In a tiny courtyard off a central London office, one quarter of the boy band McFly is doing his best to hold it together. Dougie Poynter flew in from New York this morning and is severely jet-lagged.
Luckily, the 28-year-old bass guitarist is wearing his insomnia – and a pair of skin-tight black jeans teamed with a wide-brimmed Canadian Mountie-style hat – remarkably well; and he has come prepared.
“I made notes on the plane,” he says, ferreting out an iPhone from his back pocket. “I’ve written a bunch of key points because it is scientific as well as political. You have to get it right. You can’t just chuck something out there that you believe.”
For once, Poynter won’t be talking (much) about his music career with the boy band that celebrated its thirteenth anniversary earlier this month, and entered the Guinness World Record Books in 2004 as the youngest band to have a debut album sail straight in at number No.1 – a title previously held by the Beatles.
Today, Poynter, who looks a younger, cleaner version of Nineties grunge hero Kurt Cobain, is more concerned with micro plastics. A recent trip to LA and a chance meeting with Dr Marcus Eriksen, one of the founder members of 5 Gyres, a charitable organisation dedicated to reducing plastic pollution, threw Poynter head long “down the rabbit hole” of global plastic consumption. The light-bulb moment came when Eriksen showed him a 45-pound ball of indigestible plastic that he had found in the skeleton of a camel in the Sahara desert. The camel had died of starvation, unable to process the almighty gastrolith, while its stomach was telling its brain it was full.
Poynter returned particularly enraged by our use of plastic microbeads – a feature of millions of moisturisers, lip balms, shaving foams, face washes and exfoliators that are rinsed down the sink and into our streams and oceans in their trillions every day – and penned a heartfelt open letter of concern, which went viral online.
Keen to hone his point, he produces a bottle of a market leading brand’s blackhead clearing daily scrub.
“The fish are eating the micro plastics from things like this. They get infected with these toxins which are known to cause all different types of diseases, including problems with reproductive systems [in fish] and diabetes [in humans who eat the infected fish]. It goes up the food chain and comes back to us. Plastic production has surged from 15 million tonnes in 1964 to 311 million tonnes in 2014. That’s a 2,000 per cent increase. Now one in every four fish contains plastic which has these toxins in. We are literally eating our own trash.”
In July, Richard Thomson, professor of marine biology at Plymouth University, revealed that as many as 94,500 microbeads are flushed down the sink with each wash, and some products contain as many as 2.8 million beads in a single bottle. Given that 1.1 million men and women use the scrubs every day and the beads are between 0.001 mm and 1mm in diameter, our sewage treatment systems haven’t a hope of containing the problem.
“We are pumping this stuff out and nobody knows,” says Poynter, his voice soft but urgent.
Several nations, including the US, have already banned microbeads and Cosmetics Europe, which represents more than 4,000 personal care product manufacturers, has recommended its members phase them out by 2020. In June a petition of more than 300,000 signatures was delivered to David Cameron requesting a UK ban and the subject will be back up for debate later this year after an inquiry this summer.
Poynter’s fervour and plastic know-how are a surprise for a pop star better known for singing about a girl with five colours in her hair, now signed to the same modelling agency as Kate Moss. Poynter uses a Kiehl’s plastic-free face wash himself, and the band are looking into alternatives to plastic bottled water on tour. He warns against buying products with polyethylene written on the back and says we need to find replacements for single-use plastics such as bags, straws, cups and containers.
“That is the only way we can stamp it out,” he says, now in full flow, all trace of jet-lag evaporated. “These are big companies. They are the biggest companies in the world. No one is going to tackle them. They are lobbying our governments. The only thing we can do is stop using their products.”
Douglas Lee Poynter, whose nicknames include Hoodrat, Captain Doug Wash and Butty (“I respond to any name”), was brought up in Essex, near Southend. His mother, Sam, is a beautician and he hasn’t seen his father, Gary, for years after he walked out on them. He has one younger sister, Jasmine, 25, whom he is close to, and credits his natural curiosity in the environment and conservation issues to owning reptiles as a boy. He bred bearded dragons to pay for his first guitar.
He joined McFly at 15, having answered an advert in NME. The band’s staggering longevity, amid a sea of flat-packed reality TV-manufactured artists, he puts down to genuinely getting on “like brothers”. Which is to say, ones who get on well.
Perhaps part of their appeal is also a healthy sense of humour. Three years ago, McFly joined forces with two thirds of their boy-band contemporaries, Busted, to create the phenomenally bankable supergroup McBusted. He laughs today that this was “the joke that went too far”, but doesn’t rule out re-forming in the future.
Besides taking a stand against polyethylene, Poynter is also branching out into acting, and has spent the past two years taking acting classes in Los Angeles, the fruits of which have landed him a role in an indie film called Cat and the Band. Filming has been paused so that he can fit in McFly’s latest tour, Anthology, which begins next month, but he is “stoked” about it none the less. Is there anything else coming out that we’ll recognise him in?
“Not that I can say. There are things going on. It is all really [he does two enthusiastic thumbs up]. I am very happy.”
I suggest the role of James Bond is still up for grabs. At this, his face creases with mirth.
“I am a little short. I could probably play Oddjob. If they want to bring him back, I’ll do that.”
Until late last year Poynter was a regular gossip column fixture thanks to his two-year, on-off relationship with the singer Ellie Goulding. He has previously described their final break-up as “hard”, but insisted they are still “the best of friends”. Earlier this summer, however, Goulding was linked to Prince Harry, after the pair were spotted getting close at the polo.
Today, Poynter is keen to give the subject a wide berth, politely declining to go into particulars. I tell him that when researching this interview, the sheer volume of headlines about their relationship status was astounding.
“Unfortunately, that is what people are attracted to. No one is really interested in anything else.”
Does he feel as though it defined him more than it should?
“Since doing the band from such an early age, I think I’ve learnt to disconnect from that world.”
He pauses. “None of it seems to really faze me.”
What does faze him?
“Plastic,” he enthuses, again.