Weekly Briefing

Russia: bombings
On 29 March, two suicide bombings on the Moscow Metro killed 39 and injured 70. The attacks are the first in the city since a bomb exploded at Paveletskaya Station in 2004.

Like the Paveletskaya attack, the blasts have been attributed to Islamist suicide bombers from the North Caucasus. The head of the Russian Federal Security Service, (FSB), Alexander Bortiknov, reported that: "Fragments of the bodies of two female suicide bombers were found earlier at
the scene of the incident and examinations show that these individuals came from the North Caucasus region."

The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, vowed to "find and destroy" the perpetrators, calling on chairmen from the Supreme Court to "perfect" terrorism laws.

Sierra Leone: strikes
Health-care workers in Sierra Leone, whose strike began on 18 March, were in an unusual position: the government agreed that their demands were fair. “The only unfortunate thing," said President Ernest Bai Koroma, "is that not all of them can be afforded now. But, meanwhile,
go back to work." However, the doctors and nurses refused, until they were awarded a sixfold pay increase on 28 March.

Before the new deal was agreed, doctors were paid £67 a month, and nurses just £27 - nominally, at least. A 2009 Amnesty International report suggests that many are not paid at all, and end up charging patients instead.

Sierra Leone will soon introduce free medical care for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and children under five, which health workers estimate will quadruple their work. In light of that, the sudden pay hike seems somehow less extravagant.

Egypt: succession issue
Commentators used to debate whether 2011 might see Egypt's first truly democratic poll since Hosni Mubarak became president in 1981. Or would Mubarak's son Gamal just be handed the mantle? Now, the more pressing concern is whether Mubarak Sr - 81 years old and fresh from surgery on his gall bladder and small intestine - will step aside at all.

If he does, Mubarak Jr is still his likely successor. But a growing movement is calling for Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to stand. He has shown some interest; but constitutional change would need to happen before ElBaradei, an independent, could even stand. And after years of unfair elections, less than a quarter of Egyptians vote.

China: toon army
The popularity of the Japanese animation style known as anime may be on the wane in much of the world, but in China it is taking off. At Tokyo's annual Anime Fair, Chinese participants have trebled in number since last year. In November, the government set up the China Animation Comic Group, offering subsidies and planning a "Game City" in Beijing as part of its efforts to enhance the country's reputation as a cultural hub. And by outsourcing work to China, Japanese animation studios have in effect taught China the art - helping to create its own biggest rival, but also a huge new market in a time of economic strain.

France: Sarko père
Poor Nicolas Sarkozy: rumours of marital strife and his popularity at its lowest level since his election in 2007. (The magazine Le Point avoided any risk of confusion by explaining that his unpopularity rating is also up by 6 points.) Now his father, Pal, has written an autobiography, countering claims that he was a bad parent.

Evidence of Pal's nurturing skills was on show at France's annual book fair. He questioned whether his son should even run for re-election in 2012. If he doesn't, he will "have a lot fewer worries than he has now", Pal pointed out helpfully. You can almost hear Nicolas sighing, "Thanks, Dad."

This article first appeared in the 05 April 2010 issue of the New Statesman, GOD

Biteback and James Wharton
Show Hide image

“It was the most traumatic chapter of my life”: ex-soldier James Wharton on his chemsex addiction

One of the British Army’s first openly gay soldiers reveals how he became trapped in a weekend world of drug and sex parties.

“Five days disappeared.” James Wharton, a 30-year-old former soldier, recalls returning to his flat in south London at 11pm on a Sunday night in early March. He hadn’t eaten or slept since Wednesday. In the five intervening days, he had visited numerous different apartments, checked in and out of a hotel room, partied with dozens of people, had sex, and smoked crystal meth “religiously”.

One man he met during this five-day blur had been doing the same for double the time. “He won’t have been exaggerating,” Wharton tells me now. “He looked like he’d been up for ten days.”

On Monday, Wharton went straight to his GP. He had suffered a “massive relapse” while recovering from his addiction to chemsex: group sex parties enhanced by drugs.

“Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army term”

I meet Wharton on a very different Monday morning six months after that lost long weekend. Sipping a flat white in a sleek café workspace in Holborn, he’s a stroll away from his office in the city, where he works as a PR. He left the Army in 2013 after ten years, having left school and home at 16.


Wharton left school at 16 to join the Army. Photo: Biteback

With his stubble, white t-shirt and tortoise shell glasses, he now looks like any other young media professional. But he’s surfacing from two years in the chemsex world, where he disappeared to every weekend – sometimes for 72 hours straight.

