“It’s difficult to take four to six weeks out of your life in residential rehab,” explains Duff Gordon in his airy office, all clean lines and stripped pine floorboards “This way, you can basically recover and carry on working.”
Judging by images of his ancestor on the internet, the physical similarities between the two Cosmos are striking, although the 21st-century Cosmo has eschewed the waxed moustache. Today, his 6ft 4in frame is clad in immaculate jeans and a pink pinstriped shirt fastened with gold, monogrammed cufflinks.
His manner is laid-back bordering on languid, the conversation peppered with the jargon of therapy, but he is candid in response to questions about his lost heroin years. He also has a mischievous sense of humour, not least about his great-great uncle (who was exonerated of any wrong-doing in relation to the Titanic). “In the family, it was always said he did his best on a tricky night in the Atlantic,” he deadpans.
Start2Stop, he says, is an unusual hybrid: about the same length as an inpatient programme but with therapy provided by a team of specialist counsellors and psychologists, often taking place at evenings and weekends. Several well-established approaches are used, including individual counselling, group therapy, meditation, family sessions and art therapy. The clinic celebrated its first anniversary this month and, he says, it is too soon to say if this “part-time” approach to rehab works. Five of seven initial patients have been clean for a year, he adds.
Did he ever consider working for a charity to help more disadvantaged addicts, rather than setting up a private company? He says not, but feels “a strong need to give back”, which is why the clinic offers two pro bono slots, via agencies such as AA, for those who cannot afford the fees. They are charged a nominal amount (about £100).
Experts are divided over what triggers addiction and why some individuals are more susceptible than others. Duff Gordon firmly believes that genes are partly responsible.
“I’m a good candidate for a genetic fit,” he says. “Some people are genetically more prone to developing addictions than others, but it may not develop if you grow up feeling loved and have a secure childhood.”
As to his own childhood, there may have been love but stability was clearly missing. From the outside, it appears enviable. His father, Sir Andrew Duff-Gordon, the 8th baronet of Halkin, Ayrshire, worked for Lloyd’s. His mother was a society beauty from a long line of wealthy Irish landowners; but her alcohol addiction and spells in psychiatric hospitals with bipolar disorder had a significant impact on his childhood. An only child, he felt extremely protective of her.
“When I was little, if my dad rang up and said: 'What did your mother cook you for lunch,’ I’d always lie, when the truth was I’d made myself cheese on toast. I think I was angry, deep down – anyone who grows up with an alcoholic has attachment issues.” His parents divorced when he was four. “My father remarried very quickly, so he was busy with a whole new family.”
At 13, at Eton, he fell in with a crowd who liked to drink. “It’s quite a difficult school. Everyone is bright; it’s competitive. In my case, drinking became quite normalised. Lunch was always a couple of beers and whiskies.” He also experimented with cannabis. “I remember my mother giving me an allowance to buy hash (cannabis) when I was 15. She said: 'If you’re going to buy dope, it should be quality.’ “Then came harder drugs – crack cocaine on the day of his interview at Oxford University; and as an undergraduate at Edinburgh, experiments with heroin.
Life gradually began to unravel as his heroin habit, funded by money left to him by his maternal grandmother, took hold. In 1994, he was arrested for possession and fined £100, with £30 costs. But it was to be another decade before he went into rehab. In that time, he carried on using hard drugs but held down a fairly senior job with a food delivery company, until the day he passed out at work.
“I was training this assistant at work, when I hit the deck and was out cold for five minutes. I found myself jobless and I remember thinking about my options. I realised I couldn’t go on like this. It had reached the point where it really was a choice between armed robbery or giving up.” Recovery began at a clinic in Cape Town, recommended by a friend, in 2004.
“I talked about stuff I’d never talked about before, although I didn’t cry my eyes out. With serious addiction, you’re so numb and out of touch with reality. But after a while I began to reconnect with my feelings.”
Becoming clean was followed by training as an addiction counsellor, lecturing to undergraduates and social workers, co-authoring addiction counselling modules for college students and contributing to the book, Recovery RSA (Jacana Media), South Africa’s first guide to recovery. He also met his wife there, Araminta de Clermont, a photographer and recovering addict, and the couple now have a four-year-old son, Jack. They returned to Britain in 2010.
Looking back, he says he wouldn’t change his life, including his time as an addict. ''I don’t think I ever actually beat addiction,” he adds. “Instead, I eventually decided to not give in to it, and to give another way of life a go. I spent a miserable, painful time trying not to admit it was wrecking my life. But I don’t regret it and wouldn’t change anything. That I can at least use my experience to help others now means it was not completely wasted.”