Shane MacGowan’s wife Victoria Mary Clarke reveals how her bond with the Pogues singer endured despite all the ravages of fame, addiction and illness – and lives on even now

Love is a scary thing. No matter who you love, you are guaranteed to lose them one day. The more you love them, the more you will lose. It can hurt so much to love, that many of us just won’t take the risk.

I was not looking for love when I met Shane MacGowan. It was the furthest thing from my mind. The year was 1982, I was 16 and if I worshipped anything, it was fashion and music.

I had opened a vintage clothing shop in my hometown of Cork in Ireland and I was making a living from buying cool clothes from London’s Portobello Road and Brick Lane to sell there.

I was a New Romantic and on a mission to live in a world of lace gloves and cigarette holders and cocktails in cool nightclubs.

Ireland in the 1980s was the opposite of a Wham! video. It was dreariness and depression and poverty and emigration. I was intoxicated with London and her unlimited potential for glamour and excitement.

I was not looking for love when I met Shane MacGowan. It was the furthest thing from my mind, writes Victoria Mary Clarke 

It was the night of December 14 and me and my friend Jo were sitting in The Royal Oak in Temple Fortune, in the north of the city, which was our local. It was a quiet night and the clientele was not exactly groovy, but I was wearing Jo’s skin-tight red Spandex mini dress with fishnets and stilettos and feeling pretty pleased with myself.

The door opened and Shane walked in with Spider Stacy from The Pogues. The two of them immediately stood out from everyone else in the room. They looked like pop stars and they felt like pop stars.

I noticed Shane immediately because his eyes and face were luminous and he seemed to sparkle with charisma. He was tall and very pale and dressed like an old-fashioned gent in a black suit, a Crombie overcoat and a hat. While I was staring at him, he caught my eye and walked up to our table. ‘It’s Spider’s birthday,’ he said. ‘Buy him a drink?’

Without even thinking I just said, ‘f*** off’. Shane laughed and the two of them went over to the bar.

I stared at them for the rest of the night. It turned out that Spider lived next door to the pub, that Jo had met him before and they had just started a band called Pogue Mahone which is Irish for ‘kiss my ass’.

Somehow, I ended up at a Pogues gig a few days later on a date with Spider. Before the band went on stage, he’d had a few drinks and he seemed to be falling asleep at the table. Shane came over to us. ‘You had better wake him up, he’s meant to be on stage,’ he said. When they did get on stage I was almost in shock.

Shane exuded excitement and joy and passion and he could express every emotion, including sorrow and anger with his voice and his words

Shane exuded excitement and joy and passion and he could express every emotion, including sorrow and anger with his voice and his words

They were playing traditional Irish music but with different words and they were doing it more like the Sex Pistols than the Clancy Brothers. It was like seeing The Pope breakdancing. I wasn’t sure if I should be offended, especially as they all seemed to be English, but the energy and the atmosphere were electrifying. They made Irish trad unspeakably sexy.

My mind was blown by everything about it, most of all by Shane. He was everything that I wanted to be.

He exuded excitement and joy and passion and he could express every emotion, including sorrow and anger with his voice and his words.

At the time, I was locked into my own self-consciousness and my extreme fears of rejection and judgment.

I wanted to be superior, so I wouldn’t have to feel the shame of being myself. But Shane was gloriously and unashamedly authentic and unafraid to be himself and it was hugely inspiring, especially as an Irish person.

It took more than three years before we kissed. On my 20th birthday in January 1986, a friend of his said: ‘It’s Victoria’s birthday, you should kiss her.’ And he did.

Afterwards, me and my mother, who was visiting at the time, gave him a lift home and I tried to snog him in front of my mother but he told me to ‘keep it clean’.

The Pogues became famous, they had a hit with Fairytale Of New York and Shane began to fall apart

The Pogues became famous, they had a hit with Fairytale Of New York and Shane began to fall apart

A few days later, I went to his flat in Kings Cross on a date. He had one room, crammed with records and books and empty bottles and burger wrappings and a cocktail bar shaped like a ship that he was very proud of. His bed was a mattress on the floor with red nylon sheets and the walls were red too which he was also proud of.

He sat on the other side of the room while I sat on the bed and he poured me Greek wine in a mug. We chain-smoked and talked about Irish poetry, tarot cards, Van Morrison and John Coltrane.

When it was daylight, he asked me if he could sit beside me. So I grabbed him and pulled him into bed. I had never felt so at home in my entire life. Even the smell of cigarette ash and burger wrappers was romantic.

When he announced that he loved me, a short time later, I felt like there was nothing more to achieve in life.

I had hit the jackpot. Our love felt big enough for anything.

But the euphoria didn’t last. The Pogues became famous, they had a hit with Fairytale Of New York and Shane began to fall apart.

He found the pressure to perform and to tour and not let people down intolerable and he began to drink and take drugs, not just to have fun but to survive.

He needed more and more every night just to get through a gig and he never went anywhere without a bag of booze.

It became part of his image and people applauded it and they came to expect it of him.

He became a notorious hellraiser, his face was on the cover of magazines, the band were touring America and people were writing rave reviews.

Really famous people started coming to their shows. David Bowie sat next to me at one of the gigs and Robert De Niro and Faye Dunaway came backstage to meet the band.

I had achieved my dream of mixing with pop stars and looking glamorous. Shane had achieved his dream of making Irish music popular and relevant.

