Documentary showcases height of 'Gazzamania' and tabloid obsession

‘What would it have been like if Paul was just an average player enjoying his job?’: Gascoigne family attend ’emotional’ screening of documentary showcasing the height of ‘Gazzamania’ in which he became the subject of tabloid obsession

  •  A new documentary has been made about the life of Paul Gascoigne
  • The Gascoigne family joined to watch a screening though Paul didn’t attend
  • His family lived through the highs and lows of ‘Gazzamania’ in the 90s  
  • Paul’s sister Anna wishes he had been an ‘average’ player out of the spotlight
  • The documentary feels more commentary of sleazy tabloid culture  

On Thursday night, the family of Paul Gascoigne joined to watch a screening of a new documentary about his life. Paul was supposed to be there.

Earlier in the day, at a smart London hotel, he had been booked to participate in a Q&A with assembled media to discuss ‘Gazza’, the latest look into the chaotic, troubled yet so often brilliant life of one of the country’s most talented and celebrated footballers.

Paul did not make it to either viewing. It was, in short, all a bit much for the 54-year-old Gascoigne. Too raw, even after all these years.

A new documentary has been made showing archive footage of Paul Gascoigne’s life during the height of the public and tabloid obsession with ‘Gazzamania’ during the 1990s

For so many of his family, they had not just seen this story before – put together by director Sampson Collins from archive footage of Gascoigne’s life during the height of the public and tabloid obsession with ‘Gazzamania’ in the 90s – they had felt it.

They had been at the heart of the storm. They witnessed Gazza captivate the nation at Italia 90 and again at Euro 96, the goals, the tears, yet also read the headlines of the nights out, the drunken misdemeanours, the domestic abuse. They had seen their son, their brother, hounded and exploited: his every move followed, his phone hacked, every morsel of his life feasted upon in the pages of newspapers in a pre-social media age.

But there are younger members of his family, who hadn’t. And, for them, it was difficult to watch. ‘I saw first-hand everything during this time,’ said Paul’s sister Anna. ‘But my daughter, Paul’s niece Harley, had no idea and she cried all throughout the documentary. It was hard to watch and very emotional.

‘Gazza’ feels at part less a documentary about his life but more social commentary of sleazy tabloid culture as his relatives talk about his problems with mental health during his life

‘For me it really highlighted what I have been saying for years: Paul was a young vulnerable man whose mental health suffered terribly because he was exploited, used and taken advantage of by people who he trusted to benefit their careers and line their pockets. The actions of the press and the betrayal of people close to Paul, who also had close connections to the press, is appalling.’

Anna is included in the documentary. There is a moment, right at the end, where she wonders what life would have been like had Paul been different.

‘What would it have been like if Paul had just been your average footballer,’ she asks. ‘Just playing for an average team and not ever playing for England, just enjoying his job and getting on with it. I wish that had happened. I really do.’

Paul sister Lindsay is glad that the ‘truth is out’ about ‘how bad’ Gascoigne was treated

But nothing about her brother was average. One moment during the first episode shows Gascoigne playing for Lazio against Diego Maradona’s Sevilla after a trip Euro Disney, having had no sleep and been drinking. Gascoigne dribbles past four defenders and scores. Even Maradona looks up to the heavens and shrugs.

Even though Gazza was made with Paul’s blessing, director Collins chooses not to feature any fresh interview with him. We just see two images, at the beginning and at the end, of Gascoigne fishing. The final shot, as he walks towards the camera with his rod, almost unrecognisable to his eccentric former self, is a haunting image. Is that really Gazza?

It’s strange not to hear from him but was also fitting. Gascoigne was, in many ways, a passive part of his own story. A boy trying to be heard as the storm raged around him. A vulnerable man who struggled with fame. One who strived to be loved. But, in others, a man who must take responsibility. He admitted to beating his wife Cheryl.

Director Sam Collins arrives for the world premiere of the BBC documentary ‘Gazza’

We hear from his former team-mates like Paul Stewart and Paul Merson. His family, such as Anna and his mum Carol. And also former journalists, ones who had spent so long doing anything they could to keep Gascoigne’s face in their pages.

Former News of the World journalist Paul McMullan puts it this way: ‘The guy ends up diagnosed with extreme paranoia, when the reality was, it wasn’t paranoia, it was genuinely true. We put the paranoia there.’ 

By the end, Gazza feels less documentary of Gascoigne’s life, more social commentary of sleazy tabloid culture. Collins believes the two, when it comes to Gascoigne, are entwined like old rope.

‘I think the documentary is brilliant but heart-breaking,’ says another of Paul’s sisters, Lindsay. ‘I’m just glad the truth is out there now about how bad Paul was treated by certain people. This means a lot to me.’

Gazza is on BBC2 and iPlayer, April 13 and 20, at 9pm




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