allegedly used as child drug mules for the Rolling Stones in the summer of 1971
Tommy Weber (pictured left with actress Charlotte Rampling) was a racing car driver-turned-film producer-turned-drug trafficker was sought by huge stars and figureheads of the counterculture revolution
Charles as a baby with his father Tommy, who sadly passed away in 2007
Actor Jake Weber sits by a row of guitars as he watches Mick Jagger inside the Villa Nellcote in 1971 – Weber later said he was taken to the mansion by his drug-dealing father and that his main job was to roll marijuana joints
Left to right: Anita Pallenberg, Keith Richards with his Telecaster guitar, Gram Parsons and Gretchen Burrell, while in the mirror, the reflection of French photographer Dominique Tarle, who spent six months at the Villa Nellcote with the Rolling Stones and their friends and lovers
Charles Weber (pictured today) has written a book about his unique childhood and the impact it has had on him
Charles Weber (child far left), with his brother Jake (centre) and Sir Keith’s son Marlon, while far bottom left, Anita and back right, Sir Keith
The stunning property, rented by Sir Keith, now 78, had previously been owned by the Gestapo, the Nazi’s secret police force, in the 1940s. The rockers, of Satisfaction and Brown Sugar fame, would record their hit album Exile on Main St there that summer, in what has become the stuff of legend among fans.
And right at the heart of it was Charles, whose drug-dealing father proved essential in keeping the party going.
The handsome racing car driver-turned-film producer-turned-drug trafficker was sought by huge stars and figureheads of the counterculture revolution, from Jimi Hendrix to fugitive psychiatrist Timothy Leary – who Charles later met in Switzerland after he had managed to escape a low-security US jail by climbing over the fence along a telephone wire.
Despite his young age in the summer of 1971, Charles could recognise the star quality oozing from the Stones from the moment he arrived at Nellcote Villa.
‘We got to France and there was a limo waiting for us,’ recalled Charles, ‘we pulled up to the villa and there was Keith and Mick waiting for us like we were long lost family – although I suspect they were also very interested in what was strapped to my body.
Rolling Stones fled to France to avoid 90% taxes and hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of debt
Although they had sold millions of records in the 1960s, The Rolling Stones, of Satisfaction and Brown Sugar fame, were left almost broke by 1971 due to poor management, with each band member owing tens of thousands of pounds to the tax man.
Mick Jagger told Fortune magazine in 2002: ‘I’ll never forget the deals I did in the ’60s, which were just terrible. …
‘You say, ‘Oh, I’m a creative person, I won’t worry about this.’ But that just doesn’t work. Because everyone would just steal every penny you’ve got.’
On the advice of a new crack team of financiers, including German aristocrat Prince Rupert Loewenstein, the band moved to the 16-bedroom Villa Nellcote in southern France – which was previously owned by the Nazi’s secret police force, the Gestapo, in the 1940s – and sheltered their earnings in a Netherlands holding company.
Sir Mick later told CNN: ‘We had to leave England to acquire enough money to pay the taxes because in those days, in England, the high tax rate was 90 percent, so that’s very hard.
‘You made 100 pounds, they took 90. So it was very difficult to pay any debts back.
‘So when we left the country, we would get more than the 10 pounds out of 100. You know, we might get 50 or something.’
The Rolling Stones released their first album, ‘The Rolling Stones’, in April 1964, achieving their first number one single with ‘It’s All Over Now’ three months later.
They went on to deliver eight number one singles on both sides of the Atlantic.
‘They were just so magical and cool, I remember they had such an aura about them.
‘Charlie Watts was an absolute sweetheart and he loved his women, he had two beautiful blonde Swedish lovers and I remember thinking: ‘How has he managed that?”
Charlie sadly passed away at the age of 80 last year.
Charles would spend six months at the stunning 16-bed property, hanging out with the biggest rock stars in the world and even helping roll their joints: ‘We never smoked it of course, but we certainly knew how to roll them,’ he said.
He was joined by photographer Dominique Tarle, who captured the summer in a huge set of now-iconic photographs, which will feature at an exhibition in Saint Remy de Provence in France this summer.
‘We would go on boat rides to Cannes, Keith would always be talking and then suddenly stop to write down a song idea in his tiny notebook,’ Charles added, ‘he’s a genius really.’
Charles was asked to be a page boy for Mick Jagger’s wedding to Bianca Perez-Mora Macias – now Bianca Jagger.
‘I remember handing her a flower and giving her a kiss, but when it was Keith’s son Marlon’s turn he refused, so I took his flower and gave her another one,’ he remembers, laughing.
‘Keith had found a Nazi coat on the property and so wore that. It was all rather wild.
‘It was an incredible time really, we had food cooked by French chef Gerard Mosiniak and we were looked after, no one was ever abusive.’
A host of famous faces visited the sprawling estate, including legendary singer-songwriter Eric Clapton.
‘I do remember him jamming with the Stones, but he spent a lot of his time sick in his room from heroin,’ recalled Charles.
The Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door singer would later open up about his heroin addiction in his autobiography Clapton, released in the 2000s – in which he revealed he was spending the equivalent of £8,000 a week on the drug, before he kicked the habit in the late 70s.
He continued to use cocaine and alcohol before becoming sober around 1987. He remains sober to this day.
Charles does not recall ever seeing people ‘shoot up’, at the villa but he was aware that heroin was being taken by many.
One incident in particular sticks in his mind.
Sir Keith and Tommy had gone go-karting when the rockstar tried to take over his father on a bend.
‘It was a silly idea really because of course my father was a racing driver,’ said Charles, ‘but Keith’s car toppled over and he was left with a huge terrible scar on his back, it looked like raw meat.
‘He told my father: ‘You better get some strong stuff for me’, which I assume was heroin, because the pain was just too much.’
Mick Jagger smokes a cigarette as Keith Richards – cigarette in hand – plays his guitar while singing inside the grand Villa Nellcote in Cote d’Azur, southern France, in 1971
Keith Richards puffs on a cigarette in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat in the summer of 1971 – after leaving the UK to avoid ‘punitive’ tax bills and debts
Keith Richards with his son Marlon during a boat trip in Villefranche sur Mer, southern France, in the summer of 1971
Charlie Watts rocks smart brogues and flared trousers while playing the piano inside Villa Nellcote in Cote d’Azur, southern France, in the summer of 1971
Keith Richards rocks a unique pair of sunglasses outside the Cappa restaurant in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, in the summer of 1971
Sir Mick Jagger takes a motorbike ride in Cote d’Azur in 1971, as locals on horseback watch on, in one of the few coloured photographs captured by Dominique Tarle, which are on show in Paris until mid-March
Mick Jagger is the epitome of 70s cool as he strums his guitar in Villa Nellcote, Cote d’Azur, while rocking a half unbuttoned shirt and long, wavy hair, in front of a pocket knife and two packs of cigarettes
Keith Richards beams as he sits cross-legged in a wicker chair under the sun at Villa Nellcote, in Cote d’Azur, which he rented
What was the counterculture era in the 1960s and 70s?
The counterculture of the 1960s was an anti-establishment movement that spread throughout the Western world and lasted into the mid-1970s.
The movement involved large groups of predominantly young people who rejected many of the beliefs that were commonly held by society at large, which they often manifested in the form of non-violent protests.
The subject of these protests included racial segregation, widespread poverty, environmental pollution caused by rapid industrialisation and the discrimination of minority groups.
The youth also fought for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
The emergence of television as a source of information and entertainment fuelled this cultural change, as did new and emerging books, like On the Road and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and music like Jefferson Airplane and the Beatles.
Those involved in the counterculture movement succeeded in bringing an end to restrictive censorship of films and other mass media productions.
As a result, film makers made productions on subjects that were previously prohibited, bringing change to the mainstream media.
Fashion trends and hairstyles also evolved rapidly throughout this time. The youth were quick to adopt new trends while the old were hesitant which led to a ‘generation gap’.
A drug culture also emerged around LSD, marijuana and other narcotics, particularly among young people, leading to clashes with law enforcement.
Those involved in the counterculture movement of the 1960s also became involved in a long protest against the Vietnam War.
The movement spread from America to Western Europe in the cities of Paris, London, Amsterdam, Rome, and West Berlin.
In Europe, the counter-culture propagators created their own fashion, music, magazines, and lifestyle.
The drug use was so prevalent that a doctor used to visit regularly to give guests vitamin B12 shots.
‘I was terrified of him, I used to hide behind the curtain when he came,’ Charles said.
Taking part in the 2010 BBC documentary Stones In Exile, Charles’ brother Jake said that while the Nellcote Villa in France was filled with drugs, he and his brother were never harmed.
He said: ‘You would have to be blind not to see it. There was dope and lots of cocaine. People would be wasted but no one was ever unkind to me and my brother.
‘We were allowed to wander freely around. There was no such thing as “bed time” – you just took yourself off when you felt tired. The days were endlessly sunny. We had a series of chefs who would cook you anything you wanted.
‘My brother and I never drank or did drugs. We were too young. We would dance around the room to Brown Sugar while everyone else got stoned.’
Charles’ father was also a film producer who had worked with the likes of Jimi Hendrix – to whom he also supplied drugs.
Charles met the icon through his father at a concert in the Albert Hall.
‘I remember him putting me on his shoulders and running me around his dressing room.
‘He was magical to me. I remember being so fascinated with him and bobbing my head along to his music.
‘There’s a very famous clip of me running on stage and whispering in his ear.’
He added that his father was highly intelligent but extremely hedonistic and attracted to the lifestyle that smuggling brought him.
But it was actually through his mother that the Stones connection was made.
She had been staying at the Warneford psychiatric hospital in Oxford with Anita Pallenberg, Sir Keith’s girlfriend at the time.
‘The story is that Keith would sneak in at night and party with both of them,’ Charles revealed.
‘Anita then told my mother how the Stones were planning to move to southern France, but they were concerned about who could supply them with drugs, which is when my mother suggested her ex – my father – Tommy, and the connection was made.’
