Adrian Simon: Growing up as the son of a notorious international drug smuggler
Being brought up by a single parent can be a difficult start in life for a child. But imagine finding out at a young age that your absent father isn’t around because he’s actually a convicted international heroin trafficker locked up in a brutal Bangkok prison. That would be too much for many young minds to cope with. Indeed it was to a large degree for the child in question, Adrian Simon, who’s led a life trying to deal with the severe fallout of his father’s actions. Here he talks to us about his book on the subject, Milk-Blood, and how the process of it’s creation has helped undo the damage done and heal some very deep wounds.
The MALESTROM: Tell us how difficult it was like growing up with your Dad Warren being an international heroin smuggler?
Adrian Simon: It’s taken me 40 years to wrap my head around the cost of my father’s crimes. It’s hard enough growing up without a father, let alone shadowed by a man rotting in the Bang Kwang ‘Big Tiger’ prison, in Bangkok. I was two when he was arrested. You know how this goes, a good looking westerner showcased to the world for all the wrong reasons.
It was a total shit storm. He could have flushed the heroin, been done with it. He could have walked out of the hotel and back to his family in Australia. But he ignored all the warnings signs, greed was set in motion, simple as that. My mother and I were driving to the airport and heard the breaking news on the radio.
From that moment the shape of my life was mangled. Soon after my mother was hauled away, my extended family ran for the hills, and the whole bloody world shamed us. Kids are little sponges absorbing everything, so during my formative years I soaked up the hate, the fear, the pain and the worst of human offerings. Thankfully my mother’s parents shielded me with love to balance out this most confronting situation. And this was just the first few years. There was no escaping the fallout, a relentless media, then dealing with keeping it together at such a young age.
TM: And you found out what had happened to him from a news report on the TV…
AS: Yep, that was the hammer moment. In the years leading up to this, Mum and I moved from the east to the west coast, to Perth, before settling back in Sydney. During this time I tried to play the role of a normal kid, ride my bike, play sports and the like, but I started developing an unhealthy obsession to the whereabouts of my father. The question was never far away, who is your father? Where is he? Adults digging for gossip, I made up all sorts a fantastical shit. Oh, he’s a pilot in the air force, ski instructor in St Moritz, that one I created from the brand of smokes my mum puffed on. I wanted to believe positive things, so I created the illusion that he was an alpha male who could do anything, protect us at all costs. But he only real answers were, he’s gone, or away. It did my brain in!
My mother regularly had to fly off to Bangkok to sort Warrens legals, and navigate a corrupt prison and judicial system through the Australian embassy. It was all a complete nightmare for her, not that I knew what was going on. In Thailand it’s up to the family to provide, the money my mother raised provided him with the essentials, food, bedding etc. During her trips I was always looked after. Most days I’d pull out the family Polaroid pictures of our young family living in Hawaii appearing happy wealthy and healthy. From the outside looking in we had the dream lifestyle, but what I was seeing was a plastic memory. I constantly asked questions, where is my daddy? Why am I the only kid at school without a father? At the time having a single mother wasn’t as common compared to these days. Thing is, how could my mother or grandparents say, ‘sorry to say kid, your old man is banged up in a foreign prison in Asia for smuggling dope.’ But that’s exactly where he was.
One night watching TV, this guy appeared on ABC with his face blurred, gripping rusty bars whilst being interviewed about some heavy shit. The air in the room was just sucked out. My grandfather was already icy with my mother, the vibe was enough for me to calculate that this dude was my father, I just new it. We had no idea he was about to be on TV. The next morning my mother sat me on the bed and told me. She said that man was indeed my father, he did a very bad thing, and wasn’t ever coming back. Heroin, Thailand, I had no idea what these things and places were. Above all, the words ‘he wasn’t ever coming home’ bored into my soul. What else could be said, I chuckled not knowing how to process, then bolted out to the backyard and balled my eyes out sitting on the trampoline. Within the next few weeks I suffered a nervous breakdown. I was only nine and completely fucked up. How does a kid compartmentalise such a thing!
TM: What led you to writing Milk-Blood?
AS: Warren wrote a book called ‘The Damage Done,’ anyone who has picked up a backpack through Asia has read it. A harrowing tale about hard prison time, which was both surreal and sickening for me to read. But one thing was lacking, the bigger picture, the family left behind, and the untold story that so many later in life urged me to share. When my time was right I simply bled out my emotions and history on paper. At the expense of sounding corny, I collected too many varied experiences not to. In a way I believe it was a planned destiny.
