But after 26 years away, he’s returned to live in his home town of Crawley once again, and he has come back to launch his new gangster movie.
Having been a gangster himself, Clarke is now film star, writer, director and producer for The Drugs Game which receives its premiere with screenings at 7.30pm and 9.30pm at Tulleys drive-in cinema in Crawley on Thursday, September 2.
It’s a film Clarke shot in a wide range of Sussex locations, including Horsham, Brighton, Shoreham, Worthing, Hastings, Eastbourne, Crawley, East Grinstead, West Hoathly, Reigate, Chessington, Croydon and surrounding areas.
“I went away from Crawley when I was 12. Now I am bringing my new movie back. Everybody knows the roads I went down. They have seen me turn it around.
“I had a pretty different life-style for many years. At a young age, I discovered I was really good with my fists. I got into a lot of trouble through fighting. I then started making a lot of money through violence. I am not proud of it, but it is what has led me to doing what I am doing now.
“But I was doing all the debt collecting. The older generation saw what I was capable of. I was collecting for the underworld and that meant violence. I wasn’t turning up to be nice.
“But you get to a certain age in life where you are sick to death of sitting in a prison cell and you start to view life differently. I looked and I thought ‘Jesus Christ!’ and you realise the difference between the rights and the wrongs. I started working (in prison) on a scheme to help young kids and I was talking to young kids and I started realising how good I was with writing and the way I was wording things.
“I went away quite a few times, but not for the past five or six or seven years. And when I got out, I continued to work with troubled kids.”
And he continued writing. And then he started writing a film: “I started writing the film when I was in prison five years ago, and when I came out you have to catch up with family and get settled. I eventually got myself a secure job and my own flat. And then I thought it was time to finish the film.
“I play the lead role. I get released from prison and I realise that not everything is the same as it was before I went away. There are other firms in town. It is a film that has got some really clever plot twists, a really British gangster movie, but different from anything really.”
Clarke reckons it has set him back £64,000 of his own money – a big gamble, as he says. But he ended up doing about 20 jobs himself, from lead actor to doing half the editing, from producing and casting to finding locations and sourcing props: “It was exhausting.”
But he is delighted with the result, particularly with the way it underlines the extent to which he has turned his life around. Clarke is intending the Crawley premiere to have a big impact on the town, and then it will be a case of sorting out the distribution options for the film to see what happens next... now he is back in Crawley: “I just missed it. It’s my roots. I never really settled anywhere else. A lot of my family are here.”