Finding recovery after life on the road
Read the inspirational story of our wonderful George Street Social chef, Nathan Pollard.
For Nathan, a life on the road as a touring chef was pretty much all he’d known. He started working in a professional kitchen in his early 20s, and made such a success of it his career took him to The Olympics, The Asian Games, The Brit Awards and many other major events and festivals, as well as on tour with bands and singers such as The Rolling Stones, Cher and Pink.
As appealing as life on the road might seem to a budding young chef, the culture, combined with his excess drink and drugs habit took him to crisis point on many occasions.
Nathan said: “Everyone I worked with was going out and partying hard. But I realised from a young age that I was doing it to excess.
“I was earning good money but I blew it all on partying. Looking back, I think it was probably obvious to everyone, but I never really discussed it. And in fact, although I admitted that I was an alcoholic on several occasions, I often talked myself out of it and went back into denial.”
Nathan’s behaviour ended up costing him several jobs. The first major job he lost was in 2011, when he was working in China. He admits that his behaviour not only lost him his job, but also nearly cost the entire company its contract.
He said: “Coming back to the UK I could always get another job – but it was hanging onto it that was the issue. My drinking and using was completely out of control. I was spending too much money on food supplies for the contracts, giving stuff away, things like that. All that mattered to me was the drink and drugs.”
Nathan returned to Newcastle to live with his mum in 2012, and says that the five years from then until he finally got sober in 2017 were hell. He said: “I got great jobs working on movies and TV shows, I couldn’t keep them. My mum was really worried about me and she suggested I go to a 12-step meeting, which she came along to with me. But back then, I didn’t give it a chance. I wasn’t ready. It was an ongoing cycle of getting a job, moving out of mum’s, getting my own place, losing my job and moving back to mum’s again.”
In 2016, Nathan realised that he was completely dependent on alcohol. “I was working in the Lake District and my behaviour was terrible. But to be honest, I was probably in some form of denial until I got sober in late 2017.”
Nathan found himself admitted to hospital over 40 times, and on several of those occasions it was due to suicide attempts. He said: “The truth was, I liked moving out of my mum’s because it meant I could drink more. But on the 10th December 2017, I woke up and I’d had enough. I always use the quote from a Denzel Washington movie to describe how I felt – it was like I reached my lifelong limit of lies.
“I didn’t want to go on, so I took drink, drugs, anything I could get my hands on. I don’t remember much about it but an ambulance arrived. They took me to A&E, pumped stuff out, put stuff in and then I left.”
This time, however, Nathan knew he couldn’t carry on drinking. He got to his flat at around 3.30am, slept until 9am and then opened the diary his mum had bought him. He wrote his name in it and wrote that he was an alcoholic.
A few days later, on the 14th December after four days of not drinking, he found himself at George Street Social. He went to the first 12-step meeting that he really wanted to be at, identified with what was shared there and went to as many more as he could. He completed 184 meetings in 90 days, found a sponsor and felt part of the George Street Community.
“After getting to know a few people at George Street I approached the manager and asked about working there. Eventually, I was offered the job as chef at George Street.
Nathan added: “Cooking plays such an important role in my recovery. I’ve been a chef for 21 years and toured all round the world, but this place is so special to me. It’s the place I first found hope.”
In addition to cooking the meals for sale at George Street, Nathan also makes sobriety birthday cakes for people at cost. He said: “It’s nice being able to help in that way and I really enjoy the creativity of cooking.
“It’s also brilliant to be able to work with other people in recovery and train them up in the kitchen. We’ve got a great team at George Street now and it feels great seeing people come into the kitchen with no experience and watching them really excel.
“So many aspects of my recovery are thanks to George Street, and I’m glad I’m able to give so much back now too.”