Each decade of my life was vastly different. Survival and adaptation as a kid, becoming a sports mad teenager to ventilate my exposed anger, and as soon as I turned twenty I travelled for ten years re-educating myself and finding adventure. In my thirties I returned to discover the answers, I needed to understand what went wrong at the start of my life. A film idea formed, and to unearth the story I untapped a sealed past to dig out the truth. I was shocked, but hardly surprised, nothing shocked when it came to my parents. Crazy is a world-class understatement. It would take too long to outline how ‘Milk-blood ‘ came together, a lifetime now chronicled, which is pretty cool, all things considered.
TM: How cathartic an experience was writing the book?
AS: Cathartic in hindsight. Some things are best left in the past. Deep seeded memories surfaced that I’d purposely shoved into the recesses of my life storage. Many sleepless nights, wrestling with some heavy-duty events, especially some of the hardships my mother endured, and the horrible depths some people descend to save their own skin. It definitely pulled me in all directions. Equally I thrived on the challenge, and re-lived some wonderful times. Sometimes it’s easy to forget all the really good stuff. Made me realise, I feel bad for the bad times, good for the good ones, nothing I can do about the past, and frankly I wouldn’t change any of it.
Leading up to writing the book I was going through bust-ups. My father was in and out of psychiatric wards, a lifetime of abuse caused drug induced psychosis, clawing out his schizophrenia. Not a pretty mix. Adding to this, I had never taken on such an ambitious endeavour, writing a whole book was daunting, and in the background some individuals in high places expected me to fail. This only fuelled me. I mapped out the structure, stuck it on the wall, and for seven months, seven days a week I wrote like a demon, emerging with a 127,000 word document, and in my view a pretty shit hot draft. After the last full stop, I crawled out of my introverted cave and went out for some overdue beers. Days later I read the manuscript wondering where it all came from. I felt like my brain had been sucked out, I was that drained. At that point, if it never got published, it didn’t seem to matter, I was proud of myself, and of my mother for enduring all we had been through. We had come out the other side decent people, battered but good. Thankfully it got published, and to my delight it was better than myself or anyone could have imagined. I smile each time I think about it. So, yes, cathartic in the end.
TM: What’s the significance of the title?
AS: ‘Milk-Blood,’ is I suppose a touch of Tarantino, or Breaking Bad. Underneath the marketing lies a deeper meaning. The title of my father’s book was lifted from The Neil Young song, ‘The needle and the damage done.’ Terrific and fitting lyrics, as into the song he sings about the act of ‘Milk-Blood ‘ when a heroin addict decants their own blood loaded with the drug after injection to save some stash as insurance. Wait for it… it get’s sicker! They’ve even been known to decant other people’s blood while they are overdosing! That’s how desperate an addict can get. Doesn’t paint a pretty picture. The sick irony is, my father was an international heroin dealer, who when locked up became a user, then sank to the bottom of the desperate pit. I found out the hard way, years after his release, he used me and the people close to him for his own benefit. I had become his insurance to use. Cheers father! Another way to break down the title is quite biblical. Milk, representing the mother milk, and love. Blood, for the same blood running through the veins, in my case, tainted. I like to think it’s just a bloody cool title. No pun intended (laughs)!
TM: Given your father’s indiscretions was there a conscious effort by yourself to never follow his path?
AS: A strong question. Father like son, or the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Or my favourite, guilt by association. No doubt I was tarred by the same brush, especially during high school. I had a major chip on my shoulder, a cocky little shit, but for obvious reason. I never understood why adults assumed or expected me to be like my drug dealing father. When some of these individuals found out who Warren was, unfortunately I was no longer picked for the top sports teams. This fired me up, big time. On merit I deserved my place. These men were stealing my dreams. A deep resentment was growing inside me, and if left unchecked would corrode my emotional immunity. I’m definitely no angel, the little devil has been let loose on numerous occasions, years even. I’ve learnt what its like to fuck up. But when it comes to being consciously like my father, hell no! The whole nature vs nurture thing, my biology wasn’t, isn’t going to forge my future. I like the word indiscretions, I eventually forgave my old man for what he did and put us through. But there was something far worse that I can never look past. I mean, how low can you go? I leave that for the book.
TM: How did you and your mother feel when The Damage Done came out? It can’t have been easy?
AS: The cat was out of the bag. Four or five years after Warren was given a kings pardon from prison, he invited us both to his mother’s apartment to drop the bomb he’d signed a tell-all publishing deal. Mum and I exchanged looks that screamed, ‘you’re fucking kidding me.’ Shit, we had done our best to keep a low profile, now he was going to tell the world. Only time would tell what the blowback would be. A few weeks later, Jan (my Mum) pulled my father aside to tell him to keep us out of the book. This was absolutely the right move by her, It was still raw, and who knew what he’d say that could compromise our privacy or jeopardise our mental health. After sixteen years we’d only just found some stability in our lives, the book threatened to capsize our boat. Personally it annoyed me, he didn’t ask if it were ok he was assigned a ghost-writer to tell his time in prison. My father was practically a stranger to me. At the time I was focused on creating my life as far away from his mistakes as possible. I dreamt of playing cricket or rugby for Australia, now potentially the wider world was going to judge us, and just like the coaches at school level, no doubt his infamy would put me on the back foot. The saying ‘shit sticks’ rings loudly.
