Finding Your Peace: Sid Mallya | OYNB 090

One Year No Beer Podcast Episode 090 – Finding Your Peace with Sid Mallya

What’s it like to change your relationship with alcohol when you come from a family that’s in the alcohol business? Today’s guest has some insights on that intriguing question.

Sid Mallya is an American Born British actor of Indian descent. He attended Wellington College and then Queen Mary, University of London where he obtained a BSc in Business Management. He spent some time in business but felt that his true calling lay elsewhere. So he trained at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, graduating with a Master of Arts in acting. His film credits include the Netflix Original film, ‘Brahman Naman’, and ‘Best Fake Friends’ which is currently streaming on Amazon.

“If you hear all the stuff that I've said, I've never said alcohol is bad either.  I said that you just need to figure out if it's bad for you at this juncture.”

In today’s interview, Sid shares his college experiences and his brief career in business. He explains how he ended up deciding to pursue acting instead of staying in the family business. 

Sid talks about his interest in environmental causes and the small things that people can do to create real change in the world. He also speaks frankly about his mental health journey – what it was like to be diagnosed with OCD and how becoming a target for online hatred triggered a depressive spiral. He explains what it was like to be diagnosed and how treatment has affected him.

Sid also talks about his experiences with alcohol through the years, from fairly standard drinking activity in college to the kind of heavy drinking that he engaged in while he was living and working in India. He explains his decision to stop drinking and what that alcohol-free journey has meant for his life. 


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Episode Transcript

Ruari: Today, my guest is an American born, British actor of Indian Descent. He's a celebrity, mental health campaigner, voted India's Most Stylish Man—something I will never have for any country—appeared on the front page of GQ magazine, and was a judge on India's equivalent to Next Top Model. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Sid Mallya.

Sid: Hi lads. Glad to be here.

Ruari: How are you today?

Sid: Very, very good and thank you so much for having me.

Ruari: And where are you right now?

Sid: I'm in Los Angeles.

Ruari: Right. We're recording this in the middle of lockdown love. Is it a similar situation for you over there with lockdown?

Sid: Yeah, it is. I don't think it's quite as strict here as it is in the UK and in other parts of the world. But yes, the whole social distancing measures and staying at home, all that sort of thing is definitely in play. Yeah, it's a strange time we live in.

Ruari: Strange. What's the general vibe?

Sid: I think it does help in LA that we constantly got good weather. I believe that they were having issues in the UK, sort of keeping people out of the parks because of the sunshine. You can imagine what that's like here.

Ruari: We're not good at rules over here.

Sid: No, I don't think anyone is. You definitely do feel a shift in energy, just a general shift in energy. I think that there's a sense of uncertainty, that uncertainty was sort of going day by day, not really knowing what's going to happen or when things are going to reopen or if things are going to reopen. We got a president here who, himself, seems to only be thinking about one thing and that is the election in November. As a result of that, it's very difficult to tell what's going to happen, or in fact, what's the best thing that's meant to happen.

Ruari: Yeah, absolutely. Also, I've been talking about this a lot inside the community and things, is that we can't underestimate what this is psychologically doing to us at the moment in terms of the heightened anxiety, the messaging coming out, the constant conversation about deaths. But also, loss and grief are very, very, and mourning. It is a very powerful emotion and we don't just mourn the loss of humans or pets but we can mourn the loss of routine, we can mourn the loss of a job, we can mourn the loss of just going down to that shop or going and having your mocha frappe, a frappuccino, or whatever it is, you can mourn the loss of that. There are these heightened levels of emotions which are affecting all of us and I think we just don't realize that.

Sid: Yeah, it's funny you mentioned that. I actually wrote a piece last night on mental health for a publication and I talked about how, in times like this, looking after one's mental well-being for the reasons that you just said is paramount because people are feeling heightened and levels of anxiety. Perhaps feeling things that they've never felt accustomed to before and hearing words like quarantine, isolation, lockdown.

