I’m sure my dear mother was very proud when she saw me on TV in a commercial, in a newspaper or on an advertising board. But my main interest was travelling and girls. I’m not an academic, but I am quite creative and in common with most of the creative people I’ve worked with, Saatchi & Saatchi, J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy, I tend to do things at the last minute. Perhaps we all need the adrenaline rush when we start to worry about a deadline.
A prime example of this was when my agent called me at 5pm one day and asked if I would like to audition for a Ford TV commercial. Of course, I said yes.
Apart from anything else, a TV commercial which was shown nationally would pay about five thousand pounds. I was told to be in Soho for the audition no later than 6.15. It was all a bit rushed, but that was part of the fun. I was the last person to be seen. Then the producer calmly announced that I had the leading role in the commercial and would be flying to Morocco at 7.30 the following Monday. I often wonder what they would have done if I had been unsuitable. After all, this was not just a matter of shipping one person off to Africa; there were three other models involved a fleet of new Fords and a complete production team. The tickets were biked over to me on Sunday afternoon and we all made the 7.30 flight for my first trip to the African continent.
We were booked into a luxury hotel on the edge of Marrakesh. The director decided that we needed a special light which is only available for a few minutes after dawn. This meant getting up at 4am to travel to the high desert and the Atlas Mountains.
The whole atmosphere of Morocco reminded me of the pictures in the Bible when I was at Sunday school. We passed an Arab riding a donkey along the dirt road. Several miles to the south were the mountains and the Sahara Desert. To our right, the nearest place was probably New York, so where the hell was he going? When we arrived at the location, we set up camp in the foothills.
I was naturally wearing a dinner-jacket in preparation for the kebab.
It was dark and cold. We sat around waiting for the sun to rise over the majestic range of mountains. We were in the middle of nowhere. And then I discovered how the stories in the Bible were written. I witnessed a miracle.
Silently, out of the dark appeared a ten-year-old boy. We had no idea where he’d come from. Everyone was fascinated by this boy and ‘generously’ gave him cigarettes. How the world has changed in the last few years! His name was Siddy and he had a wonderfully contagious smile. Bearing in mind we were in the high desert which is stony and barren. No trees, plants or apparent forms of life, Siddy disappeared into the darkness for a few minutes. When he returned, he sat on the stony ground, waved his hands around and after a few seconds there was fire. Of course, he could have had a box of matches and a London Times, but I prefer to think it was a miracle.
Everyone was gathered around the fire and gave him more cigarettes. Then, like a scene from Star Wars, a shaft of sunlight pierced the darkness as the sun made its first appearance between the peaks. This looked and felt like another miracle. The first touch of this finger of fire warmed our bodies and I’m sure that everyone was a believer, if only for a few minutes.
As the sun rose higher, the light spread across the desert. An hour later, after much discussion, the director decided that something was wrong with the light – who can you trust these days? We had just witnessed a miracle; angels sitting on clouds playing heavenly music on their harps. We’d seen a boy light a fire with his fingers, but our ‘Hollywood’ director had decided God made a mistake with the light. Within the hour, everything was packed up and the convoy of three Fords, two Landrovers and a truck moved towards the Atlas Mountains.
The road over the mountain twisted and turned like a funfair ride. There was no white line in the middle of the road and worse still, there was no barrier on the edge to save us from dropping thousands of feet down a sheer cliff.
It was scary! To make matters worse, there was ice on the road as we neared the summit. Two hours later, we were on the other side of the mountain going down to a small military town called Quazaratte.
We all arrived safely within fifteen minutes of each other and were glad to stretch our legs, even though the temperature was now over one hundred degrees. The houses were covered in dust and sand. It looked like a deserted cowboy town. Fifteen minutes later, the director changed his mind again. We were going back to Marrakesh. Surely God hadn’t made another mistake? Suddenly the crew were arguing about who was going to drive, but what worried me was that they were laying bets to see who would arrive first. The director showed me to one of the dusty Fords to be driven back. He was a little shaken when I told him I was staying.
I was not going to be driven over a dangerous mountain path by some immature idiot to win a bet. I used to be a stuntman specialising in car chases, but that was a paid job and this was suicide.
After a moments thought, he gave me the keys of another Ford and suggested I drive myself. I didn’t mind being last!
My companion was Tony, a kind of working-class Steve McQueen. He looked good but was a pain. Constantly complaining and criticising. We drove sedately over the pass and approached Marrakesh. Morocco is not the best-organised place in the world when it comes to road signs, partly because they don’t have too many roads.
As we got close to the walls of the city, I saw a hand-painted sign on a palm tree showing us the way. There were two ways to our hotel; the right way was to go around the city. The wrong way was to drive through the Souk with its narrow streets and hoards of people and cattle.
Unfortunately, someone had turned the sign in the wrong direction, so instead of driving around the capital, we found ourselves driving through a massive arch into the Souk.
As soon as we poked our nose around the corner, I knew it was too late, we were stuck. It’s not always a pleasure to be a tourist in a poor country. It is the same in Cuba and China. The locals think the average tourist is an American millionaire. Apart from anything else, we were driving an enormous new car on a street just wide enough to get through.
Chickens, goats, people, kids, carpets, silk, spices were all part of our obstacle course. Another small problem was that I didn’t have a clue which way to go. Tony kept complaining, but needless to say did not come up with a solution. A guy on a rusty old bike knocked on our window as we sped at two miles per hour and offered to show us the way. We agreed on a price. I gave him twenty per cent and said he would get the rest when we were free. I obviously underestimated the value of the twenty per cent because he promptly disappeared! Cue for Tony to moan again. The atmosphere in the Souk was hostile and scary and the longest hour of my life. There are no policemen to ask, no tourist offices. It’s a million years from London. Eventually, another teenager offered us his services. We agreed on a price and as we turned the next corner, we were free. I accelerated to five miles per hour and sped through the arch of freedom.