“He was sitting on his chair at the pub and keeled over. Everyone thought he was just drunk, as usual. Then he didn’t get up”

Hector Pearson talks to Nanci Rawsthorne about losing a family friend to alcoholism, the impact it has had on his life, and his desperation to be different.

Hector looks sullen as he sits down on the sofa, preparing himself to remember his dad’s best friend, an important figure from his childhood. He wants to remember the man who taught him how to play pub games and took him out shooting – but all that sticks in his head is the yellow-skinned, sunken-eyed man who died alone in his hospital bed.

Hector Pearson, 20, is an Audio and Recording Technology student at DMU. Originally from Essex, he grew up with his parents, his younger brother and his father’s best friend Charlie.

He was only 13 when Charlie died from alcoholism.

“His parents died and he just spiralled,” Hector says. “He was riddled with guilt that he’d been a burden on them and had killed them off early. So, he turned to drinking.”

For most people, constant drinking is unsustainable. To be able to fund this, you would need a full-time job, a place to stay, independence. But Charlie was 30. He was already retired and had a small fortune inherited from his parents burning a hole in his pocket.

Hector says he used to see Charlie all the time. He was always coming over to their house to spend time with them. He was almost a permanent fixture in the Pearson family home.

Charlie and his unapologetic love for music is what encouraged Hector to take it up as a career. He cites Charlie as the inspiration behind his choice to study audio engineering at university.

“He would play all his favourite bands for me. The Cure, The Clash, AC/DC. He could talk for hours about the intricacies of melody and harmony, and his eyes would be so bright and full of life,” Hector says.

And then, one day, Charlie stopped coming over.

Charlie lost all his family and friends, as he refused to get help for his excessive drinking. The only person who stayed by his side through it all was Hector’s dad.

Hector sits up from where he is laying, slouched, across his chair. His voice cracks.

“He was my dad’s best friend,” he says. “He was my best friend too.”

Hector and his younger brother were not allowed to see Charlie when his drinking got bad. Hector remembers seeing him only a few times during those difficult times.

“His skin was yellow, his eyes were sunken, he stumbled around and shouted a lot,” he says. “I remember being scared of him. This man that I’d known and loved and trusted my whole life. I was scared of him.”

Before Charlie started drinking, he would take Hector and his brother Dougal out shooting at his farm.

“One time, he dressed my little brother up in this huge trench coat and flat cap, and sent him running into the woods with a big stick to hit the bushes and trees,” Hector smiles, his eyes crinkling in happy remembrance. “Me and Charlie just shot the hell out of everything that flew out.”

Recounting a singular enjoyable time at the pub, before Charlie’s excessive drinking consumed him, Hector smiles.

“He taught me how to play the pub game ‘Shut the Box’,” Hector says. “Still mentally astute, he would win against me every time.”

“These were the times Charlie would stop after three or four beers,” Hector sighs.  

Sadly, these are the only truly good memories of Charlie that Hector has left, as most other things are tainted by his drinking.

Hector reminisces about his other memories with Charlie. Now he is older, Hector recognises that sometimes Charlie was only fun because he was drunk and often these fun memories would soon turn dark, with Charlie getting angry or crying hysterically.

“Often, when he would drink, he would cry at the same time because he thought, if his parents could see him, they would be disappointed,” Hector says.

It was in the pub, drinking and crying, where Charlie collapsed and ended up in hospital. Hector’s dad recounted the event to his sons when they were a little older, and they were more able to understand.

“My dad sat us down to say Charlie was in hospital,” Hector’s voice cracks. “He was sitting in his chair at the pub, he keeled over and fell off. Everyone thought he was just drunk, as usual. Then he didn’t get up.”

Charlie spent two months in hospital, with regular visits from the Pearson family until Hector’s dad was too grief-stricken to see his best friend in such a state. He was being kept alive by machines until they couldn’t do anymore, and he passed away.

Hector’s life was changed drastically with the passing of Charlie. He misses him greatly, to this day.

Neither Hector nor his brother are allowed to drink until the age of 21. Not even a glass of wine with dinner or a WKD at a sleepover with friends. Due to the trauma of losing their best friend to the vicious grip of alcoholism, his parents were so anxiety-ridden with the thought he would follow the same route as Charlie, they did everything in their power to try to deter Hector.

 “Seeing Charlie in this heart-breaking state was enough of a strong deterrent to stop me from drinking,” says Hector. “He looked awful; gaunt and yellow. It was tragic. I never wanted to end up the way he did: in the hospital with no family or friends left, just wasting away.”

Charlie Willis was barely 40 when he died, laying in a hospital bed waiting for a liver transplant he never got, wishing he could have made his parents proud.