Suicide by mail order
He was picked for stardom as a chef by Jamie Oliver on TV. But then, as his mother reveals in this heartbreaking interview, Kevin sent off for an internet kit promising 'deliverance' from his secret torment…
Posing for the cameras in his chef’s whites, Kevin Boyle, at 16, seemed destined to become one of Jamie Oliver’s big success stories.
The youngest of the celebrity chef’s original apprentices at the Fifteen restaurant in London, Kevin epitomised everything Jamie’s new social enterprise stood for.
Having dropped out of school before his GCSEs, Kevin was stacking supermarket shelves when he applied in 2002 for the chance of a lifetime to join C4’s Jamie’s Kitchen.
Budding chef: Jamie Oliver with Kevin Boyle at the restaurant in Hoxton
Beating 1,500 competitors to make the final, Kevin’s passion endeared him, not only to his famous mentor, but to millions of viewers who watched his progress in Jamie’s Kitchen. He cooked for Prince Charles and Tony Blair, and after graduating from Fifteen, went on to work in top kitchens including Le Caprice and Smiths of Smithfield.
He embraced Jamie Oliver’s philosophy of ‘cooking good food with love’ and his dream was to open his own restaurant in his home town of Purley, Surrey. He took justified pride in his culinary skills, often saying to his mother, Patti, as she cooked: ‘Mum, do you want me to show you how to do that properly’
So when a brown A4 padded envelope was delivered by courier to the family home last October, Patti Boyle assumed it contained icing bags or some other culinary paraphernalia. ‘I thought “what banquet is Kevin planning now” ’ remembers Patti, 54, who teaches overseas lawyers the English legal system.
But there was to be no banquet. Instead, Kevin, 26, went missing the same day the package arrived. On January 24, his body was found in undergrowth at the bottom of a garden bordering Farthing Downs in nearby Couldson.
Happy memories: Kevin (centre) with brother Joseph and father Tom
And today, to their everlasting horror, Patti and her husband, Tom, know exactly what was contained in that innocent-looking brown package.
Hacking into his son’s email account, Tom, 64, a writer and former industry magazine editor, discovered Kevin had paid 44 for a suicide kit from a sinister off-shore based company (since closed down) promising painless ‘deliverance’.
The company required no proof of terminal or debilitating illness, no psychiatric assessment; only a money transfer and a photocopy of Kevin’s passport. This ‘death in a bag’, as Patti describes it, was then delivered like a takeaway pizza.
‘To lose your child is the worst thing that can happen for a mother,’ says Patti, tearfully. ‘But to think that Kevin might have ended his own life in this calculated manner, assisted by some faceless person who is still out there walking around alive, is simply horrific.
‘Who are these people who sell these suicide kits to vulnerable people whose judgment may be impaired by depression or mental illness It is beyond my comprehension.’
'A lot of chefs do suffer mental health
problems because of the pressure they put themselves under. I don’t know
a decent chef who isn’t a perfectionist'
This is Patti’s first interview since
her son’s body was found the night before Jamie Oliver was due to
broadcast a missing person appeal on ITV’s This Morning.
Tired and pale, she still hasn’t come to terms with the loss of her
son, nor what she fears was the terrible manner of his death.
inquest has yet to be heard and a post mortem examination declared the
cause of death ‘inconclusive’. But there is little doubt in Patti’s
mind. When Kevin’s body was
found by a resident clearing undergrowth at the bottom of his garden,
Patti says the paraphernalia from the ‘death in a bag’ kit were close
Furthermore, on the day he vanished,
Kevin posted more than 20 goodbye letters, second class, to close family
and friends, which arrived after his death. More letters were found in a
satchel next to his body. Kevin’s letter to his parents, married for
more than 30 years, arrived six days after he vanished. In it, he
thanked them for their love and for standing by him during his many
struggles. He said he hoped they would understand.
that letter, his last sacred words to us, I knew instantly that our son
was dead and we’d never see him again,’ says Patti.
‘Yet some part of me couldn’t give up all hope. I kept telling myself
that maybe he’d pulled back from the brink; maybe there was the smallest
chance he might still come home.
‘When the police officer came to tell us
they’d found Kevin’s body, I howled like an animal. That night we sat
there in silence, unable to communicate, not wanting to accept that we’d
never see our lovely son again.’
Mother Patti was shocked to learn, after Kevin's death, that suicide is the biggest killer of young men under the age of 35
But what drove Kevin — who seemingly had so much to live for — to purchase a suicide kit Was Kevin’s depression, some have asked, triggered by the intense pressure young chefs endure in top kitchens, where a ‘macho culture’ prevails
‘The pastoral care Kevin received at Fifteen and from Jamie Oliver was amazing. It was like a second family,’ says Patti, dismissing such theories.
‘After Kevin graduated and went to work in other kitchens, there may have been a school playground element with the big boys sometimes picking on the little boys, but Kevin never once complained of being bullied.
‘A lot of chefs do suffer mental health problems because of the pressure they put themselves under. I don’t know a decent chef who isn’t a perfectionist. For Kevin, the worst thing that could happen was to have a bad service.’
