Felix Dennis retires to spend more time with his trees

He was the art school dropout and failed rock'n'roll star who was famously dismissed as "very much less intelligent" than his co-defendants at the era-defining Oz magazine obscenity trial in 1971. Felix Dennis certainly got his own back over that, building up a multimillion-pound publishing empire that has made him probably Britain's wealthiest former crack cocaine addict.

Now the media and publishing world is waiting to see what Dennis is going to do next, after he announced he was putting up for sale overseas editions of the men's magazine Maxim, which until recently has been a money-spinning cornerstone of his empire, particularly in the United States.

Despite declining sales in Britain for so-called lad's mags - down 14 per cent, according to figures released earlier this week - the American market is still thriving, with 2.5 million sales for Maxim, which is also being rolled out as a "lifestyle" brand for bars, restaurants and furniture. The future of two other of Dennis's Publishing's US magazines, Blender and Stuff, are being reviewed, along with all other 30 overseas editions. In Britain, it would continue to publish Maxim under licence.

Although the sale might net many more millions for Dennis Publishing, its owner is already worth an estimated £715m, and hardly needs the spare cash. So what will he do with it? "I think he will spend it on planting more trees, that's his legacy, that's what he believes he has been put on earth to do," said Mike Soutar, a former editor of US Maxim and FHM in this country. "Trees and poetry,'' is the verdict of James Brown, former editor of Loaded, who knows him well.

After his recovery from both addiction and serious illness, Dennis, ever the ex-hippy, has dedicated much of his time to writing poetry - at least four hours a day according to some accounts - as well as planting trees, particularly at his large estate in Warwickshire, one of his five homes, and which he calls The Forest of Dennis.

In the past four years he has written three books of poetry, all of which have been good sellers, and given a large number of poetry readings, usually accompanied by free wine, another of his passions. He remains a big Labour supporter, although not a fan of Tony Blair.

For someone who boasts that one of his interests is "avoiding business meetings", Dennis is a remarkably successful businessman. After art school and a period in various bands, Dennis stood trial for obscenity at the Old Bailey in 1971, alongside Oz co-founders Richard Neville and Jim Anderson, over the famous "Schoolkids Oz" edition. It became a defining contest between the counter-culture and the establishment.

After being found guilty, Dennis was said by the judge to be "very much less intelligent" than the others, and given a shorter prison sentence.

Once out of prison, he founded his own publishing company and eventually made money selling kung fu magazines, and then magazines devoted to personal computers, both of which he sold on for fortunes used to launch more titles.

A period of determined hedonism ran in tandem with the growth of his company, during which Dennis admitted to a serious cocaine habit and a retinue of young women residing at his various mansions. "I would think nothing of pissing away £100,000 a day, nothing," he said in an interview with The Independent last year.

Aside from the Maxim titles, he currently publishes The Week, a successful weekly digest of news, Auto Express, Fortean Times, Bizarre and Viz, together with several computer and gambling magazines. His only regrets, he said in the same interview, were not getting into women's magazines or the national newspaper business.

Dennis's strength, say observers, is to anticipate the market, spotting trends and capitalising on them. Selling up in the US might be a shrewd move, because he believes that the market there might soon begin to fragment and decline as it is on this side of the Atlantic. Mike Soutar is confident that, at the very least, what Dennis does next will be interesting: "Dennis is very keen on finding out what is going to be next on the market, and he is very interested in electronic media. He is very entrepreneurial, but he doesn't do conventional.''

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Recruitment Genius: External Relations Executive

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An External Relations Executive is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Project Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This established Digital Agency based in East ...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links