I first met Marcus, Founder of Eternal Media, on a mountain, to which he always refers to me as ‘nearly killing him’. Over the subsequent decade plus, we have become great friends. It has been a joy to watch and occasionally support, the story that unfolds within Marcus’s emotional interview.
Marcus shares with us his decades of drug use, along with a spiral into chaos and mayhem, and his survival and eventual successful recovery. We then hear how influential individuals and moments alongside an introduction to broadcasting, and in particular film production, provided Marcus with a fresh sense of purpose.
What strikes me throughout is the strong sense of social justice (and injustice) that shapes Marcus’s experience as he explores the translation of his personal filmmaking into establishing one of the most fantastic of community projects. Marcus has become a key leader within and supporter of much of which stands out about the Welsh recovery movement.
In our interview in July 2023, Marcus talks about his 25-year addiction to heroin and crack cocaine, which was accompanied by long periods of homelessness and time spent in prison. He describes his last visit to prison as saving his life. There, he conceived the idea of Eternal Media, a media production social enterprise and charity making high impact documentary films, as well as operating as an inspiring recovery community. [14 films, 81 mins 19 secs]
Marcus Fair and Wulf Livingston first met in 2005, when the former went up a mountain with Wulf and a group of recovering people. Marcus tells Wulf, ‘I’m here despite you.’ Wulf notes that Marcus had recently celebrated his ninth year of recovery. ‘Crazy, isn’t it,’ Marcus replies. Wulf points out that the story of Marcus’s addiction is one of the most chaotic stories that he has heard. Marcus Fair is Founder of Eternal Media. 22 August 2023.
Marcus says that he felt very committed as an addict. It wasn’t a hobby. The longer he goes on in his recovery, the more he realises that his addiction ‘had nothing to do with drugs whatsoever.’ It was a symptom of the disease of obsession. He could see this obsession during his youth, be it for food or chocolate, then computer games and a bit of gambling as a teen. ‘Whatever I enjoyed, I kicked the arse out of…’
Marcus went to a comprehensive school in Middlewich, Cheshire, at a time of Grange Hill on the TV and Nancy Regan’s message, ‘Just Say No.’ He and his schoolmates were all saying ‘Yes’. They were all looking for a new high, even trying dried-out banana skins. In his third or fourth year at junior school, Marcus won a raffle and receive a digital watch and a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry as prizes. His dad got the watch, while he went to the toilet, pulled the cork out of the bottle, and ‘glugged’ all the sherry back! His family had to break into the toilet to get him out.
‘There was always excess about me.’ At school, gas and solvents were available, weed when he was fourteen, and by sixteen Marcus was completely addicted to cannabis. He started clubbing with older kids, a night out involving speed and acid. When ecstasy arrived, everything changed. He developed a love affair with the weekends. He worked in his dad’s factory, just longing for Friday. Out Friday, out Saturday, coming down on Sunday. This went on until Marcus was eighteen when, along with three mates, he was given a jail sentence in Scotland for selling ecstasy.
After Marcus and his three close friends did a year in jail for selling ecstasy, they met up and started clubbing together again. They made a pact—nothing harder than cocaine. They were soon looking for the ‘off-switch’ to help them come down from the stimulant high they had experienced all night. They tried all sorts of substances, but couldn’t find the come-down they were looking for.
Marcus and his friend Nathan, who was a Grade A student and ‘was going places’, discovered their other two friends trying something on a piece of foil one day. Marcus thought that since Nathan was willing to have a go, he would do as well as Nathan obviously knew what he was doing. Nathan tried it just the once… Marcus continued for 25 years. ‘It’ was heroin. ‘That was me gone. It took me, it absolutely took me.’
Marcus considers heroin a very honest drug. With alcohol, it’s a disease that will tell you that you haven’t got it. You can go for years being in denial. ‘But with heroin, you know you’re f…ed.’ Marcus and his friends used the drug as an off-switch for the high of stimulants. However, they soon stopped clubbing and spent their time chasing heroin on a foil. After a few weeks, Marcus felt he had the flu. He tried heroin with a friend and the flu disappeared. The penny dropped. ‘It’s that old cliche, it’ll never happen to me. Until it does.’