Around the time of the book release my aggression levels spiked, I got into regular bar fights, I’m no stranger to how unforgiving concrete feels. One night a bouncer hit me from behind, I tripped over the gutter and was heavily knocked out. I woke up in hospital with a bag full of my mates clothes soaked in my blood from bandaging my head. Easy for me to see the reasons for my actions back then, they were clearly influenced from stressing out about anything Warren Fellows related. It left me with a brain injury that lingered for at least two years. The book was everywhere, all of a sudden the questions were firing my way, from mates parents to complete strangers buying me drinks in clubs just to hang out with an international criminal’s son. There was a huge shift, and I knew I had to leave Australia. Wouldn’t you know it, two days after landing in England to play cricket for a club in Essex, my housemate talked about a mental story his workmate’s had read in an FHM article. It sounded too familiar. Next day he tosses me the magazine, low and behold, there is a five-page spread about my so called legend father who survived hell on earth in Thailand. I said to Ian, ‘you ain’t going to believe this, but can you see any resemblance?’ It took me years to read the ‘The Damage Done,’ I eventually I picked up a copy after a new girl I was dating knew more about it than me.
TM: When people glorify crime, especially around drugs, and hero worship criminals, does that upset you seeing what damage they can do to people’s lives?
AS: Look I enjoy a good gangster flick, loved Breaking Bad and all. But a movie, or TV show is one thing, reality is never glamorous, especially when drugs are involved. Have you heard the story of the Australian outlaw, Ned Kelly? From convict stock, he’s famed for wearing metal body armour and shooting cops out in the bush. They eventually hung him, but since then he’s become ingrained in folklore as an Aussie hero. Our culture has a deep fascination of the rebellious nature of some crooks, they usually are very charismatic and larger than life. What I don’t like is when the media romanticise crime to sell. For example, my father was made out to be an anti-hero, who did a bad thing, but because he survived an inhumane experience, he was marketed as a legend. (Laughs) Truth gets bent to make money, then people believe it. That’s why for me Breaking Bad was so close to the mark, there are no winners in the end. For the most part criminals are narcissistic sociopaths who couldn’t care less for anyone. Maybe that’s the moral of the story. For me, there is much better ways to live.
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TM: Do you ever think it’s amazing just how much of an impact one person can have on so many lives?
AS: Not really, not anymore, we see it everyday in the news, some agenda driven dickhead starting or threatening wars, with it all ending in a village in the desert with a drone. Or be it a misdirected, brainwashed fool stabbing someone in the street. Practically every choice we make has an impact, for good or bad, this is our ultimate test as humans. We are all in control of ourselves and the impact of decisions pass down the generations like tumbling dominoes. Guess this is human life. I’ll pull up before I get lost in my own philosophy’s, but what impresses me is an act of kindness offered without anything in return.
TM: Do you believe in karma?
AS: My understanding of Karma is not so much the notion of what comes around goes around in life, but when we die then karma will judge us. Since I’m not religious or have the slightest inkling about of life after death, I prefer to act in a way that doesn’t make me feel bad. Unless my buttons are pushed, then realigning Karma comes to mind. Get my drift (laughs).
TM: Can the kind of emotional damage that you suffered ever be healed?
AS: Experiences are worn like scars, they heal, but always leave a mark to remind us of the time, and of the people. I’m grateful for what I’ve been through – it totally sucked at the time, but if used right it enriches our knowledge. Sometimes we just reach a point in life when we learn to accept and let it go, whatever we are stuck on. I recently decided that there was no use holding on, obsessing over anything that happened yesterday or twenty years ago. Cut the anchor that’s drags us back, we all deserve to feel free.
TM: Warren was in a Bangkok prison for 12 years but you and your Mother have had to reside in your own mental prisons I suppose?
AS: You could say that, when I suffered my nervous breakdown at the age of nine, after a barrage a medical tests I was diagnosed with OTD (obsessive thought disorder). Imagine thinking of the same thing over and over, I mean not for minutes, I’m talking non-stop for months on end. To put the boot in my thoughts were violent, which scared me, and they were usually directed at my mother. My mind was shattered by the fact the illusion I had created about my father, the alpha male, became a sudden disillusion trapping me in a terrifying mind loop. I wasn’t expected to recover, but with cognitive meditations, a love of sport, and my strong personality I got through. But damn it was hard looking back. So yeah, I sort of was in a mental prison. I can only imagine the hellish times Jan’s been through. No doubt she carries around her mental prison in one way or another. And not just because of Warren, her early life was distressing. Writing this sounds gloomy, but our lives have been balanced with more than our share of good times.
