Friday, 26 October 2012

Time to face the music

You may remember Mark Stevens as Nick Page in Neighbours… if you’re old enough to have been watching the show during the late ’80s, that is. These days, Mark is a worship leader at Abundant Life Church in Bradford and has just released his own album. I met up with him to find out about his journey to fame and, more importantly, his journey to faith.

Mark was born in Tasmania and developed a love for music at a very young age. When he turned 13 he applied to appear on Young Talent Time (YTT), an Australian variety show similar to America’s Mickey Mouse Club.

By the age of 14, Mark had started dabbling in drugs and alcohol, and getting into the party scene. By the time he turned 16, he was starting to experience the ill-effects of this lifestyle. He started to get restless at YTT and wanted a new challenge. Fortunately, his agent pulled some strings and he was offered the role of Nick Page on iconic show Neighbours.

His success on Neighbours opened doors for Mark in the UK and he came to England aged 19 to appear on the stage. Meanwhile, his life outside the show was starting to get a little wilder. He got heavily involved in the club scene and taking recreational drugs.

Shirking work
He also got a record deal with BMG and found himself touring the UK with big names such as (the one and only) Chesney Hawkes, Sonia and Take That.

By this point, Mark was heavily involved in the drug scene and several dealers were ‘looking after him’; plying him with coke, LSD and other narcotics. He was missing work appointments because he was living in a constant, drug-induced hangover, and his PA was constantly having to cover for him.

The young actor and musician decided to head back to Australia to promote the single he had just released and ended up with a warrant out for his arrest for an incident involving a policeman he nearly ran over at a crossing. He ended up back in Tasmania, living with his family and spending most of his time drunk, stoned and sleeping around.

Having sunk to new lows, Mark returned to the UK. He was taking heroin and even drinking cough medicine in a desperate bid to get high. “In my head I felt like Jim Morrison reincarnated,” says Mark. “I couldn’t work because I kept blowing it by not turning up to recording sessions, so doors just closed.”

Turning it around
Around this time, he bumped into a girl he had previously dated. She was a Christian but had been backsliding when he had first met her. After they broke up, she went back to church and got her life right with God.

He went to church and experienced a real peace that he hadn’t felt before. When he left the service he went right back to his normal lifestyle, but he started to see things in a different way.

Mark’s ex confronted him after he made a scene at a party and he suddenly became aware that he needed God in his life. The next morning he remembers the presence of God filling the room. He broke down into tears and started crying out to God.

“I don’t think I stopped crying for about three days,” Mark says. I had no money, no friends, nothing.”

One of the pastors at Hillsong London prayed for him and He was completely bowled over by the presence of God. He started going to the church regularly and got a job as a waiter in Covent Garden. He joined the worship team at church and moved in with a group of Christian guys and enjoyed just doing normal things with them, hanging out.

A brand new life
Mark later moved to Sydney to make a new start and for the next four years he attended Hillsong Sydney. As he was back on home soil, he decided to get the outstanding police warrant sorted. He went to jail for a day and had a huge fine slapped on him, but he was finally able to settle his debts and start afresh.

Before long he fell in love with a beautiful woman named Bethan Scanlon and they decided to get married. Since moving back to the UK, the couple have really got stuck into church life and the music scene at Abundant Life. They have been blessed with a gorgeous son and daughter, and fatherhood suits Mark down to the ground.

Having previously recorded music with the likes of Nik Kershaw, Nikki Graham and John Farnham, Mark has finally achieved his dreaming of releasing his own album. The album is called To Be With You and features ten fantastic tracks. Out now, it will make a great Christmas present for family and friends, or even a pre-festive-season gift to yourself! 

Read the full story in Sorted magazine - out now!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Playing with Fire

There’s something about men and fire. While I was still playing with Barbie, my brother was discovering what happened when he and a friend tried to set magnesium ribbon on fire in his bedroom (answer: lots of smoke and a very angry mother).

On another occasion he and the same friend (under the careful tutelage of said friend’s dad) formulated a petrol bomb powerful enough to blow the garage door off.

So as Bonfire Night approaches, I have three pieces of advice to offer:
  1. Check out our top-ten, awe-inspiring pyrotechnic devices from Epic Fireworks so your display has your family (and neighbours) in suitable raptures
  2. Avoid blowing any garage doors off – your wife won’t be impressed and your mother may still give you a clip round the ear for your troubles!
  3. Don’t make the same mistake as the San Diego display organisers who set off 15 minutes worth of fireworks in 15 seconds (see it here on YouTube!)
Screaming Spiders
Spiders aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but you will have everyone ‘oooing’ and ‘ahhing’ at this two-stage spectacular. First an explosion of golden tails accompanied by jet screams, glittering confetti and crackling comet tails, and then blue peonies, dragon’s eggs and strobes spring forth. Any eight-legged beasts will surely flee in its wake!

Lasting two full minutes and delivering high-decibel action from start to finish, you’d do well to ‘borrow’ your daughter’s earmuffs if you’re planning on setting this little beauty free. Its 72 massive shots, bangs, whistles, hummers, crackling comets, silver strobing stars and a cloud of crackling stars will keep you macho image intact.

