A former Marine, methamphetamine addict, and ex-pat from Britain living in Hong Kong, Chris Thrall has lived a lot of lives. Now, he is the happiest man you’ve ever met. His secret? “Paradise is in your head.” Take it from a man who has been to hell and back.
LISTEN TO THE EPISODE:
Welcome back to another episode of the art of making things happen with your host. Me, Steve Sims. We got Chris Thrall on the show. He’s a former commando that ended up working for the triads in the Wan Chai gang land area, where there’s a lot of, you know, I ended up working on the door there. So it’s kind of funny. We may have ended up working at the same clubs. This guy tells it to your blunt. It’s basically a, how he went from the Marines into a business that failed. And then where did he go from there? He stuck needles in his arm and became a meth addict. And from there decided this wasn’t where he wanted to be and he made something different of himself. And this guy has really grabbed life by the horns and is living life. He is certainly no waste in a second fellow Brit interesting character. Interesting story. Learn from it and do not waste a second with your life. Enjoy the episode. Hey Chris, welcome to the show.
Thank you very much for having me Steve.
Now I’ve got to admit. It was really interesting when I was introduced to you. And I think who was, it was Fergus wasn’t it that introduced us. Yeah, he’s an interesting character. So thanks Fergus for that. And what I’m saying, thank you. Now, I haven’t spoken to you too much. I might not be thanking him soon, but I’ve been reading about your history and we share some interesting streets in the streets of Wan Chia, Hong Kong. And if anyone out there knows what Wan Chai is, then you obviously are deviant and you were in the wrong place. So it was very interesting to hear that you were there, but let’s jump in. You were a Royal Marine, you left them on a successful business in Asia and then it went to shit, take us from there.
Yeah. And you got it. In a nutshell I left the commandos. I’d started a business in my spare time. It started ticking over something like a hundred thousand US dollars a month. And I thought, ah, here’s my ticket out of the Armed Forces. You know, there’s, maybe bigger, isn’t the right word, but there’s, more experiences, you know, on my horizon. Let, let’s go for that. And by the time I’d put in my 18 months notice, which was a requirement in the Marines at the time, by the time I’d flown out to Hong Kong, where the majority of my business happened to be, said business, had all book collapsed. I will say it wasn’t sort of a fault of my own. It was the parent company that supplied my network it’s products had basically floundered. And what was the product?
What was the business?
They were consumer electronic products. So they were like alarms, like personal attack, alarms, car, alarms, house alarms and a few other sort of gizmos and gadgets. And so I found myself in this situation where I’d put three years hard work literally the sort of 18 hour day stuff into, into building my future, taking a gamble. And I think we do that a lot in life left the Marines and then suddenly there was on the streets of Hong Kong. I was homeless by definition of the fact, you know, my home was back in England. I desperately didn’t want to get on a plane and go back. Not just because I didn’t have the money, but because it sat in my heart, I’ll make him a fortune in Asia. And yeah, it’s just, I don’t know how you say one of those moments in life where my God, you just feel on a dodgy wikit.
So what did you we’re obviously going to get into where you are now and what you’re doing now. And there’s been a lot of success since then, but what was the pivot? What was the wake up? The moment that went, hang on this, this ain’t right. What do I need to do now to get me out of it? What was that moment?
Oh gosh, that came about two and a half years later. Steve, I tried to make it in Hong Kong, in a nutshell, I ended up in crystal meth, psychosis. That’s basically chronic addiction to crystal meth. One of the, sort of more Savage addictions that’s out there, psychosis, meaning I was meant extremely mentally unwell. I was kind of, I became that guy that you’d, you’d cross the road to sort of avoid cause I was talking to myself and, you know, as I walked along and all this sort of stuff I came back to the UK, immediately fell into what you describe as a serious depression, which I stayed for 18 months. And I was trying to feel myself out of it using drugs. Which surprised no surprise didn’t work. And then one day I woke up cold shivering, tired, literally starving. Cause I probably hadn’t eaten for five or six days or nor slept until I crashed out.I tried to make it in Hong Kong, in a nutshell, I ended up in crystal meth, psychosis Click To Tweet
And the sun was shining through my window. I couldn’t go outside because I got to the point where I was just too ashamed of myself. I don’t mean like my real self, which I’ve never, I’ve never had an issue with. I mean, my appearance, the, I was living it. It wasn’t conducive to living in a, height, in a, you know, in a housing estate where there’s people walking past your front door all day long. I had a particularly good relationship with the children in my street. I always come and knock on my door and get me to come and play football with them. In fact, I think I was the only adult, not just in that street. I think that I’ve ever known that. Like I, just give my time to them. Again, that’s kind of like a representation of my own damaged childhood and I could hear the kids outside my window on this particular morning and they were all screaming and kicking the football around and I knew any minute now, like they’re going to knock on my door and say, Chris, come play football, come and play football.