These do have a lot of sort of, I'd say, negative connotations and it can really make one feel lonely. I just did something on loneliness as well and it's like at times like this, you might be in lockdown or isolation with your entire family. Thanks to things like what we're doing now, Zoom, FaceTime, and all these sorts of things, the world is actually designed to keep us in contact even when we're not able to see each other. But it's almost as if these things that we have can make us feel even more isolated.

Ruari: Yes, completely. Absolutely because you realize that for many people, they're not around their family, they're stuck in a flat, all sorts of things on them. Well, we're going to get stuck into lots of this stuff. But one of the main reasons we wanted to get you on the podcast is that we picked up with our social media sniffer dogs that you recently celebrated what we call One Year No Beer. Hooray! Well done, congratulations.

That is awesome, you've done extremely well. We're going to go dive deep into that shortly. Your post you put up about your one-year celebration got a lot of attention. That's really where we picked you up. Congratulations on hitting a year, it's amazing.

Sid: Thank you very much.

Ruari: For everybody listening, give us a bit of background into Sid early life and your career to date.

Sid: Yeah. I was actually born here in Los Angeles for some random reason that I'm not really quite sure yet why. But then, I moved to the UK when I was very young, when I was only nine months old, and grew up my whole life pretty much in England, in the South, in Surrey. I went to boarding school when I was 10. That was good but I'm 32 now. Looking back on it, actually 10 is really young. It was all great. It was around the same time the Harry Potter books came out and that all sort of thing. I was like, “Oh, this is fun.”

Schooled in the UK, went to Wellington College, graduated and went to Queen Mary for university. Queen Mary in London, big call to study business because being the only son of a business family, and that to it of an Indian business family, I guess it was sort of always expected that I was going to, one day, step into that and take over the reins just like my dad did from his dad. That's why I went to study business. Spent three years at Queen Mary, drank more than I studied.

Ruari: That's pretty common for university.

Sid: That was pretty common but I was captain of the university hockey team. I did leave with the 2:1 degree so I'd like to think that I still did get what I was meant to get out of it apart from just the cheap points and shots of apples sideways. Then, I spent a year working at Diageo, who you obviously are very familiar with. The idea was that, and for your listeners who might not know about me, our family business, ironically, is alcohol. The manufacturing, owning, and distributing of alcoholic brands in India. We were the largest alcohol company in the world, by volume, at the time.

The idea was to go and work for another company rather than coming straight into the family business. I think that's always important to go and get a perspective elsewhere. I worked for Diageo for a year in the sunny offices in Park Royal, which, if any of you know where that is, is not the most glamorous place in the world. I was the assistant brand manager on Guinness. My responsibilities at the time were basically looking after the sponsorship activation that Guinness had with Premiership Rugby. At the time, it was the Guinness Premiership. I thought this was a dream job because I am a massive Rugby fan and it was great. I got to go on very glamorous business trips around the UK visiting all the great rugby clubs from Newcastle to all these sorts of places. It was fun for a year.

Then, I left and went to India. That's when I started working in the family business. One of our other angles is sports. We owned a number of professional sporting outfits. One of them was the Royal Challengers Bangalore, a cricket team that takes part in the Indian Premier League, the IPL T20 competition and I basically was running that. It was strange. At 22 years old, I'm kind of the general manager for these professional sports teams, sort of signing players, contracts, responsible for signing the contracts with people like Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers, and working with a young Virat Kohli. Today, if you're a cricket fan, you know he's the premier player on the planet. That was enjoyable.

I was also, from that age, quite interested in sort of social courses as well. The team was based in the city of Bangalore. Now, Bangalore is known as the god and city of India, it's also the IT hub. There's a lot of greenery, there's a lot of parks. One of the initiatives that I spearheaded was the Go Green campaign, where basically we got our fans to all change their light bulbs to be carbon neutral bulbs or electric bulbs.

