Portrait: Mr big shot

He's got the Roller, the jewellery and he admits that being a villain draws the women. But Dave Courtney - who inspired Vinnie Jones' character in `Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' - also bears the scars of his life of crime

The reason you become a criminal is because you want more than other people, you want more than your pounds 250 a week flipping burgers in McDonald's gets you. I wanted the nice clothes, the flash jewellery, the cars, holidays, all the things you're not supposed to do with your money.

But crime isn't like other jobs. The bigger and better crime you do, the less you can tell people about it and the less you can spend. Someone tells you, you've got to keep a low profile, don't get the wife that fur coat, don't buy the fancy watch. But I didn't become a criminal because I wanted to keep a low profile. I'm an ego-junkie, I like the glamour. I couldn't live like I do now unless I'd retired. You have to give it up to enjoy the fruits of crime. I'm 40. I've retired quicker than most villains because I feel my luck is about to run out. I've been very lucky. I've only served one prison sentence. I've got off with some very serious stuff which made me very, very rich and made my enemies disappear. I can justify 99 per cent of what I've done.

To be a good villain doesn't necessarily mean you have to be the best fighter or the best shot, but you have to be a good judge of character. You have to look hard. People spot any weakness in you. You have to have an inner confidence in your own ability. It's no good going round to beat someone up if you think they can beat you up - you've got to think, I am the best, or close.

They used a lot of my exploits for Vinnie Jones in Lock, Stock ... , like when he gets that bloke lying on the sunbed, and carrying round two sawn- off shotguns. I've been in the unfortunate position of having quite a lot of guns pointing at me and the one that frightened me the most was a dirty old sawn-off shotgun, so I knew how scary two would look - I've had a pounds 3,000 highly polished nickel-plated Russian thing pointing at me and it didn't even frighten me, it was like a toy. I think the film is part of a nostalgia for the old-time villains like me, there's a morality and code of honour about us which you don't get nowadays. That's why I modelled my home on Camelot and myself on King Arthur, because they were honourable then. It was the only time when fighting was fair. You both got given a sword, you both got given the same bit of armour, you both got a horse at each end of the field and you charged into each other and you had a fight. I've got a mural of myself as Arthur outside my house, and a sword in a stone in the back garden and a round dining-room table which goes over the pool table. Twelve of us sit round it and we all have our own swords.

Being a villain does draw the women - the danger and the excitement, and looking like I do - but not a lot of them want to run off into the sunset and marry you. I met my wife Jennifer 11 years ago, she didn't have the foggiest who I was; she was a little 19-year-old black singer. It was love at first sight. The premier division of the British crime scene is predominantly white - Freddie Foreman and his wife, Frankie Fraser and his wife, Reggie Kray and his wife - so Jennifer is actually the first black lady of crime, and she's the best gangster's moll there is, but not a silly one who's turned on because I've got a big gun. The kids won't go into the business, because they are fortunate enough to see the downside.

As soon as I walk out of the door the rest of the world only sees Dave Courtney and his white Rolls-Royce, the black Harley-Davidson, the gold jewellery, the Versace suits, but the kids know about the bullet holes in my leg and stab wounds in my back, I've got holes all over my body. People have been so brainwashed about criminals: that they are all nasty, horrible, evil men who beat up their wives, eat babies, sell drugs to children, but they're not. The fact that you do something horrible doesn't make you a horrible person underneath it all. It's just a job, same as any other and I don't bring it home.

`Stop the Ride, I Want to Get Off' by Dave Courtney is published by Virgin on 16 September at pounds 16.99. He is one of the subjects of the `Cons to Icons' exhibition at Tardis Studios, 55 Turnmill Street, London EC1, which runs from 1-15 November.

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