A poignant week for me just gone with my youngest celebrating his 15th birthday. Blimey and who knew? Nothing particularly revelatory at how Paddy’s life has flashed by – which of course applies to my life also (er... and yours!) and perhaps then, time to reflect and take stock on all things in my life.
This is heady stuff (and perhaps, indulgent) but compounding my sense of reflection is this photo of Paddy’s three older brothers in New York this same week – and I reflect on how much has transpired during Paddy’s fledgling life already - none of which I could ever have predicted?
I vividly recall Paddy’s birth. The fourth, so no big deal. Our hopes for a girl, so quickly dashed. But from when Paddy completed our family, nothing in my family life has been orthodox and predictable. At the time, I think Tom had been spotted by the people at Billy Elliot but as readers of Eclipsed will attest; by my reckoning, his foray in to showbiz was just a mirage and would lead to nada.
Just how wrong I have been and happily so.
Because Tom is in the US with his brother, Harry, working on a movie called, Cherry, being directed by the Russo Brothers and he was able to fly Sam in for the weekend. Nice.
New York – a city so famous, it makes a worthy claim to being the World’s foremost city.
The City that never sleeps and was named twice – as the famous lyrics state – and given my increasingly unreliable memory, perhaps it is a good thing that my limited experience of 'The Big Apple' are now indelible because they have been committed to print.
I have visited NY only twice. Once as a university student – with Nikki and long before she realised that I wasn't a bad option – and later as a Dad, accompanying my eldest son because he’d been cast in a movie called The Impossible and he needed to meet the director and stars of the film…
A remarkable trip that I will never forget – and I am pleased to complete this blog post by including the chapter in Eclipsed describing this Big Apple experience...
The Big Apple...
New York is an exciting city to visit, even without my unusual set of circumstances. I’ve been to the Big Apple before of course, modern man of the world as I am (albeit only for a single night, en-route to the less credible Orlando for my ‘Work America’ summer during my student days). This was way back in 1989, when visitors to New York did well to avoid being murdered. I’d ventured out tentatively onto the crime-ridden and gang-run streets, just long enough to gaze up at the buildings, agree that they were very tall indeed, before scarpering back inside to the relative safety of my youth hostel.
This trip to New York, precisely twenty-one years later, is in every sense a big step up. To start with, this is a business trip. I am now a dad and I am being accompanied on the trip by my eldest son, Tom, who is fourteen. More accurately, I am accompanying him because it is Tom who is on business and not me. An all-expenses-paid, week-long trip with no communal transfer buses or youth hostels in site.
We are met at JFK Airport by Charlie. I didn’t catch his surname. He didn’t have a sign saying Holland or even Tom Holland. He just knew who we were and introduced himself then led us to our waiting limousine. It’s a Lincoln; I don’t know which model, but its gleaming black, very muscular and very big. It needs to be climbed into and from a considerable height I haul Tom in after me. Inside, it’s what I expect. It has a fridge, which I don’t bother with. Tom is very excited by the car and I pretend not to be. It is not something I approve of. It is an affront to the world’s finite oil reserves, although I concede that it is bloody comfortable.
It is night time as we approach Manhattan, which Charlie explains really is an island. Charlie is an assistant. In the world of Hollywood, the only things more plentiful than assistants are wannabes. Charlie is the assistant for the meeting taking place here in New York. He is our point man, available to Tom for whatever he might need – and perhaps to me as well? I’m not sure and I don’t like to ask.
In a half hour or so, we arrive at our hotel. I jump down from the Lincoln and manage to land safely. Our bags are swept away by two bell boys who are going to be disappointed when they realise that as yet I have no dollars. And even if I did, what is the actual value of someone opening a door for me? The hotel is the Soho Grande, which is appropriately named because as I enter its ultra-modern reception, I am feeling pretty damn grand.
It is late now, 11.00 p.m., and with the meeting scheduled for 9.00 a.m. the next morning, I’m keen for Tom to get some sleep. Charlie asks if I would like a wake-up call. There’s absolutely no chance that I will sleep in and miss such an important meeting, but I agree to the alarm call anyway, just to be on the safe side. I also don’t want to seem rude, and I suspect that Charlie will enjoy having something to organise.
They had offered us a hotel room each, but in the interest of currying favour with the production company behind this $50m film, I explained that we would be happy to share. Also in my thinking was that Tom probably wouldn’t want to be in a room on his own. I figured he had enough on his mind already without having to worry about how to turn off all the lights in a luxury hotel room.
