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A Royal Hangover

Continuing our series of conversations about alcoholism. Lou and I discuss the documentary ‘A Royal Hangover’ that is due out in the UK soon. You can read my review of the movie here.

An interview with Arthur Cauty maker of ‘A Royal Hangover’

A Royal Hangover

A Royal Hangover

There is an incredible film called ‘A Royal Hangover’ that has just been released in the UK. The film examines the cultural relationship the British have with booze. Directed by Arthur Cauty, a non-drinker he has been fascinated with the relentless pursuit of drunkeness the British have always pursued. Abnormal drinking has been so normalized in our culture that if you don’t drink you are seen as some kind of weirdo or freak. ‘A Royal Hangover’ reveals the ugly truth behind the delusion that alcohol=fun. This movie is a game changer for a country and a government still in denial about the effects and reality binge drinking is having.
Here is my exclusive interview with the director.

1. What motivated you to make the film?
My motivation for the film lies mainly within the fact that I personally don’t drink, and not only that, but I just never really ‘got’ the appeal of drinking. A lot of people instantly confuse this with abstinence, but there is a big difference – It’s not like it’s against my morals to drink, I just don’t do it for the fact that I don’t find it appealing, much in the same way I don’t participate in the Great British sport of cricket because I find it incredibly boring.

British drinking culture is something I’ve always found fascinating and slightly bizarre. It’s all around you, wherever you look. It’s completely embedded in our culture, in our history, our politics. Some of our most popular TV shows are based around pubs, and then there’s the 18th birthday, weddings, religious ceremonies, all these key life events, marked with alcohol. It’s like the blood in our veins; it oils society, and lubricates us socially. For someone like myself, someone who feels they are outside of this culture looking in, it just looks ridiculous.

So there was always that idea in the back of my head. But it wasn’t until I started travelling around Europe, the USA and Asia, that I realized how strikingly different our drinking culture is in Britain. I started looking into it further, and it became immediately apparent that we have a serious problem with alcohol in the UK – a problem that nobody seems to want to acknowledge or do anything about. And that’s where the idea for A Royal Hangover was born.

Director Arthur Cauty

Director Arthur Cauty

2. What do you hope the film will achieve?
I hope A Royal Hangover will help people all over the World to better understand the harms of alcohol, and for the UK especially to start to develop a healthier and more logical attitude to alcohol as well as other drugs. I know this is not a problem indigenous to the UK, but I do feel that alcohol is more ingrained in British culture, compared to many other countries. To not drink in Britain, is to be ridiculed.

If this film manages to help any number of people to think about how they, as well as the people around them, use alcohol, I’ll feel like I’ve done my job.

3. Do you have personal experience of alcoholism and alcohol abuse?
I actually barely have any experience in drinking alcohol at all. I’ve tried it, but I’ve probably only drank a few pints of alcohol over my whole life. I just never really liked it, or felt the need to drink it. People would say, “you’ll learn to like it”. And I thought ‘Why? Why would I want to learn to like something I find disgusting?”. Take hot chocolate for example – I found that instantly delicious. I didn’t have to ‘learn’ to like that. And so the concept of learning to like alcohol was completely lost on me.

I have however grown up with 3 brothers who didn’t seem to have the same difficulty with enjoying alcohol as I did. I grew pretty accustomed to seeing them throwing up all over themselves, getting into drunken brawls, and even ending up in hospital on occasion.

Whereas I have been fortunate enough not to have any experiences with alcoholism or alcohol abuse myself, the same cannot be said for certain members of my family. My uncle John, who actually features in the film, drinks 2 bottles of whisky every day, and suffers from Wernicke’s encephalopathy, also known as ‘the disease of alcoholics’. He is essentially bed-bound, and doesn’t eat, can barely walk or do much of anything other than drink. He has brain damage, hearing and vision loss, as well as a myriad of other ailments due to his drinking. What is perhaps even more tragic is the effect this has on his wife and 15-year-old kid whom he lives with. They are literally prisoners to his addiction. I’ll never forget turning up at the house for filming, and my uncle not even knowing who I was. He thought it was the first time we had met.

4. Binge drinking has now been utterly normalized in British culture, after making this film what steps do we need start taking to reserve this?

I personally believe a lot of it comes down to how we educate our children in the UK. We’re hardly taught anything in school about drinking, in fact I don’t remember ever having a single lesson about it. I think education about alcohol and other drugs in schools is severely lacking. It makes me think of that famous sketch in South Park – “Drugs are bad, you shouldn’t do drugs, and alcohol is bad, you shouldn’t do alcohol”. That pretty much sums up alcohol education in schools here.

Aside from that, I think their needs to be changes in government policy, more restrictions in advertising, and less sensationalist and more responsible coverage of alcohol in the media. That would be a good start.