Anyway, we ended up being the world's first ever carbon neutral cricket team, but the world's first ever carbon neutral sports team solely through fan engagement. I met a lot of big corporations who call themselves carbon neutral by buying carbon credits but we were the first to do it by getting our fans to participate in our scheme, and it was a widely praised scheme by the UN. We were making presentations, the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, UNEP, which is that environmental programs were behind us. It was really good. It was at that point where I realized that no matter what you do in life, no matter what platform you have, you have that responsibility to use it to do good with. Tell me if I'm talking too much at any point because I can go on, and on, and on.

Ruari: What an experience, and then really just to shape that as well as a decision, A, to be having those experiences at such a young age. The family putting you into it or you having that opportunity in meeting those people. But also, there's this thread and I know this now from digging up quite a lot about who you are. Really, it was about this impact and doing good in the world. I think it's amazing to see that reflected so keep going.

Sid: Yeah. No, I appreciate you saying that. That was definitely a big moment for me knowing that we all have the power to change the world, which I'll come to you later on

Ruari: Yeah. While you're there, exactly.

Sid: I've always tried to live by the mantra that I try to put a smile on at least one person's face a day. To me, if you can do that, then I think you succeeded in changing the world because something as small as—and I hope people start valuing this more when human interaction does resurface—asking someone how their day is at the grocery store and making them smile. Well, you've now temporarily made that person feel better. The chances are that person is going to keep that high and pass it on to someone else and it's a knock on effect. That's what I mean by changing the world.

Changing the world with real challenges. It was something as simple as saying to our fans, “Hey. You don't have to do this, but would you be interested in changing your light bulbs to an energy efficient light bulb?” If you get enough people doing it, it makes a big difference. I think too many people are afraid that they talk about wanting to make the world a better place or changing the world, but that they fear about it and they're like, “Well, if I don't go and cure hunger tomorrow or if I don't go and cure the Coronavirus, well, then I haven't changed the world.”

Ruari: It's called ripples, not waves.

Sid: Yes. I don't think that changing the world doesn't mean going in. Yes, it would be great if someone could go and do these things, of course, but it doesn't mean that that's the only way to make the world a better place. That's certainly something that I learned from my dealings in India. While I was there, I was doing a lot of media stuff, a lot of interviews, TV interviews for the team, but also for myself. 

You mentioned I was shooting magazines and being featured on talk shows. Really what I thought was that, I am here in India, I do come from this family that's pretty well recognized but I'm not content just being a cog in the wheel, if you know what I mean. I want to sort of take that platform that I have and make myself into my own brand. Aside from all of this, I started doing that. There was modelling involved, there was all sorts of things, and really for me, performing and being in front of a camera and interacting even like what we're doing now is something that I've really always enjoyed from a young age. I think it stems from being an only child. You do develop a wild sense of imagination as an only child, and that definitely has had an impact on me later in life. I'm far more at ease and having fun when I'm interacting with people, when I'm doing stuff, as opposed to being stuck behind a desk for eight hours.

It was then where people had seen some of my interviews and they're like, “You come across quite well on the screen, you talk quite well, you have this sort of naturalism. Have you ever thought about taking it further, acting or talk shows or anything like that?” I was like, “I have and I've always kind of really. That's been my passion.” But because I grew up, as I said, sort of with this expectation that I was going to go into the business, I never really paid too much attention to it. But it was at that point where I was like, “You know what? I think I'm going to take this a bit more seriously.” And I did my first thing, which was I hosted an online show with a few of these international cricketers just to get a bit of an insight into their life, which is a big hit.

After that, I was 24, 25 at the time, I was like, “You know what? This is where I'm happier, this is what I'm happier doing, acting and performing and being able to express myself. I'm going to pursue it full time.” I had a conversation with my dad and I said to him, “Look, I just don't think I'll be able to take the business on the way that you did.” He said something very true. He said, “Look, if your heart's not in it and you don't love what you do, you're never going to be successful.” He said the reason I could be successful at this work 18-hour days is because I love what I do. If you don't love this, go and do what you want to do and what you love. That was great advice, fortunate through it. That's when I decided to hop across the pond and make the most of that American citizenship that I had, birth. 

Ruari: For being born.

