The first (and probably not the last) biography of Felix Dennis has recently been published. As a long-time friend of Felix's I approached it with trepidation and a sense of relief that I hadn't been asked to do the job.
Right up front let's say 'Hat's off' to Fergus Byrne for producing such a readable and professional piece of work that traces an ultimate rags to riches story of a unruly intelligent unstoppable boy/teenager who first sought fame and fortune as a beat band drummer, became nationally notorious as one of the Oz Three and went on build a magazine empire that earnt a bone fide fortune (£520 million plus).
In his later years he indulged in a number of other passions, becoming a best-selling poet and author, an important patron of portrait bronzes (a legacy contained in his remarkable 'Garden of Heroes and Villains') and one of the greatest British tree planters - a modern-day John Evelyn. His vision of planting an entirely new forest in the centre of Britain - the Heart of England Forest - is already being realised. Before his untimely death in June 2014, he planted the one millionth tree. Another 11 million will follow, a process funded partly by charitable donations but mainly by all the profits from Dennis Publishing and whatever other income is gained from the dispersal of his estate. For this alone, we are all in his debt.
The obituaries and editorial coverage following his death highlighted his well-known predilection for sex with multiple female partners and his well-publicised addiction to crack cocaine - amongst other substances. Byrne does not shy away from this and his account makes uncomfortable reading as Felix's happy-go-lucky sex romps become more controlling and deameaning. His ability to 'pick up' women was noticeable from his teen years onwards when he was already oversexed with the gift of the gab and the energy of a rutting goat.
Without indulging in cod psychology, Byrne gives us enough information about his childhood years and his battling relationship with his very strong and strict mother ( who died 17 days after him) to make his behaviour at least understandable if not excusable. Abandoned by his father at the age of four, he prematurely became the man of the house. In a memorable quote, his younger brother Julian says he was always aware that his brother was different:
'It was almost like from day one he was on a mission. He'd have a faraway look in his eye and always be skirting the edges, looking for something that was completely different, that other people wouldn't do or wouldn't say or wouldn't see.'
From Left: Felix, Ralph Steadman & Will Self at a Groucho Club charity auction event. May 1999