And how could I explain? I was sticking needles in my arms, like 12 times a day. I lost, I was a 14 stone bodybuilder when I left the Marines and I was now about nine and a half stone. I had no food in my cupboard. My weekly shot was about one pound 87, which is about, you know, $2 American. I had to shoplift just literally to survive. And as I laid there shivering and cold on the ground, I probably had nervous breakdown number three or four. But of course, I didn’t know what a nervous breakdown was. I probably still don’t if I was honest, because back then nobody spoke about mental health. No doctors, no, your parents certainly didn’t schools had no idea. Mental health was just something that wasn’t talked about. So when you had these conditions like anxiety, depression, drug addiction, you know, all mental health conditions, not, not, not things you do by choice.
You don’t know what’s happening to you, Steve, you know, you don’t know what’s happening to you. You just think this is me, is this is just me kind of thing. And anyway, in that moment, as I said you know, nervous breakdown, probably number three on crying my eyes out, just kind of like starting to feel sorry for myself. Cause it’s something I’ve never done in my life or I’ve always been hard. Like, fuck you. I’m gonna, you know, I won’t feel sorry of life. Ain’t easy. Even from like 14, when I first got kicked out of home, I just refuse to feel sorry for myself, you know? But here I was in this state as a grown man that, yeah, I was feeling a bit, a bit bad and a replay my childhood through my head and I thought about that little toddler that, you know, shouldn’t have had to go through the things that, that he went through.
And, and I was like, Chris, you’re the adult now, mate, you’re looking after that little toddler and what you’re doing to him, you’re shoving drugs in his arm, 12 times a day. You’re putting him through this. And as I started to think, there’s an, I was just really breaking down in tears cause I could, I could see it. Now. I could see what I was doing, Steve, you know, and the sun shone through my blinds. And in that moment I thought, I’m going to change. I’m going to change my behavior. Not, not myself with change based. I’m going to cut down. These drugs, started doing, trying to do them every single day to be happy. I’m going to keep it to like once a fourth night and when they’ve gone, they’re gone. And when I wake up and I’m in this cold shivering, tired state, I’m going to put a kettle on.And in that moment I thought, I'm going to change. I'm going to change my behavior. Click To Tweet
I will make a cup of tea and then bang, I’ll go and start smashing back at life. Like when I was a young sort of Marine. And, and that was my, that was my moment in that moment. I not only saw the whole world for what it was and saw people for all their goodness, but also all their flaws. But I knew myself, I knew what had to be done. And I knew that things were never going to be the same in my life again. And here we are talking, which is kind of Testament to that, right?
Truth! Now. You’ve you picked yourself up. You’re now speaking all over the planet, you know, you’ve got a phenomenal YouTube channel. You, you’ve got a great book ‘Eating Smoke’ which is your account of your time in Hong Kong. But when did you start climbing up at? Because in give me the bullet points you’ve got you’re an athlete. You’re extremely Jordan’s athlete your, a qualified pilot skydiver adventurer, author. You went on to so many things, but what was the first step that you suddenly went – Alright, I’ve started to get some momentum here. What was that first bit that you could smile at your success?
That was the washing up. Steve, I did the washing up in my house. I did the washing up that had been accruing on, you know, down the sideboard for probably, well, two weeks since I got my last benefits check. I, the last time I bought drugs I could never do any household chore unless I was high. I just didn’t have the will for it. It couldn’t do anything. Couldn’t, you know, couldn’t iron a shirt. Not that I had any reason to own a shirt cause I had no job, but couldn’t do anything. And in that moment I thought, Chris wash up, wash those dishes. If you can do that straight, then that is one rung up the ladder into the light, away from the darkness. And as I was doing that washing, I was thinking bloody hell I’m doing it, I’m doing it. I’m doing something that I hadn’t done for 18 months.
