Sunday News

How Junior All Black and would-be James Bond tackles addiction Shaken... stirred


ROGER Green’s life story reads like a boys’ own adventure – but with a theme of destructiv­e drinking running through several of the more colourful chapters.

Green played for the Junior All Blacks. He screen-tested to play James Bond in Diamonds are Forever and acted in a blockbuste­r movie starring the legendary Orson Welles.

He drove a white Mustang across the US and made a fortune importing meat into Saudi Arabia.

But Green says he also had fights, criminal conviction­s, and three failed marriages. It was, he says, a destructiv­e life built on an addiction, alchoholis­m, that he refused to recognise until he was 41.

‘‘It took me years to accept the consequenc­es of my disease,’’ Green says. ‘‘I thought they were just consequenc­es of my living or how the world treated me.’’

He was, he says, always in denial. ‘‘And this is a disease of denial. It is always you out there, never me or my family.’’

But no more. Some 34 years sober, Green has returned to New Zealand and, sparked by what he calls a ‘‘rampant epidemic of addiction’’, has set up an addiction centre he says is unique in this country. It offers cut-price treatment where the ‘‘guests’’ and the counsellor­s and staff alike, from Green down, are all alcoholics: ‘‘the best people to deliver the message’’.

Hanging in the reception area of Green’s year-old centre, The Retreat, is a huge framed portrait of the 1959 Junior All Blacks. Behind captain Wilson Whineray and next to Colin Meads stands a young Roger Green. That team played the touring British Lions at Wellington. ‘‘I wanted the roar of the crowd,’’ says Green, recalling that game. ‘‘But it didn’t elate me. It didn’t fill the hole in the soul that addicts have. But I could only see that in hindsight.’’

While he managed to stay off the booze during the rugby season and was a fanatical trainer, Green blames drinking for his failure to make the All Blacks (he got as far as a final trial).

Even aged 18, he says, he would

I wanted the roar of the crowd. But it didn’t elate me. It didn’t fill the hole in the soul that addicts have.’ ROGER GREEN

black out during drinking sessions and he says it was drink that led him at 30 to walk out on his wife, children and the family sheep farm to ‘‘escape’’ on a delayed OE to England.

He says his last night in New Zealand was spent in a cell after breaking a plate-glass window during a drunken night out. He was convicted of wilful damage and fined $40, and when he arrived in London he committed the same offence, he says.

His mother had paid him out his share of the farm, and he bought the Mustang, driving it US, with a stop-off to see a friend on a farm, where they drunkenly hunted deer at 2am with submachine guns.

Then he took the Mustang across the Atlantic in the hold of the Queen Mary, arriving in London in 1967. ‘‘I kept riding up on the pavement and almost run- Action man: Roger Green played in the Junior All Blacks, left, alongside Wilson Whineray and Colin Meads, and auditioned for the James Bond role made famous by Sean Connery, far left. Now, main photo, he runs a rehabilita­tion centre The Retreat in Auckland with Craig Laseur. Main photo: Peter Meecham/ FairfaxNZ ning over people because of all those miniskirts. I was in utopia.’’

Green says he fell into acting after meeting British screenwrit­er and playwright Robert Bolt (who wrote the screenplay­s for Dr Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia) and his actress wife Sarah Miles at a dinner party.

He says he even screen-tested for the part of James Bond in Diamonds are Forever. ‘‘Ten people did the test that day and one by one were told they were not wanted, except for me. Then I read in the paper a couple of months later ‘Sean Connery agrees to do two more Bonds’.

‘‘I loved the acting profession . . . There were all these women – what a profession to be in for a practising alcoholic.’’

The highlight, he says, was a role in the 1970 movie Waterloo, alongside Christophe­r Plummer and Orson Welles. Green spent two months on the bleak Ukrainian steppes drinking vodka with Russian extras. Wives two and three followed. Green says in the disintegra­tion of the latter marriage, he finally admitted the truth and enlisted in an alcohol treatment centre.

Sober, he set up a successful meat-export business which airfreight­ed 100kg of lamb each week from Sydney to Saudi Arabia, and on a friend’s advice, trained as a counsellor at the leading American addiction treatment centre, Hazelden. He says he worked for Hazelden in the UK, before going into the meat trade. Then a 1991 bank collapse wiped out his savings.

Back on his feet, he ran a private counsellin­g service in London specialisi­ng in interventi­ons – where family, friends and workmates of an alcoholic persuade them to seek treatment. Green had originally planned to return to New Zealand to retire but instead spent seven years fundraisin­g $1m to open The Retreat, leasing a former retirement home on the water’s edge at Otahuhu, South Auckland.

The Retreat’s ‘‘guests’’, not patients or clients, pay $6727 for a 30-day stay.

The Retreat’s programme director Craig Laseur says that compares to $25,000-plus charged by some other clinics.

The less expensive rate at The Retreat is because there are no doctors and profession­al counsellor­s involved; instead Green and Laseur use recovering alcoholics, who make weekly visits to lead classes as their ‘‘service’’ to the alcoholic community.

The Retreat’s first 10 graduates are now a year on. Seven are sober, Laseur says. He and Green expect, when they have enough numbers to produce meaningful statistics, to secure high rates of sobriety.

Laseur and Green aren’t at capacity yet but say demand is growing for their service.

‘‘There is,’’ says Green with the weariness of one who knows only too well from his own experience, ‘‘a rampant epidemic of addiction in this country’’.

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