The remarkable Howard Marks talks up his life

Tiarnan McCartney with 'Mr Nice', Howard Marks.
Tiarnan McCartney with 'Mr Nice', Howard Marks.

He’s a Welsh lad who went to Oxford, a notorious international dealer in cannabis who had a millionaire lifestyle before being locked up in one of the toughest prisons in the States. He’s been telling his story in Derry . . .

The renowned Mr. Marks walks on stage, all smiles, to a glass of wine, a pint of lager and a measure of rum perched on top of a table. I can tell he thoroughly enjoys what he does.

I spoke to Howard earlier that day, in Cafe Nervosa, where he told us at the ripe age of 68 he still smokes cannabis every day. As prolific as ever, he said he is always writing and is currently working on a series of crime novels set in Wales.

He’s avid campaigner for the legalisation of all drugs for recreational purposes, and as such is very open about his use of illegal drugs. He told us his best-ever experience with drugs was in Ibiza, in his fifties, when he “took a lot of ecstasy and danced all night”.

I asked him on his thoughts on the recent legalisation of cannabis for recreational purposes in the state of Colorado.

“Obviously I’m in favour of any legalisation,” he said. “Although I was surprised Colorado went first. If the British government had any sense, they would follow suit”. He chuckled to himself. “Then again I never was a big admirer of the British government.”

He also commented that if some of our MLAs took to smoking cannabis there might be a little more hippy-style peace-making and a lot less fighting in the corridors of power at Stormont

‘Scholar, Smuggler, Prisoner, Scribe’ started with a montage of Howard’s life, a mix of photos, news footage and interviews from his time as a wanted criminal, to his prison term, to his release and rise to fame.

He admits himself the title is a little bit pompous, but it almost seems he did it on purpose, just to rile anyone jealous of how a drug dealer could become so famous and successful.

The show was a multi-media presentation of his book ‘Mr. Nice’, incorporating a slideshow, music sound effects, and voice recordings, along with himself reading the narrative.

Following the second interval Howard was greeted with a call of ‘Where’s the spliff?!’ from the back of the room. He responded calmly with ‘On the pavement outside. There isn’t much left of it, trust me.’ Which was greeted with cheers and applause.

Marks finished the show with a Q&A session. There was a brief moment of unease when the paramilitary group ‘RAAD’ was mentioned, but everyone, it seemed, was on the same wavelength here. The show ended in laughter and applause.

Afterwards I asked Howard what message he would send to young people as far as drugs are concerned.

‘Be very careful,” he said. ‘And know that if you do break the law there will be consequences, even if the law is stupid. I don’t promote it, but I don’t care if they do. The only real problem I have is the reparations - prison is evil.’

Howard ended the night signing books and writing autographs for fans, and when I reached the front of the queue and I saw the glazed look in his eye I knew I was in trouble.

‘Tiarnán?How’s that spelt T-E-A? T-A-A? T-I-E?’ After three or four goes I got ‘To Tiar. All the best. Howard Marks.’

I guess that’ll have to do.