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Piece in the Mail in full

It is a good experience getting stuff published in newspapers. The Mail asked me to write a feature after seeing my earlier piece in The Independent. A good experience because it is the oxygen of publicity all epublishers need – or because it is just something new and exciting anyway? Probably a mixture of both.

Anyway – how tom holland eclipsed his dad is now No. 2 on the Amazon, non-fiction (film and entertainment) charts – which is heartening and I press on. Thanks to those readers already and particularly those who have written reviews on Amazon.

The article in the Mail was edited down – so here it is in full…

Last month, on a flight to Los Angeles to attend my very first world film premiere I found myself unable to sleep. It ought to have been easy given that I had a seat that reclined into a bed.

But I couldn’t drop off. Perhaps, my thoughts were distracted by my fellow passengers: Gwyneth Paltrow, Les Miserables star Eddie Redmayne and Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper. I tried not to stare. It’s not cool to be star struck. In First Class, aren’t we all stars?

As I lay awake, I reflected that after banging on the door of Hollywood for decades, I was finally on my way to the red carpet.

At LAX immigration, the brusque official noted that I had ticked, ‘Business’ as the purpose of my visit and he asked me the nature of my trip.

This rather pricked any delusions of grandeur I might have been entertaining, because there, under interrogation from border officials, I had to admit that I was actually travelling in my official capacity of being a ‘Dad.’ 

It was Tom, the eldest of my four boys, who had Hollywood at his feet. I was simply the chaperone.

Tom plays Lucas in the film The Impossible which tells the story of a family torn apart by the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. It is currently showing in cinemas the world over.

Tom was the reason for the trip to LA, the reason we were travelling in first class, and the reason I was about to walk the red carpet with Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts.

I have been trying to make it as a star for a long time. For over twenty years, my entire income has come from making people laugh – or trying to. I am a professional comedian, a published novelist and a general wit for hire. Many of my routines are inspired by my four sons Tom (16), Sam and Harry (13) and Paddy (8): taking them swimming and trying to keep them alive and dealing with commando shoe treads and a child’s ability to eke out dog mess on every street corner.

But despite my best efforts I am the first to admit that I have never been a household name.

Looking at my son Tom standing next to me in the immigration queue, I realised that at the tender age of 16 he had already eclipsed his father’s own show-business career.

This had been coming for some time. I have trodden the boards for years in search of infamy, but in Tom’s case fame found him. It was a fluke.

In 2009, when Tom was only 11, he was cast as Billy in Billy Elliot the Musical in London’s West End. He landed the role without ever having attended a drama lesson, let alone a drama school.

In fact, ‘Billy’ was Tom’s first part in any play. He had never even been cast in a school production before.

It all began in 2007 when Tom was 9 and his local street dance class from our YMCA, danced in a regional showcase at the Royal Ballet School in Richmond Park. Someone spotted him and a few days later, we were asked if Tom would like to audition for the recently opened show, Billy Elliot?

Tom, his mum and I went along to see the show and came out laughing at such a ridiculous prospect. Tom had no formal dance training at all. He had more chance of spelling pirouette than nailing one.

At the audition (of many) in a studio along from Borough Market on a wet Sunday morning, hundreds of boys made up a long queue of hope. Tom had no ambitions and little hope for the role. I had explained that coping with rejection is an important life lesson and one worth learning early on. Hopefuls there that day were wearing leotards and sat in the splits position. Tom wore shorts and sat cross legged. He didn’t stand a chance?

 

Within moments of Tom taking to the stage it quickly became apparent to the choreographers that Tom couldn’t dance. ‘Next!’

It could all have ended there, but luckily Stephen Daldry, Director of the film and the stage show, happened to be in the room as well. Lucky because he wasn’t supposed to be and to the amazement of everyone else, he saw something in my son that he liked.

His colleagues protested that the boy couldn’t dance. ‘Then teach him’, Daldry said.

And so they did, setting in motion a series of events that has transformed the life of not only my eldest son but my entire family.

Tom played Billy for almost two years, performing some 180 shows before we decided that enough was enough and he needed to get back to school. He needed to become a normal kid again and I needed to resume my rightful position of being the biggest showbiz star in my own home.

Having forgone the traditional family holiday for a few years while Tom pursued his show-biz pipe dream, I decided that my family should all enjoy a holiday somewhere wonderful before Tom hit the school grindstone again.

It was to be a one-off family holiday of a lifetime and cost was not a factor. ‘What price memories?’, I told myself.

But this was 2010, the middle of an economic meltdown which had seen my income more than halve.

I told my wife to stick a pin in a globe. ‘Anywhere!’ I said with abandon. ‘So long as it’s hot.’

