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Elizabeth Burton-Phillips: How it felt to read Mum, Can You Lend Me Twenty Quid? for Audible, and revisit the pain, truth and legacy of my son’s death


I shall remember 2020 for three reasons, not least the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, but primarily for two events in October.

The first was becoming a Septuagenarian. A gentle, dignified word for being in your 70th year, despite feeling like a 17-year-old in heart and mind. The birthday family bubble of six was a happy and special day with my son, daughter in law and grandchildren.

The second event occurred over three days from 13 to 15 October, when I travelled from Reading to Wiltshire to record for Audible the memoir I wrote Mum, Can You Lend me Twenty Quid? What drugs did to my family, which originally was published in 2007 and updated in 2017.

For me writing the story down all those years ago was my therapy, almost a verbal exorcism of the emotions that sit hand in glove when a loved one is suffering from addiction to drugs. In my case the loved one was two loved ones, my identical twin sons, whose addiction to heroin led me into a world of secrecy, fear, disempowerment, crisis, emotional and physical exhaustion. The journey ended with Nick’s death by suicide in February 2004, leaving me bereft beyond words and Nick’s brother a lone twin forever.

I had gained first-hand experience of death in my family at 29 when my father died quite early, following years of ill health as a result of captivity by the Japanese when he served as a Chindit in Burma during the Second World War. Some 12 years later my mother died of a sudden heart attack in 2001.

As an only child, of course I felt sadness and loneliness that both my parents were gone, but equally I felt determined to make the best of my life with my husband and our identical twins, who were such fun, and my hopes for their future were huge.

To read the story I penned following Nick’s death in 2004 has been the greatest challenge of my 70th year and the greatest challenge of my life.

Sat alone in the studio with headphones on and microphone poised to record, I worked from an iPad with Lucy sitting in the opposite recording studio, whose job it was to follow my every word and to get every emotional intonation correct in the way I read and expressed my story.

There were times over those three days when both of us needed an escape to the fresh air to unleash ourselves from the choking emotions I described. At times the experience felt like a snake wrapped round me crushing my heart and soul. Yet every word of this book that I read is true to life for so many others I now support.

After the first day on my return journey back to Reading, I felt I had done quite well in terms of getting through those early chapters, which in places penned some funny stories of life before drugs. However, it certainly reminded me how naïve I was about a problem that I knew was out there, but foolishly thought could never happen to me or to our family.

The two remaining days of recording were really draining. In particular describing some of the most emotive moments of my life, including visiting Nicholas in the Chapel of Rest and saying goodbye to him for the last time, placing mementos in his coffin and touching him as he was at peace, free from his addictive illness.

All these years on, I know that the pain of my grief means that I am well equipped to work closely with those bereaved through addiction. This is why I established The Nicholas Mills Foundation in his memory, trading as the non profit DrugFAM.

I am pleased that this story will live on in my own words and I would like thank everyone involved in giving me the emotional strength to see it through.

I am and will forever be the beating heart of DrugFAM, in memory of my son Nicholas Stephen Mills 1976-2004.


Mum, Can You Lend Me Twenty Quid will be available from Audible on the 27 November, and is available to pre-order here.


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