This is the true story of two men becoming forty, one a famous film star, the other an unpublished writer. When Nathan Braund discovered Ewan McGregor was filming up the road from where he was living in Phuket, Thailand, he interpreted it as more than a coincidence. He planned to put his movie script into the hands of the Scottish star, even though he knew it was unprofessional to pester an A-list actor, particularly when they were working on a serious film about the 2004 tsunami. Sceptics would argue he was having a mid-life crisis but he felt it was a calling, the break he needed after all these years. Join him with his wife and two small children on a journey of discovery, as he tries and fails on countless occasions to meet Ewan before finally succeeding in approaching him with script in hand.
This is the beginning of 'The Wrong Way Round to Ewan McGregor':
Ewan McGregor was wearing a mustardy green T-shirt, faded yellow and blue Bermuda shorts and brown flipflops but this was not the beach. He looked lean with thick arms and broad shoulders, and was caked in mud. He had cuts all over his arms and legs and across his cheek bones. He walked towards me.
I looked up and he stared straight at me. There was his familiar face, the full nose, the cleft chin and the deep frown. The spikey hair had been flattened and parted to the right. There were his piercing blue eyes looking straight at me. Should I say hello? Should I smile? He stared at me without expression. What did this mean? Was he looking at me or right through me?
TUESDAY OCTOBER 19TH 2010
In the documentary ‘Long Way Round’, Ewan McGregor was trying to do something extraordinary by riding 22,345 miles from London to New York on a motorcycle. Paradoxically, he was also shooting for a kind of normality: he just wanted to be a bloke on a bike. He was hoping for a break from his stardom.
My book is the complete opposite. I’m on a metaphorical clapped-out Vespa trying to pursue fame over hills and down dirt tracks. Being noticed, recognized, celebrated is my ultimate destination. I’ve had forty years of complete obscurity and bad toilets. I know what normality feels like and I’m sick of it. I’m hungry for fame, fortune and excess, anxious to make even the smallest of skid marks on the road to success.
For anyone who doesn’t know me (99.9% of you), my name is Nathan Braund and I’m an aspiring writer. That sounds like an introduction for Alcoholics Anonymous but this addiction is much worse. I’ve been scribbling away for twenty years, tilting the axis with fantasies of mega book advances and eight figure film deals, but haven’t broken through yet. Anyway, this isn’t a long-winded whinge about not getting published. It’s far more ridiculous than that. This is my attempt to get my screenplay into the hands of Ewan McGregor while he was filming in Thailand. I guess, the movie pitch would be, ‘Desperate 40 year old writer works as an extra in the vain hope of giving script to A-List actor.’ I’ll leave you to decide if it’s a Thriller, Action, Buddy Comedy or Disaster.
The trouble started on the 19th of October, 2010, your honour. My wife, Kirsten, and I had moved to Phuket, Thailand, on the 13th of September to dedicate eight months to writing and to spend untired time with the kids (cue awkward silence from various relatives at such a plan in terms of the eating up of savings that could be used for a deposit on a house and the unrest in Thailand on the 19th of May when red shirts and yellow shirts had nothing to do with football).
Like so many, we loved the country and had previously visited places like Bangkok, Chang Mai, and Kho Samui, as well as neighbouring Cambodia and Vietnam. Although we would happily backpack to a mountain village in Burma or Laos, we needed somewhere with a decent international hospital and school for the kids so chose Phuket. Our first impressions were not what you’d call electric. We’d just left Oman in the Middle East where the leather-skinned ex-pat, with his four-wheel drive, big villa and even bigger ego, reigned supreme, so were less than happy to encounter similarly ludicrous westerners in Phuket.
The island was cluttered with flatulent, geriatric men married to young, beautiful Thai women. Chalong, where we lived, was overrun with Alf Garnets on scooters bellyaching about the heat and ignoring their young wives until they were in the bedroom. Every time we passed one of them in the car, Kirsten would shout, ‘put a bloody shirt on’ but not, thankfully, out of the window. It was a shock to go to the local supermarket, called Tesco Lotus, and discover there was a whole aisle dedicated to adult diapers.
However, Phuket with its beautiful beaches, Chinese shrines and colourful events like the Vegetarian festival soon charmed us. We found a little villa to rent amongst rubber trees at the bottom of a mountain that had a 45 metre stone Buddha at the top, so were feeling Zen-like about the whole thing.
By the way, our kids are Isabella, four and a half, and Dylan, one and a half. Isabella is a complicated but sweet girly girl and Dylan is best described as a jolly thunderball. According to Kirsten, they had inherited their bad traits from me and their good traits from her, which was probably true. I would write in the morning and Kirsten in the afternoons and both of us would scribble away in the evenings when the kids had gone to bed.
This was bliss except for one thing: even after twenty years, I was not published and was finding it harder and harder to keep going. Did the rejections mean I was crap? It was becoming increasingly difficult to convince myself I was simply misunderstood. I was starting to feel like King Julien, the lemur in the cartoon ‘Madagascar’, who says he wants to be a professional whistler but when he puts his lips together he blows a raspberry.
On the morning of the 19th of October I was having one of these moments of self-doubt while working on my film script, when Kirsten barged in, saying ‘you’ll never guess what?’ I was in our ‘study’ which was a grand name for a room that housed little more than a cheap, wobbly desk and plywood bookcase. She frantically scribbled notes onto a piece of scrap paper before she forgot something. Like a Victorian schoolmaster, I berated her for disturbing me while I was ‘creating’ and she stormed out calling me a ‘fornicating masturbator’, or something similar. It took me about three hours before I could coax the news out of her.
Kirsten is a passionate woman, famous for not suffering fools gladly, except for me that is. I’d survived having a clog thrown at me amongst other things but that was another story. I gauged the level of my OCD and general neurosis by her reactions. If she said, ‘you flipper’ then I knew I was relatively normal. If she lifted her eyebrows and said ‘are you for real?’ then I knew I was moving into obsessive territory. Mind you, we were something of a yin and yang because I could be hesitant about things while she could hate waiting for the kettle to boil. ‘When the tortoise and hare got married’ would be the film title.
Kirsten looked at me and said, ‘I wanted to tell you earlier because you’ll be excited about it.’
She was sat on our bed in the bedroom, pretending to read a book. We only had a double bed in the villa so the four of us shared it, like the grandparents in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’.
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get all pompous. What is it?’ I said.
As usual, she had taken Isabella to school (five minutes on foot down our street) but the owner, Michael, had flashed a piece of paper under her nose, saying ‘take a look at this’.
‘You’ll never guess what it was?’ said Kirsten, ‘It was an email from a man looking for someone to teach a couple of five year old boys up at Khao Lak at the Orchid Beach Resort.’
‘It’s about two hours up the road from Phuket.’
At first, Kirsten thought Michael was offering the job to her because he knew we used to teach English as a foreign language. Neither of us particularly liked teaching but it had served as a useful travel ticket for the past twelve years. But Michael quickly whipped the paper away, saying the boys had to be ‘Ewan’s sons’ because they were making a movie up there with Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts. This was the first we’d heard of it.
We knew one of the members of Culture Club lived in Phuket but that was something of a joke, like spotting the Krankies on the bus. There were genuine celebrities two hours away. They weren’t washed-up actors from ‘Heartbeat’. They were real A-listers that didn’t require added info like ‘played Bob Gooser in Emmerdale Farm’ next to their name. Let’s be truthful, movie stars were the Great Gatsby of the modern world and we all wanted to get near them or, at least, have a peep to check they existed.
We stared at each other and giggled. I did a Tom-Cruise-leaping-off-interview-settee-stunt from our bed but fell to the ground.
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