Sid: For being born here and that's how I got into the entertainment world. Since then, I've been fortunate enough to be a part of a few great projects. Again, my first film, Brahman Naman, which premiered at Sundance, which was bought on Netflix right now. Even though it's a comedy, even though they describe it as a sex comedy, for people who don't know what that is, a sex comedy is sort of what they classify in between as an American Pie like. Even though it is basically in between a set in Bangalore in the 1970s, it does touch a much deeper social issue which is the classic system that still exists in India. Again, I found myself drawn to something which not only could have a global entertainment impact, but could also have a social impact on people as well. That's been good.

It's been working on my production company and developing a few projects of my own. I do think if you're in the position where you can produce your own content, then do it. You get to tell the stories you want to tell. We have one at the moment which centers on mental health, sort of the pressures that the youth of today experience that probably our parents’ generation never did to be honest. With the social medias of the world, Instagrams, and a lot of people feel like they have to have a separate personality. We have a show that looks at that. Hopefully, once the world's back in order, we can see where that goes. Of course, my series, consider this, which has been the most recent thing. That's a pretty long explanation and a quick background, but hopefully that's given everything.

Ruari: No, lots of insight. The ConSIDer This, I had a good look at. Actually, in the ConSIDer This, you talk about a moment in your life where you were receiving a lot of online hate and that kind of spiraled into depression. You want to talk a little bit about that experience?

Sid: Yeah, I wouldn't say that the online hate was sort of the trigger just to spiral into the depression. I think it definitely contributed to what I was already feeling. If you're in any public position, if you are a public figure any way, you can't please everyone. No matter how good you try to do for the world, you are always going to have people who don't like it. I think it's always okay to express an opinion, I think we should express our opinions. We don't have to agree with everything but I think there's a way of doing it.

Sadly, today, people are getting a lot more angry with the likes of social media because it gives them an outlet to get angry without having to face the consequences for what they write. I'm sure you've seen people write things on social media, which you can't even imagine if they were there face to face with you, they wouldn’t even dream about saying to your face. I think that's where people need to realize that look, when you are commenting on something, when you are commenting on a picture or abusing a picture, you're not abusing that picture, you're abusing the person who's behind the picture. Yeah, I think that was hard to take and it is very sad how there are so many internet trolls, now called keyboard warriors. That's my favorite one, sat home and can form that conflict in their own living room really cause misery to someone else. I think the sad thing here is that most of these people don't realize what they're doing.

Ruari: Yeah, well, most people don't. You're right. I don't know how that would all work but I've seen some terrible situations, Caroline Flack in the UK, from the media, and all that kind of stuff. We get loads of trolls, and you'll see it sometimes on our social posts and everything else. You just want to attack what we're doing or the actual testimonial of somebody in a way. When you take somebody's testimonial from the audience and then put it out to the public and they start trolling it. We have a duty of care to make sure that we protect that individual. It can be a very dark place.

Obviously that was just a factor. You had some underlying stuff which you discovered in this process. Tell me a bit more about this experience.

Sid: For me, the depressive episode happened in 2016, I was at drama school. That's one thing I forgot about my life. I went to drama school. I trained at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in the UK. It was a very intense year, it was a masters. You're performing from 8 A.M. to 6 P.M., five days a week, it's exhausting. Their idea is to basically open you up as a performer and basically break you and rebuild you in the way that they want. I think all this sort of stuff I had, my dad started to have some legal issues. The media and the members of the public started sort of abusing me for it. I think this was all happening. But while I was at school, I was so consumed in what I was doing that I had a nice distraction. The problems were there, but I had this distraction.

Then of course, school finishes and the distraction goes, but those problems are still there. It was then that it really started to hit me full on like the gravity of what was going on. I just started to feel very alone and very empty, even though I had everything. I just graduated from one of the best drama schools in the world, I had all my friends, I was in the UK, family was there, I had everything. I would just wake up in the morning feeling empty and alone and then not understanding why. Then, beating myself up and trying to figure out why, why, why are you feeling this way? Which, of course, anyone listening to this knows, that is just a spiral to fall even further down that rabbit hole.