Angels vs Demons
You may not have read the book, but this little gem is a work of art in its own right. If spinning golden dragon tails and large brocades with slow-falling golden glitter appeal, you’re in for a treat here. Everyone will get right in the spirit of things if you book this funky firework as part of your display.

Gold Willow
This little gem has nothing whatsoever to do with the reluctant dwarf that appears in the eighties classic of that name. In fact, it’s a firework of truly epic proportions, releasing nine blocks of five high-powered shots at a time, littering the sky with a cascade of slow-falling golden stars. Just make sure there are no evil, baby-stealing queens present.

The Brick
The Brick is a lot less dull than it sounds. Starting with red peonies, blue stars and silver glitter, it bursts into red and green comets with silver tiger tails, fired six at a time. This rapidly proceeds to whistling, spinning silver stars followed by red and green peonies and silver chrysanthemums. Another fanned section of green and silver leads onto a rapid-fire finale of crackling stars, silver spinners and loud pink and blue peonies. The dog will definitely be bricking it.

This amazingly timed piece of sky art offers golden red palms that explode with blue stars and falling strands of red and white glitter, five shots at a time. It’s sure to get things moving along nicely.

Predator 500
The Predator isn’t likely to start feeding on you, but it will certainly hold your attention. With a fast-firing array of effects including peonies, bangs, crackles, whistles and an intense finale of large glitter storms, this little beast is a real family favourite. 

Smiley Face Rocket
Your adoring crowd will mirror this extraordinary firework when it hits the sky. The purple ring of twin stars surrounding two large green eyes and a red starred smile will prompt happy faces all round. Emoticons will never hold the same charm again, and costing less than £15 it offers a pretty cheap laugh.

Sky Thriller Rocket
There’s nothing more manly than planting a rocket in the ground, lighting it, and stepping back to admire your handiwork. This one won’t disappoint. And with its single burst of giant glittering golden willow and a seemingly unending descent of twinkling stars, you’re all in for a thrilling ride.

Thunderous Finale
This is the one to save for last: a display that would make even Gandalf’s eyes water. It lasts around 60 seconds and launches 80 shots – four at a time – into the air. These shots break into huge coloured palms like exploding shells to a background symphony of electrifying crackles.

Read more from Joy in the next issue of Sorted magazine - out soon!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

What’s your vision?

Guest blog with Tim Childs

When people have a vision, a goal, an aim, they seem to stand out; whatever that goal might be. And if they have enough drive they are often successful in achieving what they set out to do.  

When I say successful, I’m not necessarily talking about becoming rich and powerful, I mean ‘successful’ in the broadest sense: living successfully, holding down a job, volunteering some of your time; for the Christian, serving God each day with a whole heart is the height of success. 

But as well as this, success can mean making money, having a thriving business and pursuing a career in something you really want to do. I find that although my life is far from perfect in many respects, when I have a vision and pursue it, I feel a true sense of accomplishment. 

The majority of us have dreams that motivate us to get out of bed and we work towards these dreams almost every day. We hang on, hoping that we will see our dreams become reality, and sometimes we work day and night to see this dream get off the ground. 

Whether or not I succeed in what I do is less important than the fact that I am busy doing something. Of course, I don’t want to labour fruitlessly, but I believe it’s all in God’s hands anyway; as long as I play my part I have nothing to worry about.

When people lack vision, life can become rather selfish. Material things often become more important than spiritual conditions such as peace, happiness, contentment, joy and genuine wellbeing. 

People indulge their every whim thinking that possessions and other things will make them happy, but in my experience they don’t. To make up for the disappointment, they indulge themselves even more and end up caught in a vicious circle. 

One of the problems with Western society at the moment is that we have become spiritually bankrupt; and when people lose sight of the spiritual, of what really matters in life, they gravitate towards the material. As a result, all of our priorities get skewed: on a global, national and local level, but also on a very personal level.

When humans are greedy and selfish, they stop thinking about other people’s needs. They can become ruthless and even vicious in securing their own wellbeing, even at the expense of other people. 

We all have a selfish streak, and perhaps especially at this time of economic strife we need to stop being selfish and learn how to be practically concerned for other people; regardless of whether you run a successful business or are unemployed like so many of us are at this time.

We can all make the world a worse place, and, guess what? We can all make it a better place too. Whether we have a little or a lot, we can all play our part.

We all need a vision in life. With a vision we can overcome the most dramatic and seemingly immovable objects. Sometimes it’s just about putting one foot in front of the other, and repeating; and knowing where we want to go. 

I think if you know where you want to go, and you know what you want to be, you are half way to fulfilling your dream. I may add, the Christian has the added advantage of leaning fully on God. 

Whatever your vision is, I would encourage you to invite God into your plans. This may come as a surprise, but He might just want you to live a fulfilled, successful life too!

Read more about living a God-focused life in the next issue of Sorted magazine.