It has been more than15 years since Matt* went to watch Russell Brand at the Peterborough Broadway theatre on March 25, 2007, but he can still remember how uncomfortable he felt at the sight of Brand beckoning over a pair of women from the audience to go backstage with him after the show. “It was slick, like something he had obviously done before,” Matt says.
It was unsettling then, and it’s even more unsettling now. The British comedian has been accused by four separate women of various crimes, including sexual assault, manipulation, and rape, in incidents which took place between 2006 and 2013. Another alleged victim has also come forward to the Met Police with a story of sexual assault that dates back as far as 2003. Brand denies all the allegations.
When Brand beckoned over those audience members in 2007, it was following a skit that had involved them earlier in the show. Brand’s running “bit” during his tours often involved a prank phonecall: in this case, it was getting a person on stage and asking them to ring a friend who wasn’t in attendance, then getting them to cajole that friend into joining them at the theatre. “I think the whole point was that they were both female, and I think that was part of the act,” Matt recalls, “then, when the friend turned up, everyone cheered and he [Brand] continued with the show.”
Matt remembers it well because he knew the woman who went backstage with Brand, but not well enough to ever ask her what happened afterwards. Brand’s use of his shows as a feeding ground for his sexual conquests was commonplace, according to five other sources who witnessed Brand exhibit similar behaviour at his shows. It was even reported by The Sun in 2007, that same year, with a source telling the newspaper: “The two girls had been shouting at Russell at the end of his live set and asking to go backstage. Both went and met him and he was saying some very raunchy things.
“One ran back out immediately — I’m not sure what shocked her. But the other one stayed in there.”
Also present at a 2007 gig was Helen*, who went to see Brand aged 15 in Wolverhampton’s Civic Hall on March 26, 2007, the day after Matt had seen him beckon those two women into his dressing room. Helen, who is now 31, told the Evening Standard: “At the beginning of the set, he announced, ‘If you’d like to shag me, form an orderly queue at the dressing-room door’ and he kept referring back to that ‘joke’. It didn’t feel like a joke.
“When he said it, he dropped the kind of over-the-top emphatic ’Booky-Wooky’ expression style he had going at the time, and went very still and confident, staring into the crowd. And, after he said it, there was a pause [from Brand] where he was just grinning. Then he immediately reverted to his typical prancing.”
This was confirmed by a fellow audience member at the same gig, 46-year-old Stu from Halesowen, who attended separately but recalls the exact same behaviour. “He joked that they should ‘ignore their dignity and chat to a member of his staff who would be by the stage,’” Stu remembers. “It was said as a joke but it wasn’t. I always wondered if anyone did queue.”
They did. Helen says she saw the queue as she and her friend were leaving to be picked up by her friend’s dad. “[It was] young women,” she recalls, “I would say aged 17 to 25.” At this point, Brand would have been 32 years old.
It may make your skin crawl now but, at the time, people were picking up what Brand was putting down: he consistently sold out gigs, and his increasing popularity had already landed him roles in major Hollywood films by 2008. Back then, audiences thought very little of Brand openly picking up groupies. Even Matt, who remembers feeling uncomfortable at the sight of Brand beckoning over those women, says he rationalised it because, “back then, it didn’t seem that weird. It was Russell Brand and he was such a ‘lad’. You know?”
Later on Brand’s tour, an attendee named Darnell* remembers him exhibiting similar behaviour at a venue in Stoke-on-Trent. “The second-half of the show it felt like he gave up on the comedy,” says Darnell. “He spent [it] in the stalls, working his way through girl after girl. He wasn’t shy about why he was doing it, either, he said it to them in front of a watching audience, that he wanted sex after the show. We all just had to sit there waiting until he was happy he’d got a few to choose from.”
And while the girls and women in this case were willing to head backstage with Brand, his gigs were not always such “welcome” spaces for female fans. Poppy, 39, from Bristol, remembers watching Brand during his Scandalous tour one night in Edinburgh, in 2009, getting up to his usual tricks: “The front aisles of seats were all screaming girls,” she says. “He started off making jokes I’d guess were common across his shows, that there’s no need to worry, they’d all get a chance with him, and about them lining up after the show.”
But then Brand’s mood changed. “There was one girl who wouldn’t stop screaming out to him and I guess it pissed him off. So he got her on stage and spent five minutes totally humiliating her, saying why would she think he would find her attractive, all this kind of thing. She was like a deer in headlights, meeting her idol and standing in a theatre in front of hundreds of people. He left the stage and I kept an eye on her. I saw her leaving, walking along the side of the theatre sobbing as she went.” Poppy says the whole experience left her feeling “disgusted” by Brand.
Another attendee who left Brand’s comedy show feeling sickly was Malcom, 39, from British Columbia, who saw Brand perform in 2012 at the River Rock Show Theatre in Vancouver. Brand was still employing the prank phonecall gimmick at this point, and chose to call upon a transgender sex worker whose number he found in the paper as his target on this occasion. “[He was] repeatedly calling her to the point of harassment,” Malcom recalls, “I was young when I saw him, 19, and thought this was all scripted but I ended up working in live performance and, when I think back on the show, it was clear he was just harassing her.”
Brand was not transphobic, according to Malcolm, but extremely denigrating about her position as a sex worker. Brand himself has shared stories of sleeping with sex workers, including an incident when he was 16 on a family holiday, an encounter which was set up by his father. Another incident which Brand wrote about in his memoir, where he smashed a sex worker’s phone against a wall during sex, has also recently resurfaced following the allegations.
Brand’s prank calls have got him into trouble before, too: in 2008, he called a rape crisis helpline while on stage in Northampton, which proved particularly egregious given a spate of recent sexual assaults in the area. The series of sexual assaults appeared to have the same perpetrator and took place within the same alleyway, earning the perpetrator the nickname of “the underpass attacker”. Brand pretended to be submitting a sighting of the attacker and made ‘jokes’ such as, “I’ve had someone come near my underpass”. He later apologised for the incident and said that he was “devastated” that he might have “offended vulnerable people”.
Brand has spoken about his sex addiction at length, though he began to make claims of his “rehabilitation” in 2005, after a stint in a Philadelphia-based sexual recovery facility. Just two years later, he was beckoning women backstage, show after show.
In Brand’s book, published in November 2007, not long after Helen, Matt, Darnell, and Stu saw Brand’s sexually charged performance on stage, he wrote about his stint in rehab, saying he did it “just to shut everyone up, really, and for the same reason that I finally gave up drink and drugs — because my ambition is the most powerful force within me, so once people convinced me that my sexual behaviour might become damaging to my career, I found it easier to think of it as a flaw that needed to be remedied.”
More recently, he paints himself as a family man and has recently lambasted the impact of pornography upon young men. As for the allegations of non-consensual sexual acts, Brand has denied all wrongdoing, saying: “...amidst this litany of astonishing, rather baroque attacks, are some very serious allegations that I absolutely refute.
“These allegations pertain to the time when I was working in the mainstream, when I was in the newspapers all the time, when I was in the movies. And, as I’ve written about extensively in my books, I was very, very promiscuous.
“Now, during that time of promiscuity, the relationships I had were absolutely always consensual."