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Richey Edwards' Sister On 25 years Since His Disappearance - GQ, 23rd April 2020

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Title: Richey Edwards' Sister On 25 years Since His Disappearance
Publication: GQ
Date: Thursday 23rd April 2020
Writer: Ray Meade

The Manic Street Preachers guitarist disappeared on 1 February 1995. Here, Richey Edwards’ sister, Rachel, talks about her ‘perpetual loss’

Richey Edwards was the enigmatic lyricist/guitarist of Manic Street Preachers. Bursting out of Blackwood Wales in the late 1980s, his ferocious intellect fuelled the band’s first three albums, setting them apart from other groups of their generation.

By the time their third album was released – the dark masterpiece that is The Holy Bible – Richey was lost in a world of self-destruction battling self-harm, alcohol abuse and obsessing over the concept of a perfect disappearance.

On 1 February 1995 he left his London hotel room and was never seen or heard from again. For 25 years his family have campaigned for information of his whereabouts. None has been forthcoming.

A quarter of a century on but still no further forward, Rachel Edwards, Richey's sole sibling and only remaining family member, opens up on the never-ending nightmare of searching for a missing loved one. She tells me, “It’s a perpetual loss. There’s no grieving involved…”

Rachel, I know you’d rather not be sitting here today discussing this sad milestone. Can you give a little bit of insight into the attention that the 25th anniversary of Richard’s disappearance has attracted? I’m guessing it was something you have been expecting?
Rachel Edwards: Usually we always get interest around the anniversary of Richard disappearing, 1 February 1995. There was certainly a lot of interest for the 20th but with this being the 25th there’s been even more media attention than I’d anticipated. For example, before social media, we’d have media coming to our door, doorstepping us and asking for stories, but it dissipated over the years. Unfortunately, this year there’s been press in my garden looking for a story and other people behind the scenes manoeuvring to sell their ideas of what happened to Richard. This has made me reluctant to do any interviews or speak about it. Both of my parents are now dead; I’m the only one left to deal with these things.

Why do you think people are still so captivated by what happened? Is it morbid fascination? Has the story taken on a life of its own over the years?
I think people are still so interested because ultimately it is a mystery. Nobody knows where he is. We know no more now than we did 25 years ago. I think that does fascinate people. I can understand that, because no matter how much attention we’ve drawn to the case, we're still no further forward. There’s also a lot of respect from people who thought a lot of my brother as an artist, as a lyricist and, for that reason, I think the story perpetuates itself.

What are your earliest childhood memories of Richard?
It sounds like a cliché but it was a very happy family, a very happy upbringing. I know Richard is on record as having said the same thing. He was two years older than me and my overwhelming memory of our childhood is that he was very supportive of me. When I was at school I used to have a lot of anxiety, particularly around schoolwork. When I went on to comprehensive school, he’d already been there for a couple of years. At the end of each day we’d walk our dog Snoopy, I’d talk to him about my homework and he’d help me. He’d allay my fears, which, I suppose in retrospect, is ironic given the anxiety that he suffered years later.

He was a bright kid with a natural flair for English and storytelling from a young age. What would you say inspired those talents? Was he a prolific reader as a child?
I can’t recall him being a prolific reader from a young age but at that time I just remember him having such an amazing imagination. We shared a bedroom and he would construct these amazing, imaginative stories in his mind that I can still recollect now 40 years later.

You’ve previously spoken of a passage from one of Richard’s early stories where at just 13 years old he wrote of escaping over the Severn Bridge. It’s obviously quite hard to ignore the parallels with what would happen in 1995. Do you find yourself reading much into things like that?
I did think that was incredible when I found his junior school books. I was astounded by the stories that he’d written in them. Reading the story about the Severn Bridge really took me aback and struck me as something that couldn’t really be ignored. To read these words from Richard at that young age echoing the stories that would surface later in his life was just astounding. To be 13 years old and to view the bridge in that way was incredible, especially considering what was to come years later.

What are your earliest memories of Manics Street Preachers? Were you impressed that your brother had joined the band?
I’m not sure there was an inevitability about him joining a band but he did always say he’d be famous, so maybe he knew something we didn’t. He used to drive the van for Manic Street Preachers and after a time he joined them. The first time I went to see them with Richard in the line-up was at a club in Cardiff. It was quite a surreal experience. It really wasn’t long after that they were signed by Sony, so it was an incredibly fast trajectory from forming to signing their record deal.

Not long after the release of their debut album, Generation Terrorists, there was a sinister incident involving former BBC Radio 1 DJ Steve Lamacq. He'd asked Richard if Manic Street Preachers were authentic in what they were saying and doing. While answering the question Richard produced a razor blade and carved the phrase “4REAL” into his forearm. The incident required 18 stitches. He didn't once stop answering the question. There was a calmness to the incident, which made it even more intense. What was your reaction when you saw the infamous photograph of the aftermath and his bleeding arm?
I was really shocked. I was only in my early twenties and I didn’t really know a lot about self-harm then. Obviously I wasn’t there but the people who were said he had such a calm look on his face. Years later when he was in hospital he told a few people that he would self-harm to relax. I don’t think anyone could have anticipated that image becoming so iconic, so related to him. Fashion designers have used it; the official photographer has used it in exhibitions. I don’t know if he intended it as a statement in itself, but self-harm is such a statement of internal pain, so it was upsetting for us as a family – unfathomable in many ways.