I say this in the video, I was at a friend's wedding, a big Indian wedding. You can imagine Indian weddings, a good 700, 800 person affairs. It was in Ibiza, which is cool. Nice place for a wedding, all my friends are there. At the time, I was drinking, I was partying, everything was set up to have an amazing time. Yet that whole weekend, I just felt empty, alone, and crushed and just void of anything inside. It was after that where I was like, “Okay. If you can’t have a good time when you're in a place where you have everyone you want to be around, then you probably need to do something about this.” That's when I went into therapy, took anti-depressants and started that journey.

Ruari: Yeah. The journey of self-discovery of your mental health, you were diagnosed with OCD. Is that correct?

Sid: Yeah, that was another one. I'll be honest, I've known I've had OCD since I was a kid. I remember when the psychiatrist said, “Clinical diagnosis of OCD.” I was like, “Thanks, Sherlock.” Why am I paying this money to be told that? I could've told you that. A lot of people realize just how impactful OCD is in one's life. 

It's only after I started working on my new therapist that I have here in LA, fantastic lady, we've been working together for about two years. Eventually, only at the end of last year, I said, “Okay, now I'm ready to tackle the OCD.” She gave me this workbook, this workbook is fantastic. She gives you some exercises to do, but it really, really simplifies and explains what OCD is and how it can manifest in so many different ways that you just don't even think about.

Ruari: But then, the penny drops and you're like, “Oh my God. So that's why I do that, that's why I need that comfort, and also that's why I have to do that that way.” Yes, it's actually relieving, isn't it? To have that.

Sid: It is relieving. Relieving to at least know what you've done.

Ruari: Feeling that you're not broken.

Sid: That, for sure. Feeling that you're not broken. But then also accepting that it's an illness. It is a chronic illness that you can manage. It's like diabetes, you can manage it, but you could never get rid of it. I think like with anything in life, it's about acceptance, isn't it? The first thing is to accept. Look, I have this illness and I'm still working through this workbook. I have about three weeks left of it.

Like with lots of things, OCD doesn't like to have a light shined on it. In the last four months since I've started to do this workbook, my OCD has gotten 10x worse. Now, that's probably, as they say, things need to get worse before you get better because I think when you really shine a light on something, you're kind of purging it out of your system. It's like it's trying to cling on to every little thing it can to sort of stay in my life. I'm happy that I'm working on it because without realizing it, it’s caused so much discomfort. Those obsessive thoughts, which I'm sure you'll come on to next, also contributed to my discomfort when I was drinking and also fueled the reason why it stopped.

Ruari: Yeah, we are going to come on to that. You're absolutely right because that's what this podcast is all about. But I'm diagnosed with Adult ADHD, the discovery around it was, oh my God, like, wow, that's amazing, that explains my whole life. I'm not the only one. No, I'm not that special. Those were all some realizations I went through. But then, I had these practical tools and everything else. The one thing with this sliding scale of mental health that we know emphatically is that lots of people who are on that scale are using alcohol to numb, and because the brain just makes so much noise.

For you, it was obsessive thoughts. For me, it's hyper activity, distraction, and all those kinds of things. Alcohol is so often prevalent when there's mental health and it's the worst thing for it. That's the experience that you have now gone through. Tell me about your relationship with alcohol. Give me a bit of background into this. Also, I've got to ask this question because of course, you said so yourself that your family was one of the largest alcohol companies in the world and now you've changed your relationship with alcohol. What's your experience with that?

Sid: Yeah, I love talking about this. To start with, I will say that with anything that I think that, be it alcohol, be it drugs, be it pills, be it whatever, it's so much easier for people to just get a quick fix, to temporarily numb their problems as opposed to really, really, really face their demons, if you like. Then that numbing can become the demon itself. That's when I realized that I perhaps was doing it.

