History has not been terribly kind to me in my lifetime – until now that is…
Certainly, history plagued and tormented me at school.
History O-level (16 year-old-public exam) was within my skill-set and levels of maturity. I only needed to demonstrate that I had acquired and could regurgitate the basics. You know, the major dates and beats: 1066, 1914-1919, 1939-1945, Hitler bad, Florence Nightingale good…
This, I did and I was awarded a basic pass but then I took on the more demanding A-level where arguments were required and quickly things began to unravel. My first essay set a very bad precedent, earning me a bloody nose which I was unable to stem.
An assignment set by our foreboding teacher (Mr Brennan) on the notable King George III, the 18th Century English Monarch, whose fame has latterly been rekindled by the 1994 movie, The Madness of King George. Anyway, writing my essay and still in O-Level mode, somehow I managed to include the impact on King George’s reign of Commander Hannibal – yes, he of elephants and the Alps fame. I cannot explain this and its damage was permanent and irredeemable. Mr Brennan categorised me as an idiot fair enough, since Hannibal was a 275 BC military commander – living almost 2000 years before King George. It would have made more sense if I had discussed parallels with Hannibal Lector because at least they were both mad.
And even though I recount this academic disaster with some affection, I am not being glib. By which I mean, I am interested in the world and the importance of understanding our past. History is an important study because it is how we learn. But my interest in history is fatally undermined by an almost complete inability to retain facts that I glean and temporarily acquire – so I tend to live and dwell in the present but with fervent hopes for the future and that I might doing some things right.
This might explain an incident at Hampton Court Palace a few years ago – when Nikki and I had been invited to hear Tracey Boorman, the renowned historian on Tudor England giving a talk to coincide with her latest book.
Nikki happens to be a friend of Tracey’s and I was happy to tag along. Living locally and having crawled past the palace in traffic on my way to gigs, it might be nice to actually visit the gaff and see how King Henry VIII lived – the most famous King of all.
I recalled that Tom had appeared in the TV drama, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. The first book of a trilogy which sold millions of copies worldwide. The story of Thomas Cromwell, the Royal court and palace intrigue around the famous King and his wives.
Listening to Tracy’s talk as we toured the historic palace, a lady next to me was obviously keen to engage me in conversation. An historical enthusiast, she gushed about our living history and in our chat, Wolf Hall came up in conversation.
“Did you prefer the books or the TV series?” She asked me.
What a silly question, as she was about to find out.
She became incredibly animated when I explained that my son had appeared in the television adaptation of her all-time favourite book.
“Which part did he play?”
This is a logical question and not difficult to answer, so my struggle to respond should have been a warning. I had ‘Gregory’ in my head but I didn’t want to commit and so I plumped instead for the much safer, son of Thomas Cromwell.
‘Gregory, you mean?’
Damn it. I was right all along and now I needed to redeem myself which I could have done when she asked if I had loved the TV series. I could have lied. It made sense to lie but for some reason, I went with honesty.
Her face fell when I explained that I had only watched the first episode in full and then I scrolled through the rest, only dwelling on Gregory’s scenes. At best I looked like an indulgent narcissist and even worse, an ignorant indulgent…
I added an apologetic shrug in a you know, life is short kind-of-a-way.
It makes me chuckle to recall this now and this week and all these years later, Wolf Hall has made me smile again when finally I got to Tom’s accumulating mail bag which I ignore for as long as possible and always need to steel myself for.
A royalty income is the Holy Grail of a career in the arts. It is something we all aspire to but only a tiny percentage of proponents will ever realise. The preserve of the famous and very successful.
Rowling. Chaplin. Dickins. Shakespeare. Clancy. Cruise. Spielberg. Streep. And yes, I guess even, Holland (Tom, not Dom).
I have written about my royalty cheques before. My BBC R4 series, The Small World of Dominic Holland is my only vehicle providing any returns – and amounts to anything up to £25 per annum. The Small Return of Dominic Holland, more like?
So ploughing through Tom’s mail I was delighted to see a remittance statement for his appearance in Wolf Hall. Playing Gregory, no less. And what a performance in what was a wonderful series, darling.
And his fee…
Welcome to my small world, Tom.
Tom is in NY with Harry. I speak to them both regularly. Sometimes I need to wait for America to wake-up if I have something important to share or run by them.
I am mindful because wealth is relative and £25 is an important sum to many, but this was not an occasion that I reached for my phone – but my laptop instead because now I have something to write about.
So thank you Hilary for writing Wolf Hall, something millions will concur with, albeit for different reasons to my own.
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