The comedian, political activist and global human rights defender Mark Thomas is ready to add another string to his bow, by becoming an author. KAY MURRAY talks to the multi-talented Londoner ahead of his new UK tour

When asked to describe himself in one word, Mark Thomas takes no time to respond.

"Lovely," he boldly replies.

That wouldn't normally be the first word that springs to mind when trying to describe a man who has driven a tank into a McDonalds restaurant, hijacked a train loaded with nuclear waste and flown over a US spy base in a hot air balloon.

But Thomas has carried out all of these stunts' for a purpose to expose controversial government and business practices.

In his latest venture, he managed to set himself up as an arms exporter to highlight the truth about an industry which causes conflict and poverty in developing countries.

He used his encounters and discoveries which took him to South Africa, Ireland, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia as the subject matter for his first book, As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela, which is due to be released on July 6.

As a highly successful stand-up comedian and political activist, who fronted his own Channel 4 TV series that ran for six seasons, it is hard to believe it has taken Thomas so long to write a book.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, the manuscripts were all written with a quill," laughs Thomas.

And fans will be keen to discover that he is eager to discuss the events he has written about in the book, in his new show, Work in Progress.

"Some of the stories are about the book which are quite nice to get out," says Thomas.

His use of pranks and stunts to name and shame wrong-doings in politics means that it is inevitable that comparisons will be drawn between himself and the American comedian and documentary-maker Michael Moore.

But Thomas rejects the idea that he is Britain's answer to Moore.

"No, I'm not," he quips. "I like Michael Moore, I do like him. He seems a genuine man and you know, I admire the stuff that he has done. Fahrenheit 9/11 is just amazing, a documentary film about an American president that slags him off but still gets to number one in the box office."

Whether or not Thomas and Moore are alike, mocking those in power is something they are both pretty good at.

And with extra marital affairs and the NHS in crisis, the Labour party's latest antics must have Thomas rubbing his hands at the prospect of the new material it could provide him with.

But washing his hands of it all seems to be a more desirable option for Thomas who refuses to discuss the party's wrong-doings in his latest show. "No, I won't be discussing the Labour party, because I just can't be bothered with them," he says. "I don't want to hear anything about John Prescott, and Patricia Hewitt is just an incompetent. There's stuff to talk about that's more important."

When asked why he thought so many politicians had affairs, he says he doesn't care, using such colouful language that there was no way we could repeat his hilarious outburst in this family newspaper.

It is possible that politicians are still getting over the shock of Thomas's visit to the House of Commons in November 2004, where he was picking up an award from The United Nations Association of National Services for his work on promoting human rights.

His work as a global human rights defender' saw UN judges praise him for using his skills and talent to intelligently raise public awareness of human right abuses at home and abroad'.

Thomas laughs as he recalls entering the House.

"It was quite embarrassing as some people just recoiled in horror as I walked into that place, but there were a couple who said alright'," he says.

Not be upstaged by her son, Thomas's mother tried to obtain her own souvenir from her visit to the venue.

"My mum came along and she was really proud," he says.

"But I came off stage after getting my award and my mum was trying to stuff a House of Commons plate in her handbag."

He goes on to say that he demanded his mother put the plate back to save his embarrassment.

Growing up in what he describes as a respectable working class' family in south London, Mark was awarded a scholarship to an elite school much to his parent's delight.

"The working class want their children to have better than what they had and the middle class want them to have the same as they had," says Thomas. "My dad couldn't read or write when he got married. My mum taught him, so he always had this thing that we had to have an education."

After leaving school, Thomas gained a degree in theatre arts in 1981, after which he went on to put do some stand-up comedy in miners' soup kitchens during the miners' strikes.

Fifteen years on, he is still engrossing audiences with his mix of comedy and investigative journalism, and, after his book is released, he plans to do some more TV work.

But did he ever expect to be where is he now?

"No not really, to be honest, I expected more drugs and whores in jacuzzis," he says.

"I was so disappointed."

u Mark Thomas performs his new show, Work in Progress, at artsdepot, Nether Street, North Finchley, on May 22 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £12 on 020 8449 0048.