As one half of house duo Problem Kids, and with a DJ career that saw him play 65 countries around the world (as well as hold a Ministry of Sound residency), Mark Wilkinson was living the hedonistic high life… until one day in 2003, when he collapsed and was unable to walk.
Following several years of rehabilitation, which in turn led to depression, loneliness, bankruptcy and suicidal thoughts, Wilkinson set about turning his life around, detoxifying his body and mind and opening his mind to new ways of thinking, feeling and living his life.
He’s written about his experiences in a new book, published by Hausmark Publishing this month – Life Remixed. It’s a particularly timely release, given the challenging circumstances that those involved in the dance music industry have gone through over the past few months.
As Danny Rampling puts it in the book’s foreword, “This book is a candid empowering story showing that we can all achieve our true greatness by manifesting the life we deserve.”
Life Remixed is available for purchase from Mark’s official website: https://markwilkinsonofficial.com/
909originals caught up with him.
Hi Mark, thanks for talking to us. I would imagine that given the lockdown situation at the moment, this book has been your main project over the past year?
Actually, this book has been more than 10 years in the making. During my thirties, a couple of significant things happened – I was made bankrupt in the credit crunch, and a few years before that a doctor told me I had an incurable disease and I couldn’t walk for 18 months. I wouldn’t wish either of those things on anyone. But I recovered, and I learned some new ways of thinking about my life.
I started work on it in 2009, which is 12 years ago now. I’ve had a few goes at it, and I’ve always got distracted or lost my way. I had pages upon pages of Word documents, and I felt it wasn’t going anywhere. It wasn’t making any sense, it was rambling. Plus, I had spent the past decade or so working in the corporate world, and that takes a lot of energy – doing anything outside of that is quite tricky.
Two and a half years ago, though, I left my job, and I remember when I got home, my wife had put a big poster up saying ‘Congratulations – you’ve been talking about doing this for years’! A few months later, I had started a new company, and was doing a bit of consultancy, and she said to me ‘so what are you doing about this book, then?’
I said ‘I don’t know’. After all, I had tried it a few times. My wife is a very logical, strategic thinker – I’m the opposite – and she said to me ‘write a timeline’. Start on 3 September 1970, when you were born, right up to the present day. So over the next few months, I populated this timeline, and the book started to come together.
In answer to your question, did I spent 2020 writing it? Partly, but it’s been a long process.
Let’s go back to the beginning. Back in the 90s, you built quite an impressive house music career. When did it all start for you?
I started DJing in 1989, and then I got a job in Flying Records in London, working under Clive Henry. That was around 1993 or 94. Rocky from X-Press 2 also worked there, and we used to do Mondays together – actually, he wasn’t in most Mondays because he had been out all weekend.
One day I asked him ‘do you fancy making a couple of tunes together?’ and I fully expected him to tell me that he was too busy. But he just said ‘yeah, alright’.
Did you have production experience?
No, nothing at all. I had tried a couple of things but they weren’t great. At the time, I could see the path that Rocky and X-Press 2 had taken, and they had a couple of huge tracks; I would love to be able to do something like that. Once he said yes, I was like ‘shit, I had better come up with some ideas then!’.
You were DJing around the world during the 90s and early 2000s – did you have a residency in Ibiza, or did I imagine that?
I was resident in Ministry of Sound in 95/96. I got a residency and then I invited Rocky in with me, which was cool. I did a few summers in Ibiza, there were residencies at El Divino and then the Ministry of Sound and Subliminal nights at Pacha. They were brilliant nights.
Leading up to your accident, you must have felt at the peak of your career. And then everything was suddenly taken away from you?
It was bonkers, a brilliant time. Around 2003 or 2004, we did the Satellite of Love remix, which got into the charts. And then, one day, out of the blue, I just collapsed. I was 33 at the time, and I was literally like ‘what the hell?’
I’m lying on the floor, my legs wrapped underneath me, and I just couldn’t get up. My brother was there to help me up off the floor, thankfully. It was the weirdest thing. People have said to me, ‘why didn’t you go to A&E?’ But I didn’t feel at the time like I needed to. Over the next 18 months, it got worse and worse, but I was still living in that central London flat, living the lifestyle.
I was making enough money to pay the rent, but I didn’t look very healthy. I got really thin at one point, and I used to have to sit down to do my gigs! I remember seeing Frankie Knuckles DJ while sitting on a stool, sometime towards the end of his life, and that was me – when I was playing around London, the venues would actually get me a stool to sit on. I couldn’t stand up anymore, my body was just ravaged with this pain, and I was taking hundreds of painkillers.
During an 18 month period, it got really really bad, and no doctor could tell me what was wrong with me.