5. It seems to me that in our popular culture we have a massive glamorization of alcohol abuse, celebrity culture is awash with it. In the USA ‘not drinking’ is perfectly acceptable but in the UK it is seen as abnormal or extreme, something to be ridiculed. Any suggestions on how we can begin to ‘re-brand’ sobriety as something aspirational and acceptable?

Yes, I totally agree. To not drink in Britain is to be branded a weirdo basically. I myself have never had a problem with feeling like a weirdo – I used wear tights, paint my face, and body slam people for fun, as a former attempted pro wrestler.
Now, I’ve come to quite enjoy the funny looks I get when going into a bar and ordering a coke. It doesn’t bother me. But I can understand how it might bother others to feel like an exception. Peer pressure is such a huge factor when it comes to alcohol, especially for young people. If more people like myself – whether that be parents, brothers, sisters, friends, or people in the public eye like Russell Brand – actually felt comfortable about standing up and saying ‘I don’t drink’, this would encourage so many others to feel ok about doing the same, and be a step towards developing a healthier attitude towards alcohol as a culture.

Arthur Cauty with Russell Brand

Arthur Cauty with Russell Brand

6. Any plans to take the film into schools and youth clubs?

I think the film could be really useful in schools, in showing children an honest and balanced depiction of alcohol, so it’s certainly something we will consider. The first step though is to make an impact on the film festival circuit.

7. Please tell us how people can see the movie when it is released?

You’ll be able to see A Royal Hangover at film festivals internationally. We have literally only just finished the film. In fact, today is the first day in 5 months where I’m not in the edit suite! We’re planning to premiere at the BFI Film Festival in London in October. All screenings will be announced on the website, on our Facebook page, and on twitter.

8. Are their plans to show it in the USA? Although the alcohol culture is different, there are a lot of similarities in college campuses, where alcohol abuse is normalized and encouraged.

There are definitely a lot of similarities in college campuses, but I feel that outside of that, and the whole Spring Break culture, the US is quite different to the UK when it comes to alcohol culture as a whole. I think in general, attitudes towards alcohol in America tend to be a bit more logical. People seem to grow out of it to a degree, whereas in Britain it’s like the whole country is a college campus, and we’re all students going mad on alcohol.

Yes, we are planning to show the A Royal Hangover in the US. We believe the film has a lot of international appeal, as although it’s based on British drinking culture, a lot of the film’s content can be applied to other cultures.

Russell Brand stars in A Royal Hangover

Russell Brand stars in A Royal Hangover

9. What are you up to next?

Trying not to get assassinated by the drinks industry? There are a few exciting things on the horizon which come to think of it I probably can’t talk about. I’ve got a couple of short form projects coming up which will be a nice change of pace after having spent a year and a half (and counting) on A Royal Hangover!

You can see the trailer here:

A Royal Hangover – Review

A Royal Hangover

A Royal Hangover

A Royal Hangover is a film that is long over due. With wit and insight it creates an alarming and frank portrait of Britain’s binge drinking problem.
Interestingly, Arthur Cauty is not some reformed alcoholic on a mission to alert his fellow man about the evils of drinking. But a young British guy who just never liked the taste or effects of alcohol. I mention this because such is the normalization of abnormal drinking in the UK that ‘not drinking’ just because you don’t care for it, is seen with suspicion and as something that is just plain weird. Cauty has been considered ‘weird’ his whole adult life and became curious as to why so many people in Britain drink abnormally and call it fun despite so much evidence to the contrary.
Russell Brand stars in A Royal Hangover

Russell Brand stars in A Royal Hangover

In may respects ‘A Royal Hangover’ begins the necessary process of dismantling a faulty belief system that has enabled binge drinking to entrench itself so much in our culture. The documentary starts with a brief history of British alcohol habits and then compares our relationship with booze to that of other countries. Our problem with alcohol is not unique but our cultural relationship with alcohol is.
There are similarities in the Spring Break/College campus culture in the U.S. But ‘not drinking’ is far more accepted by the wider population there than it is in the UK.
The film highlights how open container laws and less public acceptance of public drunkenness has curbed the eruption of inebriation that British towns centers endure every weekend.
The movie takes us into the ‘belly of the beast’ as it were and there are several scenes taken from an average Saturday night in Britain. It makes for unpleasant viewing. I am a reformed alcoholic, so for me it was like looking at myself 20 years ago and it wasn’t pretty. The participants adamantly state they are having ‘fun’ and ‘there is nothing else to do.’ However, it is clear to the viewer that as people lie passed out in the street and groups wobble by clinging to each other spouting nonsense that this really isn’t the definition of ‘fun.’
British towns prepare for the onslaught of carnage the nighttime economy unleashes. Local health services and policing are focused on limiting the damage that is wrought on an average Saturday night. To the point that 50% of the violent incidences that police deal with are fuelled by alcohol. At one point the film crew were so alarmed by a young man who was passed out covered in vomit that they called an ambulance. The paramedics arrived and then dismissed the potential patient as ‘just drunk,’ they had seen it so many times before they didn’t even raise an eyebrow.
The film creates a convincing picture of British culture that supports, encourages and celebrates alcohol abuse on every level. Try buying a birthday card for an 18 year old that doesn’t have a reference to getting drunk. Or celebrating an event without everyone assuming that alcohol abuse is necessary for the event to be enjoyable. It’s impossible.
With commentary from Russell Brand and various professionals throughout the film they convey the point that the reason behind our alcohol abuse lies in the ‘numbness’ that alcohol promises. It is this aspect of binge drinking that needs further examination in our culture. Why don’t we want to feel anything?
Arthur Cauty with Russell Brand

