Interview: Howard Marks aka Mr Nice
HOWARD Marks may have come from humble beginnings in the small Welsh mining town of Kenfig Hill, but after moving to Oxford to study nuclear physics it seemed as if he had his life pinned as a successful teacher – but we all know how differently that turned out.
Now he's about to visit Exeter to tell you in person just how that happened.
On Friday, January 18, he presents An Audience with Mr Nice at the Corn Exchange, where he will share the details of his colourful life.
This includes his time as "the most sophisticated drugs baron of all time", once selling more than 30 tonnes of marijuana in single consignments before being busted in 1988 by the American Drug Enforcement Agency and sentenced to 25 years at America's toughest federal penitentiary, Terre Haute, Indiana. He was released on parole in 1995 after serving seven years.
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In 1996 he released his autobiography, Mr Nice, which remains an international best seller in several languages and was the best selling non-fiction book of 1997.
During that year, he performed his first live shows, which discussed his life as a marijuana smuggler and his views on drug use and legalisation. The shows received excellent reviews throughout the national press, and his now legendary one-man comedy show, An Audience with Mr Nice – the name of one of his 43 different aliases – continues to sell out at venues throughout Britain and Europe covering an ever-widening range of topics.
Ever so modest, Howard describes the show: "It begins with a short introductory video about my life, because I am not arrogant enough to think everyone there knows who the hell I am, and then it is just me talking for a couple of hours."
He may appear to be someone quietly confident, but Howard admits that getting on stage to perform in front of hundreds of people actually terrifies him, even though he has now been on stages across the country hundreds of times.
"I still seriously suffer from stage fright every time I go on," he admits. "Even though people think that standing on a stage in front of people can't be as scary as a life in prison, I still get frightened. That automatically kicks in the adrenaline – and that's where I get my adrenaline these days."
It's not the first time Howard has visited the Corn Exchange. In 2010 he took to the stage prior to his biopic film Mr Nice where actor and friend Rhys Ifans portrays his life.
Not many people can say they had a good friend representing them in a film, Howard admits.
"It was very unusual from that point of view," he adds. "there is no rule book about how to play someone in a film. He didn't have to study me at all. I think if they ever made a film about Rhys then I would be the best person to play him."
Now also writing crime fiction, some might question whether he is living out his previous life in his trilogy of stories about drugs and police corruption. But Howard insists he is not.
"That is why I wrote it from the point of view of the exact opposite of me – a female undercover cop," he said. "It's a bit of a chess game between the author and the reader really and if the reader guesses before the end the author has lost. I quite like that sort of challenge."
The first in the trilogy, Sympathy for the Devil, was published in 2011 and the second, The Score, has been written and is set to be published this coming April. So any clues about the final installment?
"Err no," he laughs. "I don't want anything down on record and then end up writing something completely different. But I can tell you it will have the same characters in it!"
Howard Marks: An Audience with Mr Nice at Exeter Corn Exchange on Friday, January 18. Tickets cost £15. Call 01392 665938 or visit www.exeter.gov.uk/cornexchange