In a very short space of time, Marcus was paying £20-40 a day just to feel normal in the morning. Homelessness came in quite quickly—he was living in sheds and vehicles, until the real homelessness kicked in. Crack followed, which led to burglaries. Marcus believes that crack is designed to give you no satisfaction. ‘There’s no point where you think, you know what, I’ve had enough.’ The high is very high, but also very short-lived, so you just want more. Injecting the drugs came next. Luckily, Marcus didn’t contract any blood-borne viruses, which he puts down to being too selfish to share.
‘It was 25 years, just looking like a skull on a stick.’ Eating every three days, if he remembered, and if he could get into the local garage to rob something. He’d travel around the country buying heroin. He used to wear out towns, rather quickly, because of the amount of crime in which he was involved. He had to keep moving on. He didn’t access any treatment because you had to wait at least six weeks to see anyone. And if he was in a place long enough, they’d give him methadone…
Wulf asks Marcus whether there was anything that marked itself as a beginning of change. Marcus replies that it wasn’t about not wanting to do it. It was about the heart-sinking feeling, the overwhelming despair that occurred when he was coming around in the morning, even before opening his eyes. ‘Oh shit, I’ve got to do everything that I did yesterday again today, and that’s the horrible thing about addiction. It’s the same thing, the same crime, the same people, doing the same desperate things living the way you do.’ Marcus points out that when you’re ‘asleep’ after taking heroin, it’s the place you want to be.
He goes on to say that medical grade diamorphine (heroin) is not a dangerous drug—it is commonly used in hospitals as a painkiller. It’s the street drug, the delivery system, and the lifestyle that are the problem. When you’re taking drugs like heroin, you’re instantly a criminal and that’s a tough place to be.
Marcus wasn’t aware that you could change. He came from a town where you didn’t get clean. You had two options—you died or you became an alcoholic, or both. Of the two close mates he continued to use heroin with, one was dead and the other was an alcoholic and close to death.
He stresses again that he didn’t know you could change, that there was a way out. That’s why he loves working with people in recovery, like those in North Wales Recovery Communities and others he works with. They do a lot to make recovery visible and that’s so important, especially for people in addiction who don’t know that recovery exists.
Marcus describes what led to him trying to make some change—it was out of desperation and the pain. He believes that pain is a great instigator of change. However, the trouble was that he had a very high pain threshold. He still has holes and tracks all over him, and he nearly lost a leg twice. At one stage, doctors wanted to put a stent into his heart to keep him alive.
When Marcus went to one rehab, workers asked him want he wanted to do. ‘Just show me how to not use drugs for one day,’ he replied. He hadn’t been clean for as long as a day for a very long time. He had been given methadone a number of times, but he had to keep getting back on heroin to get off the methadone. He remembers being in awe of a guy from Liverpool who had gone to rehab a day before him… and had been clean for that one day.
Around the time that Marcus first met Wulf, being taken up a mountain with him and others whilst he was going cold turkey, he went to T12 (Touchstones 12), a residential rehab in Colwyn Bay. It was his first attempt at getting clean. He stayed a few months but was then kicked out, not for using, but for something related to ‘weird politics’. He went back to T12 three years later.
Wulf remembers coming across Marcus with a saxophone in a high street somewhere. Marcus tells him that a friend bought him a saxophone after he came out of prison, in an attempt to keep him out of crime. Marcus had played saxophone and trombone as a kid. He started busking a lot around North Wales, doing really well in Llandudno playing ‘the old stuff, the swing, the blues, Louis Armstrong…the old folk loved it.’ He was earning about £70 an hour at one time, but it all went on heroin. Marcus points out that this was some time later. [The sax playing occurred after Marcus’s second visit to T12 (see below) and after he was realised from his final visit to prison in 2012.]