Back then, this time on a Monday would have been “like a double-decker bus smashing through” his life – and that’s if he made it into work at all. Sometimes he’d still be partying into the early hours of a Tuesday morning. The drugs allow your body to go without sleep. “Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army expression,” Wharton says, wryly.


Wharton now works as a PR in London. Photo: James Wharton

Mainly experienced by gay and bisexual men, chemsex commonly involves snorting the stimulant mephodrone, taking “shots” (the euphoric drug GBL mixed with a soft drink), and smoking the amphetamine crystal meth.

These drugs make you “HnH” (high and horny) – a shorthand on dating apps that facilitate the scene. Ironically, they also inhibit erections, so Viagra is added to the mix. No one, sighs Wharton, orgasms. He describes it as a soulless and mechanical process. “Can you imagine having sex with somebody and then catching them texting at the same time?”

“This is the real consequence of Section 28”

Approximately 3,000 men who go to Soho’s 56 Dean Street sexual health clinic each month are using “chems”, though it’s hard to quantify how many people regularly have chemsex in the UK. Chemsex environments can be fun and controlled; they can also be unsafe and highly addictive.

Participants congregate in each other’s flats, chat, chill out, have sex and top up their drugs. GBL can only be taken in tiny doses without being fatal, so revellers set timers on their phones to space out the shots.

GBL is known as “the date rape drug”; it looks like water, and a small amount can wipe your memory. Like some of his peers, Wharton was raped while passed out from the drug. He had been asleep for six or so hours, and woke up to someone having sex with him. “That was the worst point, without a doubt – rock bottom,” he tells me. “[But] it didn’t stop me from returning to those activities again.”

There is a chemsex-related death every 12 days in London from usually accidental GBL overdoses; a problem that Wharton compares to the AIDS epidemic in a book he’s written about his experiences, Something for the Weekend.


Wharton has written a book about his experiences. Photo: Biteback

Wharton’s first encounter with the drug, at a gathering he was taken to by a date a couple of years ago, had him hooked.

“I loved it and I wanted more immediately,” he recalls. From then on, he would take it every weekend, and found doctors, teachers, lawyers, parliamentary researchers, journalists and city workers all doing the same thing. He describes regular participants as the “London gay elite”.

“Chemsex was the most traumatic chapter of my life” 

Topics of conversation “bounce from things like Lady Gaga’s current single to Donald Trump”, Wharton boggles. “You’d see people talking about the general election, to why is Britney Spears the worst diva of them all?”

Eventually, he found himself addicted to the whole chemsex culture. “It’s not one single person, it’s not one single drug, it’s just all of it,” he says.



Wharton was in the Household Cavalry alongside Prince Harry. Photos: Biteback and James Wharton

Wharton feels the stigma attached to chemsex is stopping people practising it safely, or being able to stop. He’s found a support network through gay community-led advice services, drop-ins and workshops. Not everyone has that access, or feels confident coming forward.

“This is the real consequence of Section 28,” says Wharton, who left school in 2003, the year this legislation against “promoting” homosexuality was repealed. “Who teaches gay men how to have sex? Because the birds and the bees chat your mum gives you is wholly irrelevant.”


Wharton was the first openly gay soldier to appear in the military in-house magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

Wharton only learned that condoms are needed in gay sex when he first went to a gay bar at 18. He was brought up in Wrexham, north Wales, by working-class parents, and described himself as a “somewhat geeky gay” prior to his chemsex days.

After four years together, he and his long-term partner had a civil partnership in 2010; they lived in a little cottage in Windsor with two dogs. Their break-up in 2014 launched him into London life as a single man.

As an openly gay soldier, Wharton was also an Army poster boy; he appeared in his uniform on the cover of gay magazine Attitude. He served in the Household Cavalry with Prince Harry, who once defended him from homophobic abuse, and spent seven months in Iraq.


In 2012, Wharton appeared with his then civil partner in Attitude magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

A large Union Jack shield tattoo covering his left bicep pokes out from his t-shirt – a physical reminder of his time at war on his now much leaner frame. He had it done the day he returned from Iraq.

Yet even including war, Wharton calls chemsex “the most traumatic chapter” of his life. “Iraq was absolutely Ronseal, it did exactly what it said on the tin,” he says. “It was going to be a bit shit, and then I was coming home. But with chemsex, you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

“When I did my divorce, I had support around me. When I did the Army, I had a lot of support. Chemsex was like a million miles an hour for 47 hours, then on the 48th hour it was me on my own, in the back of an Uber, thinking where did it all go wrong? And that’s traumatic.”

Something for the Weekend: Life in the Chemsex Underworld by James Wharton is published by Biteback.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 April 2010 issue of the New Statesman, GOD