Ben’s on crest of a after rollercoaster
From £600 a day cocaine habit to boss of sober
BEN Riley was sure he’d be dead by 40. But then that’s what a £600 a day cocaine habit will do to you.
Over the past 25 years, he’s been homeless, a successful club promoter and record label owner, addicted to crack and heroin, a rapper, an MC, an alcoholic, a convicted shoplifter and more recently the director of a community interest company, or CIC.
He’s 45 now, clean of drugs and alcohol.
Through his company
DryWave, he organises sober club nights across the north west, as well as workshops and community outreach projects for young people.
But best of all, he got past 40 and he’s still alive, despite a savage rollercoaster ride of addiction.
He was 13 when he first started smoking cannabis, quickly taking it up daily.
At the time, it felt like he’d found the answer to everything.
Eyes pale blue and intense, his nose flattened from scrapping, he’s smart and articulate, constantly waving to a parade of people passing by the window.
We talk over lunch in Tyros, his favourite Lebanese cafe in the middle of Stockport, a place he comes to almost daily.
He puts the money for his week’s lunches in cash behind the till every Monday.
Regiment is very important in his life now. Essential, in fact.
“I loved to learn, and was creative, but I was always uncomfortable in myself, so when I picked up cannabis, I was like ‘well this is it’. It just shut all that down. It was what I’d been looking for,” he says.
At school, he and his twin brother Tom were troublesome.
“I’d always been labelled a ‘naughty child’.
“And if it wasn’t me misbehaving, it was my brother.
“The ‘terrible twins’ was the label, right?” he laughs.
“I was just a extremely creative with no outlet.
“School just wasn’t for me.”
He suspects that his experience in school was largely down to undiagnosed ADHD.
He left with not a single qualification to his name.
It was smoking cannabis that seemed to calm the chaos in his brain, so of course that continued in earnest once the inconvenience of formal education was out of the way.
Then it was drinking, then LSD, then speed, then ecstasy, then cocaine.
“I went through the whole spectrum.
“Your behaviours start getting wilder and wilder, your thinking gets wilder and wilder, you start segregating yourself from that societal structure,” he says.
“And obviously, you have to pay for it. So I became a criminal.
“I wasn’t able to hold down any meaningful work, even menial work.”
At 25, he went to jail after running out of a kid, but shop with a box of sat navs.
By this time, Ben was addicted to crack and heroin, and homeless.
Eighteen months at Forest Bank prison in Salford, for theft and assault, was no fun.
Neither was it a wake up call.
He fought his way through it, often literally, brutal fights happening daily in the showers, he says.
He was also coming off heroin for the first time in his life, so was suffering the agony of physical withdrawal, not really understanding what it entailed.
He thought he’d picked up a bug in prison.
“I’d never had the experience of coming off heroin, so it had never caught up to me,” he says.
“I was very naive. Also,
I was a skinny lad, with glasses. A prime target.
“But I’ve always been a fighter.
“It was horrendous. Frightening, Lonely. You’re just numb. You have to be.” He came out clean. It didn’t last long. When he arrived back in Stockport, he found his benefits had stacked up in a post office account and he was flush with money.
He was instantly back to the cycle of drinking, crack and heroin.
“The sad thing is with addiction is that you convince yourself you enjoy it,” he says.
“It creates an illusion that you are making a choice to live that lifestyle.
“It’s completely insane.
I hoped I’d die before I was 40. “That was a mantra. “It was pointless to plan ahead.
“Just live for that day with a complete absence of any responsibility.
“You can live like that. But only for a certain amount of time.”
He was 27, homeless again, and while using in a flat with two men who were well into their 40s, he had a realisation.
A vision of his own future sitting, barely conscious in front of him.
“When you’re looking for a way out, it often appears,” he says.
He charmed his way into a supported housing scheme, where he was mentored by another former addict, Darren, who introduced him to the 12 Step Fellowship system of recovery.
He got clean for sixand-a-half years.
He started his own company promoting student rave events, going from tiny 70 capacity spaces to 7,000 capacity events at places like Bowlers in Trafford Park and the Manchester Academy.
Under the name SOS, he began a career as a drum and bass MC, booked up and down the country.
He founded a record label and began going into pupil referral units and prisons teaching business and music production via his company, also called SOS.
Things were going well, he was sober, he was making money, he was helping young people like himself and had an outlet for his creativity at last. Then he relapsed. And this is where things got really bad.
All of the money he’d made was soon being spent on cocaine.
“£300 in the morning, £300 at night,” he says.
“It was a phenomenal craving that I couldn’t control.
“I didn’t know drug use could get that bad.
“I was injecting heroin, and then smoking crack. Psychosis. Lost everything.
“I’d added all these labels to myself; promoter, MC, workshop coordinator, company CEO, designer, brand developer.
“Then slowly, each one dropped away.
“Not doing that anymore, not doing that anymore.
“Until it came to the point where it was ‘I’m a thief... but I’m a good thief ’.
“And then I wasn’t even a good thief.
“My health deteriorated to the point where I had 30% lung capacity.
“I was 35, and so ill. So so ill.”
Once again, fate stepped in.
He found an addiction organisation, which funded him to go to
Clouds House, an exclusive rehab facility that had treated the likes of Robbie Williams and Pete Doherty.
They booted him out after six weeks, but not before racking up a bill of £24,000 for those who had sent him there.
“I’d worked in the sector before, so I had all this knowledge, no action, they just thought ‘who’s this d**khead’.
“I was really annoying. But also very ill, no discipline.
“You can’t help someone like that. I was beyond human aid.”
He was back in Stockport, now scratching around for £20 a day of heroin.
None of this was caused by a turbulent upbringing.
His dad was an engineer, his mum a pharmacist at Boots and it was a large, loving family.
Saturdays were spent at his nan’s, who would make hotpots and bread and butter pudding.
“They say addiction is a family disease,” he says.
“It just tears through them. Tears them apart. It was horrific for them.”
But thanks to some old friends, including Darren who he’d met at the beginning of his first recovery, he began to build up his own network of support.
He’s now been clean for three-and-a-half years.
“I knew I had value, and I knew I had skills, it was just where I was going to use them,” he says.
DryWave was born when he started slowly restoring his fitness and using it as a therapy, swimming daily.
He met Sean Kelly, the Olympic swimming coach at Grand Central in Stockport, and struck up a friendship.
He offered use of the pool for a sober party event.
Ben sold tickets, and got the late, great Stu Allan to DJ.
Though the party didn’t happen in the pool as planned, it worked.
People bought tickets, people came, people danced.
It was a lifeline not only for Ben, but for those who have started coming to the events.
He’s since had the likes of Mr C from The Shamen playing for him, as well as old school rave acts like Awesome 3, Baby D and N-Trance.
He’s got sights set on Boy George and Fatboy Slim for future events, and he’s now part of a tight and supportive team, his co-directors Will, Steve and Gemma and patron and fellow promoter Wilf Gregory, the man behind Manchester drum and bass institution Metropolis, which has been running
“I didn’t know drug use could get that bad.” “I knew I had value, and I knew I had skills.”