Gregory David Roberts (born June 1952) (born Gregory John Peter Smith) is an Australian author best known for his novel Shantaram. He is a former heroin addict and convicted bank robber who escaped from Pentridge Prison in 1980, and fled to India where he lived for ten years.
Roberts had become addicted to heroin after his marriage ended, and he lost custody of his young daughter. In his efforts to finance his drug habit, Roberts became known as the “Building Society Bandit”and the “Gentleman Bandit”, because he had chosen to rob only institutions with adequate insurance, he would wear a three-piece suit, and he always said “please” and “thank you” to the people he robbed. Roberts believed at the time that in this way he was lessening the brutality of his acts, but later in his life he admitted that people only gave him money because he had made them afraid. He escaped from Pentridge Prison in 1980
In 1990, Roberts was captured in Frankfurt after being caught smuggling heroin into the country. He was extradited to Australia and served a further six years in prison, two of which were spent in solitary confinement. According to Roberts, he escaped prison again during that time, but then he relented and smuggled himself back into jail. His intention was to serve the rest of his sentence to give himself the chance to be reunited with his family. During his second stay in Australian prison, Roberts began writing the novel Shantaram. The manuscript was destroyed by prison wardens, twice, while Roberts was writing it.
After leaving prison, Roberts was able to finally finish and publish his novel, Shantaram. The book’s name comes from the name his best friend’s mother gave him, which means “Man of Peace,” or “Man of God’s Peace.” There is debate as to how much of Shantaram is based on true events or is a conflation of real life and fantasy.
Roberts lived in Melbourne, Germany, and France and finally returned to Mumbai, where he set up charitable foundations to assist the city’s poor with health care coverage. He was finally reunited with his daughter. He got engaged to Francoise Sturdza, who is the president of the Hope for India Foundation. Roberts also wrote the original screenplay for the movie adaptation of Shantaram.
In 2009, Roberts was named a Zeitz Foundation Ambassador for Community. Ambassadors help raise awareness and shape activities in their areas.
Biography of Gregory David Roberts (1952-)
Gregory David Roberts was born in 1952 in Melbourne, Australia. In interviews and on his website, Roberts talks little of his childhood years. During his student years he was a revolutionary involved in several anarchist and leftist causes. He lists these myriad causes on shantaram.com as follows: “Founder member, Anarchist People’s Liberation Army, 1969; Union activist, Builders Labourers Federation, 1972; Founder member, Australian Independence Movement, United Front Against Fascism, 1973; Student Leader, Melbourne University, occupation of university Council Chambers, 1974; Student Leader, Black Week Aboriginal Activism Movement, 1975.”
Roberts’ life took a turn for the worse in the mid-seventies, closely mirroring that of his protagonist in Shantaram. In 1976, Roberts’ marriage fell apart and he lost custody of his daughter. Around this time, he began using heroin and took up armed robbery in order to support his habit. He committed these robberies using a fake plastic gun, and he earned a reputation in Australia as “the Gentleman Bandit” due to his polite demeanor during his crimes. In 1978, Roberts was captured and imprisoned. Two years later, Roberts escaped from the “escape proof” HM Prison Pentridge in Australia.
Roberts fled to Maharashtra, where he lived in a remote village for six months and learned the Hindu and Marathi languages. Like Lin, he established a free clinic in a Bombay slum. Roberts was recruited by the Bombay mafia and worked in illegal passports and currency. He went to Afghanistan on a gunrunning operation and was wounded.
After a short return to Bombay, Roberts moved to Germany, where he began to work as a singer in a rock band. He had previously worked as an entertainer in Bombay’s Bollywood movie industry and appeared in several movies. In time, the European police learned of his true identity and arrested him. He escaped from custody twice more, in Italy and Switzerland, before returning to Bombay.
While smuggling drugs in Europe, Roberts was captured by Frankfurt authorities and imprisoned. He served two years in Europe before being shipped to Australia, where he served two years in solitary confinement, during which time he began work onShantaram. Following several more years serving out his term, Roberts finished his novel, which became a major success. He has since sold the film rights to the book to Warner Brothers and plans on writing the screenplay himself.