Less than a year later, Charles and his brother were on a flight to France with two kilos of cocaine strapped to their bodies.
It is just one in a litany of jaw-dropping memories which feature in Charles’ recently released book Ragamuffin’s Tale: Growing up in Counterculture Central’.
But their stint in southern France almost turned sour when his father was accused of sleeping with Anita while Sir Keith slept nearby.
Charles explained: ‘A drug dealer known as Spanish Tony claimed he saw them going at it and told Keith.
‘Keith later sent my dad out on a drugs run and told him: ‘By the way, for a vegetarian, you certainly seem to be helping yourself to my meat.”’
While the pair never fell out, the ‘party was over’ when Charles’ mother tragically took her own life in June.
Charles, Jake and Tommy left shortly after hearing the news.
After his stint in southern France, Tommy took his sons around Europe, including Switzerland, Marbella and Amsterdam.
In one shocking story, Charles reveals how he escaped death when the IRA allegedly blew up a boat they had been on moments earlier.
‘We were on a ferry with a Dutch drug dealer en route to Amsterdam,’ he recalls, ‘But me and my brother were so bored that we begged them to let us off the boat until they finally gave up, docked the yacht and we drove to Amsterdam.
‘Around 15 minutes later it exploded. It had been targeted by a bomb because my father and his associate had doubled crossed the IRA.’
While Charles recalls his memories with humour, he reveals it was ‘not all roses’, particularly in his teenage years, when his father became a user of heroin himself and his home environment became the scene of repeated raids and police busts.
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are photographed letting their hair down poolside at the Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat during the summer of 1971
Keith Richards and Mick Jagger play their guitars as they hold an impromptu jamming session on the floor after moving to Villa Nellcote in the south of France in 1971
While his brother had been taken in by a wealthy family in California, plans for Charles to join him fell through.
On his father he said: ‘It was dark and difficult to see what heroin can do to people.’
After a brief stint in prison, Tommy gave up dealing and using but sadly passed in 2007.
Charles became a music video producer, working with the likes of Roger Taylor and David Cassidy, before moving to the States where he became a TV and film editor.
His brother got a scholarship to Juilliard and became a famous actor, starring in shows like Medium and the film Meet Joe Black.
But the pair led very different lives after being separated in their formative years, and ultimately grew apart.
Charles spent two years writing his book, which was officially released in February and is available on Amazon.
‘It was very cathartic,’ he said, ‘I needed to position the things that happened to me and it really liberated me.
‘The book is very honest and I think people respond to that. It has lifted a weight off me.’
Dominique Tarlé began photographing concerts at just 15 using his father’s camera – before going on to capture Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones and more
Dominique Tarlé with one of his most famous photos from his summer with the Rolling Stones in southern France. His next show this year will be the Exhibition ‘La Villa’, the Rolling Stones 1971, at the Galerie de l’Instant La cour des Arts, 13 rue Michelet, 13210 Saint Remy de Provence From May 12 to July 20
Dominique Tarlé is an acclaimed French photographer known for being associated with some of the greatest musical acts of this century.
Dominique’s interest in rock photography developed early in life.
At the age of fifteen he borrowed his father’s camera, walked into the Olympia music hall in Paris after school and from then on regularly took photographs in front of the stage.
It was the Sixties, a time when an enthusiast could do such a thing without the need for a photopass. He captured many of the main groups of the time on film, amongst them The Beatles, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Animals, The Kinks, and The Rolling Stones.
In 1968 he moved to London to have greater access to the exciting world of Rock & Roll that he had begun photographing in France the year before.
By the summer of 1971 however, Dominique was informed by the immigration department that he had to leave the country. As it happens, the Rolling Stones had recently come to the same conclusion, with the help of their tax advisors, to escape from a massive impending tax debt.
Dom contacted the Stones to let them know he was in the area and he was invited over to Keith’s for lunch.
That one meal became an overnight stay, which turned into practically an entire Summer of unfettered exclusive photographic access.
Dominique took thousands of photographs, covering possibly the most decadent house party in Rock & Roll history. His documentation of this period is a thing of beauty, and his images are highly coveted by Stones fans and art collectors.
The work was later published in the fine-art limited edition book ‘Exile’, (now sold out) which is filled with up close and personal shots of the Stones in various states of consciousness.
Keith Richards wrote in the foreword: ‘For me, Dominique possessed an almost unique quality (for a photographer!). I realise, looking at these moments he captured, that he was a part of the family, the band, in fact. He was also an EXILE, in his own country. That quality of blending into the furniture and fittings, I was rarely aware that he was working (WHICH IS RARE!). We lived, worked, played together, and all that may imply! HE CAME, HE SAW, HE CAPTURED, Then he disappeared…UNTIL NOW!
From one exile to another, ONE LOVE DOM’ — Keith
Tarle’s next show this year will be the Exhibition ‘La Villa’, the Rolling Stones 1971, at the Galerie de l’Instant La cour des Arts, 13 rue Michelet, 13210 Saint Remy de Provence From May 12 to July 20.