THE most sophisticated drugs baron of all time.
That is just one of many descriptions of self-styled “hippy criminal” Howard Marks.
Wearsiders will be able to get a first-hand account of the Welsh hellraiser’s life when he visits Sunderland this week.
The Independent, in Holmeside, is hosting an audience with Marks on Friday.
The intriguing gig was set up when fan Rhys Ward, from Thornhill, persuaded the former Britain’s most wanted man into bringing his outlandish stage show to the North East.
The 22-year-old, a centre support officer at Byron Place, in Seaham, was blown away two years ago by Oxford graduate Marks’ autobiography Mr Nice.
The book, since turned into a film staring Rhys Ifans, details Marks’ colourful past, which saw him busted in a worldwide operation by the Drug Enforcement Agency, and sentenced to 25 years at the brutal Terre Haute Penitentiary, the site of America’s only federal death row.
“You either know who he is or you don’t,” said Rhys.
“The book is what started it for me. He has that really clever naughty boy kind of thing about him.”
During the 1980s, Marks had contacts within the Mafia and IRA, 43 aliases, 89 phone lines and 25 companies trading throughout the world.
He spent seven years in prison until his parole release in 1995, and has become a cult figure doing stand-up shows across the country – regaling tales from the underworld and preaching a controversial stance on drug use.
“I thought it’d be class if he played in Sunderland,” said Rhys.
“And it was just a spur of the moment thing that I called his agent.”
He and friend Mark Davison, 26, from Thornhill, agreed to split the cost and got down to business.
Since then, Rhys has been thrown into the deep end promoting the event, which has an expected turn-out of more than 200 people.
Friend Adam Lennox designed the posters while Ben Walls, who owns Independent, helped sell tickets online.
“He’s been a real gem,” said Rhys.
“I’ve had lots of help from mates and I’m glad it’s all being pulled off. We just went out and did it.”
Marks’ show has had rave reviews, and the tour sees him playing shows in Belfast, Liverpool and Manchester and several festivals.
“I’m quite nervous,” said Rhys.
“I’ve never done anything like this before and it’s quite a niche market. It’s hard to explain.”
“The book was brilliant and this is something that’s never happened before in Sunderland.”