I’m doing it. And with that came a real kind of aura of just knowing I was, I was heading in the right direction. If you want to ask me like more sort of more sort of a stronger foundation. I had a deep calling Steve to go and help others. When I was down on my luck, as I said, most people run away from me. Nobody understood me. Everyone had these preconceived ideas about mental health, that it made you a bad person, so it’s your fault. And, but there were two people that did help me when I came through the storm, so to speak, I just wanted to give back. And my calling was in Africa. So I got on the plane to Norway, funnily enough studied six months at our volunteer Institute over there. And I learned all the things I needed to learn to go and be a development instructor in Africa.
So then I gave my services for free working with street children in a war, torn Mozambique. So for people who don’t know, don’t know, Mozambique is one of the most beautiful countries in the world with the most beautiful beaches in the world. And yet it’s riddled with landmines. And it’s all the beautiful colonial architecture through colonial war. And then civil war had just destroyed all the infrastructure. And I taught there, I taught street kids for six months, like I say, free of charge. I couldn’t take, I wouldn’t have, I didn’t get paid, but I wouldn’t have wanted it to be paid anyway, because this wasn’t about getting a job, earning money. I don’t think life ever really is of uncovering new bills. This was about me giving back to the, to the universe, I suppose, looking back at it off the back of that while I was there working with those kiddies, the organization called and said, would I drive a bus to India and back?
So a bus from, from Norway to India and then back again. So we drove a 12 ton British Leyland school bus to India. There was about 15 of us. And the idea was we were going to write articles about people living in poverty and communities that live in poverty. That was an amazing experience. Through doing that. I, I met a wonderful person who said, Chris, you know, you’ve got, you’ve got kind of people skills. You shouldn’t be like working in a factory and get, you know, working 12 hour days getting fed up, doing manual labor. Not, not that there’s anything wrong in doing that. They just recognized in me, I had more to give Steve than that, you know? So they said, why don’t you consider university? Well, back then, people like me, we didn’t really go to university. It was kind of an elite privilege.
And so I did a, an access course in humanities that was biology, psychology, and sociology got myself on a youth work course to work with these young people that as I said, I’m passionate about. And I’ve got a degree by the time I’d got one. I realized the whole university system is just, just yet another brainwashing, you know, arm of the ruling elite. And it’s not just a brainwashing institution, but it, it puts you in debt for the rest of your adult life to get that brainwashing. And I’m lucky. I’m just that kind of person. I have an analytical mind. I know when I’m being fed a line, when you can’t even debate something like, you know, I don’t want to touch on any dodgy subjects, but let’s just say events in, America over the last 20 years with with someone who’s supposed to be your educator, then you know that you’ve kind of like risen.
You know, your level of understanding has gone above theirs. And that’s what, that’s what university is. It’s a very entrenched mechanism to indoctrinate people in to think that they’re doing really well in life. When in actual fact they’re being brainwashed to keep the exact same status quo that keeps the exact same people in power and nothing changes. Right? So I did that at the same time I was making the most of the adventuring and, and the extreme sports. I became a skydiver. I did the skydiving course. I became a pilot. I learnt, you know, got my pilot license, flying airplanes. I traveled 80 countries across all seven continents. Some are Antarctic explore scuba dived on icebergs in the Antarctic polar circle backpack through every single country in North central and South America slept in a jungle with just me, my machete catching Puranas. I just wanted to smash it, mate.
You know, because I, you got to remember, I lost three years. That’s wrong. I didn’t lose three years to addiction, but in society’s terms, I lost three years. Now, when I look back, I realized that was the best three years I ever could have had that really act as an education to help me go on and just achieve, not just the bucket list stuff, because that’s a bit tacky, but I am genuinely the happiest person I ever meet. I never meet anyone like me. I don’t meet people that are just content with what they’ve got. They’re either like wanting something or they’re upset about what they’ve seen in the media. I watched the news for 20 years. I don’t care what they, you know, what they want me to believe tonight. I don’t care about, about that, Steve, you know, because, I know from my life expense that none of it is true.I didn't lose three years to addiction, but in society's terms, I lost three years. Click To Tweet
Not even one like tiny bit it’s, it’s a rich, man’s lie with a rapper that’s just fed to the poor people. That’s all, that’s all the news. Isn’t and I’m not that poor person anymore. I’m rich in experience. I’m rich in love. I’m rich in passion and I’m rich in one in a, you know, the rest of my fellow human beings, to come into the light, like, like I’ve done, you know, Am I waffling on mate? Am I making any sense?
