Mrs Nice has her say

By Lunar Loops · May 6, 2006 ·
  1. Lunar Loops
    The following article appeared in today's Guardian in the UK:

    Mrs Nice

    [FONT=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Judy Marks was, until recently, married to the notorious drug smuggler Howard Marks, a partnership that led to years on the run and time behind bars. And their three children lived through it all[/FONT]

    [FONT=Geneva,Arial,sans-serif]Emma Cook
    Saturday May 6, 2006
    The Guardian
    It seems entirely fitting that within minutes of meeting Howard Marks' family they are casually discussing the merits of Afghan hash compared to super skunk. Few families, after all, would be able to talk around the subject with such authority. "Bring back good, old-fashioned pure Afghan," Judy shakes her head nostalgically. "You knew where you were with that. Suddenly all these kids have got psychological problems smoking skunk that's too strong. I can't remember that happening when I was young." Her youngest child, Patrick, 19 and studying Spanish at sixth-form college in Brighton, nods in agreement. "Yeah. It's what all my friends smoke. It makes people into zombies." Then Judy's eldest daughter, Amber, 28, a criminal barrister living in London, chips in knowledgeably. "Except, now, your friends seem to be smoking THC crystal - which isn't necessarily stronger but it does have a different ingredient."
    Their exchanges are relaxed, humorous and, as you may imagine, extremely well-informed. Just what you'd expect from the wife of Howard Marks and his three children. Ten years ago, Howard published his best-selling memoir Mr Nice. Judy has now matched it with her own account, Mr Nice & Mrs Marks: Adventures With Howard, which is why we are sitting "en famille" talking about growing up on the run with Britain's most infamous drug smuggler.
    By the time Amber and Francesca were young girls, their dad was the world's most wanted man with 43 aliases, 89 phone lines and 25 registered companies. It was estimated that he was trafficking as much as a 10th of all the marijuana smoked in the world. Then, in 1988, when Amber was 10, Francesca, seven, and Patrick, one, both parents were arrested in front of them and taken away to prison - Judy for two years and Howard for seven. Worse was yet to come. After she went to prison, they were looked after by Judy's younger sister, Masha, and her boyfriend, who became a heroin addict. "It was horrible," says Amber. "He would violently beat up my mother's sister. He would also lock Patrick in his room and wouldn't let us help him. It was horrendous; he liked to scare us and then take photographs." Francesca, 25 and a yoga teacher living in Mallorca, also has grim memories of that time. "At seven years old, you suddenly feel you've no longer got parents." Did she ever feel angry that Howard put the family at such risk? "No. I would never judge them. The child in me could be resentful but I never have been." When Judy came out of prison, Patrick was so traumatised he didn't speak for 18 months. "I still get flashbacks," he says.
    On the surface, Judy is contrite about their lifestyle. "As a mother, that shouldn't have happened to my children. I was meant to be there to protect them and I didn't." Yet the question one can't help returning to is, why put your children at such risk in the first place? "It was my worst fear being arrested but Howard genuinely thought it would never happen." Judy displays a confounding mix of childlike naivety on the one hand and collusion, or at best denial, on the other. Yes, she did have reservations about the scale of Howard's activities: "All I wanted was to be an ordinary family," she says. Yet this was a bizarrely unrealistic expectation. Howard's personality thrived on risk, evasion and unpredictability, which is why Judy was drawn to him. He needed her support and she gave it to him willingly.
    Gangster life also had its attractions for Judy. "I was delighted. I wanted risk. I was too naive to stop and think about the implications," she writes in her memoir. She also quite happily helped out, acting as a go-between when Howard was stuck without a passport. "I did find it rather exciting. I would carry something like £300,000 on me to Zurich or Geneva to give to someone Howard didn't want to meet. Yes, it is a lot but it was all Mickey Mouse money to me."
    Once the children came along, she insists, her discomfort grew. "I really did think we ought to stop. I even thought about leaving him but what could I do? If I left him, we'd all be unhappy and how would I have lived alone with three small children? And, yes, I had unconditional love for him."
    Amber listens intently while her mother talks about Howard, chipping in when she feels he needs defending. She looks rather formidable for her 28 years, a sensible brown bob frames an earnest young face. She wears a thick brown rollneck jumper and steel-rim glasses. In contrast to her mum - who looks chic at 51 in skinny jeans and a long, sweeping pink scarf - you can't help but think of Saffy from Ab Fab. She recalls her mother and Howard encouraging her to relax the night before her first A-level with "a glass of red wine and a joint". "I was shocked at the suggestion," she frowns.