Fast forward to December 1994. The band had released their third album earlier in the year. Many describe it as Richard's masterpiece, The Holy Bible. Lyrically it's an astonishing piece of work. Things had been coming to a head for months and there had been spells in rehab for self-harming and alcohol abuse. There was a gig at London's Astoria and this would prove to be Manic Street Preachers’ final performance as a four-piece band. The night ended with the destruction of the stage and all the equipment was smashed to pieces. Richard would disappear just a few weeks later. Do you think he'd made a decision on his future by that point?
I absolutely think that he’d made a decision. I found out sometime later that he had invited a lot of key people from his life to be there, people who had meant something to him. The people he cared about, he rarely spoke to them about the band because he saw himself as a person outside of the band. I believe that whatever he had chosen to do he had already decided. He knew that was to be his last gig. I’d already seen him on that tour just a few days earlier, so the fact he’d invited myself and all of those people to that one gig speaks volumes now. If I’d only known that then. What he had decided I don’t know, but he had decided.

When did you become aware that Richard wasn't in his hotel room on 1 February 1995?
We first became aware that Richard was missing when Martin Hall [Manics manager] informed us. He called my parents to tell them that he wasn't in the hotel and they in turn informed me. At first we thought that he'd maybe taken some time out for himself and that he'd return. But here I am a quarter of a century later still wondering.

Did you read much into some of the belongings that were found in his hotel room and latterly his flat? Things like a toll booth ticket for the Severn Bridge and his passport along with some items addressed to his on-off girlfriend Jo with a note that said simply “I love you”?
At the very beginning you're on an emotional rollercoaster because you don't know how to unpick all of the information. It did seem a mystery that he was apparently last seen at the Embassy Hotel in London yet his passport and toll ticket were later found in his flat in Cardiff. It was all mixed up and I didn't know where to turn. It made no sense at all. It still doesn't.

The police handling of the case was flawed from the start. Conclusions were unfairly drawn that Richard was an ego-driven, fame-hungry rock star who had done this as some sort of publicity stunt. Can you describe some of what you encountered in the search for your brother?
I think that's exactly what the police thought. They even came and searched my parents’ property at 3am one morning because they thought he'd engineered the whole situation and was hiding there. Fundamental things were missing from the start. When we read the police file we found that Richard had been certified as high risk given his psychiatric problems yet there was never any helicopter or river searches. The people who last saw him were never interviewed. There wasn't a DNA sample on file until 2005 and even then I had to instigate the submission of this to their database. Due to the logistics of his disappearance there were actually three separate police forces working on the case, which made it very difficult to get information. It was frustrating to see a police officer giving an interview about Richard to a music magazine at the time yet we couldn't reach them by phone. After six months there was a statement from the officer in charge saying that it was "highly likely Richard was no longer with us". This was devastating and hugely demoralising. It seems they'd taken the stance that because Richard was a well-known person, that meant more people would be looking for him than that of a normal person. I believe this affected the thoroughness of their investigation.

Richard was declared legally dead on 24 November 2008. This stemmed from the need of being able to take control of his affairs and the lack of basic legislation enabling families to be able to deal with what needs dealing with in the case of a missing loved one. Was there a finality to it?
There was a finality to it – but at that time guardianship didn't exist and that was our only option. For families in a similar position who don't want to wish that finality on themselves, they can now opt for guardianship, which allows families to oversee their affairs in the hope that their loved one may return or be recovered. We did not have that option and had to go down the presumption-of-death route, which does feel final but, on the other hand, is only winding up a person’s financial affairs. It does not mean that you've lost hope that they'll return. It's purely a court order, a legal piece of paperwork.

Do you feel there are now more adequate resources in place for families in a similar position to give them a better chance of locating their missing loved one?
I think there are more resources available now. For example, there's more sophisticated CCTV footage and GPRS. Unfortunately in the case of missing adults, it's still not treated as seriously as it should be by the police. There are vital times in the first 24-48 hours of someone going missing where CCTV footage is lost or deleted. I do believe the methods are there but unfortunately they aren't used as productively as they could be. For any families who find themselves in the same position as I do, I'd say try to make sure you have a liaison officer in the police force. You're supposed to be appointed one but that doesn't always happen. I'd make sure the DNA of the missing person is immediately captured, profiled and submitted to the police database so that it can be crossmatched against any unidentified bodies in the morgues. From my own experience you have to enforce yourself onto the police otherwise the case will be left aside.

How exhausting is it mentally and physically for you to have your hopes constantly raised and dashed with some of the false sightings and sensationalism attached to the case?
Yes, it has been difficult over the years. I've met many families in the same position. You welcome any new information but sometimes it proves fruitless and not concrete and ultimately results in nothing. There's an uncertainty that you swing from. You're between hope and hopelessness. There are times where your emotions are heightened and you're hopeful that new information can come to light, but others where you drop your shoulders and think, “I’m never going to find out what happened.” That is perpetual. It is a perpetual loss rather than a bereavement where you experience a grieving process. As I mentioned earlier, both of my parents are now dead. It’s only me left to carry on the search for new information about what happened to my brother.