The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Defiant Best back to the bar

George Best returned to his local pub Sunday where he was said to have started drinking again, less than a year after his life-saving liver transplant. The 57-year-old, who became as famous for his alcohol consumption as his football skills, arrived at The Chequers in Walton on the Hill, Surrey, when it opened at noon.

He settled into an afternoon session of sipping a clear drink, apparently mineral water, sitting on a wooden bench by the bar and chatting to regulars before being driven off in a silver Mercedes at 7.30 pm.

Best was arrested in the pub on Saturday after a fracas with a newspaper photographer. He was released without charge.

After his release he returned to The Chequers, a few miles from his home in the village of Upper Gatton, and stayed until closing time. Although Best had told reporters on Saturday he had not touched alcohol, his wife Alex and his agent Phil Hughes said that he had visited the pub every day last week and had been drinking white wine, despite pellets implanted in his stomach which are supposed to make him sick if he drinks alcohol.

After a liver transplant last July, Best publicly pledged he would never touch alcohol again and said doctors had told him just one drink could kill him. At home Alex Best, 30, was said to be “absolutely furious” that bar staff had served her husband despite his high-profile battle with alcoholism.

She told a newspaper that he appeared to be “on a mission to self-destruct”. Mr Hughes said: “He [Best] is obviously very remorseful. We need him to get help but it is only George who can help himself.”

But on Sunday, dressed casually in a check shirt and trousers, Best seemed oblivious to the waiting media pack outside and even signed autographs for some young fans.

The publican, Mark Noble-Campbell, said as he served drinkers: “It is a bit out of order that the pub has been criticised for serving him alcohol.

“He was provoked by the photographer yesterday and that is what led to his arrest. He was sitting in the pub on his own, reading a newspaper and had agreed to be photographed by a Mail cameraman.

“But then a News of the World snapper started taking shots of him without his permission and George and some regular customers asked him to hand over his roll of film.

“When the photographer refused, a scuffle broke out. The press were bang out of order.”

Best’s consultant physician spoke of his disappointment at the former footballer’s drinking but said he was convinced it was a temporary lapse.

Prof. Roger Williams, who has treated Best for three and a half years and was with him throughout his 10-hour liver transplant, said he still believed he could beat his alcoholism. “Alcohol is a very addictive agent and he did extremely well up until now. Unfortunately he has lapsed, and that can happen. We just have to face up to it now it has.”

Prof. Williams said: “The pellets should give a violent reaction but it was clearly not enough to stop him. They usually work, but they don’t always.”

Transplant campaigners were split over Best’s antics. Some expressed sympathy but others feared his behaviour — which coincided with National Transplant Week — could damage the campaign to encourage people to be organ donors.

John Fisher, 41, a heart transplant patient from Ashford, Middlesex, was due to join Best this week on a charity run. “I think everybody deserves a second chance. Then he goes and sticks two fingers up and is destroying someone else’s liver,” he said. “Maybe someone else would have been more deserving.”

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