Marcus had never previously had a hobby, so he didn’t know what he liked doing. He was encouraged to try different things when he was at T12 the second time. He met two people from TAPE [a Community Music & Film organisation] who visited T12, and a week later they contacted him and asked if we would like to become part of a creative writing course. The group met once a week, exchanging all sorts of ideas, but no one was writing anything down. So Marcus started jotting things down in a pad one week. He went away and came back to the next meeting with a play he had written.
‘The group picked it up and I ended up directing a play, ending up touring, and I got a job with TAPE. My first paid gig was a playwright.’
Marcus and friends decided they should make a film of the play he had written at TAPE called Legacy. Although it was made with rudimentary cameras and other equipment, a lot of heart went into the film. Marcus started making other films at TAPE [a Community Music & Film organisation] and was already addicted to filmmaking. He didn’t turn up to one premiere because he was working on the next film. ‘That’s the mentality of it’, he says. You’re not enjoying what you are doing now, you’re thinking about the next one. ‘That’s very much the case with heroin. Not enjoying, not really or thinking about this one, but shit, where’s the next one coming from?’
Marcus relates how when he was young his father always said he should take lots of photographs. He’s now taking 25 photographs a second to give the illusion of movement. He thinks his dad would be proud of what’s going on at Eternal Media. Marcus loves all aspects of filmmaking. The beautiful thing is that you meet a lot of people along the way, and with each production he (and the others) have another family. With the first film he made after coming out of rehab—Flipped It, which was made for the police—he had a police film crew and an addict cast, and they all became friends during the production.
Marcus believes that people in addiction are very creative. ‘What’s a lie, if it’s not creativity?’ he continues. He lied even if he didn’t need to lie, because he was hard-wired to lie. He had to lie about everything to everyone all the time, so it just became a natural thing to do. A lie is creativity, he emphasises again.
Marcus says that he hasn’t met an addict who couldn’t tell a good story. Eternal Media puts a lot of effort into telling other people’s stories. They are lucky to have Peter Norrey, a BAFTA-winning editor, on board.
Wulf tells Marcus that he believes that Eternal Media is a recovery community. A recovery community that makes lots of films. He asks Marcus how he would describe Eternal Media. ‘Surreal is the best… we shouldn’t exist,’ is the reply.
Marcus talks about Simon Shaw, who was Chief Constable of North Wales. He had put a lot of money into arresting Marcus ‘over and over’. Marcus relapsed at TAPE [a Community Music & Film organisation] in 2011, and was back in prison a year later. He was still on the merry-go-round of addiction, since he hadn’t done the proper head work for recovery.
On arriving at the prison, Marcus was put in a hospital bed. He was so relieved to be there. One of the prison officers had heard about some of Marcus’s work at TAPE and got him a job doing the prison radio. Marcus loved it. He then did some filming and editing for the prison officer. He was now having the time of his life in prison. Marcus knew what he was doing was saving his life. He said to himself if this could happen to him, it could do a lot for other people. He started to spend a good deal of time planning what he could do to help others.
Tony Ormond and Ade the Blade made Marcus a case study for the Area Planning Board APB, but had to give him a code name, ‘Little Brother’, because the Board would never have funded him for a rehab place if they knew who he was. He wasn’t a safe bet. Tony and Ade asked Marcus to just go to the library from time to time and write down what had been happening to him and how he had been feeling. They were making the case that if this man was not funded, he was going to die. Marcus was eventually funded and went for a clinical detox and then to Open Minds rehab in Wrexham where he spent six months.
When he left Open Minds, Marcus went to a sober house—‘it wasn’t very sober, there were people dying in there.’ He emphasises that the toughest thing for people in the early stages of recovery is not getting appropriate housing. NACRO (National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders) then provided Marcus with accommodation, but it was a ‘shit-hole’. He was grateful for it. The voluntary organisation AVOW and then Champions House in Wrexham gave him access to a room during the day—‘it was so important for me to get up and go somewhere.’
Marcus describes how Tony Ormond arranged for him and some others in recovery to make a presentation about their lives to senior officers of North Wales Police, including the Chief Constable Simon Shaw. As the stories were told, the prickly mood in the room changed in a positive way, and officers started to ask questions. Simon Shaw was a champion of the recovery cause, believing that people could change with the right help. He was a humanitarian, but also knew that a lot of police money could be saved if the highest level offenders could be helped to find long-term recovery.