TM: Tell us about that first meeting with your father in Sydney. How tough was that?
AS: By law Warren wasn’t allowed to contact me, the judge couldn’t guarantee his mental and physical health coming out of prison. It was a fair judgment, my old man was a mess. Defying the restriction he called the house. I answered, my heart raced, I was fifteen and hearing my fathers voice was a shock to the system. A year later I decided to meet him. Quite funny actually, I smoked a joint to calm myself before Jan drove us into town. I had no idea what to expect. In my early thirties I recounted this story to a film writer, he said,
“Are you serious, you met your father at the Courthouse hotel, in the judgement bar?”
We both nearly fell over laughing, talk about irony. This hotel, is opposite the supreme court of Australia, and there I was meeting my old man, with all my judgments in overdrive. It was pretty bizarre to say the least. We shook hands, and I jokingly quipped that I was taller than him, which made me happy. We drank a few beers, watched some horse races, and I witnessed a broken man touched by hard time riddled with anxiety. In a strange way I felt like the father, and him the child. What was even weirder was seeing both parents together. Life was definitely never going to be the same, so much dysfunction. Could we restore anything? That’s what I was unsure of. Overall it was the strangest moment of my life.
TM: And your Mother, she must have been a strong woman to cope with everything going on and bring you up through it?
AS: My grandfather used to say we can measure a person’s standing by their internal fortitude. Luckily for Jan she has no shortage, because she definitely needed it! Writing Milk-blood we talked about her traumatic childhood and how she dealt with it by leaving Australia at sixteen. It was hard hearing she became an exotic dancer at several clubs in the fabled Kings Cross area in Sydney when she was fifteen. I enjoy writing, but I found it infuriating to hear this and so much more. I wont go into detail, but what happened to her at thirteen is savage. As a man and her son it turns my stomach to think of such things, it makes me want to seek revenge. But nothing can be gained by that. This just skims the surface. Warrens arrest created a whole new set of dramas for my mother that rival her early years. I wont flesh it out in this interview, if you read Milk-Blood you’ll catch an insight into a life that will both excite and shock. Overall If it weren’t for her strength, I doubt we would have survived those years. Jan has seen it all, travelled the world, had it all, and lost it many times over, but always managed to find a way to pick herself and wear a smile. Now more of a recluse, she prefers animals over humans.
TM: She’s got some incredible stories of her own to tell hasn’t she?
AS: Holy shit, it’s biggest story I’ve heard! I have just written the draft to her book, ‘Twist & Twirl: Unravelling the girl.’ Pretty crazy right, we all have our own books. What a strange life we have. Where to begin explaining, it’s not your normal memoir, more a snapshot experience that follows the travels of Jan after fleeing Australia. It begins in a Nepalese monastery with a vow of silence to purge the past. Upon leaving Jan’s search to warm her heart stumbles into a life of action, danger, love and mystery. At eighteen years old, she finds herself in a love triangle with a French Madagascan prince, and his right hand man, an American ex-special forces captain, turned mercenary… oh and then there’s the diamonds. I shit you not, it’s completely out there, while neatly threading a really emotional backstory of her youth. It gives the reader an insight into how this young Aussie girl found herself mixing it in a big boys world in some of the most hostile places on earth. All this before even meeting my father. I hope everyone loves it as much as I loved putting it together. Fingers crossed for when it comes out.
TM: Sounds great. What wisdom have you picked up over the years through what’s happened in your life?
AS: Confucius once said… (laughs), no seriously, I thought I had more wisdom as a kid. I mean, I’ve learnt all sort of valuable life skills, but all I can impart is we all deserve to find our passions, have the courage to live them, and to try and lighten up. Life doesn’t have to be taken so seriously. And lastly, when life flashes before your eyes, make sure you have plenty to see.
TM: Tell us what the future holds for you?
AS: Things have a funny way of working out, I started my creative path setting out to make films. One thing led to another, setback after setback, all leading me to become a writer. As astray and random as things appeared there always has been a plan. So ten years on, time to get the movie thing back on the road. There hasn’t been a shortage of interest, it’s just a matter of doing it right. Filmmaking requires continual intellectual compromises. We’ll see how it plays out, Twist &Twirl has all the hallmarks of a blockbuster, Milk-Blood is gritty, and all I can do is be in it to win it. Besides this lofty dream, my life is in transition and I’m open to all new adventures and interest. I’m in London speaking at the Festival of Marketing, and I’m doing a few other talks in the coming weeks. Any budding filmmakers or writers/publishers out there, look me up. As the saying goes,
“Yesterday is history and tomorrow’s a mystery.”
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