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In the spotlight: Richard Kingdon and addiction among the wealthy

Richard Kingdon is the co-founder and managing director of City Beacon, the only addiction based counselling service located in the hub of London’s Square Mile. Richard has plenty of experience having battled his own addiction demons after first taking drugs at the age of 12, ending up on the streets at 16. By 26 he’d had a breakthrough and went on to spend two months in rehab: “I became sick and tired of being sick and tired. I had a moment of clarity, I woke up to reality and realised it was life or death.”

Richard Kingdon, City Beacon

A veteran of the addiction counselling profession, Richard worked for four years as a drug worker with Addaction, an alcohol and drug treatment agency, and a further six years at Cranstoun as team leader and service manager. He then went on to work in community outreach for the Westminster Drug Project before launching City Beacon in 2009. “I had been introduced to several city people who accepted my help over the years. It was they who questioned the absence of a service in the city for financial professionals.”

City Beacon specialises in treating wealthy clients and public profile individuals. Richard says: “we only work one to one with clients. I operate out of nondescript, discreet offices and will always be happy to meet clients off site or at home. We go out of our way to make sure clients are comfortable on every level and anonymity is uppermost.”

“the more people have, the more they’ve got to lose”

Addiction among the high-powered and the wealthy was brought sharply into the public eye last year when the body of philanthropist and businesswoman Eva Rausing was discovered at her home in Belgravia, one of London’s most expensive property districts. Eva was a UK patron of the international drug abuse prevention charity ‘Mentor’. Her husband, Hans Rausing, was listed 88 on the Forbes rich list with an estimated $10 billion fortune and was a close personal friend of Prince Charles. Despite their public image, both fought secret drug addictions that ended tragically.

“Addiction does not discriminate. A key point is that the more people have, the more they’ve got to lose. It only becomes a problem for them when they’ve got more to lose than money. Superficially, many highly successful addicts support their habit and effectively keep it under wraps – colleagues and friends can be unaware of what’s going on but at the same time, the carnage becomes internalised and wreaks havoc until it finds its way out.”

“networking and entertaining clients is a big part of the job”

Evidence of addiction among high net worth individuals in the city has been rife in recent years. Prior to the financial crisis, there was a culture of living the high life where vices of addiction such as alcohol and sex were actively encouraged: “networking and entertaining clients is a big part of the job. It’s not uncommon for people to go to a bar or to a strip club and end up in a brothel.”
Speaking about an environment where people turn a blind eye towards addiction Richard says: “most headlines about addiction tend to centre on sex, cocaine and alcohol abuse but what’s not as well understood is the damage gambling can do.”

“the city is about legalised gambling”

It doesn’t come as a great surprise that gambling is a particularly big issue in the financial capital of the world. In the boom years, Nick Leeson made international headlines when he bankrupted Barings Bank single-handedly in 1995. The events were later depicted in the film Rogue Trader with Ewan McGregor in the title role. Rather than serving as a warning sign, gambling has become a staple of London life for investment bank traders: “fundamentally, the city is about legalised gambling, betting money (never yours) on what you’ve been told is going to be the next winner. With access to credit, an addict can gamble away the family house in a matter of hours.”

“they’re convinced they are in control”

More recently Alex Hope shot to notoriety after buying a giant bottle of champagne for £125,000 and was then arrested a few weeks later on suspicion of authorised trading. This was followed by a seven year sentence for two counts of financial fraud handed down to Kweku Adoboli, a trader at the Global Synthetic Equities Trading team for Swiss bank UBS, whose unauthorised activity resulted in an estimated $2 billion loss. This lack of self-control is emblematic of addictive personalities: “typically addicts don’t think the rules apply to them… Generally speaking, they’re convinced they are in control of the substance.”

“we have to establish a relationship of trust”

Asked how Richard can help individuals where power and ego are major obstacles, he says: “our clients tend to be extremely capable and successful in their chose profession however, the experience of losing control often prompts them to get in contact… Denial and dishonesty are the name of the game in addiction and in order to challenge this, we have to establish a relationship of trust.”

When Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008 and the bottom fell out, there was a steep increase in stress due to longer working hours and pressure to deliver results. For those susceptible to the triggers of addiction, their lifestyle coupled with the strains of the post-boom crisis was a recipe for disaster. “Most of our clients were affected by the 2008 collapse and went from partying and excesses in the good times to an environment of increased stress and pressures.”

According to the This Is Money website, the number of workers in London’s Square Mile suing their employers for stress related illness has trebled since the financial crisis: “stress can quickly change the addictive nature from fun to numb. Clients often try to avoid stress in ways that lead to a host of other problems, increasing the desire for more and more relief.”

Is anyone beyond help? Richard says no: “as long as they are willing to help themselves, and they are still alive, they’re in with a chance!”

For more information on City Beacon and the work Richard Kingdon does, call +44 20 7147 9984 or visit the website.

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