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Profile-the first Greek astronaut Nik Halik
Nik Halik isn’t just a millionaire, he’s “the Thrillionaire”. So what thrilling stuff has he done? Well, he’s gone into space (he’s “the first Greek astronaut”, it says on his website) which is pretty thrilling. He’s been a rock star, touring with the likes of Deep Purple and Bon Jovi. He’s climbed the highest mountains in the world, and in fact not only climbed Mount Everest but also jumped off the top in a HALO jump (i.e. with a free-fall parachute). He’s had lunch on the wreck of the Titanic, and slept in a sarcophagus in Egypt. Just last year he roamed the jungles of French Guiana looking for the prison cell that once belonged to Henri Charrière, the convict who escaped and wrote Papillon. “I didn’t find his cell,” reports Nik with a thrill-seeker’s delight, “but I contracted malaria”.
Oddly enough, he’s not in Cyprus to talk about these feats (except indirectly). He’s in Cyprus (or was; he left last week) to talk about building wealth and managing your cash in the midst of a recession, giving ‘Money Matrix’ seminars in Nicosia and Limassol – but the truth is, he could probably talk about anything and make it sound exciting. I’m not really money-orientated, says Nik, “I’m cause-orientated”. He calls himself a “value-facturer”, adding value to people’s lives – “whether it’s emotionally inspiring them, for personal development [and] life coaching, or whether it’s financially inspiring them.”
He’s 42, with a shaved head and slight stubble, his small chin and prominent front teeth giving him the air of a hyperactive rodent. He talks incredibly fast, his tongue darting out occasionally, which – coupled with his Australian accent – makes for a few misunderstandings: he repeats three times that a parent has to be “a cannibal” to his children (with me saying “Really? A cannibal? Why?”) before it dawns on me that what he’s really saying is “accountable”.
He’s both very easy and very hard to talk to: easy because he talks unstoppably and seems to have an answer to everything, hard because – like many ‘life coaches’ and motivational speakers – he’s not really interested in having a dialogue. A few key phrases (“beacon of light”, “what puts a smile on your face”) tend to be repeated over and over, like shorthand. If you ask a tricky question he’ll invariably pretend not to hear it (“What’s that?”), buying himself some time to form an answer, which mostly involves linking up your question to one of his many buzzwords. “I want to be in absolute control,” he says at one point. “There’s only two things I can’t control, weather and traffic,” he’s fond of saying, repeating it twice in our 45 minutes. More shorthand.
The quest for control surely comes from his earliest years, growing up in Melbourne in a “very dysfunctional” family. Dad was a truck driver, Mum worked in a sweatshop for Toyota; both were Greek immigrants (the family name is Halikopoulos), working 16-hour days to provide for their kids – four kids in total, Nik being the youngest and sickliest. He had allergies and chronic asthma. “For the first 10 years of my life I was medically confined to my bedroom,” he recalls; “I was a pretty sick child”. His relationship with his mother seems to have been closer than the one with his dad (who died in 1993). “My mother always knew that I was different,” he says with obvious affection. “Like Luke Skywalker, you know? ‘The Force is strong in this one!’ So she really believed in me.”
Like his adult self, eight-year-old Nik set out to control his life, looking from his sickbed to the wide world beyond. “At age eight, I wrote down my screenplay,” he reports, with the air of doing a schtick he’s done many times before, “my Top 10 list of goals, things I wanted to pursue in my life. And of those 10 goals, effectively now it’s eight down – ticked off – and two to go. I wrote down things like ‘becoming an astronaut’, ‘visiting 130 countries’, ‘running with the bulls in Spain’, ‘having lunch in the Titanic’, ‘having exotic homes around the world’, ‘becoming a multi-millionaire’, ‘living in a space station’, ‘walking on the moon’ – these are the kind of lofty goals I wrote down”. His way in was music (he played bouzouki and electric guitar), leading him to start his first business – a music school – at the age of 14. Three years later he sold it, using the proceeds (30,000 Australian dollars) to relocate to LA, trying to get signed up as a musician and songwriter.
Thus began his rock-star years, though ‘rock star’ may be pushing it slightly; he did tour with Deep Purple and Bon Jovi – but in fact he mostly played guitar in Australian bands (The Big Deal, Solis and Calcium), little-known outside Australia. He played 4,000 gigs in 12 years, meanwhile making canny property investments (he likes to buy old properties and refurbish, thereby adding value from Day 1). By the age of 30, Nik was already a rich man – but being in a band with five other guys, “where my livelihood was dependent on them”, wasn’t entirely satisfying: “I didn’t have the control”. Besides, there were existential questions to consider. “You’re gonna be fertilising daffodils in about 40, 50, 60 years’ time. You know? What is your legacy going to be, and why should people remember you?”
For Nik, the answer was clear. His main talent still lay untapped – a talent for inspiring other people. “In the famous words of Socrates,” he proclaims grandly, trotting out another of his buzzword phrases, “‘In life, you’re only measured by your contribution’ – so I want to contribute, and stir the soul of anybody with a pulse, anybody willing to raise their level of awareness.”
His ultimate goal is to “get individuals to live life on their own terms. Because the majority of individuals are brainwashed by the System, and the System institutionalises the way they think, the way they work. I’m all about allowing an individual to disconnect themselves from Society, in regards to working for themselves and living life on their own terms, as opposed to someone else’s agenda.”
That’s the crux of Nik Halik’s philosophy – a fierce, unabashed individualism. “This might sound a little controversial,” he says, “but the reality is [that] in life, nobody really likes you. Your parents are biologically programmed to like you. Your siblings are biologically obligated to like you” – I give a dubious shrug – “it’s family, OK? You work just hard enough so you don’t get sacked, and your employer’s going to pay you just enough so you don’t quit”. That’s in what he calls a “job of necessity”, of course, which is where most people end up (as opposed to doing “what puts a smile on your face”) – but the message is clear. “Never be reliant on anybody – because you know what? Society will let you down. Government will let you down. It’s up to you. You’ve always been the most qualified person in the world. You’ve always been the most unique individual in the world. Always.”
It’s easy to equate the 42-year-old telling me these things with the child living in his bedroom – in effect “disconnected from Society” – for the first 10 years of his life. Still, Nik’s individualism is startling, and slightly scary. “When we’re born, we have an umbilical cord,” he says. “The moment that umbilical cord is cut, another one re-attaches itself”. He seems to view the whole concept of Society as a threat. His kids (as yet unborn) will “never go to school,” he insists. Instead they’ll be taken round the world with tutors (“If they want History, great – let’s go see the Parthenon!”), immersed in different cultures to become “cosmopolitan” and taught about “financial literacy”, the most important subject ignored by conventional education. “I have no university degree whatsoever. And I’m proud to say that.”
But maybe you just got lucky, I point out.
“I don’t believe in luck,” he replies flatly. “I don’t believe in ‘wish’, I don’t believe in ‘hope’. They’re the three most disempowering words in the world. You create your own destiny, you create your own fortune. You create your own happiness. You know who subscribes to luck, wish and hope? Poor people. Because they’re always praying to something else, outside their control. I want to be in control.”
Hence, presumably, the thrill-seeking – a case of going to the outer limits of control, pitting your will against the will of the universe. “Is it dangerous? Absolutely. But it’s a calculated risk,” shrugs Nik. Take the time he almost died, for instance, climbing Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Andes. An ice storm came in halfway through the ascent. His party – local guides and other climbers – gave up and went back down, but Nik refused to heed their warnings. “I wanted to get to the top,” he says stubbornly. He and his cousin spent five days without food while the storm raged outside, surviving on a couple of chocolate bars, holed up at 20,000 feet where a helicopter rescue would’ve been impossible, drawing straws to decide who’d go out for ice which they melted for drinking water – until, on the fifth day, there was a break in the weather and they quickly ascended to the top, then bolted back down to 15,000 feet where Nik used his satellite phone to charter a helicopter. Was it really worth the risk? Didn’t he feel like an idiot afterwards? “Could be crazy, yeah,” he replies. “But –” and he pauses, as if to say ‘Here’s the point’ – “I chose it.”
Going into space was an even more momentous choice. Astronaut training took five years (2003-08), the last two spent living on a military base; it didn’t come easy (and cost millions of dollars), then again it’s not supposed to. He was back-up on two space missions – “my boyhood dream was to block out the Earth with my thumb,” he smiles – and is currently waiting to be assigned to the international space station, thereby ticking off another of his boyhood goals. Do they still mean much to him now, as an adult? “They do, because an eight-year-old wrote them,” he replies, “and an eight-year-old still resides in here,” pointing to his heart. “And I’m accountable to that eight-year-old.”
It’s a strange thing to say, in a way. How many men in their 40s still recall their childhood selves, much less feel accountable? Maybe there’s a touch of the manchild in Nik Halik. ‘Some would say you’re missing love in your life,’ I say, and he shrugs philosophically: “Plenty of time for love,” he replies. And kids? “I’ll get around to kids. But it’s gotta be the right timing, you know?”
Meanwhile he lives his life, travelling eight months of the year, working on his many businesses (having “a single source of income” is a mistake, he believes). He loves warm weather – “I’m Mediterranean, I’m not genetically designed for winter” – and follows the sun, with homes in the Greek islands, LA, Morocco and Australia. He sleeps six hours a night, every night, including weekends (any more would be a waste). He took part in the Greek Power Summit last year, an invitation-only event where the global elite got together to try and help the Greek government. He may be thinking of getting into politics – he laughs coyly when I pose the question – though his current Big Project is a Hollywood script called The Last Palikari. Above all, he goes his own way. “Disconnect yourself!” he urges. “Why be subservient to the System? Why allow the System to define your reality? Because, at the end of the day, it’s the System’s opinion. It should not be your reality”.
“I’m not genetically different to any person,” says this odd, compelling man. “But I knew the answer. I knew exactly what I wanted, and I’ve moved the universe – I’ve bent the universe to my will. You know what I mean?” Sort of.