The Soho Grande is a fusion of modern urban chic and old industrial, the sort of place that only advertising executives could ever consider normal. It’s a brand-new building, fitted out to look like a reclaimed warehouse: exposed brickwork, wrought iron and stone, minimalism that speaks volume. The whole place aches under the strain to appear cool, an effort which is readily taken up by the androgynous and beautiful staff, who are more aloof than impolite. I expect that their demeanour is deliberate. It allows the celebs who choose the Grande a chance to relax amongst people almost as cool as themselves.
The man guarding the bar area has long blonde hair and full make-up. He reminds me of Marilyn, the bloke who used to hang out with/of Boy George. He is wearing a skirt and has a neck full of tattoos leading to his face of ultra-indifference. Nothing could impress or turn this guy’s head. If there was a fire, this guy would take his chances and stroll to the exit. Naturally, Tom is curious. I explain that he is definitely a man and I tell him not to stare. No one stares at anyone in the Soho Grande. In the Grande, we are all celebs. I decide that the Marilyn lookalike is opportune and I explain to Tom that because the film he is about to star in is going to be shot largely in Thailand, he needs to get used to seeing ‘is-she-isn’t-he’ types. I say this with absolutely no experience of Thailand whatsoever.
What with the time difference, the next morning we are awake before the larks at 5.00 a.m., and we wait an hour to be the very first in the dining room. We sit in comfortable chairs and I glance at the menu. The prices are hilarious and I wonder if we might be the only takers for breakfast, although I suspect not. I have a bowl of warm granola with fresh fruits of the forest, and Tom plumps for pancakes which he can’t finish. I have a thing about waste in general and particularly food waste and this would have irked me, especially if I had been paying. Tom does the best he can and we are ready for a brisk walk in Manhattan ahead of the meeting. This will clear our jet-lagged heads and is also a useful way to avoid any awkward moments at the hotel by bumping into the people we are due to meet.
It is July and as we exit the hotel, we are enveloped in warm sunshine that helps us both relax a little. Immediately, I feel somewhat lied to all these years because I realise that New York is not in fact the ‘city that never sleeps’. The city of New York has indeed been asleep and is just waking up. Men in overalls are hosing down pavements, cafes are taking deliveries, putting out tables, and various trucks and cleaning crews are busy getting their city ready for just another day.
To be fair, there are a lot of water hoses; even Tom noticed it. On every street corner, there is a man with a hose and I could be forgiven for making an observation later in the day that will draw odd looks from everyone, and that I will be reminded of and embarrassed by several times in the months ahead.
New York’s grid system might not allow for quirkiness, but it does mean that even the most directionally challenged can avoid getting lost. Still, I was taking no chances. I kept a rigid handle on exactly where we had come from and how we would get back to the Grande. If I had a ball of wool I would have used it. The meeting place was room 412 of our hotel. They’d flown us across an ocean and hired us a room in the same venue as the meeting. There was no way on earth we could be late. Our commute was exactly one flight of stairs. There could be no excuses.
In my family, because of what I do for a living, I tend to assume complete authority on all matters of Tom’s career and on show business in general. I speak with misguided confidence, often about things I have absolutely no experience of at all. And even though I am proved flat wrong time and again, my family still kindly defer to me and allow me to prattle on, albeit with eyebrows raised on an increasingly frequent basis. And being a showbiz person, naturally, Tom depends on me to explain what might lie ahead. On this morning, however, I haven’t got a clue. How could I? This meeting is a complete first for me as well. I don’t admit this of course. I’m his dad and dads are supposed to be heroic and strong and know the answer to everything. So, I lie. I tell him what I think he can expect but I phrase it definitively and he doesn’t question me. Why would he? I’m his dad.
In my defence, these are white lies at worst because I am also a filmmaker. I wrote and sold my first screenplay before Tom was even born. I’ve sold the film rights to my first novel more times than I care to admit. I had sold my latest film project just a year ago. My scripts have taken me to LA. I’ve done the meetings. I’ve signed on the dotted line but crucially, I am still waiting to hear that seductive word – action. And this status remains unchanged, four years on in 2016.
I glance at my watch and carefully subtract five hours. Just over an hour to go. Tom asks me again what he might be asked in the meeting. I wish I knew. I think about asking Charlie, but I decide not to. I want him to think that this trip is routine for me and in fact, with my hectic schedule, even a little inconvenient.
Tom has been cast in this film though. I run the phone conversation through in my mind. Yes, no question, he has already landed the role. But then I panic momentarily because as yet nothing has been signed. Unhelpful theories bombard me; namely that this whole New York trip is just another audition, to get the approval of the actual movie stars who will be carrying this film. So, what if the meeting goes badly for Tom and they want another kid? This would be very bad indeed and I put it out of my mind.
