BISHOP Mick Fleming stands before his 200-strong congregation and tells them: “I’ve had a s**t week.”
There are no gasps of horror at his language — which Mick says he “tries hard to keep a lid on”.
4Former drug dealer turned bishop Mick Fleming pictured wearing his clerical collarCredit: Glen Minikin4Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge meet with Mick at his church in BurnleyCredit: PA4William has written the foreword to Mick’s new book, Blown Away, which tells the incredible story of how he came to swap crime for the churchCredit: Glen Minikin4A former drug dealer and debt enforcer for gangsters, Mick saw the light and is now known for his work with the homeless and disadvantagedCredit: Glen MinikinThere’s not so much as a raised eyebrow.
For Mick, 56, is no ordinary man of God.
A former drug dealer and debt enforcer for gangsters, he saw the light — literally — and is now known for his work with the homeless, disadvantaged and poor who seek solace at his Sunday sermons.
They are used to his no-nonsense approach to life which has attracted the admiration of the Prince and Princess of Wales, who visited his Church On The Street in Burnley during the Covid pandemic.
And now Prince William has written the foreword to Mick’s new book, Blown Away, which tells the incredible story of how he came to swap crime for the church.
It details how he was raped aged 11, how his older sister died of an asthma attack and that he fell into a life of drug addiction and crime.
It also describes his epiphany, when he was sent with a gun to collect a debt.
Mick says when he spotted his target, he was with two children aged around five to seven.
In his book he writes: “I approached, the gun at my side and evil in my heart and then something, something miraculous.
“A brightness shining from the hands of the children where he was holding them — such a brightness. The light hit me in the eyes; it blinded me! I couldn’t see.”
In gritty detail, Mick goes on to describe how, racked with guilt, he tried to use the gun to kill himself but it failed to fire.
Today, in a frank interview about his former life, Mick says: “It could have been drug-induced psychosis of course, because at that time I was spending between £500 and £600 a day on crack and anything else I could get my hands on.
“I was spiralling down because I had become psychotic and mentally ill.
“People can make their own minds up but I believe it was God and look at what it’s led to. . . ”
Mick waves a hand across a vast, welcoming room at his church’s community hub.
A melting pot of people from every background, refugees get language lessons, drug users sit at a table drinking tea and pensioners enjoy a chit-chat.
Twice during our interview, desperate people ask to interrupt as they beg Mick for help, one a terminally ill man who has run out of tokens to heat his home, the other a woman whose daughter has been raped.
The church project started when Mick got clean after four months in a mental health unit and, in 2013, started giving the homeless sandwiches and clothes out of a suitcase.
As more and more of the needy came for help, a team of street volunteers grew, hence the charity’s name.
Mick later went to University to study theology — a tough gig for a man who realised he was dyslexic — and the community hub in Burnley opened last year after a visit from Prince William and Kate led to thousands of pounds in donations.
The future King writes in Mick’s book that it is “impossible” not to be moved by the organisation, calling it an “important refuge and place of safety for many”.
Mick’s story is astonishing.
Born into a Catholic family in Burnley he grew up in a loving household where his mum Jean stayed home to look after him and his three sisters and dad Hughie worked as a window cleaner.
But Mick’s life changed in 48 hours when he was raped by a stranger, aged 11, who grabbed him on the way to school.
He was going to tell his parents about the attack the next day when his sister Ann suffered an asthma attack and died aged 20.
He said: “I wasn’t going to tell my mum and dad, who had just lost their daughter, that their son had been attacked. So instead I kept it all in and the anger grew.”
At 14 Mick was dealing drugs and shoplifting and by his early 20s he was an addict, travelling the country as an “enforcer” for gangsters.
He says: “I’m not going to sit here and tell you all the terrible, terrible things I did but some of them were truly vile.
“I hurt people and badly — and I didn’t care.
“Life and death meant nothing to me, it just seemed inevitable.”
In his first job, to rob a drug dealer in Manchester, Mick explains how he held a blade to his victim’s neck while his accomplice turned over the house.
Afterwards they smoked crack in celebration.
He writes in his book: “As we drove, we began to laugh.
“We pulled over in a dark lay-by and smoked a couple of stones each, and the adrenaline was good — really, really good.
“Then to the spoils. Oh my God! Jewellery, gold jewellery, stupid amounts of it. Masses of weed. And yes, a lump of cocaine as big as my head. I’d never seen as much, there must have been half a kilo.
“We started to count the money, over £5,000, and this was many years ago. It was a massive score. And so, so easy to do, money for nothing.”
Mick travelled on jobs to Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Leeds.
He recalled: “I lived in a world where the rules of real life didn’t seem to exist.
“I’d wear different clothes to different cities.
“I realise now it was all a facade, all a way of putting on a new skin, having a new personality.”
Arrested twice for murder and three times for armed robbery, Mick was always able to escape jail.
But while the law was unable to catch up with him, his conscience and years of pain finally did in 2009, and he tried to kill himself.
He was later arrested but, making no sense to detectives, sent to a mental health unit where he found comfort with other addicts and got clean.
After he was released Mick was “visited by an angel” who told him to stand against a brick wall in the middle of Burnley town centre at 7pm.
At exactly 7pm, as the town clock struck, a worker from a homeless hostel spotted him and invited him to a narcotics meeting.
Mick said: “It was a bit of a shock to say the least. But it changed my life and when I got clean I knew I wanted to help others.”
But Mick still had one unresolved issue, a vow to kill the man who had raped him as a child.
Incredibly, when he came across him out of the blue in a McDonald’s and realised he was an alcoholic, Mick helped him get sober.
“He died never knowing who I was,” says Mick. “But being able to forgive him gave me an inner peace.”
Today Mick, who was consecrated as a Bishop with the International Christian Church network in October, devotes his life to helping others, particularly addicts, drug users and sex workers.
He is deeply worried about the cost of living crisis and the church is handing out double the usual number of food parcels as well as clothes and, in the most desperate cases, gas cards and emergency funds to people in need.
He says: “A girl of about nine asked me a few days ago why her tummy kept making strange noises.
“She was so used to going without food that she didn’t even recognise the sound as hunger.
“Pensioners are too scared to put their heating on.
“I’ve been to freezing houses with no food in the cupboards.
“This crisis is real and it’s only going to get worse.”
The church community hub now has rooms where clients can see NHS mental health workers, opticians and doctors as well as get a shower.
“There’s a stigma surrounding poverty,” he says.
“Parents can’t afford to eat and put the heating on so they are drying their kids clothes the best they can and they smell.
“The kids are then going to school and getting teased.
“This centre is a place where people can get the help they need, somewhere to come when they have nowhere else to go.”
Pensioner Henry Donaghey, 72, is at the hub every day to avoid putting on the heating.
Last week he was mugged of £500 — cash meant to pay his bills.
“The work that goes on here is brilliant,” he says.
“It’s a place to come and sit with others instead of sitting alone at home.
“When I got mugged I called the Bishop and he called the police for me and tried to sort everything.”
Mick has become somewhat of a hero around Burnley and has learned to forgive his past life.
“I guess I’ve had an extreme life of two halves,” he says.
“I’ve done as bad as I’ve done good.”
Blown Away: From Drug Dealer To Life Bringer, by Pastor Mick Fleming, (SPCK) is out now, £14.99.
Story Credit: thesun.co.uk