Hollywood tough guy Wahlberg says his model wife Rhea helped make him a man

Despite stardom and huge wealth in the Nineties, the actor says he did not find happiness until he met ex-lingerie model Rhea Durham in 2001.

Mark said: “I owe a lot to my wife. She has helped me become the man that I am and created a beautiful life for me and our children.

“I also knew that she loved me for who I am and that she was someone I could trust. Until I met her, I wasn’t ready to have a family.”

That is because Mark, now 47, the star of the blockbuster Transformers films among many others, was still haunted by his own troubled childhood and the fear he would fail to give his own kids the stability he missed out on as a boy.

He said: “You need the right woman in your life and that feeling that you’re going to be together for a long time.

“That’s especially important if you’re going to have children. Rhea always wanted to be a mother. She had a job, but her mission in life was to be a mother and to be a wife.

“We share the same values. Obviously, the physical attraction was there, but that’s not what keeps a couple together.”

The pair married in 2009 and are proud parents to Ella, 15, Michael, 11, Brendan, nine and seven-year-old Grace.

And despite his hectic movie schedule — which made him the highest paid actor in Hollywood last year, earning £53million — Mark says his hardest work is off screen.

He is determined to stop his kids from making the same mistakes he once did.

To set them a good example, the one-time teen dropout even went back to the classroom aged 42 to get the diploma that means he has completed high school.

He explained: “I can’t tell my kids to go to school and get an education if I don’t have a diploma. They’d think, ‘You didn’t go and you turned out all right’.

“I took classes for almost a year and studied every chance I could get — on movie sets, travelling for work and at home.

“Now I’m officially a high school graduate.

“My mission in life is to raise my kids right. With all the success I’ve had in the world, if I fail at that, my life means nothing.

“Raising your kids is the most challenging, but also the most rewarding role.

“I always try to instil in them as many positive values as I can and also try to lead by example in terms of working hard and being a good husband who takes his commitment to his family very seriously.”

Faith is also important to the former tearaway and Rhea, 40. The devout Catholic said: “If I’m home, it’s all about taking the family to church. That’s the key thing and then the day is free to spend with family and just reconnect.

“During the week we also set aside about 15 minutes each morning for prayer time as a family.

“It starts the day out right and helps me in every way.”

Such calm and peace is a world away from his life as a boy.

Mark was the youngest of nine who grew up in a rundown district of Boston.

When he was ten his dad Donald, a delivery driver, left home, leaving mum Alma to raise her kids alone. Mark’s life began to unravel.

He started stealing cars and became involved with drug-dealing and robbery in a quest for the money that, back then, he was convinced was the key to happiness.

Mark recalled: “I was jealous of the kids who went to private school. I thought if you wore one of those uniforms you would have a different life without all the trouble.

“At 12 I was climbing out of the window and staying out all night and by the time I was 13 or 14 I stopped going to school.

“My older brothers taught me how to get high when I was ten and gave me a couple of beers.

“A lot of my family is now in AA. But I don’t blame anybody. I was getting f***ed up every day and committing violent acts. Aged 13 to 15 I had a pretty serious cocaine problem.

“Being the youngest and smallest and the most eager, I was always trying to impress the older guys.”

As a gang member aged 16, he was high on drugs when he tried to rob an off licence and assaulted the shopkeeper — resulting in his 45 days’ jail.

He said: “Three of my brothers had done time and my sister went to prison so many times I lost count. Finally I was there, locked up with the kind of guys I’d always wanted to be like . . . and I realised it wasn’t what I wanted at all.

“I’d ended up in the worst place I could possibly imagine and I never wanted to go back.”

Luckily, by the time he left jail, brother Donnie was already proving that a very different kind of future was possible. Donnie, now 48, had struck gold as a singer in boy band New Kids On The Block. He helped Mark to begin his own hip-hop group, Marky Mark And The Funky Bunch.

In 1991 their first album went platinum and soon Marky Mark was a huge star — even landing a series of raunchy adverts for Calvin Klein underwear the following year.

Then he got his Hollywood breakthrough in 1997 in Boogie Nights.

He has now become a huge film star , with a net worth of around £175million and leading roles in The Fighter, The Departed, Transformers and Transformers: The Last Knight.

He was even paid £1.2million for just a week of re-shoots required last year when his original All The Money Of The World co-star, Kevin Spacey, was replaced by Christopher Plummer following sexual misconduct claims.

He gave his fee to the Time’s Up movement after it was revealed co-star Michelle Williams had received less than £780 for her own week of re-shoots.

Next up is action movie Mile 22, released in the UK on August 31, in which he stars alongside John Malkovich as an intelligence officer trying to smuggle a cop out of the US.

But despite the mega pay packets, the keen businessmen always has his eyes on other deals. Last month he opened a car dealership in Ohio called Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet, explaining: I am continuously looking for ways to innovate my brand.”

It was also Mark’s idea to expand his brother Paul’s burger business in Massachusetts into a fully fledged chain of “Wahlburgers” with a reality show of the same name to promote it. The first branch outside the US is due to open in London’s Covent Garden next month.

Then there is his own nutrition range, showing the passion for fitness that hides behind the burger mogul.

The health fiend, who lives in Los Angeles, explained: “I wake up at 3am and eat egg whites and avocado. Then I work out for about an hour before going upstairs for a shake.”

“Then at 6am I go to play golf with my friends. We basically run from one tee to the next so it’s good exercise and also good fun. After golf is when I spend alone time with my wife.

“When I go to bed at 7pm she jokes I am old and boring. She’s like, ‘What about our alone time like normal people?’ So in the day I please her by walking around in a vest with a hammer, pretending to fix things. She likes the handyman look.”

But his main passion is trying to use his past to help other youngsters.

He said: “Any time I can share my story and experience, I will. I made the impossible possible.

“I like talking with teenagers because, at that age, I needed guidance and needed to refocus.

“I try to encourage kids to depend on their faith. I wouldn’t be here today without it.”

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