“I should have been dead many times,” says Pastor Mick Fleming.
The 57-year-old has survived several attempts on his life after working as an enforcer for the criminal underworld.
He narrowly avoided being killed in a drive-by shooting when he felt bullets “whizz” past his body. “I think that was the closest I came to be being murdered,” Mick tells Sky News.
He also survived his own attempt to kill himself when he pointed a gun at his head, pulled the trigger but the weapon failed to fire.
“I dropped the gun and I cried,” he says.
“It was the first time I’d cried since I was little boy.”
After years of violence and drug use, Mick says he had grown to “despise” himself.
He suffered two traumatic events growing up in Burnley, Lancashire, that sent his life spiralling into crime and substance abuse.
Aged 11, he says he was raped by a stranger in a park as he walked to school.
“I felt a hand over my mouth and I was dragged into this bandstand,” Mick says.
“I was petrified. I still sometimes think about it. It hasn’t gone away.”
The next day, Mick was told his 20-year-old sister Ann had suffered a heart attack and died in her father’s arms.
“My dad came through the front door and shouted: ‘Come down, your sister’s dead’,” he says.
“It was cold and blunt… then he broke down. He was a tough guy my dad, but a nice man. I’d never seen him cry.”
Life of crime
Mick says he went “inward” and started imagining carrying out crimes like pickpocketing “to escape the real world”.
Soon after, he started stealing and dealing drugs as a teenager before working as an enforcer collecting debts for criminals.
He admits there was “a lot of violence” and that his family described him as “demonic” at that time. It was not until 2009 that his life changed.
Armed with a gun wrapped in a plastic bag, Mick went to collect a debt from a man outside a gym. But when he walked towards his target, he realised the man was holding hands with two little girls – and there appeared to be “light shining off their hands”.
“It was a really surreal moment,” he says. “I felt sick. I started to cough and splutter and I couldn’t see.
“I felt this thing in the pit of my stomach. It was a horrible, dark feeling – like a sickness.
“I got back in the car and drove round the corner into this little industrial unit and pulled over. I was throwing my guts up. There was blood everywhere. I looked like I’d been stabbed.”
It was at this point that Mick tried to shoot himself. After he failed, he was later admitted to a psychiatric unit.
“I’ve never had a drink or used drugs since,” Mick says. “I was on a road to recovery from that point on.”
Meeting his rapist – and the plan to kill him
Mick had been clean of drink and drugs for about a year when he says, by chance, he met the man who raped him.
He spotted his attacker in a McDonald’s restaurant. The man was drunk and Mick bought him a cup of tea.
“I knew it was him,” Mick says. “He didn’t know it was me.”
Mick arranged to meet the man the next day with the intention of killing him.
“I went back with a knife in my sock,” he says.
“I was going to cut his throat. I was going to kill him. Everything was building up inside me.”
As Mick walked towards the man, he says he imagined killing him, with “clear, vivid pictures” of the brutal act in his mind.
But instead of carrying it out, Mick says he sat down and listened to what the man had to say.
“I didn’t say anything,” Mick explains. “In that moment I got this real understanding. I thought: ‘I’m not going to live in your sin.’
“People say resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. That’s what I’d been doing.
“I didn’t grow to love the guy but, in the end, I can honestly say I didn’t hate him.”
Mick says the man died about two years later.
Becoming a priest
After leaving the psychiatric unit, Mick went on to achieve a degree in theology from the University of Manchester, overcoming difficulties he faced with dyslexia.
Now ordained as a priest and recently consecrated as a bishop, he is known locally as Pastor Mick and runs a charity called Church On The Street, helping people struggling in the cost of living crisis.
Among its services, the charity provides food, mental health support and Citizens’ Advice – and has recently had to start helping families pay for funerals.
“At the moment, it’s far, far worse than the pandemic,” he says. “It’s ordinary people with children who are in dire straits.”
He is also concerned about the impact of the cost of living on mental health and suicide risk.
“I’ve got NHS mental health teams working with us in our building. People can’t afford to have a funeral for their loved ones. It’s horrendous. We pay an undertaker to do the funerals for us and then I do the services for free.”
Meeting William and Kate
Mick’s work was recognised by royalty when Prince William and Kate visited the charity in January last year.
William has since written the foreword to Mick’s book – with a TV series about his life in the works – and he was invited to Kate’s Christmas carol concert in December.
“I got to pray for them which was quite an honour,” Mick says. “I really felt they’re going to need prayers.”
Mick believes William and Kate understand the problems people are facing with the cost of living despite their royal lifestyles.
“Obviously they haven’t experienced it but you don’t have to dead to be an undertaker, do you?” he says.
“They’ve got the ability to open doors and ask questions that need to be asked and point fingers in right directions.”
Prince William wrote foreword to Pastor Mick’s autobiograpy
The Prince of Wales wrote the foreword to Pastor Mick’s autobiography entitled Blown Away: From drug-dealer to life bringer.
In it, the future King said: “It’s impossible to visit Church on the Street and not be deeply moved by the work the organisation does for those in need.
“It is an extraordinary place that has been an important refuge and place of safety for so many.
“Often, it is only by sharing our problems and being honest with ourselves that we are able to heal and overcome life’s challenges.
“And by doing so, we find just how deep the bonds we all share are.”
Mick – who was married with three children during his time as a criminal enforcer – says he has repaired relationships with his family over the years.
“I wasn’t a good father,” he says. “I have to live with that fact.
“I’d want it to be better with my children, that’s the truth. But it’s all right – my family have come to accept me, and love me, and care for me. It’s the best I can do.
“Some of it is my regret around my children. I wish I could turn the clock back with that but I can’t so I accept it and do the best with it.”
Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email email@example.com in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK