Exclusive Interview by Graham Davies, Southport Visiter
Jul 30 2004
"THERE are no words to describe the feeling of having your nose pulled off." Dave Courtney alludes to a fight in his gangster past. He retaliated by taking his opponent's eye out before receiving a bite to the ear.
"I wish I never went out that day," he says. "The only thing I can compare the pain to is the electric shock you get off the fridge sometimes. That feeling was on my face for a full 20 seconds.
"I decided to retire there and then."
Formerly known as the "Yellow Pages of the London Underworld", Dave will be at Club Code next month to recount his adventures.
He was the man with the biggest filofax. He knew who to contact if a job needed doing, be it debt collecting, minding, assault or murder.
Now, with his nose sewn back on, four bestsellers to his name and a film out in November, Dave has left his life of crime behind him.
He was brought to prominence when he provided the security at Ronnie Kray's funeral.
His notoriety grew when it emerged he was the inspiration behind Vinnie Jones's character, Big Chris, in the film Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels.
The trouble is he's now living between being famous and infamous. And it's the former he prefers: "I'm a much better entertainer than a gangster - I love showing off."
That's why he's hoping his gangster flick, Hell To Pay, will see him move to Hollywood - a world where retired criminals can start afresh as celebrities and not be treated like villains.
"The only thing that's frightening the authorities is my popularity," he says in a voice resembling every inch of smoky London. "I'm not active any more and the only thing scaring them is people like me. The scariest thing is imagination.
"They don't want to put me in prison, but they don't want people to like me."
Dave, 45, was born in Peckham, South London - Del Boy country - but says his upbringing had nothing to do with his future career.
Mum and dad were churchgoers with good jobs and a nice house. His brother is a building contractor and his sister a solicitor. Even his six children are good kids.
"I was born naughty. I was just having a laugh and the laughing thing is so important. You can laugh a jury into saying 'not guilty'. You can pretend you're not scared.
"The laughing turned into earning money. At a very early age I was making good money and it just spiralled from there.
"If you've learnt a way of earning £500 a week by robbing an off- licence, you're not going to go back to earning £200 a week again.
"My advice to anyone is don't ever start because once you've given up your day job, you're a professional career criminal to the police."
He's keen to point out that there's nothing glamorous about crime.
"There's nice people in it. They were a lot more honourable and nice when they were all criminals. But now they're all drug dealers.
"It had a lot more class and respectability when they were bank robbers."
Dave's career has had its unpleasant moments. He's been shot, stabbed and been in prison.
And then there was the time he says he was forced to kill.
A man under his protection was shot as he stood beside him. He saw the gunman take aim at him. Dave drew his weapon faster.
"I don't consider myself in the wrong. I've had no sleepless nights about it - he was going to shoot me. I ' m not a murderer, I ' m a self-preservationist.
"But it changed my whole way of thinking. That wasn't meant to happen. I was just supposed to stand there looking scary to make sure he wasn't robbed. I didn't want that to ever happen again.
"So what I learned there was, don't put yourself in that situation."
Now he's taking his new way of life seriously. He's patron of Misunderstood, a charity for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He's also working with the Prince's Trust and even Crimestoppers.
Dave is proving to himself, and others, that it's not just crime that pays.
"I'm doing a film with Quentin Tarantino. I'm getting £280,000 for pretending to rob a bank.
"The funny thing is, I never got that much when I actually did it."
* DAVE Courtney will be speaking and answering questions at Club Code on Friday, August 13. For tickets, priced £10, call 01704 533100 or 07769 855 882.