My best guess is that the meeting is just a get-together: a chance for the director to meet his main cast and for Tom to establish a rapport with his co-stars. Co-stars? I do not refer to them as Tom’s co-stars because this would imply that Tom is also a star. Tom is not a star. He’s my little boy, albeit my eldest with three brothers back home, no doubt running their mum ragged. This reminds me that I need to call my wife, Nikki, and play down the opulence of the hotel. ‘Yeah, you know, it’s okay…’
What Tom really wants to know is whether I am going to sit in on the meeting with him. As a ‘filmmaker’ myself, out of curiosity, naturally I would like to attend. My instincts though tell me that this is unlikely to happen. The director might not like it. But at only fourteen, surely Tom’s needs are greater than a director’s sensitivity, and if Tom wants me to stay then I will. He says that he does and so it is settled. I am going to the meeting as well, and Tom relaxes by the same amount that I tense.
We get back to our room at 8.30 a.m. Under our door is a note from Charlie, reminding Tom that he has a meeting. Er, yeah, thanks, Charlie, because, do you know, I had clean forgotten. I also make a note that the note states that Tom has a meeting. It is singular and not plural and I wonder if Charlie is making a point?
I have never been a cool person. I am not trendy. I have nothing pierced. The only metal in my face are my fillings. I have no tattoos. I’ve never dyed my hair. Apart from some low-grade marijuana, I’ve never done drugs. I’ve never dropped an E and nor an H for that matter, unless I have a workman to the house. I’ve never been to Glastonbury. I’ve never woken up in the wrong bed or with the wrong person. The only time I’ve ever worn a hat is on a golf course. I play golf. And the only time I have ever been late for anything, was when I was born and only by a day.
Being late can be considered chic but this is a mistake. Being late is always rude. But what is chic, however, is being allowed to be late. Being forgiven for keeping everyone waiting denotes status. And the higher your status, the later one can be and with no apology required either. This is not where I live. I am always early and true to form, Tom and I are outside room 412 with a full ten minutes to spare.
I sense that nobody has arrived yet, but I knock on the door anyway and we begin an awkward wait. Awkward because we are in a narrow, dimly-lit corridor with nowhere to sit or anything to do. This isn’t a meeting room but a bedroom, just like ours on the floor below.
Suddenly, along the hall, the elevator pings and we quickly straighten. Three people emerge into the gloom but I can’t make them out. Why are ‘cool’ hotels so impossibly dim? The people don’t have luggage, just briefcases, and they’re moving in our direction. From their body language alone I can sense that they are equally apprehensive: two men and a woman. I don’t recognize any of them so they are not the actors. The men are both very small.
At one of Tom’s auditions in London, my wife, Nikki, had met the director and she remarked how young he looked. This irked me. A watershed moment in any career is when the people making decisions are suddenly younger than you are. My wife adds that he is also tiny, even smaller than me! This cheers me a little but not completely.
I can see the lady now: a glamorous and attractive woman who I recognize from a meeting in London. The third bloke I don’t recognize but it doesn’t matter because Tom now recognizes the director. This is a Spanish film production and this is the Spanish contingent: the film’s director, producer and I suspect, the writer.
There follow some stilted and cursory introductions, and factoring in their accents and the circumstances, none of their names stick with me at all. In my head, they remain the attractive lady, the director and the other bloke.
A rather strained silence descends as the lady fumbles with the key card to get room 412 open. A red light now in the door mechanism will be a disaster. All of us need to get out of the claustrophobic corridor before the real stars arrive.
The writer and director follow their producer colleague into the room and I trail in after Tom with a growing sense of awkwardness which I try to ignore. I shut the door behind me as a signal of my intent to stay. This is what Tom wants and Tom gets what Tom wants. Doesn’t he? Being honest, as much as I want to support Tom and be ‘there’ for him, I am equally keen to meet his fellow actors.
As I expect, the room is just another bedroom but with the double bed replaced with a central table and chairs. It’s a little cramped which adds to the strain, and no one takes a seat. There are some pastries and a pot of coffee already in situ with bottles of water, sparkling and still. The refreshments are a welcome distraction as strained conversations continue about flights and how high the buildings are in New York. On the table is a pile of scripts. All we need now are Tom’s on-screen parents.
There is a knock at the door which focuses everyone’s attention. Charlie appears, followed by Naomi Watts. I’ve been looking forward to meeting Ms Watts. Do I call her Naomi? I’m not sure. Damn, I should have checked. The first thing I notice is the dog under her arm. It’s a Yorkshire terrier wearing a body brace and the lower half of its tiny frame is shaven.