It got to the stage where you just couldn’t function any more, didn’t it?
I moved in with my fiancée not long after that, and I remember I couldn’t get off the sofa. All I could do was play computer games on the PlayStation. I literally just sat in the flat playing computer games all day.
To be honest with you, there were suicidal thoughts going round my head at the time. I was stick thin, I was wasting away, and my joints felt like they were on fire. I couldn’t sleep properly, it was like someone was stabbing me in the ribs.
I can’t even begin to tell you how weird it was, because I was still young, I was the king of the party, I was DJing for 15 years, and then all of a sudden… bang!
Do you think that you were forcing yourself into situations because your ego wouldn’t let you slow down? You had to put on a sort of front, ‘hey, here’s party guy Mark Wilkinson’?
Yes you’re right, there was an ego and a front to it. But at the same time I had to also try and make some money from somewhere. Thankfully, I didn’t have to pay rent at the time, and my wife’s family really looked after me when I was at my lowest.
I remember at the time, one of the doctors spoke to me about trying to ‘free myself from stressful situations’ in order to recover my health. I was like ‘what are you talking about, I’m not stressed, I just want my life back!‘ But that stuck with me.
Another year or two went by, we moved into a new flat, and I was still in a bad way, so finally I went to another GP and just asked ‘please can you help me’? She took one look at me, and was like ‘I can’t believe you survived this long!’. It was like a survival instinct, I was just happy to get through another day.
So this GP sent me to UCL Hospital, with orders to book an emergency appointment, and about six weeks later – obviously it wasn’t an ’emergency’ to them! – I got to see a doctor. As I explained to him, I couldn’t sleep, my body was killing me, and if I sit in one position for more than ten minutes I’m frozen.
Thankfully, he knew what it was. He said to me, ‘you’ve got Ankylosing Spondylitis – bad luck, it’s in your genes. Take this and this and this for the rest of your life, and you should be ok’.
To be honest with you, I had lived a life of addiction up to that point, I had put lots of toxins in my body for 15 years, which definitely didn’t help the situation. But I took the drugs that the doctor gave me, and would you believe, within eight hours, I started to feel normal again! It happened really quickly.
I remember that weekend, Danny Rampling was DJing – he was doing his ‘retirement party’ at Turnmills, and played for about eight hours, and Frankie Knuckles played for four hours before him. It was a 12-hour all night extravaganza, plus I was living about 30 seconds from Turnmills.
I literally took the drugs from the doctor on the Wednesday, and the Turnmills party was on the Saturday. I rang literally everybody that I knew, some people that I hadn’t seen for five years – there were about 50 people in my flat, it was amazing.
But while I was feeling a bit better, I was still in some very stressful situations. Around that time, a mentor I was working with gave me a copy of The Secret, a documentary from 2006 that talks karma and the universal laws that govern our lives. There’s a guy in the documentary, Bob Proctor, who talks about disease as being a ‘dis-ease’, as in something that happens when you’re not at ease. That someone that’s not in a positive emotional state can’t be at ease.
I was like ‘why did I not hear anything about this before?‘ It was such a lightbulb moment. I went back to my mentor, and he told me to watch it 100 times. I started to read more into it, looking up the potential causes of ‘dis-ease’ in the body, and the more I studied, the more I realised I needed to leave stressful situations behind. I also needed to give up alcohol, because it was my gateway into all sorts of debauchery.
So I sort of turned, then and there, on a sixpence and said, ‘right, that’s it, no more toxins, no more negative thinking’.
So what you’re saying is that you weren’t dealing with the stressful things in your life properly, so your body had to give you a big warning?
You’re absolutely right, it was life’s handbrake. You need to start listening to your body. Most people don’t do that. You need to have a better understanding how to be at ease in every aspect of your life. This was a warning shot.
For me, I had loved music since I first heard it, aged five or six years old, and then as I grew older – I started drinking alcohol at 14, I started smoking puff at 15, acid at 17, ecstasy at 18 – I still loved music, but it was increasingly just a way of supporting my addictions.
The original spark was still there, but the addictions had come in and sort of acted like a crutch?
There were some other things, as well. My dad was always very poorly, he died when I was 18. He had served in World War II, and he had PTSD. So as I grew older, I found that the quickest way to escape all that was with drink, drugs and all the other stuff. And then my music career took off, and I was flying around the world, and not dealing with the things I needed to deal with.
I remember my uncle saying to me at my dad’s wake, ‘you’re the man of the house now’. I was like, ‘what are you talking about?’
Going back to the timeline, you discovered The Secret and you were able to get on top of things emotionally. What other things did you do to try to turn your life around?
