I think David Baddiel put it best when paying tribute to Sir Sean Connery after news of his death at the age of 90, saying simply: “No, Mr Bond. Somehow, despite everything, I didn’t expect you to die.”
The end of an era – perhaps the last Hollywood great.
And to us, our nation, even more. A magnificent Scot who rose from milkman to one of the biggest stars in the Milky Way.
I was lucky enough to interview him. It must have been 13 years ago, having been offered a world exclusive – the only journalist invited to his penthouse suite in New York during Scotland Week.
I had loved watching him since I was a schoolgirl – peeking over my grandfather’s shoulder as he watched Bond on Christmas Day. He loved Connery too. I remember asking him: “Papa, you’re watching it again. You know what happens – he always wins.
“Ah but Martie,” he replied, “It’s how he does it.”
Fast-forward 20 years and I was giddy with excitement – I was going to be in a penthouse suite with Sean Connery – until some words of wisdom were put my way.
He doesn’t suffer fools gladly, I was told. He has no time for most journalists, said another person – and he once terminated an interview after two minutes because he didn’t take to the writer who didn’t seem to know much about him.
Then, I was terrified.
Finally the moment came and I was ushered to a sofa in his amazing suite with panoramic views of the Big Apple.
I remember the moment he walked towards me. Rarely have I witnessed actual star presence. The kind that make you slightly shake.
You might think that being a showbiz reporter, I was a celebrity-lover, but I wasn’t.
I thought – and still do – they’re just the same as anyone else, though often obviously have huge artistic talent but not as “important” as someone who, say, saves lives.
That thinking gave me the perspective and clarity to ask questions to which readers and later viewers and listeners would want the answers – often cheeky or even a little audacious rather than gushing about how good they looked.
But Sir Sean was a giant of a man, even then in his late 70s, so tall with impressive, strong physique – a huge presence and still so darned handsome.
Then, three things happened at once: He shook my hand, raised his eyebrow like in Dr No and said, in that iconic, much-parodied voice: “Pleashed to meet you Mish Maxwell.”
That was it. My mouth went dry and my brain emptied of every question I’d painstakingly researched.
It didn’t matter. He wanted to talk. In fact, rant, about the proprietor of the news group I worked for at the time. The Oscar-winner (The Untouchables in 1988) had a lot to get off his chest and none of it was complimentary.
I only had half an hour with him but was too respectful (and scared) to interrupt to ask my questions. I’d read somewhere that rather than the laid-back man with nothing to prove you might expect to meet, he had insecurities and hang-ups. He regretted never having gone to university.
I sensed this. His intelligence was clear – but he had points he wanted to make. He wanted to be heard, to be known for more than his looks and Bond, of which he was proud but which he didn’t want to define him. He was very serious.
As time was called on our interview, I was devastated.
Nothing he had said could be printed because it was all political and not politics supported by my then employer. I would forever be known as the girl who got a Sean Connery interview and absolutely no story. The shame.
We posed for a photo. He gave me a squeeze and my photographer told me he smelled my hair, which was amazing.
We got on well and it no doubt helped I was a fellow Scot. He seemed fond of Dundee when I told him that was home.
But this is how I saved my career.
In the time it took to back away from him to the door, I kept my recorder on and asked a torrent of questions.
“Sir Sean, it was so lovely to meet you. Do you think you might ever move back to Scotland? (No). Are you OK after a recent health scare? (Yes, and some details). What does Scotland mean to you? (Everything and why) and will you ever act again? (Perhaps and what it would take).”
I had no idea what he said. Every word I uttered and step I took was filled with terror.
But when I listened back to my tape, I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I realised we had so much everyone would be happy. Two days later, it was the “world exclusive” front page and two spreads inside.
Why he was so great is hard to summarise. It’s often said that women wanted to be with him and men wanted to be him.
But it was more. Where so many Hollywood greats from a golden era from Monroe to Garland let Hollywood rule them, Sir Sean Connery was always in control.
No matter the nationality he played, he kept his Scottish accent. He told directors where to go if warranted. Impressive no matter who you are but to have that strength of character having risen to a world of dreams, from his humble roots is, for me, the achievement of his life.
He called the shots and at his core, people almost always say, he was as good a man as you could meet.
He was always just Sean Connery. And that was always enough.
RIP an acting and Scottish legend.