I’m happy to be here and all that. Now you wrote the first book, which was ‘Eating Smoke’, as we mentioned earlier, which is about your time in Hong Kong. And we spoke prior to this before we hit the record bond that you actually doing a second memoir and that the first one, ‘Eating Smoke’ bare in mind is a best seller. Now you’re writing the second one, which is, I believe called ‘Forty Nights’, is that correct?
Yeah. Forty nights. I published about a year ago now. So ‘Eating Smoke’ is my descent into drug psychosis, working for the Hong Kong triads as a nightclub doorman as I know, you’ve done yourself, Steve over there in the Wan Chai red light gang land district. ‘Forty Nights’ is almost equally, if not slightly more precious to me in, in as far as that was me at my lowest point, getting myself out there, I never went to any support groups. I never went to like your AA or your NA. I never could go and see a doctor because you know, the medical community don’t understand people like me. And so, you know, all day, we’ll try and do is prescribe me a pill. I’d go home and I’d just chuck all those pills in the bin, because one thing I’ve known from a young age, actually, this is not something I learned.
My dad used to tell me, as he said, Chris, there’s nothing wrong with you. You know, used to say that cause he could see, I had various stepdads coming into my life and a lot of abuse, all this, can he say, son, there’s nothing wrong with you. And so the doctors were giving me all these bags full of prescription medication and I just go outside and throw them in the bin. I’m not suggesting everybody does that. Some people need their medication, but nah, I was just trying to find my way in life. Steve, you know, there was nothing wrong with me. I was just on a, on a, a growth spurt in a very kind of downward initially, what was a downward spiral? So ‘Forty Nights’ is special. Yeah, both my memoirs are funny. Funny as I can make them use my sort of Royal Marine’s humor and that kind of fits with my belief really that there’s no such thing as a bad experience, there’s just experiences.
And if you don’t have experiences, you don’t grow and you don’t learn. And so no, you know, no one person has the right to say, to tell another person how to, you know, live their life. Unless of course they’re sort of hurting somebody. But I think, yeah, that’s a good lesson for me. And I tried to put that forward in ‘Forty Nights’.
And you’ve got the YouTube channel. What can people expect to see on there?
Me waffling, editing out all my swear words. It’s a tough one. Youtube is a platform where you can’t speak your mind. You can speak within their rules and regulations. So with that said, I just tried to be as honest as I can, about the life experience, I try to spread love understanding. It’s almost a bit of a shame I’ve had to piggyback off my military career.
We live in a world now that’s incredibly indoctrinated with a military hero story, which if you ask any of us that have been in the military, if we’re heros, as we just would laugh at you, you know, we are no different to the people that stopped the shells in the supermarket. We just chose that our supermarket was going to be, you know, the Marines or the air force or the, this kind of thing. Right. and so as far as the YouTube goes, I’ve had kind of like borrow from that perception that the military is something special because I try telling stories like I’m telling you now Steve proper down to earth, heartfelt learning experiences that people can really benefit from. And sadly young people don’t want to hear it. I don’t, I don’t blame them. We were all young once. Right. But YouTube’s algorithm works in a specific way.
It’s a lot of young people on there getting their kind of, you know, their media fixes, so to speak. And I suppose they don’t want an old man waffling about spirituality. They want a man waffling about how he’s, you know, was on patrol in, in combat. And the guy next to him got shot three times.
Strange times. So what’s next on the horizon. You know, you’ve certainly led a busy life and you haven’t relaxed and you’ve certainly taken as many opportunities as you can to expand. But what is next for you?
It’s like this, I don’t really have an agenda, Steve. Right. And that is because I’m content. I don’t want for enough, there’s nothing in this world. That’s going to make me any happier than I am saying. You now have an, a meeting, wonderful people like yourself, which I have to say massive.