I said to you that I went to boarding school when I was 10 years old. Good old British boarding school back in the early 2000s. I've been drinking since I was 13 years old. I remember the first time I got drunk, quite by accident. We were given beers because my best friend's older brother actually plays or played International Rugby. At the time, he was playing in some schools cup finals. We all went along to trick him to watch this game and they were handing out beers and 11 year old Sid was like, “Okay, this is disgusting, but I'll drink it.”

The next morning, I'm starting to get the hangover. Yeah, the hangover that I had. But then, at Wellington we were sneaking into the bushes on a Saturday night with our Smirnoff Ices, a WKD Blues, and all the stuff that's got enough sugar in it to give you diabetes kind of thing. I'm thinking that we were the coolest kids in the world, doing a shot of Smirnoff Ice and thinking that was a shot of vodka, that we were really cool.

Ruari: Did you ever get it iced? Do you know what that is?

Sid: Iced? No.

Ruari: Yes. Basically, you hide a Smirnoff Ice on you somewhere. You're going to flash it and if the person looks at it, they've got to neck it. You've got this game when all of a sudden, somebody would lift an arm and you would look and you go, “No.” All those silly games.

Sid: Those silly games. That one skipped me. The worst with those was obviously saving the queen. When people put a two P coin in a pint and then you have to net the pipe. Now looking back on that, yeah it was quite fun but it was also like how ridiculous is that. But yeah. So, was it good? The 13-year olds sneaking off into the bushes, drinking? Absolutely not. I'm not condoning that one bit. But was it, for the most part, innocent fun that didn't really get in the way of anything? Yes.

Ruari: Yeah, but it is just what we all do. That's what society is doing.

Sid: It is what it is, what we did. Yeah. It wasn't like, we weren't getting drunk, going and robbing convenience stores or anything like that sort of thing. I mean, it was what it was. Then grew up, left Wellington, went to Queen Mary. I think, for me, what I realize is that—now I'm not going to boarding school anymore—I can have beer in my fridge and I had all this freedom. You go to university and today, it's a little bit different. Back then, it was a pound a pint, a pound a pint and with a free apple sours on the side. For 10 quid, you could get 10 points and 10 shots.

Ruari: You nails. Oh my God.

Sid: 100% and you think about it now. You look back on it. You're like, “First of all, the human body can't hold 10 points. I believe that the most a stomach could hold is four.” You're making these points, going in the toilet, being sick just because of the volume of liquid you had in yourself, chewing a piece of gum, and going back to the bar. Now, you look back on it and we can laugh. It was horrendous. Again, that was the drinking culture at university. I have been knocking these free T-shirts to prove that guy that they got.

But again, was it good drinking? No. Did it get in the way of my studies? No. I still got my degree. The problem when alcohol really became problematic for me is when I moved to India and I was getting blotto drunk, three, four nights a week not because I was using it as like, “Oh, I want to have a good time,” but I was using it because I didn't actually want to be in India. I just moved there, I was a fish out of water, I was in a new environment and I was going out and getting drunk kind of, as you said, as a distraction or to numb having to really deal with my reality. But it took me a long time to realize this, it took me a long time to accept this.

I then moved to LA and coincidentally with all of this drinking, I would wake up the next morning with morbid fears of anxiety, which I think they called beer fear.

Ruari: That's it? The beer fear?

Sid: Yeah. The morbid anxiety the next morning, like, did I do something wrong, did I hurt someone? Did I do something illegal? I just preoccupied like I've done something really bad and I was going to go to jail, all this anxiety. It would make me want to lie in bed with the lights off and go back to sleep to avoid having those fears. These fears would last two, three days off to drinking. For two or three days after a big session, it wasn't even a big session, even if it was two drinks, I would still get this anxiety the next morning and I had this morbid fear that would last two or three days.

Then I was like, “Hang on a second. This just isn't worth it anymore.” I didn't also know that these fears, the next day, will also be OCD-related. If you have OCD, they can feel these sorts of what they call paranoid irrational thoughts. It was at that point where I was like, “I need to make a change here and at this point in my life, alcohol isn't having the desired impact that it should have. It's not working for me in a way that I would like it to, and I need to make a change.” I never said that I'm going to quit for life. If you hear all the stuff that I've said, I've never said alcohol is bad either.  I said that you just need to figure out if it's bad for you at this juncture. For me, it was and that's why I've decided to, 20 months ago now, to stop.