Arthur Cauty with Russell Brand

The film does offer solutions to the problem of binge drinking by outlining how research has proven that tax increases on alcohol can limit some of the damage drink causes. Minimum unit pricing can be effective in reducing the amounts people drink. Limits on advertising would also prevent the alcohol industry creeping into all areas of our lives. Alcohol certainly has a place in our culture but drinking and being drunk has come to dominate our free time, our celebrations and has redefined what the word ‘fun’ means.

The message that ‘A Royal Hangover’ conveys so brilliantly is just how silly the British really look in their pursuit of doing something so dangerous with such delusional abandon. It clearly lays out the answer is not prohibition but balance. Our culture needs to reflect back alternatives to binge drinking such as moderation. Being ‘alcohol free’ in 2014 Britain must be like being a vegetarian in the 1940’s – who had heard of such a thing? Now vegetarians are catered for everywhere and no one bats an eyelid. Why can’t ‘not drinking’ be seen the same way? What’s the problem?
The alcohol industry, that’s the problem. The self-regulated alcohol industry that lobbied the government to reverse its decision on minimum unit pricing. An industry that relies on us consuming as much of its product as possible to be profitable.
An industry that tries to insist that it’s only a small portion of the population that has a problem with alcohol and any regulation would unfairly impact the large amount of drinkers that enjoy its product sensibly.
Once you have seen ‘A Royal Hangover’ you will be unable to believe that anymore.

A Royal Hangover – LA Premier

I’ve just returned from LA where I was able to attend the premier of the documentary ‘A Royal Hangover.’
The movie explores the unique relationship the British have with alcohol. I am publishing a full review soon but wanted to share a couple of photos from the red carpet with filmmaker Arthur Cauty and producer Gabrielle Weller.

Gabrielle Weller, Arthur Cauty, Veronica Valli at LA premier of 'A Royal Hangover'

Gabrielle Weller, Arthur Cauty, Veronica Valli at LA premier of ‘A Royal Hangover’

Binge drinking is at epidemic proportions with no real signs of changing, the health and criminal services are hugely affected but there is still no sign the government is ready to do anything. Drinking alcohol excessively is the norm in the UK.
I took part in the Q & A’s after the film and was really saddened to hear Arthur (who is 28) describe how his peer group has always described him as ‘weird’ just because he doesn’t drink. Luckily Arthur had enough self-esteem to weather this pressure. He always had so many other interesting things to do that getting drunk was just never attractive to him. But what about other people? How many people drink just to fit in? The change I am advocating for is most certainly not prohibition; it is simply balance and honesty. More honesty around the reality of binge drinking (the movie clearly shows that no one is really having ‘fun’) and more acceptance of people who just don’t drink. I would love for someone like Arthur to not experience any reaction when he says he doesn’t drink.
That being ‘alcohol free’ is as acceptable as being vegetarian.

With Amanda Valli - my lovely step-daughter

With Amanda Valli – my lovely step-daughter

America’s college binge drinking problem

I’m going to LA in a couple of weeks to see the US premier of ‘A Royal Hangover.’ I’m really excited to meet Arthur Cauty the filmmaker behind this groundbreaking documentary. ‘A Royal Hangover’ examines the culture of binge drinking in the UK and why we are so in denial of the dangers and risks it exposes us to.

A Royal Hangover

A Royal Hangover

Cauty compares British binge drinking to the drinking that occurs on college campuses and during Spring Break in the USA. Although the documentary focuses on the British aspect of the problem, it is by no means a problem unique to the UK.

Just a few weeks ago Dalton Debrick was a freshman at Texas Tech University. His body was found the day before he was due to start classes, he died of alcohol poisoning.
The day before his death an international student at Michigan State University died after a night of drinking during ‘move-in’ weekend.

So far this year there have been 8 student deaths at the start of this academic year.



We can explore all the reasons behind these deaths but the major one is the normalization of abnormal drinking and the mistaken belief that drinking as much as you can, as fast as you can is something that is fun.

This is not a problem we can ignore any longer. Hopefully ‘A Royal Hangover’ will start a conversation in America as well as the UK about how we can educate our kids around alcohol abuse.

I’m the mother of a 3-year-old so I figure I have 15 years to try to implement some awareness and change in the culture of binge drinking on college campuses.
We can’t ignore this problem anymore.

You can see the trailer of A Royal Hangover here.