Islington pianist Derek Conlon: My life after drinking coffee out of Alexander Litvinenko’s poisonous cup
- Credit: Archant
When two Russian agents allegedly slipped radioactive poison into a cup of tea, Alexander Litvinenko wasn’t the only victim.
Islington man Derek Conlon worked at the same central London hotel where Mr Litvinenko is thought to have been poisoned in November 2006.
He sat at the same table about an hour later and drank coffee out of the same cup. It had been through a dishwasher, but not washed properly.
It was only three weeks later, when Mr Litvinenko died, when things also went seriously wrong for Derek, who worked as the hotel’s pianist.
He recalls: “Sky News was saying anyone at the hotel during that week needed to go to University College Hospital for a check-up.
“That was when the doctor told me the bad news, about the poisonous levels of polonium-210 in my system.”
So little was known about the substance that Derek couldn’t even receive treatment. For him, it was a year of blood and urine tests before the polonium-210 eventually left his body.
- 1 Teenager arrested in Deshuan Tuitt murder investigation
- 2 Teenage Highbury Fields fatal stabbing victim named by police
- 3 Inside the esports gaming arena coming to Islington's Upper Street
- 4 'All I could see was the water coming up': Clean-up begins after Holloway flooding
- 5 'Like a tsunami': Burst water main floods Islington street
- 6 Landlord who did not provide kitchen for tenant fined £40,000
- 7 Finsbury Park man due in court charged with pub murder
- 8 'The grim history of London's water supply'
- 9 Polio virus found in Islington sewage
- 10 'An air fryer is this season's must-have for low-fat recipes'
But he knows nothing can be done about whatever damage it caused. “The dark thing is not knowing how it will affect me in later life,” he said.
Understandably, Derek, who has lived off Essex Road for 22 years, struggled. “I wouldn’t say I was depressed, but I started thinking about things. My idea was, get the hell out of London and start travelling.”
He puts his recovery down to the last 10 years playing his precious piano on cruise ships.
“I said to myself: ‘This could be the end – do what you’ve got to do with whatever time you have.’
“I’ve played piano since I was six, when I was very introverted and had a stammer. Music has been a good thing in my life – it takes me away from all the crap.”
Derek documented his experiences in his book, Sea’s the Moment, which was published in September.
He has even committed to writing the words to music, and says he hopes to perform it in small Islington venues such as Upper Street’s Hope and Anchor.
But Derek, 51, also admits that ominous afternoon 11 years ago still bites: “I collapsed for the first time last year, and I don’t know whether that was a side effect of the incident.
“Long-term, I have just been told to see how it goes. You just have to keep going.”