Simon asked Marcus if he wanted to do the life story session again to others. Marcus said, ‘Why don’t you just make a film?’ Simon wasn’t confident about the police film team, and asked Marcus if he could do a better job. Marcus said he could. Simon asked him what he needed, not knowing that Marcus was straight out of rehab and had no filmmaking gear at all. Marcus asked whether he could be given the police film crew to work with, and he would teach them during the making of the film so they could go on and do more films in the future. Simon agreed.
Marcus had to make a film about addiction and how people turn it around and find recovery, using both the police and people who had been in trouble with the police. He knew that he had to avoid addicts who watched the film later saying to him that they were in a much worse state than that shown. So he had to find as actors, the worst of the worst who had turned the lives around. ‘Luckily, I had friends in low places.’
Marcus knew that the film, Flipped It!, would be his shop window, and maybe his ‘comeback’. Simon hired Colwyn Bay Theatre and invited various dignitaries to the first showing. The place was half-full of addicts and half-full of the great and the good. Even Prince Charles wrote a letter to wish them good luck. The place erupted at the end of the film. ‘We were all just sat there, you know, cops and robbers on the front row.’
Marcus describes one of the most poignant occasions during filming when they had people in recovery dressed as police during a chase scene being filmed by the police crew. One of Marcus’s friends, who was in early recovery and had led one hell of a life, was dressed as a police officer. During a break in filming, an old lady came over and asked him the time. The friend just melted—he had never felt that level of respect.
Along the way, Peter Norrey, a BAFTA-winning filmmaker from London, heard about the film being made and when he learnt that Marcus had nothing to edit the film on, he sent an editing suite which Marcus installed in his NACRO flat. Simon Shaw got more and more worried, as Marcus only got to check the film in a cinema the day before the first public screening.
The film was really well-received. ‘Simon thought he was getting a police training film, he gets a Ridley Scott opening.’ The stage was packed with all the team doing a curtain call after the screening. Simon, Peter and Marcus looked at each other and agreed, ‘This cannot finish here.’
Marcus and his colleagues initially set up Eternal Media as a charity (Eternal Community Media), but as they started to attract funds from organisations like Sky News and MGM Studios in California they also set up a limited company. Wulf describes the situation at Eternal Media as a mixed economy, with Marcus and colleagues doing paid work alongside recovery-related work for free.
Marcus says, ‘It’s universal balance, this is the way I see it. I do think that the universe has got a great sense of humour.’ He used to give great deal of work to prisons, the police, counsellors, probation workers, doctors and health departments when he was in his addiction. ‘Now they give me a lot of work in my recovery.’
Eternal Media are making dementia films and alcohol awareness films for the Health Board, and they are training their media department. They are doing films for the police and a prison. They work with people who the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) consider to be ‘the furthest from the job market.’ They run training academies for the DWP because the skills involved in filmmaking are very transferable to life. Confidence building, budgeting, communications, planning, creative stuff and logistics can all support people in their own life.
Marcus points out that Eternal Media is now based in a cold war nuclear bunker on the outskirts of Wrexham, as its ideal for TV studios and recording studios, and editing suites. It’s known as The Bunker, as Wulf points out. Marcus and his team are creating new spaces now—the place where the interview is taking place will be a community classroom. They are digging ponds and creating nature gardens outside, basically recovery spaces for people. A derelict site is being changed into something for people who just need that space. Wulf finds Eternal Media’s project ‘mind-blowing’.
Marcus says that Eternal Media was created for the ‘Now What?’ He emphasises that he was a very busy addict. ‘Every waking moment was about getting money, to get drugs, repeat…’ When someone like him gets into recovery, they are thinking, ‘How I am going to fill those 24 hours? If you can’t remember what you used to do, or you were a kid when you got onto drugs, and you have no outside interests… now what?’