Ruari: That's brilliant, amazing. You just took a decision, stopped, took a break. Did you go public? How was your journey? Did you find it easy? What were the bumps and what was your experience?

Sid: Yeah. I've been able to stop before, I would go in my life, I've gotten like two months, three months without drinking here and there. I just decided to stop so it wasn't that difficult for me. But when I made the decision, I felt good. Honestly, I have not had an urge. I've never been on a night out where people are getting smashed and I'm like, “I just wish I could have one shot. I wish I could just have one drink,” like I really miss it. That really, fortunately for me, has not come in.

I think that also helps because I've had amazing friends who've been nothing but supportive, not a single friend has questioned me. There's been one person who I was out once and I was like, “I don't drink anymore. I'm not going to drink. I'm not going to do that.” She's like, “Oh, stop this antisocial behavior.” I was like, at that point, I was like, well, “To be honest, you don't add any value to my life. I don't need to continue this conversation. Goodbye,” kind of thing. If my drinking or me not drinking is having an impact on your good time, then you have a problem, not me. That was someone.

For the most part, my friend, all my friends, my close friends have been nothing but supportive, haven't questioned it once. I guess I'm also fortunate that I'm one of those people who can stay out till 6:00 A.M without a drop of alcohol. I'm like, “Well then, why do it? What added impact? Am I getting experience by adding the alcohol in?

After the one year anniversary of when I stopped, I put a post up online saying to people, “It's been one year since I stopped drinking,” explained a little bit of the story that I just told you about. What really struck me was the response from people. Thousands of messages saying, “Sid, we feel the same way. We also want to stop. We also feel that fear the next morning but we don't know how to. We don't know how to do it without losing our friends. We don't want to be that guy in a social group that kind of gets ostracized because he's the guy in the group that doesn't drink. So, how do you do it?” 

It was then that I was like, I need to do something about this to re-educate people around alcohol and tell them that it's not bad, it's not bad. I won't say it's bad. You just have to figure out if it's bad for you and if you're doing it just because you're scared of losing your friends and you're scared that your friends won't support you, well, then honestly, you probably need new friends.

Ruari: Well said, absolutely. Amazing and amazing that you've clearly hit a nerve with people and inspired people. I'm really curious about the family, you mentioned that you want to do something about this and help inspire people to, really, our focus is about changing people's relationship with alcohol. For me, I didn't drink for two years and now I drink as much as I want whenever I want. I think most people—we certainly see this from when they're looking to join One Year No Beer— are searching for control. They're looking to get their relationship with alcohol into a place of control.

For us, it's about helping people change our relationship with alcohol. But how does the family view what you've done and how do they view what you're intending to do?

Sid: The family's been fine about it honestly. I think, with me, that they know that I'm a very strong willed person, so if I say I'm going to do something, then it's a little kind of no use to them for trying to stop me. But no one would see something like this. It's not really a discussion I had with my family, I just did it. I just decided to do it and they've been great.

My dad has always said, “Even though whatever promotion and whatever alcohol that we've sold, we've always talked about drinking responsibly.” That's really all I'm doing, is continuing that message. I feel like I have a duty to do it. When my grandfather was in the business or my dad was in the business, it was a very different world than what we live in today. The way that people are starting to look at mental health and issues a lot more today, and it's not sort of seen as a taboo subject. I feel like I have a duty to promote alcohol but in a different way than needed.

Ruari: Yeah, brilliant. That's very exciting for the world as well and that's what we're seeing. We're seeing the rise in alcohol-free alternatives that give people other options, alcohol-free bars setting up. We want a world that's inclusive, that's really what we want. We want a world that's inclusive where when you go to a bar, there is no peer pressure, there is no expectation. You could be drinking any kind of drink with alcohol or not with alcohol and you're free, completely free, without judgment to choose.

