Ecstasy-popping and joint-puffing pensioner Howard Marks may have swapped drug smuggling for the literary world but he is “still an outlaw at heart“.
The 68-year-old earned millions as a dope dealer in the ‘70s and ‘80s and the book of his exploits Mr Nice was a best seller.
But Howard, who is now working on a sequel about the 90s rave culture, says he’s saved nothing and cheerfully admits he spends all his money on “consumption“.
“I’m happy to try any drugs I haven’t, but they would be very few. Although there are so many new ones all the time it’s hard to keep up, but I do my best.“ A long-term campaigner for the legalisation of cannabis, he says: “I don’t see much problem in addiction as long as you can get hold of the stuff.“ He will be sharing his views in Crouch End this month with the “pompously titled“ show Scholar, Smuggler, Prisoner, Scribe.
“It’s the smuggling that gets most attention,“ says Howard in his croaky Welsh drawl, “so I will talk about various scams.
“I try to balance that up with a bit of talk about prison and be careful not to give any career advice!“ Born in Kenfig Hill near Bridgend, he started selling cannabis to friends while studying physics at Balliol College, Oxford, and went on to become one of the world’s biggest smugglers, once doing a deal involving 30 tons of cannabis, worth £70m.
“There was no grand plan other than repeating what worked and trying to do it bigger and better. I was completely addicted to it,“ he says.
His last deal was “shortly before he got busted“ in 1989, but he likes to think he could go back to the “cool and glamorous“ business if he put his mind to it.
“I can’t pretend I don’t miss it.
“The money I can cope with. I’m happy not making colossal amounts anymore, but it’s the excitement and adrenaline.“
The grandfather-of-two created 43 different aliases in his attempts to evade the law, famously adopting Mr Nice, the title of his first book, from convicted murderer Donald Nice, and says: “It was a lot easier back then because there was less awareness of the crime. The biggest thing was the gap in technology and those in law enforcement. In those days we had faster cars, faster boats and better technology, everything.
“I always decided I would carry on until I went to prison or died, hoping I would never get caught and live to a ripe old age.“
The father-of-four was eventually convicted by American authorities and says he survived his seven years at Terre Haute, one of the country’s toughest prisons “by becoming very helpful to other people.
“I was a jailers’ lawyer and a teacher of English and just got into helping people less fortunate than myself.
“Plus I gave up everything like smoking, coffee, and sex, obviously, and led a very, very healthy lifestyle in prison.
“There were times I didn’t think I would get through and had extreme depression and regret. My absolute lowest point was when I was in prison and my son jumped off a roof when he was only four years old. I just felt so impotent.“
Upon his release, in April 1995, he started smoking dope straight away and going to raves, and says: “It was like a Jack-in-a-box being released.
“I have calmed down a bit now, but still probably lead an inappropriate lifestyle for someone my age.“
He had planned to become a paralegal, but found himself a “minor celebrity“ after Super Furry Animals wrote a song about him and went on to stand for MP in 1997, had a cameo in film Human Traffic, became a regular at festivals and last year featured on the Reverend & The Makers latest album.
Still banned from America, China and Australia, he now lives in Malta where he is working on a sequel to Mr Nice about the Ecstasy business in the ‘90s and says there is no way he has gone ’straight’.
“That wouldn’t be an appropriate way to describe it,“ he chuckles. “I retain an outlaw rebellious way, but with a lot more responsibility. I can go and do talks but can still go to a drum and bass event and smoke a joint.“
Earl Haig Hall, Elder Avenue, Crouch End, N8, April 29, doors at 7pm. Details: earlhaighall.com