Eternal Media is all about promoting independence and getting people out of services. Marcus has friends who have been parked on methadone for 18 years. He believes that services are great, but they shouldn’t be the destination, they should be part of the journey. In so many cases, it seems that people are just parked in treatment services.
Marcus and his colleagues want to see people thrive. They’ve had over 530 people pass through Eternal Media, and whilst they have been engaged there not one has relapsed or committed crime. And Eternal are doing this for nothing most of the time. Marcus emphasises that it’s not enough to be clean and sober. You must have a purpose, a reason for getting up. When you don’t have a purpose, it’s easy to go back to addiction. People are very comfortable in addiction; they have a purpose. And they are good at what they do.
Marcus points out that Eternal Media are creating new projects all the time. He, or one of the others working at Eternal, go up to London and train with his colleague Peter Norrey, one of the top ten filmmakers in the UK. They bring new knowledge back to Wrexham. Eternal teach people from industry, and even the BBC, using broadcast-quality equipment. They support people moving on into other positions. And in relation to the recovering people who are involved in projects at Eternal, Marcus stresses that addicts aren’t thick. They had needed to be smart to survive.
Wulf stresses how important it is when the work of an organisation involving recovering people is recognised by the outside world to be at the top level. Marcus says that they once had a BBC producer visit and look at their work, and ask how much they charged. When Marcus told him, he said that they needed to triple the price.
Marcus has had a couple of surreal moments at Eternal Media. One time, Peter Norrey, the BAFTA-winning filmmaker and Eternal colleague, looked at Marcus’s work and said, ‘I can’t tell whether I made that film or you made that film.’
On another occasion, Marcus received a call sheet, something you generally get a couple of days before a film shoot that tells you who is doing what and where. Near the top of the page it said, ‘Marcus Fair, Director of Photography’. And above that it said: ‘MGM Studios, Beverly Hills, California.’ And lower down, there was a description (Camera Operator) of one of the people who was doing his very first shoot with Eternal. Crazy, says Marcus, ‘That meant so much to all of us, really.’
One thing that Marcus loves about Wales is that he feels so well connected. Birmingham and Bangor are the same distance from Wrexham, but the latter feels much closer due to connectivity and friendship. He believes that the field needs more connectivity and less duplication, particularly amongst treatment services.
Wulf asks Marcus what works well in recovery, what else do we need to create more ‘What Next?’ spaces, and where do recovery communities sit alongside the major government and third sector treatment services? He stresses that recovery-based initiatives are still ‘small fry’ compared to treatment services.
Marcus says that he only has Eternal Media as an example, but they’ve had to do it for themselves. Eternal ‘was conceived on a prison bunk bed, and it was only for the good fortune of not dying from heroin and crack injecting and overdosing that I was able to meet amazing people…’
Marcus lists people who have played a role in his recovery and in the development of Eternal Media in one way or other. He emphasises that these people actually care. Wulf says that James Deakin’s story (with North Wales Recovery Communities) is very similar to Marcus’s. James had a ‘fag-packet’ idea somewhere and half a dozen people support him to bring it together.’
Marcus thinks we need to get more power into the hands of the experts, the people with lived experience of the problems and solutions. More opportunities need to be put in the hands of people who want to create something. He talks about JP down in Staffordshire who is in the same position that Marcus was in eight years ago and is trying to create a filmmaking initiative. Marcus’s team are supporting him remotely.
Marcus wants to create Eternal Media hubs and see more recovery spaces around the country. More money is needed, a rebalancing of funds so that a lesser proportion is spent on treatment and more on recovery-related initiatives.
As Wulf points out, if you ask the people with lived experience, they’ll tell you ‘the staying off is harder than the getting off’… and yet 90% of money is spent on people getting off. Marcus questions the sense of spending £30-40,000 on someone’s treatment, and then offering them nothing after that, so they are left floundering. They often go back to their addiction. Marcus ends by saying, ‘When you find passionate people, you’ve got to support them.’