Thank you for, you know when I was cold and shivering and sticking needles in my arm, you know, I kept, I kept the faith in myself. Right. And I wish back then I could have told myself, I’ll be talking to Steve now. And yeah. You know, and that life would be good. But as far as the future goes, from a soundbite perspective, I’ll keep building a YouTube channel. I’ll keep inspiring people. Particularly the young people I’m passionate about to get out and smash their life. You know, their life goals, their dreams, their bucket list, more important than that to understand there’s nothing out there is gonna make you happy. Paradise is in your head. And until you get to the point, you realize that paradise is in your head, nothing externally is ever going to you know, is ever going to fulfill that need for you. On a personal level, I’m very fortunate. I have a an amazing family that I never expected to have. And that is just my future alone. On an adventure level, a friend of mine we’re gonna do the toughest mountain bike route across America next year.
Again just to raise awareness of the veteran story and kind of the, the lie about war, which we still keep buying into, despite the amazing kind of history that’s been written out there about what war is really about and, and who benefits from war. So yeah, we’re going to do that. I’ll keep doing a bit of writing. Keep making my YouTube videos, I guess.
Wow. Well, this has been an interesting podcasts, and I want to say a massive thank you for you taking your time and for deciding to get the needles out and to get on with enjoying life. And I hope people get out there to, to hear the messages. I will be blunt and tell you that I’m going to go and grab those books. Cause I want to get, I want to hear more about this. See if maybe we were on the same door sometime somewhere that’d be funny. But how can people find you? Do you have a website or is it best just to hit the YouTube channel?
If you just type Chris Thrall into a search engine? You’ll, you’ll find all my stuff. All my Twitter handles and Facebook is just Chris Thrall, the only exception is Instagram. It’s Chris. Thrall. Books are all on Amazon, just type in ‘Eating Smoke’ and yeah, I’ll see you there.
And that’s T -H- R- A- L- L, correct?
Yes, Steve. Yes.
It’s going to be in the show notes. Chris, you’ve been a great guest. I’ve enjoyed your outlook. And I’m hoping people out there that maybe not as in a lower level as you were, but are kind of like feeling in a bit of a shit place. They can listen to you and go, Hey, I now need to make the decision and the light at the end of the tunnel may well, just be me. So thank you very much, Pal. I appreciate you for sharing your story and hopefully we’ve crossed paths somewhere.
Steve you’re a legend. Thank you ever so much.
Cheers man. Speak soon.
Chris Thrall Bio:
After leaving the Royal Marines to run a successful business in Asia, Chris found himself homeless, suffering acute mental illness from crystal meth addiction and working for the Hong Kong triads.
Declining conventional support, Chris rebuilt his life to become a qualified pilot, skydiver, adventurer and bestselling author. He has expeditioned to eighty countries on seven continents and raised thousands for charity.
An extreme-endurance athlete, in 2018 Chris ran an ultra-marathon a day for thirty-seven days, unsupported, the length of Britain, to raise awareness of veterans suicide, and in 2019 a quadruple ironman consisting of a 9.6-mile swim, 450-mile cycle and a 107-mile run.
Chris fire walked forty meters on red-hot coals to raise money to work with street children in war-torn Mozambique. He’s driven volunteer journalists to India and back by bus to highlight global poverty. Chris was awarded the Second Level Commendation of the Finnish Nation on the grounds of Human Generosity for his ability to inspire others. Backpacking through every country in North, Central and South America, he dived off the famous cliff in Acapulco, caught piranhas and survived without equipment in the Amazon rain forest and snorkeled with bull sharks off Belize. In colder climes, he has scuba-dived with leopard seals and icebergs in the sub-zero waters of the Antarctic Polar Circle.
Chris wrote the bestselling memoir Eating Smoke, a frank yet humorous account of his time down and out in Hong Kong. He has appeared on numerous podcasts and programs and two award-wining radio plays have been made about his life. Forty Nights, Chris’s second memoir, details how the life-changing experience of addiction led to his enlightenment.
Chris has a degree in youth and community work and is a substance-misuse/addiction specialist. He presents this topic from a progressive perspective. Along with trademark Royal Marines humor, Chris’s fascinating story, inspirational message and passionate approach appeals to those unlocking their potential and corporate clients concerned with workforce well being.