But he had no interest in fame or glamour, he detested elitism and he didn’t want velvet ropes.

He liked to wander around the dodgy parts of town and chat with homeless people and drink in seedy clubs. So we both felt terrible. He couldn’t sleep and he became paranoid and terrified. I had no sense of direction or stability and no belief in myself.

Shane desperately wanted to quit the band but he didn’t want to let people down. Quite soon, he was doing all kinds of drugs. Then he explored hallucinogens. He wrote some of his most beautiful songs around this time but it was frightening for me.

He was supposed to go on tour with Bob Dylan but, instead, he was at home eating a Beach Boys record to prove the inferiority of the U.S. — with blood dripping out of his mouth — raving about a summit meeting he was having with the heads of state of the world powers.

The funeral procession of Shane MacGowan arriving at Saint Mary's of the Rosary Church

The funeral procession of Shane MacGowan arriving at Saint Mary’s of the Rosary Church

Once I found him in the attic ‘talking to Freddy Krueger’ and another time he was locked in the toilet all day talking to the dead poet James Clarence Mangan and writing a song that the poet was dictating.

Looking after Shane became my full-time occupation. But even though I travelled everywhere with the band, I didn’t have an official role.

I wasn’t a PA or a manager or a crew member, so I didn’t have any money of my own and I never felt like I had the freedom to choose to get my own hotel room if I didn’t want to sit up all night smoking and watching TV.

At times, I thought I was going insane. It actually took this feeling of losing my mind to force me to find ways of saving myself. I learned to meditate and began doing yoga, Reiki and energy healing.

I found that meditation could take me to a state of pure bliss and unconditional love, and that feeling gave me a refuge.

Shane got thrown out of The Pogues in 1991 because his drinking and drug-taking were so hard to deal with. He had a huge sense of relief even though he was incapacitated with hepatitis at the time.

Johnny Depp came to our rescue in 1993 when he invited Shane to open his Viper Room club in LA and they worked together on Shane’s new album The Snake and the video for That Woman’s Got Me Drinking.

Shane was feeling more of a sense of freedom and we were having a lot more fun, even though life was still chaotic. We loved to meditate together and we would spend days just listening to music and writing together.

The last few years of our life together were the happiest and most blissful, even though Shane was in a wheelchair after breaking his pelvis in 2015

The last few years of our life together were the happiest and most blissful, even though Shane was in a wheelchair after breaking his pelvis in 2015

Shane spent a lot of time painting and drawing and playing with different musicians including Sinead O’Connor and Nick Cave.

But I was seriously depressed and experiencing enormous feelings of failure and hopelessness about my own career.

In the early 2000s, we both ended up in The Priory, him for addiction and me for depression. After we got out, I had to go and live with my sister for a while to try to build some kind of identity and life of my own.

It was at this time that I began talking to angels, demanding that they help me, guide me in a more positive direction and give me some answers.

They started to tell me how to feel the love and power that was inside me, and how to change the energy that I was putting out.

I began channeling angels for other people and I wrote a book of their conversations with me. For the first time, I felt I had something of value to contribute to the world and I felt some love for myself.

My angel connection grew and I began painting them, designing angel scarves and teaching other people how to connect with them.

Shane and I got back together soon afterwards in 2002 and, in 2018, we got married in Copenhagen.

The last few years of our life together were the happiest and most blissful, even though Shane was in a wheelchair after breaking his pelvis in 2015.

We were able to find a really deep sense of appreciation for just being together, just hearing each other speak, seeing each other’s faces.

We had millions of moments of pure joy, just knowing that we were together, and we were never in any doubt about our love for one another. I have never known anything like the love that I felt for him and continue to feel.

We always assumed that Shane would live to be at least 80 and neither of us believed that he would not recover after he was hospitalised in Dublin for viral encephalitis earlier this year.

I don’t know if it’s better to be prepared for death but it’s probably different for everyone and it came as an enormous shock to me when he died, at 3.30am on November 30.

Mercifully, he looked very peaceful and there was an immediate atmosphere of grace in the hospital room. He was surrounded by thousands of angels in the moment of his passing and they filled us all with love and peace.

He actually died during the last rites which was hugely comforting because he was devoted to his faith and he prayed constantly and took Holy Communion every day.

I honestly don’t remember what Shane’s last words were but I think he said, ‘thank you’. He said thank you a lot. In fact the nurses commented on how often he expressed his gratitude to them.

Everyone who knew him was aware of his capacity for gratitude for even the smallest things and every morning he gave thanks for the gift of life. He was appreciative of everything that he had and everyone he met.

Many of those people he connected with in life were at his funeral in County Tipperary, including Johnny Depp and Nick Cave.

Thousands more lined the streets in what was without exception the most unusual and also the most magical thing that I have ever seen.

It could have been directed by Martin Scorsese and was a testament to Shane’s power to open hearts. The outpouring of love for him from so many people, in so many countries and from such an eclectic mix of people, was indescribably moving.

I understand why people are afraid to fall in love, because it feels so good that you don’t want it to end. I know that we all must die, but we all can also love and when we love, we never really die because love is eternal and immortal.

Ultimately, love is the force that creates us and unites us and love is the only thing that is of any real and lasting value.

I am eternally grateful to Shane for having blessed me with this gift.

  • victoriamaryclarkeangels.com

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