AP McCoy talks addiction, weight gain and Roy Keane with Roy Curtis

RacingBy Roy Curtis
McCoy: “I don’t think in 20 years I’ve ever been truly content."
McCoy: “I don’t think in 20 years I’ve ever been truly content."

“It is like being an addict, I’m an addict to my way of life, to horses, to winning, because it’s a drug. It wears off and you have to go back chasing it. I’m an addict to winning…that’s what it is all about.” So this is cold turkey.

He is saddled up in a well-upholstered leather easy-chair, though, these days, every seat seems to jerk and kick like a wildly bucking bronco.

He is dressed for mourning, head-to-toe uniformed in black. Disrobed of his green and gold hooped suit of armour, he seems vulnerable, forlorn, adrift.

As he talks his right hand fidgets with the expensive watch that has counted out every tortuous second since April 25, the day a part of him died.

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock…

If only time was a snorting beast beneath him, galloping up the Cheltenham hill, he might control it then; if only he could get the hour hand on the bridle, coax the minute hand to do his bidding; if only he could turn back the clock.

If only.

His face is no longer a gaunt cold-house for flesh. A taunt of meat has dared to flower on the tundra of his jawline. His cheekbones continue to press hard against that angular, half-moon skull, but the malnourished look has slightly ebbed.

The past few months have introduced him to food. AP being AP, he went at it full pelt. They took out a weighing scales on a golf trip recently and of six former jockeys, he was the heaviest.

He has put on 20 pounds, gone from skeletal to merely emaciated.  However much he eats, though, he can’t fill the hole.

Mentally he feels half-starved.

Outside winter’s first chill, gusts send a shiver down the Liffey’s spine; sometime he too feels like spindrift in the wind.

A day earlier he was almost killed in a car crash on an English motorway; a speeding van danced on the bonnet of his helpless car; both vehicles were written off, his travelling companion was sure they would die.

Somehow they walked away unscathed.

Earlier that same morning his companion had received a text from a priest friend who had not been in contact for months. AP finds it a little spooky, wonders what it all means. He stares into space, pondering a higher being.

He is engaging, intelligent, perceptive, witty, engaged; he is, to namecheck an old classic winning filly, Oh So Sharp. His laugh is authentic, self-deprecating, occasionally a tad wistful. 

Most of all he is introspective.

When AP McCoy fires a dart at himself he hits the bullseye every time.

The withdrawal symptoms are often violent, overwhelming, nauseating. Sometimes he feels depressed. He was at Cheltenham last Saturday working for Channel Four and his veins tingled with yearning.

The needle, the blessed high, was there in front of him. But he banished the thought. He is too stubborn to even consider another hit.

He is coping.

“I don’t think in 20 years I’ve ever been truly content. It would be great not to have a care in the world, not to worry about winning or losing. But it is the end of the world to me.”

Sometimes he gets frightened.

For 20 years he laughed at his own mortality, regarded shattered bone, punctured organs, crushed skull as minor inconveniences, stared down and refused to be broken by excruciating pain, by hideous injury.

But his own obsession is what alarms him.

Pat Eddery’s death recently was a terrible jolt. Alcohol had broken the 11-time champion flat jockey.  The world wondered how it had happened.

McCoy understood. Eddery was a fellow addict, was overwhelmed by the same need to accumulate winners, a desire racing writer Alistair Down describes as “admirably psychotic”.

When he stopped, a chasm opened.  And he fell. Eddery couldn’t cope without the only thing that fulfilled him. He couldn’t fill the void. So he lost himself at the bottom of a bottle.

“I’ve been trying to explain to people that to be as successful as he was you have to have an obsessive, addictive personality. The sad thing is that that killed him. That’s what made him what he was, and that’s what destroyed him.

“It resonated with me. I’m lucky I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, because I have it in me I think.”

“I think you have to be selfish, it has to be all about you…it’s a terrible thing to say, but nobody else is important.”

The stark, candid, compelling, brilliant and terrifying new documentary/film ‘Being AP’ opens a window to the soul and suffering of his wife, Chanelle.

She has the big house, two lovely children and a husband who puts his life at risk every day, who is not there even when he is there, who when he is not sitting on a horse, is thinking about a horse, fretting endlessly, torturing himself, unable to cope with the face that he cannot win every race.

Chanelle clearly loves AP very deeply. She is understanding, compromising, strong; but equally she is scared, frequently ignored, isolated.

I ask AP if in all the time he was riding, he ever stepped into her shoes, imagined their relationship from her perspective.

He admits he was as likely to do a crash course in Swahili.

“No, no. It is a terrible thing to say but nobody else in the world is important. That’s the truth of it. In fairness, she made me a better person, there’s no doubt she did. But how she hung around I’ll never know.”

He grimaces, giggles, sighs.

“You just live in your own little world, it’s f**kin’ awful. There could be a world war going on and you wouldn’t know it, the depressing thing is you don’t actually care.

“Somebody tells you something and you think that has nothing to do with me, I don’t care.

“Chanelle is getting her pay back now. It has come full circle. From being a control freak to having no control is basically what has happened.  Basically I’m going to spend the next 20 years of my life being punished.”

He fingers his wedding ring. It fits tighter on his beefed up finger.

“I am total control freak. Control is what makes you. If you lose control you lose everything. Every part of my life is structured and controlled.  But I could never control getting old.  That’s what got me in the end.”

We talk Roy Keane, Michael Jordan. Fellow champions, fellow Knights of the Obsessive.

Jordan was once asked to rate his selfishness on a scale of 1-10. He said 150. A glimmer of recognition sparks in McCoy’s brain. He chuckles: “I’d be 200”.

He watches Keane straining for perfection and winces. McCoy would be lost in a team sport, would not know how to cope with teammates who didn’t care as much, for whom winning was not oxygen, sunlight, water, an elemental need, the alpha and omega.

“The problem that Roy Keane has is he expects everyone to be like him. I never thought I was better than anybody, but I knew nobody worked as hard as me.

“Not everybody sitting in a football dressing-room has that inside them. I don’t think you can instil it in them. The problem for Roy Keane is he thinks the fella beside him wants to be as good as him, but they don’t.”

It hardly requires a degree in amateur psychology to identify Keane’s mania as a product of teenage rejection. McCoy though was a champion from the start; every year he ended as the Number One.

So what was the genesis, the spark for the terrible insecurity, the almost physical illness that defeat brought to a man who has ridden 1,500 winners more than any National Hunt jockey who has ever lived?

He is stumped. He has no idea. He says it is not a self-esteem issue, though the fire is kindled by insecurity. Why, he cannot say. Addiction simply chose him.

I present him with a choice. He could be 17 again. His life in front of him. He can be free of the crippling need to succeed, his addictive nature rinsed away, the illness he felt in defeat all gone. All he has to do in return is allow himself be stripped of one of his 4,300-plus wins. He can’t do it.

“I’d hate it. I think if I could come back as a 17-year-old I would be much better this time. I’d probably be more obsessive, but I’d probably be more successful.

“I would much prefer that than being half as good and more comfortable in my life.Because you see, it drove me mad but it made me happy.” 

'Being AP' is in cinemas nationwide this week