Norfolk parents tell of heroin death of ‘brilliant’ teenage son who went to Gresham’s School, Holt
The grieving father of a talented musician has told of the agony of watching his 'delightful, brilliant, insightful' son consumed and killed by a drug addiction.
Freddy McConnel, son of cartoonist Annie Tempest and composer James McConnel, was found dead in his London flat hours after overdosing on heroin.
He was discovered after his parents, who live in Norfolk, where the 18-year-old grew up, alerted a friend and the police because he had not been answering their many phone calls.
When officers broke into the flat, they found the former Gresham's School, Holt, pupil lying face down in bed surrounded by drug paraphernalia.
Speaking to the EDP from his home near Holt, Mr McConnel said: 'I'll never forget it. We were having this three-way conversation on the phone – me, Annie and Freddy's friend. She told us: 'The police say he's unconscious. Oh my God! He's dead. He's dead!' It was horrendous.
'I know he didn't mean to do it.'
That moment was the culmination of years of drug abuse that had started when Freddy was 13.
- 1 Meet the man behind a morbid new craze
- 2 Long stretch of A47 closed overnight due to crash
- 3 Norfolk pub gets booked up every Sunday for its roast dinner platters
- 4 18 sights you will remember from Norfolk in the 1980s
- 5 Villagers hope to take on land near their homes
- 6 New operators take over at council-owned leisure centre
- 7 Norwich venue offering Afternoon Cheese and it looks incredible
- 8 Renewed objections to demolition of pub empty for a decade
- 9 Custom-built six-bedroom home with indoor slide on the market for £900,000
- 10 A47 reopens after serious crash
Until then he had been a 'delightful little chap' – a talented writer with an enormous sense of humour, according to his father.
He added: 'He was able to turn a 'no' into a 'yes' and yet make it feel perfectly justified: like having two chocolate biscuits when he'd been told he could only have one.'
Freddy was an intelligent child who was moved up a year at school when he was younger to stop him getting too bored. He would set himself challenges, such as gaining a scholarship to his preparatory school or becoming a brilliant table tennis player – something at which he would always excel.
At 11, he decided to go on Junior Mastermind and chose Mozart as his speciality. After immersing himself in the great composer's life and works, he won the specialist-subject round.
'Then he got bored and moved on,' said Mr McConnel, who also has a daughter, Daisy. 'There was always this sense of achieving goals, but everything he achieved was purely for that end: there was nothing beyond the achievement itself.'
It was a sign, he said, that made him think his son had obsessive compulsive disorder. 'Everything he experienced hit him far more than it would another child,' he said.
The teenage Freddy first began experimenting with drugs during high school. He was suspended from school twice and his behaviour changed quickly.
Mr McConnel, who talked of his strong bond with his son, said: 'He was becoming a very unpleasant person to be around: you couldn't have a conversation with him.'
Over the next few years, Freddy's parents – who separated in 2006 but both stayed in Norfolk – tried to help him beat the addiction. Three months at a 'wilderness school' in the American state of Oregon and a spell at a clinic at Chelmsford seemed to help, and yet he returned to drugs each time. His addiction had taken hold of him as tightly as his earlier interests.
Mr McConnel said: 'It was like he was playing table tennis. He wanted to be a superb drug addict.'
At 17 – at a time when he seemed to be coping again – Freddy got a place to study music at a college in London and began to develop his musical talents. Although he left the course after just two months, he went on to book gigs and perform material he had written under his stage name, Freddy Tempest.
'Had he lived, I think he would have gone on to become very, very special. He was a very insightful boy,' said his father.
By July last year, things had deteriorated and Freddy returned home to Norfolk asking for help. He admitted he was addicted to heroin.
His parents arranged for him to go to a rehabilitation clinic in South Africa. 'He came out looking fantastic,' said his father. 'Really upbeat.'
And then he deteriorated and, only a few weeks ago, confessed to his father that he was using again. He began to see a counsellor and decided to keep living in London so he could attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
Mr McConnel talked to his son every day but, when the phone conver-sations stopped, began to worry.
After Freddy's body was found, his father said, he felt emotionally sick. 'For four days, we just cried with shock and horror,' he said.
Freddy's funeral has taken place at Billingford church, in the mid-Norfolk village where he had spent his childhood. His own song, Windows of My Heart, was played during the service.
Freddy's parents are keen for people to hear their son's music. Visit www.myspace.com/freddytempest