When Nathalie Wainwright was 13, her older brother, Jean-Marc, died after taking ecstasy in a nightclub in Skegness, a seaside town in east England. He was 17 years old and the year was 1997, a time when the British press was rife with moral outrage over rave culture's association with drug-taking. That was nearly two decades ago, and now Nathalie is 33; music and club culture have become a big part of her life. She sees her brother's death as a tragic accident, one that widespread education on responsible drug use might have helped prevent—not shutting down the clubs where these fatalities can occur.
A longstanding patron of fabric, Nathalie is currently lobbying the local authorities in Islington to reverse the decision to revoke the club's license following the drug-related deaths of two teenagers at the venue. Recently, she wrote an open letter to the mayor of London and members of Islington council in support of fabric's appeal to have its license reinstated. Here, she tells THUMP's Anna Codrea-Rado why she doesn't believe shutting down fabric will stop drug-related deaths, and why she champions harm reduction and drug education reform.
Like many 17-year-old boys in the 90s, my brother, Jean-Marc, went to a rave. In Skegness, of all places. Back in the day, there were a lot of raves there, mainly happy hardcore. I think it was Helter Skelter that he went to that night in 1997.
In the news report, they said that he had consumed a huge amount of drugs all throughout the day, but I think that anyone that's taken drugs knows that's quite a normal thing to do—take drugs over a certain period of time. For a start, nearly everyone at the club in question was under the age of 18, so you know it's a dodgy club.
My brother fell ill, and one of his friends he was with was pleaded with the employees to call an ambulance. There had been another death the week before at the club, and they didn't want the publicity, so they didn't actually call an ambulance. They left him for 45 minutes in his 17-year-old friend's arms. It wasn't until he was having seizures and swallowed his own tongue—his friend had to literally yank his tongue from the back of his throat out so he didn't choke to death—that the club deemed [the situation] serious enough for them to call an ambulance, which took him to the hospital. He struggled for his life for eight hours, and died at six in the morning the next day.
There's nothing worse than watching your parents on the news—or having to answer phone calls from the Guardian saying that your parents can't talk because they've gone to identify the body—while you're home alone with your friend and your friend's mum. It was a really traumatic experience. Because of the inquest, we couldn't bury him for over a week. [When we did, it was] on June 17, my mum's 38th birthday. She completely forgot that it was her birthday. She lost a third of her hair from stress. After the inquest, they sent us all his belongs back in a brown paper bag. I only took a sneak peek, but I saw the jeans and the vest he was wearing had blood on them and had been cut with scissors.
I think I must have been 21 when I first went to fabric. I was at university in Leeds, but I had come down to London. I had the best time of my life at fabric; I just fell in love with it. When I eventually moved down to London, I think I probably went every Saturday night—fabric and The End, which sadly shut down as well. My husband is a promoter and a DJ. Music has been a close part of my life.
The world of clubbing has evolved massively since my brother died. So it truly baffles me that somewhere like fabric, which has such incredible standards and was first-class in terms of harm reduction, would be shut down. Had anyone ever fallen ill at fabric, they would have called the ambulance straight away—they would have not left a 17-year-old boy lying there on the floor in the arms of another 17-year-old. I can't to this day even comprehend it.
I do understand just how awful it is that these two people lost their lives, but I think that fabric did everything they could in their power to get them assistance. I think [the two deaths] were a really, really tragic accident, like my brother's death was a tragic accident.
As someone who has lost a loved one to a drug overdose, using the deaths of those teenagers as the reason to close fabric makes me so angry. It makes me so full of rage. The authorities shut down the gold standard of clubbing that actually cared about their patrons. It's a well-known fact that Britain has been awash with really strong ecstasy and MDMA for the last four or five years, and fabric has been warning people about them. They had The Loop (a harm reduction charity) come in once a month to offer advice to club patrons in the chill-out room. They did the date-rape initiative a few years ago. They've implemented a drug auditing process since the 90s, when they opened, where any drugs they found they handed over to the police. They have medics on staff. They looked out for people and did an awful lot; I don't know what else they could have done. Had that been my brother at fabric, he would probably still be alive.
The issue isn't with the club; it's with a lack of education among clubgoers about harm reduction. That's the truth—the club is doing everything that they can to educate [people] in harm reduction, and nobody else is doing anything about it.
Drugs have been part of all music cultures for decades; that isn't going to change. You should be educating the people, supporting them, giving them pill testing, making them more aware. We allow people to drink, and drinking causes far more problems than any kind of drug, particularly ecstasy. I mean how many have people have of died of alcohol-related complications compared to deaths caused by ecstasy?
I think the current attitude towards drugs and the legislation around it is causing so much harm it can no longer be ignored. It's an out-of-date ideology, rooted in prejudice. I can't think of one musical genre that doesn't have some form of drug involved. We should be supporting young people and educating them from an earlier age, so that if they do grow up and decide to take drugs, they know what to do, and [so that] they know what to do if they fall ill. We need to target them from an earlier age, because young people start legally drinking at 18, and I'm pretty sure half of them have taken a pill before that. I think we just need to be investing the money we spend prosecuting people at the low end of the drug trade into health and well being.
Harm reduction is just something that needs to happen. It's a logical and obvious solution.
As told to Anna Codrea-Rado, THUMP's News Editor.