If I’d been given a pound for every time someone asked me today why John Darwin thought he’d get away with breaking his parole licence to cavort with a woman in Ukraine I’d have had enough for a latte before lunchtime.
Why did he not think anyone would mind? Look to the two big lies we’re all told again and again – you can do anything if you want it badly enough and celebrity is an aspiration. Together they can ruin people’s lives. Darwin suffers from believing in both.
Even before taking the decision to avoid bankruptcy by paddling out to sea and faking his own death, Darwin has lived his life as if he’s a one-man reality TV show. Bit parts have been played by the wife who first helped, then divorced him, the cops (and the journalists) who uncovered his and her crimes, and all those whose inaction or incompetence allowed him to (almost) get away with it, but in his head he remains the hero.
He showed it when he wrote his autobiography in prison, smuggled his unconvincing tale of a loveable rogue out through the bars on his cell with the connivance of a conman in Miami, conducted pen-pal seductions with unlikely women, gave interviews on his release and wrote on his website that he was releasing more books, working on a film, and planning to travel the world.
To the rest of us, his life is a parable for the modern age: his misfortunes remind us that investments can go down as well as up; that it’s not just buy to let, it’s buy, maintain and let; and that family comes first. If you want to frighten your kids into spending their time, money and energy wisely, tell them the story of John Ronald Darwin.
We are each a sum total of our whole lives, but Darwin’s muddle in middle age should have brought anyone to their senses. Seduced by Thatcherite ideals he had acquired more buy to let houses than he could manage. He had a Range Rover on crippling finance that was costing him a third of his take-home pay. His debts were so bad that his finances were, literally, a dog’s dinner; Cleveland Police discovered he could only pay for his Rottweilers’ food with credit cards.
It was a downfall foreseen, or at least anticipated, by his bank. Worried about his ability to manage the dilapidated houses he owned it insisted on wrapping them in one mortgage to give itself the upper hand. When debt alarm bells started ringing the bank made noises about pulling the plug and forcing a fire-sale. Darwin could not face bankruptcy and starting again – so he sidestepped into the fantasy that if he really, really wanted them to, his daydreams could come true.
What happened, and keeps happening, to Darwin, to his life and to his family is the lesson for kids to learn: no matter how much you think you’re the hero and everyone else is a fool, reaching for the stars, on its own, is not enough.
It looks like Darwin will soon be back behind bars – flying home into the arms of the police to serve the rest of his sentence.
Fuelled by self-belief and utterly convinced that he is a celebrity, Darwin boasts on his website of his sense of adventure. Don’t listen to a word he says kids. Except the word sense. Think about that a lot.