The Malta Independent 16 July 2020, Thursday

Mark Laurence ta’ Xarabank!

Andrew Azzopardi Wednesday, 3 June 2020, 06:38 Last update: about 2 months ago

This Mark Laurence is a fantastic guy and you will see why in a moment.

I ‘got to’ know him, like most of you, through the popular TV talk show Xarabank.

They say, Xarabank has always been a breeding ground for people in the media, whether it’s editors, producers or journalists. Many claim it is one of the best settings to get a good grounding on how broadcasting and journalism works. Slowly but surely you are thrown at the deep end of the pool and made to work your socks off. In fact, from what I gather, it takes quite a bit of hardiness to hang on in such a demanding setting.

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I thought Mark Laurence would be another one of these għasafar tal-passa who would swing on to the next opportunity the moment it would crop up. But this so far was not to be. He has dug his heels and is now more than simply an outlying reporter hoisting Peppi on his shoulders (metaphorically speaking) or merely doing that occasionally standupper. He is now at the center of the show, possibly and probably raking in appearance time more than Peppi himself and trusted with hard-talk and managing fiery debates.

But from where did this fuzzy and woolly-headed looking young man come from?

He says his roots are embedded in a modest background. Born and bred in the town of Sannat, a village in the South of Gozo, with a population of slightly more than 2,000 inhabitants. His parents’ home is in ‘ the middle of nowhere’ surrounded by fields, bees and sun flowers.

Oh and now for some trivia: It is believed that even Queen Elizabeth II visited Sannat and stopped over at a house known for its lace at Pjazza tax-Xellina. The Queen apparently lived 1 or 2 minutes away from ML’s parents’ house. But it’s useless asking Mark Laurence on this, he was probably not even on the agenda of his parents when this Royal visited.

His mother worked at a Bank and his father was a nurse. These two professions must have trickled a mix of values into Mark Laurence notably, diligence (from his mother’s side) and mindfulness (from his father’s side). He has just one other sibling.

They are a run of the mill family who somehow all loved performing whether it was drama, dance or music. He says that this generated in him a fondness to be at the center of attraction. He loved acting which he still does, because he considers his role on TV as being grounded in performance. Once he also told me that he learns the lines when presenting on Xarabank and doesn’t just spontaneously say what comes to mind (probably, that is why he remembers the names of his guests while Peppi doesn’t).

“Peppi, it looks like a case where the servant becomes greater than the master, at least on this bit”!

He says that this infatuation with being on stage was cultivated in the time he attended the famed ‘ Oratorju’.

Back to when his hair was less frizz and probably gently combed by his loving mum.

He went to a Church school, a Salesian institution, that gave a lot of importance to acting and to being of service. He says that this experience molded him outside in. When he speaks of the Salesians his eyes light up. He reflects on the richness of their charisma with a hint of indebtedness. He says that St John Bosco in his simplicity was intense. Bosco’s mission was to bring in young people to the fold and avoid them being taken under the wings of the Mafia in Turin. He says that the Salesian spirituality is all about assembling the outcasts and the unwanted – a life purpose that seems to resonate with him.

The fall-out of this religious and cult background is still entrenched in him. He dedicates time to prayer (preferring the Psalms above all) and makes it a point to find time for himself, to ruminate and discern. Mark Laurence speaks of his lifetime desire to become a priest when he came out of sixth form by saying that this would have been an opportunity to be at the center of it all. I’m not sure it is just that. I also believe that his wish to become a priest was embedded in his desire to make noticeable changes in his communities.

He also speaks conceitedly of his virginity. To me the issue of Mark Laurence and his much publicized ‘virginity’ is not just about not having sex but more about threading carefully when faced with choices. In my opinion, for him, virginity is a state where he, as an individual, wants to move from naivety to understanding a context from all its angles and this means that he needs to grow in that experience and not simply plummet into it. Mark Laurence is so concerted he does not just relish his needs but wants to take benevolence to another level. His virginity is reflected in his openness to people by making a conscious decision to keep himself free and uncluttered.

And that is why I think he is a young man worth noticing, talking and listening to.

So to sum up so far.

Mark Laurence is likeable, has a vagabond look and talks like a traveler. He is religious, but also intent on biting the apple and getting access to knowledge. He loves his family and Sannat remains his sanctuary and hideaway. He is unassuming and unpretentious. He might need some grooming skills, that’s true, but I am comforted knowing that Deborah (Francalanza), his stunning, brainy and nifty girlfriend might kick-in that department.

Mark Laurence is very devoted to the Church. He attends regularly and is fascinated by the theatrical artistry of the Church finding its highpoint during the Easter celebrations. Mark Laurence says that if the Church realizes the potential there is in the theatrical aspect of its rituals, it would not be as boring.

He mentions that after sixth form he went on to study at University where predictably he got a degree in Communications and Maltese but has still to take the plunge to the next level and get himself a Masters (hoping against all hope, that all the streamers I’ve been clipping all over the Island will lead Mark Laurence to ‘share the journey’ with the Faculty for Social Wellbeing!)

Probably, music was his first love, or possibly his first pay maybe! He used to perform in weddings and other activities to get some extra dosh to make up his pocket money. Since then he has been working with Xarabank for 8 whole years doing all the menial jobs but patiently waiting on the sidelines until he could take the plunge and ride the crest. Now he manages and anchors (with Peppi) Xarabank.

He says that he cannot remove from his memory (unfortunately) his first standupper in front of Parliament in 2012 which Mark Laurence says was a complete flop. But he says that his voyage in the world of media is a hard one and goes by the watchword, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (a quote attributed to the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche). It is hard work which has led him to where he is today. He asserts that probably failures had a lot to do with his accomplishments.

I asked him about his relationship with his mentor and manager, Peppi. When Peppi, who is such a complex personality, comes into the equation, Mark Laurence says that, notwithstanding he is very affectionate towards Peppi the latter remains a handful! Mark Laurence claims that one of the secrets that get him through the day is that he does not get angry easily.

It is so strange that this young man, so easy to please and who gets betrothed with the self-effacing chirping of the birds, a good book and some time to pray would manage to survive, for almost a decade, in one of the most compound and contentious newsrooms in the Country. Mark Laurence admits that whilst it is very difficult to work with the maharishi, who never seems to tire, never sleeps (maybe squeezes two, three hours a day), is cognizant of all that is going on, is writing scripts at 2 am in the morning, and carries the stories of people all the time, yet - he considers working at WE Media a blessing.

I ask him bluntly whether he would like to be like Peppi and Mark Laurence after a pregnant pause declares, “no I don’t want to be like him, but I would like to be able to love like him”. He continues to add that Peppi is exceptionally judicious. He says that Peppi does not keep him back and encourages him to take on as many positions as he wants, even if they may not agree with his. Mark Laurence reiterates that he has faith in Peppi not blindly but thoughtfully.

Coming to the end of the interview Mark Laurence says that his objective in life, notwithstanding his passion to work with Xarabank, is first and foremost to be at peace with himself.

Well this is Mark Laurence the young man behind the distinguishable coiffure who comes across as impatient and wanting to jump out of his skin all the time, really and truly, intent not to lose time in helping others.

He is spiritual, has high regard of Peppi, he loves his work and he is a people’s person. He is left-leaning, affianced by the stories of people, has a sense of justice and believes that people should be given a voice. He is also in love ( phew finally!).

He throws a huge final thought at me when he tells me; “the highest ideal should be ‘forgiveness’ even if that means it will let people off the hook”.

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