Naomi says a general hello but she is clearly under some strain herself but I suspect not for the same reasons. I shake her hand and she tells me that she is Naomi. I know this already of course but I appreciate it nonetheless. I fight the urge to say something stupid like loved you in King Kong or even worse, fancied your pants off in Mulholland Drive. As it turns out, the dog’s presence is a good thing. It has a broken back which Naomi explains happened when she tripped whilst carrying him up the stairs to her Manhattan roof terrace. As well as breaking the dog’s back, it breaks the ice at the meeting. I wonder if I should risk a joke. I’m professionally funny after all, but I decide against it. This is a good decision, but I will shortly take the plunge and get it very wrong.
As we all fuss over the dog, we establish that he is called Bob and I offer up that Tom has a granddad called Bob. It doesn’t get a laugh; why would it? It’s not even a joke, it’s a fact. It’s just a coincidence and not even a very good one because Bob is a common name. Rumpelstiltskin would have been funny. Bob wasn’t, and luckily it was quickly lost with another knock at the door. Same drill, only this time it is Charlie with Ewan McGregor.
He doesn’t look much like a star, dressed scruffily in jeans and T-shirt. He is bloody handsome though, which I’m curious about because I never really had him pegged as a looker. In the flesh though, I can see it. And now I understand some of the frankly hysterical reactions of various female friends when we explained who would be playing Tom’s dad.
He has great hair. I rarely notice hair on a person but I certainly notice his. A deep red chestnut I’d say, and he has loads of it. More than is needed by any one person and far too much for a man of his age. He could harvest and sell it if the roles ever dry up. He’s very warm and at ease, making eye contact with his firm handshake. He smiles broadly which is when I notice his teeth. He has magnificent teeth. I have reasonably good teeth myself. My teeth are arguably my best feature, but they are nothing like Ewan’s.
He is already much cooler than me because he’s a film star, but he also has a large tattoo on his upper arm and this puts him firmly in the trendy bracket as well. In so many ways then, he is nothing like me and yet he is being asked to pretend to be the father of my son. To do so, he is going to have to act his socks off.
Ewan and Naomi greet each other warmly and clearly already know each other. He calls her darling and they kiss. This might just be a celebrity thing of course; whereby famous people have a kind of special affinity with each other. Ewan fusses over the dog much more than I did and I worry a little because it does have a broken bloody back. Either he really loves dogs or he’s a very fine actor indeed. Everyone is still standing although some people have pulled out chairs or have claimed spots with a draped jacket in readiness for the meeting, which can now begin. Everyone is present and yet everything is not correct. Screen mum and dad and screen son are all present. The process of bonding can begin and they will go on to become a handsome family.
Tom with his pretend parents
But for now, though, one person is still present who is surplus to requirements and it isn’t Charlie. He left sharpish, the moment he had delivered Mr McGregor in good health.
I was the elephant in the room. Later, even Tom would agree that I had to leave. Momentarily, I had sat down but it felt so wrong that I leapt up again as if the chair was wet. It was apparent that I needed to leave but no one was going to ask me to do so. This would have been humiliating for me and embarrassing for Tom and so I did the right thing and put everyone out of their misery.
So, shall I leave then?
The relief was palpable and the communal sighs were almost strong enough to blow me out of the room. In their jet stream, I stole a furtive glance at Tom, offered him a quick thumbs-up and he nodded back his assurances. I turned the handle and was jettisoned from the room. I felt like the cowboy who flies out of the saloon bar with the stable doors flapping, landing in a heap and scrabbling for his hat. Metaphorically, I dusted myself down, stared briefly at the bedroom door and thought of the illustrious people inside, with my son.
Then it dawned on me. I mean, it really dawned on me. Of course, I already knew that it was Tom who had been cast in the leading role of a film called The Impossible, to be directed by J.A. Bayona and co-starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. And that the meeting in New York was for Tom and not for me. I was delivering him, nothing more. My work was done in making the child, along with his mum of course; whom I called the moment I got back to my room.
Nikki would have been delighted to fulfil the legally required role of chaperoning Tom to New York without the remotest worry of her ego being bruised, and so she was hardly sympathetic to my situation as I explained it over the phone. And I can understand why. She was stuck in London with our three other boys. The last time she was in New York was en route to Orlando way back in 1989 with a potential suitor who was slowly wearing her resistance down. And that suitor was now in Manhattan with her first born. Go out and enjoy yourself was her thrust and let Tom get on with becoming a movie star. She was right of course, and I pulled my socks up, literally, and hit the streets of New York, again.
I am in the most exciting city in the world with nothing to do and no kids. Every dad’s dream, surely, but a nightmare for me as well with the realization that my eldest son is on a path that will see him eclipsing his old man. And this path is now complete.
BUY ONE OF MY BOOKS
BOOK ME FOR A LOCAL GIG
SUBSCRIBE TO MY NEWSLETTER