Phillip Witcomb (Roberto Escobar)
In my last blog about Phillip Witcomb, I suggested a book was on the threshold of being published. ‘Phillip. Son of Escobar, First Born’ is available from Waterstones at a price of £14.99. The book has been a best seller in the UK and several other countries. After its launch Philip was interviewed on the BBC One Show and Newsnight with articles in many newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph and Daily Express. Quite by chance I watched him being interviewd on ITV, which was fascinating for me. We now know a great deal more about Phillip and his quite extraordinary story.
Roberto Escobar (Phillip Witcomb) was born in incredibly humble circumstances with his mother, Sendoya, being a teenage girl of fourteen and his father being a young thug, Pablo Escobar. It would have been impossible to have guessed that Pablo would become the richest and most ruthless drug dealer in history, he could hardly read or write. Patrick Witcomb, an Englishman working for MI6, adopted Roberto, who became Phillip Witcomb, after a raid he organised chasing gangland money managed to cause the death of Roberto’s mother, Sendoya. As she lay dying, she pointed out a drawer to the British agent standing over her. He looked inside and found a birth certificate for her son. There is a copy of it in the book. Patrick Witcomb, was probably the most interesting person in the whole story. He was extraordinarily like James Bond without his ruthlessness. Patrick ‘worked’ for De La Rue, the company that printed money for the government of Colombia. He also worked for MI6. He knew Ian Fleming and it is not unlikely that James Bond was based on Patrick, especially as two other men who worked for De La Rue were archetypal M and Q characters. Sir Arthur Norman was his boss in the spying part of his life, just like the relationship of M and Bond. Clem Chalk was the gadget man. “He’d come round for dinner, I’d be in his pockets. “What have you got tonight?” He brought all these gadgets to Colombia for Dad to use.” Phillip always regarded his adoptive father as a very decent and kindly family man, who kept his other life far from his family.
Phillip lived a life of some luxury in Colombia but amidst increasing danger. Colombia was a dangerous place. “I rememer once seeing a kid outside the supermarket with no legs on a board with wheels. My bodyguard told me that poor families would cut off the legs of their eldest kid so that he could beg outside shops to make money for the family. That is how violent it was.” Men were sent round to capture or kill Phillip, but were themselves killed by his bodyguard, Barandiga. The president of Colombia would come to their house to pay social calls. On one occasion he gave Phillip a golden raft, which he has kept to this day. Phillip was introduced to Pablo Escobar on a number of occasions, but was never told who he actually was. He can only remember his smell and his parting words on one occasion, “Always remember you are an Escobar.” He didn’t understand what it all meant, as he had no idea he was talking to his real father. As life became more precarious, Philip was sent to school in England to remove him from immediate danger. It is somewhat surprising that Escobar never appeared to have attempted to kill his father, Patrick Whitcomb. He certainly was no shrinking violet as far as death was concerned - he is estimated to have killed at least 5,000 people including a candidate for vice presidency of the country. In the early years people always underestimated the ruthlessness of Escobar, just as politicians in the thirties underestimated the ruthlessness of Hitler.
Interestingly, in reading all the information I could find about Phillip Witcomb, I came across some press releases from one or two journalists claiming that Phillip’s story was all make-believe. When I looked further into their claims, it came to light that the source of this debunking of Phillip was his younger half brother in Colombia. If we look at the photographs of Phillip and Pablo, there is absolutely no doubt they are related. Also, near the end of his life, Patrick told Phillip about all the money and valuable objects he had stored away for Pablo to keep him on side in his efforts to recover some of the money so violently gained. As far as we know, all these valuables and cash have never been found, even though there is a code sheet in the book about their whereabouts. In an extraordinary coincidence in 1993, Pablo Escobar was shot dead by police, Patrick Witcomb died from Motor Neurone disease and Phillip’s wife died of cancer. Just before Patrick died he told Phillip all about his origins and early years as well as the identity of his real father. “At 24 I don’t think I was old enough to take it all in. It was before the internet and I didn’t really know who Escobar was. There was total disbelief and some unprintable language when he told me.” Phillip had some bad times psycolgically as a consequnce and drank too much. In time he remarried and turned his life around to the amiable man he is today.
Phillip gained his love of art when he was at school in Lucton School, Herefordshire. Considering his extrordianry life in Columbia, it is amazing how well he settled into his life in a boarding school deep in the country. The situation of the school was of course deliberate, he had to be away from a town for his safety, probably more from an Escobar rival than the man himself. Phillip was now becoming an Englishman. He had one or two unfortunate incidents at Lucton, but made many friends who are still there for him today. He has enjoyed a successful life as an artist, now living in the island of Mallorca. His paintings have been bought across the world, and in London, the Daniel Raphael Gallery was his main outlet. Daniel is always happy to dscuss Phillip’s works.
He has obviously had his moments remembering his early days, but has enjoyed a happy and successful life. He has done his best to raise money for good causes in an attempt to atone for his birth father’s atrocities. In many ways Phillip is an amazing man, such a well balanced, decent and pleasant man born from an absolute horror of a father, adopted by a spy, who happened to be a very good family man, and then sent away from his family to a country he had never visited. Phillip must be an artist with the most amazing background painting today.
We have four oil paintings by Phillip in our next sale. Buy his book, ‘Son of Escobar First Born’, at Waterstones and read much more about the extraordinary life Phillip led during his youth and younger years. His amazing tale is being turned into a film, his story is perfect for that medium. I will certainly be going along to see it.
For more information, please contact Jonathan Riley, paintings specialist at Grand Auctions.