When I got to 2008, while I was on the medication, I was still in a stressful kind of situation. So I consciously decided to give up everything – not just drugs and alcohol, but also meat, dairy, wheat, sugar. I sort of turned into this monk overnight.
I needed to choose health, because I was destroying myself. But a lot of the people around me were still happy to keep doing it. Nothing was going to change for them.
But for me, I had to change, to save myself. So I gave everything up, and you know what? I didn’t get the support from the people around me, from my social network.
Did you lose friends?
Absolutely yes. All the people I was running around with in my 30s! I spent around six months living in a mate’s house, in his spare room, and I hardly spoke to anybody. I actually deleted my Facebook account and started a new one – I wanted to re-jig everything. I spent six months with no friends, and nobody getting in touch with me, but that was ok because I needed to detox my life.
Somebody once said to me that a ‘true friend walks in when the rest of the world walks out’, and I found that out. A friend I sort of knew came to Clapham, where I was living, and we went out for dinner once a week. He was there when nobody else was, and that was really powerful.
I was still taking the doctor’s medication, and I kept trying to wean myself off it, because I thought I hd detoxed my life, so the ‘dis-ease’ was going to go away. But I didn’t realise the impact of the stressful situations I was in.
Once I got myself out to those situations – I was living in my mate’s flat, yes I was bankrupt, but I managed to get through that – I said to myself that I would try coming off the medication one more time. So a couple of days went by, and I was fine. A week, two weeks. A month. Three months.
At the same time, you were probably waiting for this tidal wave to hit you again?
I was always thinking to myself ‘this is going to come back in a minute’, and that’s when my friend contacted me. It was near Christmas. He got in touch, and we agreed to meet up, and he said to me ‘I’d love to meet up, but I won’t be able to drink’. That was fine by me, as I hadn’t touched a drop for eight months. But I asked him why. He said, ‘I’m going to run the London Marathon in April’.
That sounded interesting, so I asked him to tell me more. And I thought to myself, with everything I’ve been through over the past few years, what a story it would be if I was able to recover enough to run the London Marathon. So, on Christmas Day, I put on this old pair of trainers, and I went for a run. It was less than a mile. I was exhausted.
But in the spirit of visualising a goal and thinking positively, I kept pushing myself a little bit further. Low and behold, long story short, a few months later I crossed the finish line in the London Marathon, in 4 hours, 39 minutes and 10 seconds. It was phenomenal, and honestly I haven’t looked back since.
There are parallels between what you went through and what everybody is going through now with COVID. People who have devoted their lives to making music and playing out – all that’s been taken away from them, and there’s this growing feeling of ‘will we EVER meet up on the dance floor again’? I know you’ve given some talks on this subject – how have you approached it?
I’m a firm believe that if you put out positive energy, good things will come back to you. Even in a crisis, you have the ability to dust yourself off and go again. I went through some desperate times in my own life, and I’ve come through it.
So just as I’m finishing off the book, the world just goes ‘you want a crisis? Here’s a crisis for six billion people’.
You could say that the book is well-timed, but I don’t think there is such a thing as perfect timing any more. Hopefully it will show people that if they want to change their lives, they can start with something small, and come out of it healthier and wealthier.
If you want to reinvent yourself, get out of your comfort zone – someone once said that nothing of note was ever created in a comfort zone.
With COVID, when things closed down last March, there was a feeling that everything would be back open soon, but that soon turned into despair that maybe they wouldn’t. Now we almost have this acceptance that things definitely aren’t going back to the way they were anytime soon. I suppose give your role as a DJ and producer, you are in a good place to give advice to the trade?
I think that’s probably where it’s going to end up. Life Remixed comes out at the end of February, and once that’s out, I’m going to be putting on seminars, and I’m doing life coaching, business coaching and all that stuff – hopefully helping people see the wood for the trees.
What are some quick wins that literally anybody could try tomorrow, that would have a positive effect?
The first is acceptance. This is massively vital, because it puts you in place of understanding that you accept what’s going on around you, and then you can start to think about what you can do to make your life better. Next is forgiveness – everybody carries around a lot of baggage, either from when they were growing up or from their experiences with friends and family. It’s very important to forgive everyone everything, and also to forgive yourself.
Another thing you can do is write down ten things – if you can’t think of then, then three will do – that you are grateful for. I’ve got a ‘gratitude journal’, where I write down things I’m grateful for in the past, present and future, what went well for me today, and words of encouragement.
If you’ve feeling up, great, keep doing what you’re doing. But if you’re feeling down, or miserable, or worried, or depressed, you’ve got to find things to be grateful for.
Once you can articulate something, it’s much easier to act on it.
Life Remixed is released in February 2021. To purchase a copy, click here.