But Kevin’s problems apparently began
long before he became one of Jamie’s first Fifteen, and it is this
struggle with depression that Patti feels compelled to bring out into
the open in the hope of helping others.
She was shocked to learn, after Kevin’s death, that suicide is the
biggest killer of young men under the age of 35 and believes that we
need to encourage men to show their feelings more and admit to
‘Kevin’s death came as a huge shock to many of his friends because he was always the life and soul of the party. He hid his depression so well that I don’t think many people realised,’ says Patti, whose two older children Naomi, 30, and Joe, 28, have been devastated by their younger brother’s death. ‘We bring up our male children with the idea that “big boys don’t cry” because we don’t want them to seem weak, but we need to let them know it is OK to cry and seek help.’
'To think that Kevin might have ended
his own life in this calculated manner, assisted by some faceless
person who is still out there walking around alive, is simply horrific'
Looking back, Patti can see that
Kevin was already unravelling before he joined Fifteen. She believes it
was the Fifteen family and close friends at Purley Baptist Church who —
together with his family’s love — prevented his death occurring sooner.
Kevin had always had a passion for food. At four, he tried his first chilli con carne, which remained his favourite meal, and by six he was helping his mum to bake. During his teens, however, the delightful, sunny, mischievous Kevin disappeared, and he became moody and rebellious.
initially put this down to normal teenage angst. But one night, drunk
on bottles of Southern Comfort, Kevin — then aged 15 — broke down,
claiming to a friend that he’d been abused, between the ages of four and
seven, by the teenage son of a trusted family acquaintance. The friend
told his mother, who called the police. The first Patti knew of it was
when a police officer came to the door to investigate.
was devastated. If only he’d felt able to tell me what was happening at
the time — why couldn’t he have told me’ says Patti. ‘No
matter how well Kevin did, no matter what he achieved, it all came back
to the question: “Why did this person hate me so much that he did this
to me” ’
were ever brought against Kevin’s alleged abuser, through lack of
evidence and because of Kevin’s fragile emotional state. Patti
says Kevin found it almost impossible to talk to his parents about his
feelings, or indeed exactly what had happened, bottling up his torment.
There were many suicide attempts over the years and Patti says Kevin
mentioned this alleged abuse in his final goodbye letters.
continues: ‘I’d really hoped that Jamie’s Kitchen might be a turning
point for Kevin, and there would be periods where euphoria would carry
him along, but then the cycle of depression would start again.’
can’t remember the first time Kevin tried to end his life because there
were so many attempts — some more serious than others.
As Kevin was an adult, his medical care which consisted, Patti thinks,
of counselling and perhaps some anti-depressant medication, was
confidential. Patti and her husband, not privy to his treatment plan,
often felt utterly helpless on the many occasions Kevin withdrew from
Full of promise: Kevin as a toddler
They learned to tread carefully,
waiting for Kevin to initiate conversations, for if they probed too
deeply he would become upset and confrontational. Patti
says Kevin was prescribed a variety of anti-depressant medication, none
of which seemed to help. If anything, she believes they compounded
always been skinny but the medication left him bloated, which made him
feel even worse about himself. He thought: “I’m not only mad, but I’m
fat and ugly too”,’ says Patti, who adds that up until the final year of
his life Kevin had attracted many beautiful girlfriends.
Kevin was forced to give up kitchen work after developing a skin complaint affecting his ears. So, aged 22, he became a student at Lancaster University, reading Philosophy, Theology and Politics, later dropping politics for history. In his final year, Kevin suffered a breakdown. Following another suicide attempt, he agreed to go into a psychiatric unit in the North of England as a voluntary patient. Patti, despairing of NHS mental health services, says the six-week experience was so brutal it ‘set him back years’.
‘Here was a vulnerable young man, in need of urgent care, but on two occasions he was forcibly restrained for non-co-operation,’ says Patti. ‘Some of the carers seemed to me more like nightclub bouncers than mental health professionals.’
Returning home with his parents, Kevin then had to wait more than a year to receive cognitive behavioural therapy. Six weeks after this ended, Kevin was dead. Two weeks before he went missing he collapsed in Soho, after his shift working in a London restaurant. He was subsequently diagnosed with diabetes. It was soon after this, his email accounts show, he purchased the ‘death-in-a-bag’ kits.
‘The morning he disappeared, he said: “See you later Mum”, but I noticed that he seemed to linger a long time outside the front window,’ says Patti.
Three weeks ago more than 300 people attended Kevin’s memorial service at Purley Baptist Church. Jamie Oliver was there. He gave a moving eulogy and provided free of charge Kevin’s favourite meal, chilli con carne, for the guests.
‘Jamie said to me: “I don’t know what to say. I am so, so sorry.” He was choked with emotion,’ says Patti. ‘And I remembered the first time I met Jamie, ten years ago, at a tasting at the Fifteen restaurant. I was bursting with pride to see my son standing next to him.
‘And if it hadn’t been for Fifteen, I think we might have lost Kevin much sooner. Instead, we had an extra ten years with our son, for which I will always be thankful.’