Oldfield's Odyssey; He Was 19 When He Wrote Tubular Bells, the Album That Shot Him to Fame. Then a Bad LSD Trip Triggered Mental Illness That Took Mike Oldfield Decades to Escape. He Talks for the First Time about the Family Secrets Behind His Troubles

The Evening Standard (London, England), May 15, 2007 | Go to article overview

Oldfield's Odyssey; He Was 19 When He Wrote Tubular Bells, the Album That Shot Him to Fame. Then a Bad LSD Trip Triggered Mental Illness That Took Mike Oldfield Decades to Escape. He Talks for the First Time about the Family Secrets Behind His Troubles


MY MEETING with Mike Oldfield does not begin auspiciously. I have come to his mansion in Gloucestershire to talk about his autobiography, Changeling, which details his slow, painful recovery from the mental health problems that underlay his lucrative, 40-year musical career. But when I arrive early, Oldfield, dripping wet from a stint in his indoor pool, eyes me suspiciously past the chain securing his front door, then tells me to go and stand in his drizzly garden for half an hour. Is he really better? Well, up to a point.

Thirty minutes later we are sat companionably enough in his studio-cum-conservatory. The 54- year-old is still not entirely at ease. He rolls, lights, then prematurely discards a series of cigarettes and doesn't often meet my eye. He is, though, remarkably frank. "I still don't like socialising," he concedes. "And the demons are still there, but when I feel them coming on I can deal with it." He gives one of the rare but exuberant barks of laughter that punctuate our interview.

He says he wrote the book for two reasons.

First, every time he gives an interview, he's asked about the 1978 seminar he did with the borderline-cult Exegesis, where he experienced a "rebirth" that he feels set him on the road to recovery: so he thought he'd explain it once and for all.

Second, he hopes that others like him who have bottled up grief or anguish might learn from reading the book.

"When I was young, it would have been wonderful to have someone explain it all," he says. "People who are prone to stress sometimes don't survive. They get into crime, drugs, commit suicide ... " Oldfield believes anxiety may be inherited, that he may still be suffering from the horrors his Irish grandfather witnessed at Ypres. He also believes he is a "mutant, or an experiment of nature", somehow incapable of normal social relationships, hence the book's title.

He was born in 1953, the third child, after sister Sally and brother Terry, of Raymond, a Reading GP, and Maureen, an Irish nurse. Initially, it was a happy, if solitary childhood. "I didn't like other children and they didn't like me," he says, "but as a kid I wasn't afraid of anything." That changed when he was eight.

Then his mother disappeared briefly, and when she came back his father explained she'd had a stillborn child. In fact, Oldfield later discovered, the boy was born with Down's syndrome and was put in a home, where he survived for a year. "That's a huge secret for a family to keep," he says. "My mother got depressed, and they prescribed barbiturates

I think they're illegal now

and got addicted." She also began to drink, something Raymond Oldfield bore with stiff upperlipped implacability, even when his wife would beg him for medication he couldn't prescribe. "She became this dopy, half-anaesthetised creature," says Oldfield.

"She lost her dignity." At one point, a Catholic priest was called in to exorcise the bad atmosphere in the house.

Having first been sectioned in 1962, Maureen would return to hospital every three months or so, and come out apparently improved. Then her condition would quickly worsen again. Oldfield says the cycle of regaining and re-losing his mother was almost worse than bereavement.

"Music was my sanctuary," he says.

Having taught himself to play the guitar, Oldfield was playing in local folk clubs from the age of 13, and left school at 15 with one O-level, in oral English.

He helped his sister Sally

then a promising folk singer with connections to rock royalty through her schoolfriend Marianne Faithfull

on her debut album, then formed a short-lived band with his brother Terry, before joining the Kevin Ayres band as a guitarist at 16.

There were, naturally for those times, drugs around, and at 17 Oldfield had a bad trip on LSD. He began to see humans as machines, felt that the vast, pointless incomprehensibility of the universe had been revealed to him. …

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