    As the eldest, you feel she has the onerous task of giving a positive spin to their childhood, even to Judy going to prison. "It was horrible because we were used to close, physical contact," says Amber. "The guards had to physically tear us off Mum after each visit."
    In contrast, Patrick carries his scars closer to the surface, so much so it is difficult to believe they're from the same family at times. He seems reserved, often at a loss for words when I ask him about his father. Later, over the phone, he is noticeably more open and expressive; I realise it must be difficult for him to criticise his father in front of the family. "Whenever I see him, we're always in a club and he's surrounded by fans," he tells me later. "I read a quote recently where he said, 'How can you have a relationship with someone you've let down so much?' I think he finds it hard because I'm his only son."
    Amber, meanwhile, is resistant to the slightest notion that Howard wasn't a great dad. His business must have made normal family life difficult, I suggest. "No," she says defensively. "I never felt he was an absent father. When you think of someone with a nine-to-five job, the amount of quality time with your kids is next to nil. He would go away for a week and then spend loads of time with us." She talks of idyllic family holidays riding elephants in Thailand, five-star hotels and glamorous dinner parties.
    Even her choice of career has been indirectly influenced by Howard. "He gave me this incredibly funny account of his cross examination in court. I thought, that sounds like a fun job." Like Howard, she is fiercely in favour of legalisation. "Thousands of people are locked up, their families ruined. I see letters from kids all the time, going through exactly what I went through."
    Ironically, just such a background has helped to shape a family life that Amber admires - or is reluctant to judge, at any rate. "I'm glad [my parents] didn't reach the age of 30 and become completely sensible. I much prefer their way of involving us in everything. It's just unfortunate it had to involve prison."
    Unlike Amber, Francesca veers from adoration of Howard to nervous ambivalence. She is still close to Howard - he is visiting when I call her at the family apartment in Mallorca. "He's always been just my dad, really." She tries not to be angry with the choices her parents made. "I do sometimes envy my parents for the stable childhood they both had and, yes, a little bit, resent them for it, too."
    The fourth of six children, Judy grew up in north London and then Stafford. Her mother was from Belfast; her father studied nuclear physics at Cambridge, then worked as an executive at English Electric. Before she was 16, Judy was taking LSD, and with her first boyfriend, got pregnant. At that point, her mother was riddled with cancer - she died two years later. There was no way the family could have helped her to look after a baby and so, soon after she gave birth, her son was taken away for adoption. Soon after, she met Howard at a dinner party and three years later, Judy was on the run with a fugitive.
    It seems a heavy burden for the family constantly having to excuse Howard's behaviour. But it is how they've survived. In turn, all three children have had to justify why their parents would risk not being with them- and there are no encouraging answers. At points during the interview, they come across as desolate and confused, a family still unable to make sense of such an unnecessary separation.
    While Amber and Francesca look forward to starting their own family, Patrick is more circumspect. "If I ever have children I'll just warn them about their grandfather," he adds darkly. There is a pause and then Amber interrupts cheerfully, "But we're all fine aren't we?" Patrick and Judy look down. "I'm just very sad that the family got split up, because we were so close," says Judy.
    Judy's memoir ends, rather breathlessly, at the time of Howard's release in 1995. "I could barely wait to be lying in his arms again," she writes. Yet they separated three years ago and divorced last month. She clearly still adores him. "We were terribly close. When I was pregnant with Amber, he would suffer my symptoms too. I'd know how he was feeling even when he was thousands of miles away." After he left prison and finished his memoir, Judy feels he replaced drug-smuggling with a new obsession, celebrity. "He wanted to be famous and it became more important than family life. It was something that we were never part of." Still, she won't criticise him for it.
    As the interview ends, we talk about children again. I mention I have two and Judy's eyes light up. She wants to know all about them; how old they are, how old I was when I became a mother. "Enjoy them while you can," she urges. "It really doesn't last long enough," and disappears into the lift, followed by Amber and Patrick.
    · Mr Nice & Mrs Marks: Adventures With Howard by Judy Marks (Ebury Press) is published May 11 at £10.99.

    Share This Article


To make a comment simply sign up and become a member!