Wulf emphasises an important difference between a standard treatment service, like a methadone clinic, which can be easily replicated around the country, and recovery communities which are fostered around a small number of people’s interests and passions. You can’t easily replicate the same recovery community around the country, as different groups of people will have different interests and passions. You can have lots of recovery communities, but one may be an ice hockey community, another a filmmaking community, and yet another a food community. It seems hard for the system to understand the nature of recovery communities.
Marcus refers to Simon Shaw, the Chief Constable of North Wales Police and a person who played a significant role in the development of Eternal Media. He is a humanitarian, but he also has a business head. He was spending tens of millions of pounds each year on addiction-related crime and he could see that once people found recovery it didn’t cost anything. In Marcus’s case, when he got clean, Eternal Media put a hundred grand into recovery in North Wales. Wulf points out that it was a double saving, as Marcus was probably costing society a hundred grand a year through his addiction and crime.
Marcus is glad that Wulf mentions his addiction as he has an app that tells him how much he has saved whilst in recovery. He set the app up on the basis of his average habit of around £300 a day for heroin and crack. He has been clean for 3,289 days and that has saved £986,600. That’s just what his continued habit would have cost (in part financed by his crime), and does not consider the costs to society of his crime, prison stays, police time, etc.
Marcus describes his ‘instigator of change’—he had come to the end of the road. ‘My high was overdose. It was a cocktail of heroin and crack in a needle into a vein so thick that it came out like a worm and if I wasn’t going into epileptic fit, my eyes in the back of my head, I’d been ripped off. And it was constant overdose, and I died a couple of times, and there wasn’t anywhere to go from there.’
He says that he’s just been lucky with the most amazing people who have helped him get clean and get off the streets, get into recovery, and then stay in recovery. Wulf points out that more people need to acknowledge how lucky they’ve been. He points out how so many people talk about ‘Us’ and “Them’, but in reality it’s not about ’Us’ and ‘Them’—there’s quite a lot of luck in life. Luck whether we lived or died, whether we used drugs or not, or went to prison or not for using drugs, etc. Wulf has had friends who have died on mountains, whereas he fell 1,000 feet and lived. All these things in society that are used to differentiate people—like those who have achieved and those who haven’t—miss the role of luck.
Marcus agrees that there is luck, and then at some point whatever you do sometimes becomes very attractive to other people. Eternal Media is not just about making recovery very visible, it is about making it an attractive option for people. People see what Eternal are doing and want to be associated with it and help. The organisation has been lucky, but they’ve put in a lot of legwork in. Wulf emphasises the more that people see what is going on at Eternal Media and North Wales Recovery Communities (NWRC), the more they are attracted to them.
Eternal Media are developing a variety of things for the future, including the new building space and gardens, purchasing lots of tents for filmmaking retreats, and starting a variety of new projects. They are committed to doing a number of recovery-related activities, like the 100 mile walk with NWRC, for free. Marcus points out that they are doing amazing things, but they need more help. Funding is always an issue. Wulf hopes that this film interview will help in some way.
Wulf says, ‘I just want thank you for everything… I just love what you are doing, it’s just brilliant… it’s a great privilege to just watch, be with, and intersect from time to time. I just love it.’ Marcus points out that Wulf was there even before he started recovery and he will always be welcome. Wulf emphasises that the last twenty years in North Wales have been amazing. He can’t think of a better space to have been in and see things flourish.
‘It’s what they say, Wulf, if all else fails, try Wales,’ Marcus replies.
Marcus’s interview has also been edited into a large number of shorter clips which will be used on our Themes section. You can view these shorter films on Marcus’s YouTube Themes Playlist.
Marcus Fair survived a 25-year addiction to heroin and crack cocaine. His first paid gig was as a playwright, before he relapsed and ended up in prison again. There, he realised that his life was being saved by him doing the prison radio and some filming. If this could happen to him, it could do a lot for other people. He planned what he could do to help others. He made a film, Flipped It!, for North Wales Police which was widely acclaimed. He set up Eternal Media, which makes high impact documentary films and empowers and mentors volunteer film crews, which comprise people who are rebuilding their lives whilst recovering from addiction and/or an involvement in crime.