Thailand quickly emerged as the favourite and I foolishly announced to the boys that we would spend Christmas on a tropical island. I reassured my youngest that Father Christmas could come too.

Then the quote came in and I blanched. Centre Parks screamed into view – and even then only in one the most basic villas. Sorry boys.

I wasn’t looking forward to the drive down the M4 to Longleat Forest, particularly the stretch past Heathrow with my sons watching planes flying off to more glamorous destinations than the west county.

Then, just as we were all contemplating Christmas in the chilly Longleat drizzle, the phone rang.

Tom had just been cast in The Impossible, playing one of three sons to Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. And it just so happened that filming would take place in Thailand for almost five months with a production break over Christmas. Better still, the producers were happy for Tom to be accompanied by his whole family. (I didn’t reveal that Tom had quite so many siblings until the casting was finalised.)

Come Christmas 2010, I found myself on a Thai beach, manning a BBQ and grilling burgers for Watts and McGregor. All of my boys were tutored, my wife was paid to be their chaperone and I flew back and forth in-between gigs and other commitments. Good work, Tom!

 

Filming wrapped in March 2011 and normal life in the Holland household resumed until two years later, when the film finally opened and I got to enjoy my LA moment on the red shag pile. The film has since been seen by more than 8 million people. Tom has won awards and he practically commutes to America.

In the last month alone, he has met Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro.

George Clooney approached him at the Palm Springs Film Festival and said, ‘Hi Tom’. My wife did well to remain upright.

I have been completely and utterly eclipsed by my son. And as I watch him being courted by film glitterati, I have had ample time to reflect on my own inglorious Hollywood career.

I have tried many times to write a TV sit-com – with little success. But much more ambitiously, I also decided to take aim at the greatest target of all: Hollywood.

There were some good early signs, selling rights to my novels and various other screenplays. Though without ever hearing the seductive word: ACTION!

My trips to LA were always on my own ticket and very different to Tom’s. There were economy class seats that barely reclined; rented cars rather than limo pick up, and motels with a Coke machine and no concierge.

My most memorable trip came, aged 40 when I visited a film producer for a meeting only to find him out of the office. His bored PA explained that the bastard was ‘golfing’. Golfing! I was incandescent.

I wanted to scream the place down. I didn’t of course because it’s not in my nature and I didn’t have the confidence. I didn’t even point out that ‘golf’ is not a verb. The flight home was difficult and not salved by the showing of any number of films that I thought were risible. No Reservations starring Catherine Zeta Jones if my memory serves me correctly.

 

Since those days of budget trips to LA, I have watched my contemporaries from the comedy circuit progress from rooms above a pub to playing arenas, while I still find myself playing one man shows in less than salubrious village halls.

Waiting for the lights to go up, I sit in ‘dressing rooms’ used more normally as a store cupboard for the local nursery group. I’m not a large man but sitting on a child’s tricycle doubling as a chair is hard on my back but harder still on my ego. In 2000, when I stood back stage at the Dominion Theatre waiting to meet Prince Charles after the Royal Variety Show, had someone explained to me that within ten years, my son would be long listed for an Academy Award and I would be playing village halls, I would have dismissed this notion out of hand. What nonsense. Me, play village halls?

 

And as if any more colour is needed, almost two years after The Impossible had finished filming, Tom was back at school being normal and I was once again the biggest star in my family. But then Naomi Watts phoned my wife and turned our world upside down once more.

She was, she explained, playing Princess Diana in a new biopic and the producers were searching for a boy to play Prince Harry. Knowing my family so well, she remembered that Tom had a younger brother who was not only the right age, but conincidentally, was also called Harry. He had the same colouring and even looks a lot like the young Prince. And his middle name happens to be Robert, giving him the initials HRH.

A shoe-in then and was duly cast. And the shadow over Dad got even longer.  

I am often asked if sibling rivalry is the downside of an otherwise happy tale and thankfully it is not. How could it be?

My boys spent 5 months in Thailand. They learnt to surf and hung out with film stars. My youngest son Patrick has always been a fan of dressing up. First Batman, then Spiderman, then Indiana Jones. It just so happened that his Luke Skywalker phase coincided with the filming of The Impossible. Nylon is not the best fabric for sweltering Asia but no matter, he insisted on dressing as ‘Luke’ and celebrated his sixth birthday with the real Obe Wan Kanobe, played in the Star Wars films by none other than Ewan McGregor.

So the younger boys take nothing but pleasure in their older brothers’ success. Meanwhile, I have looked on bemused and delighted as the stars of my first and now second son have soared, entirely eclipsing their old man.

 

 

How Tom Holland Eclipsed His Dad is available as an ebook from Amazon for £3.

 

 

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