What's amazing is we're sort of heading towards that, certainly with more alcohol-free alternatives and society's changing culture is changing. What is also interesting is that that happens very slowly. We've realized this now, how slowly that happens. The World Health Organization is still expecting a dramatic alcohol consumption rise over the last 10 years, over the next decade, despite there being this cultural shift. I actually think that this is a great opportunity for the alcohol companies to instead of being like the cigarette companies, which was to fund misinformation, to hold on to everything they possibly could, fight every battle they could to try and keep cigarettes well-marketed and in the mainstream.

With a lot of misinformation around to touch on it, I think actually the alcohol industry has a perfect opportunity here to change public health with moving with the times. That is to start focusing on alcohol-free alternatives and the drinks that come after that. If you look at the world, what's happening with psychedelic drugs or the research that's coming in with all of these others, there are other ways for people to feel relaxation, feel a sense of connection, love. I think down the track, we'll see more healthier things other than alcohol in drinks. I think the alcohol industry or the drinks industry as a whole has an opportunity here.

Sid: Yeah. As you said, yes, I do think we're still a little bit away from it being where we kind of want it to be because when you have such a deep embedded mindset about something, it doesn't need to change over time.

Ruari: Along the way?

Sid: Yeah. I think that at least what was different with the cigarette companies is that there was no real alternative that they could promote. It was either you smoke a cigarette or you're done. That's how business is done. At least with these alcohol brands, there are other ways to still make revenue, which obviously is the end game for all businesses. But in a manner that doesn't necessarily mean they only sell what they're traditionally been doing.

Ruari: Yeah, absolutely, an exciting future ahead. What does the future hold for you? What does it hold for you in terms of your relationship with alcohol and what you plan to do with this newfound alcohol-free powers?

Sid: In the future, I can never say. As of today, I am happy not drinking and if you ask me today, do I see myself drinking, I'll say no. But then again, I don't know what the future holds. I don't know how my relationship is going to change. I still feel like I have a lot of self-work I need to do before I can or if I ever reintroduce alcohol into my life. And yeah, I can never say never.

But at this point in my life, I'm so happy, I'm so at peace without alcohol. Really, my life hasn't changed. The experiences haven't changed in any way. In fact, my experiences of life have become so much better without alcohol. You go out on a night out, you remember the whole night. You don't wake up with a hangover the next morning. It enhanced my experiences in life. I don't see myself going back to it but as I said, I can't say what the future holds.

In terms of kind of taking on this message, I think the response that my series considers this has got, especially around the alcohol and seeing which one is my postcode on the one-year anniversary, I feel like the next step is to set up a foundation. I've talked about this a little bit in the past, but my idea is to set up a foundation in India to do with alcohol and to offer support to people who might want to stop for a while. 

They do these things here in the US, they call them sober parties. The idea would be to sort of put on these events, if you like, or social gatherings for people on Friday nights or Saturday nights that don't involve alcohol. I think, as I said, a lot of what I realize is that a lot of people don't want to give up because they're scared that they'll lose their social life. My idea is, well, then why not give you that same social experience without the pressure of feeling like you have to drink?

Ruari: Completely. They have like a day breaker here and we have […] and absolutely do. Sober bars. Absolutely. Lots more connection in society to something other than alcohol.

Sid: That's what I mean. Now, look, I didn't even think about this until I guess I was forced to with this lockdown. There's so much that can be achieved just by Zoom from people's own living rooms. There are ways to do this. Yeah, that's definitely the next step for me. That's what I was working on until, of course, we got into this lockdown. That's why I'm always open to speaking to people like yourself and working with organizations that do such a great job, such as yours, in seeing how we can all do what's best for the society.

Ruari: Brilliant, awesome. Thank you very much for coming on the podcast. It's been really great to have you on. We'll definitely be connecting with you. As I say, we're completely collaborative in this industry if you like alcohol prevention and helping people change your relationship with alcohol. I have no doubt that we'll be doing some more stuff together down the track. Thanks so much for your time.

Sid: Thank you.

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