Happy Mondays dancer Bez (Mark Berry). Photo: Mark Waugh / Alamy Stock Photo
Mark ‘Bez’ Berry was born in 1964 in Bolton, Lancashire. A tempestuous youth saw him in jail and homeless before, aged 20, he was invited to dance onstage with Happy Mondays. He then spent nine years with the band, sharing in their triumphant-but-messy career until the group disbanded in 1993.
Following the Mondays split, Bez joined singer Shaun Ryder in Black Grape and has also taken part in subsequent Happy Mondaysreformations. But he’s also become a familiar face on TV, winning Celebrity Big Brother, and appeared on a host of other shows – most notably pairing up on Celebrity Gogglebox with Ryder.
In his Letter To My Younger Self, Bez looks back upon his remarkable life, which almost ended in 1999 after a motorbike accident, but has taken a positive turn this year with his marriage to Firouzeh Razavi.
At 16 I was probably at my wildest, totally unruly. I was homeless at the time. Then I was in Borstal, then in and out of prison [he was jailed for three years when he was 17]. Totally out of control. All I cared about was partying and having a good time. Life at home just didn’t work for me anymore. I was off on a particular course of life. I preferred living that way to being under the restriction of a home life. And my parents couldn’t cope with someone who wasn’t conforming to any kind of normality as it was deemed at the time.
I actually enjoyed school, the social aspect and girls and all that, but academically it never worked out well for me. I was never an academic unfortunately, and I used to be quite unruly in the classroom as well. Of course, I could have done much better if I’d put my mind to it and under different circumstances. I don’t regret not learning in school though, because I’ve self-educated myself since. Everything I’ve learned in later life I’ve got from life experiences.
I always enjoyed the countryside from when I was a kid. We used to go egging, marching about all over the countryside. Now I’m really into beekeeping, but as a young man that would have had no appeal to me whatsoever. I wouldn’t have been able to do it anyway because I was homeless from ages 16 to 22, so it wouldn’t have been something I would have been able to accomplish.
Like most people I started drinking cider when I was about 11. There was a 24-hour place which stored cider and Schweppes and we all went to rob it for all our booze for parties. I don’t know why they didn’t ever improve the security. Because they must have known that every kid in the area invaded the place before parties. I remember when I was 15, I had speed for the first time. I think it was a kind of slimming tablet. We got three for a pound. I used to love it for dancing, socialising – we had some amazing times.
The years I was homeless I was sofa-surfing, travelling, living in sheds or the bushes, sleeping rough. I’ve gone through a whole different array of homelessness, I did it in my own style. It took me ages to get my shit together and get my own place, because I was kicked out of the house when I was 16 and I really didn’t have any idea how to organise my life. But I had lots of friends and a lot of my mates’ mams looked after me as well, doing my washing and feeding me. Even Shaun’s ma [Happy Mondays bandmate Shaun Ryder] used to make me corned beef and tomato butties.
I’ve never been a worrier, I’ve always had a really happy-go-lucky approach to life. I always believe that round the next corner there’s going to be something better. I still don’t have any security because of the way I live my life. I’m balancing on a blade’s edge, but it doesn’t worry me. When I make plans that’s when everything starts to go wrong. So I just leave it to the universe. I can’t say I’d recommend it for everyone, but I’ve been really lucky. When I wake up every morning I say to my missus, I can’t believe how fucking lucky I’ve been. People who knew me at 16 didn’t think I’d get to 30, never mind 58. It’s always a huge shock to people that I’m still alive. They’re always surprised I look reasonably healthy and I’m quite together.
Becoming the dancer in the Happy Mondays – that is something you can never plan for. It just happened. Me and my mates were in a pretty altered state of mind, we’d been taking acid all day. I was going to see Happy Mondays supporting New Order that night. I was excited because New Order were a massive Manchester band, and my mates were supporting them at The Haçienda.
So I went along as a spectator. Then backstage Shaun said, we need your support onstage. I said fuck off, I’m not going onstage. So there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing and I ended up going on. It was just the right place at the right time in the right circumstances. It was a proper life changing moment for me, but it wasn’t something you could actually ever plan to do. I think that was in 1984 and I’ve never looked back since.
After that Manchester gig we did actually get to support New Order on some really good tours. That exposed us to some of New Order’s fans, and we picked up a big fanbase of our own. It was a dream come true, to sign to Factory Records and be part of that whole Manchester scene. It was an incredible moment in time, and we were all inside this great part of music history. Tony Wilson was a big part of that. A lot of people didn’t like him, but I’ve only ever got good things to say about him. He was an amazing man and he did a lot of good for this city.
My life has been a roller coaster. I’ve gone through the whole gauntlet of highs and lows, every emotion. It’s been incredible. Who would ever have thought that at our age me and Shaun would be on the telly sitting on our sofa? [The two are regulars on Celebrity Gogglebox]. We are so out there in terms of the establishment’s idea of the norm. But somehow we’ve been embraced by the mainstream. What an incredible thing to have happened, no one could have predicted it. I think Gogglebox shows our friendship as it is. But I’m not sure because I’ve never watched it. I hate myself on television. I think I sound so thick it’s unbelievable.
Winning Celebrity Big Brother [in 2005] was absolutely incredible. My saving grace was that I had never actually watched the show. So I had no preconceptions of how I should behave or how I should play the game. I was just my usual self – I try to be well mannered and polite and nice to people. I was slightly rebellious, but I was always pleasant and I supported people when they needed support. Like Jackie Stallone – I think that got me in with the blue rinse brigade. People who would normally not look at me twice. But a lot of my win was down the support I got out there as a Happy Monday. I don’t think people realise what a huge support base we have.
I really changed after I had my near-death experience, when I thought I was actually going to die. I had a really bad motorbike accident [in 1999]. Then I picked up a hospital superbug that nearly killed me. I was in a coma for a month. And then when I came out of my coma, there were a lot of touch-and-go moments. It completely changed my whole attitude to life. I stopped being as miserable, and started living life to the fullest, because when you realise life can be taken away at any moment you realise there’s no point in dwelling on negative shit.
What worried me most that whole time in hospital was, I had to tell the people who mattered the most that I loved them. So now every time I go out the door, I tell my loved ones I love them. So if I die the last thing they’ll remember is me saying I love them. Because I never used to say it, ever. I grew up in a family where saying you loved each other was a bit fucking soft.
If I could relive any day of my life it would be my wedding day [earlier this year to Firouzeh Razavi]. Everything about it was just joy and happiness. Getting married in the church then the party. Poor Father Bob, he’d never held a service quite like it before. Everyone got up and danced. A lot of people said to me, Bez, I never thought I’d be dancing and singing hymns in church. Our first wedding dance was to Absolute Beginners by David Bowie. I had two big marquees set up in my garden, and when you went outside you could see the mountain I got engaged on top of. It was such a beautiful setting, the whole day was the stuff of dreams really.