The sister of missing musician Richey Edwards talks to Lucy Jones about how she has coped for the past 22 years.
When a loved one goes missing, the agony for those left behind is similar, but the responses can vary. Some families keep a child’s bedroom exactly the same or lay a place at the supper table every night. Others use age-enhancing photography software to see what the missing person would look like today, others visit a psychic. As years pass, but no body is found, one family will plant a tree in memory, while another may hold a memorial service in attempt to find closure.
“I’m sure it [a memorial] helps some people, but I wouldn’t do it,” says Rachel Edwards, the sister of Manic Street Preachers musician Richard James Edwards, known as “Richey” to music fans, who has been missing for 22 years. “It wouldn’t seem real, really. In the absence of a body, how can you say they’re dead? That’s the problem when you’re trying to compute it all in your head.”
The last time Rachel saw her older brother was in January 1995. It was the day the family buried their dog in Caerphilly, Wales. Richard took out his camera and took photographs of his mother, father and sister. His mood, says Rachel, was “completely flat”.
In an interview a few months before, he had spoken about moving to the coast with dogs for a quiet life, after an intense few years of press, fame, touring and writing The Holy Bible, the third and darkest Manics album. He didn’t talk much about his successful career when he was with his family, but not long before they last saw him, he excitedly told his father that a track might be used on a Judge Dredd film.
On February 2, Richard was supposed to fly to the United States with fellow band-member James Dean Bradfield for a promotional tour. Instead, he checked out of a hotel in London and vanished. His car was found on Valentine’s Day, near the Welsh side of the Severn Bridge, an area where people have taken their own lives, leading people to believe he’d joined – as his sister puts it – the “awful 27 club” (artists who died at the age of 27, including Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin).
He’d suffered with mental illness – depression, anxiety, insomnia and self-harm – undergoing treatment at psychiatric hospitals. A few months earlier, though, he’d said in an interview that he’d never consider suicide. He’d also withdrawn £200 a day over the two weeks leading up to his disappearance. The photographs of his family had been developed and were found in his car.
No note was left – apart from pages of lyrics in his hotel room. The day before, he had left an instruction to a friend to read the introduction of a novel about a man who vanishes after spending time in an asylum. A private investigator was hired but nothing was found. Rachel and her family had little to go on. “He just disappeared off the face of the earth. It’s hard to believe it,” she says.
Claimed sightings never came to anything and Rachel was always cautious about getting her hopes up. “I think it was people genuinely wanting to help,” she says. She still wonders if somebody might know something and finds it easier if she is actively searching, which she admits she always is.
Recently, she discovered evidence that suggested he had crossed the Severn Bridge before the time he supposedly checked out of the hotel. She’s waiting for Avon police to get in touch with her. “You have leads and you’re busy at the beginning but then the trail runs cold and you think, well what am I going to do now?”
One of the things she does is sing. Rachel is a member of the Missing People Choir, formed of people with loved ones who have disappeared. The choir is an initiative led by Missing People, one of this year’s Telegraph Christmas charities, which offers a lifeline to those who with missing friends or relatives, providing 24/7 family support, organising appeals, and driving policy and legislation campaigns. “They’re always at the end of the phone, which is difficult for them to sustain,” says Rachel. She finds performing in the choir therapeutic. After the choir performed on Britain’s Got Talent earlier this year, two families were reunited.
Rachel has personally been very involved in such campaigns, including for a new Presumption of Death act, which came into force in 2014 and allows relatives to apply for a single certificate declaring a loved one as “presumed dead” if they have been missing for more than seven years. She also supported the recently passed Guardianship Bill, which enables someone to be named guardian of a loved one’s financial affairs, from 90 days after they have gone missing. “We had to look after my brother’s flat for years, to keep paying the bills. No one would talk to you.”
Eventually, the family got a Presumption of Death certificate because Rachel’s father was getting older and couldn’t keep sorting out the bills – although they didn’t know or necessarily believe Richey was dead.
Richey had a besotted following among the NME-reading early Nineties alt scene. Gamine and glam, often with heavily kohled Bambi eyes smouldering under a jet-black mop of hair, dressed in silks, Warhol prints and a leopard-print coat, he looked spectacular. But it was his words that made him a cult figure. In interviews, he talked honestly and openly about his struggles with life, his cynicism, alienation, melancholy and depression.
In his lyrics, he took an angry, political, brutal swipe at everything from consumerism to racism, homophobia to the US, in a stream of consciousness, Beat-poet style. Inspired by Dostoevsky, Camus, Larkin and Rimbaud, his lyrics were full of historical references (he’d read history at university) and visceral perspectives (an anorexic woman; a prostitute).
“He orchestrated the entire thing, they [the Manics] wouldn’t be where they were without him,” says Rachel. “He was their think tank. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t play the guitar. He had an idea and he set out to do it.”
At a gig in 1994, Steve Lamacq, the BBC radio DJ, challenged Richey about the band’s authenticity, so Edwards gouged “4 Real” into his arm with a razor blade he was carrying.
What does Rachel think he’d be writing about in 2017? “Maybe I’d like to think of him not even writing about anything, but washing dishes somewhere,” she says. “In a way, I do sometimes wonder, would he be a missing person if he hadn’t been in a band? If he’d worked in a bank?”
Since Richey disappeared, Rachel doesn’t listen to the Manics, although she’s proud of the music he made. “I just feel for whatever reason he walked away, he didn’t want to be in the band anymore. I don’t know why. I just find it a bit upsetting to listen to.”
Instead, her voice lights up when she talks about his talent for art and design, the competitions he won when he was a boy, the imaginative stories he wrote and the chaotic collages he made that she still has.
Richard would be turning 50 in December. Does it get easier with time? She pauses. “No. I wouldn’t say it does,” she says slowly, quietly. “Your memory fades of the person but you try so hard to keep the memory alive.”
As well as the choir, her faith keeps her going – and gives her hope that one day she will know what happened. “It might not be in this existence but the mystery will be solved even if I have to wait for the next dimension.”