Stories of Big Tam are legion in the Capital. Let me add to them. I never met Sir Sean, although he did surprise me one morning. Working on a feature about a scheme the actor was championing, I put a request in to speak to him but heard nothing more… until weeks later, I checked my phone messages and heard an instantly recognisable voice, “Hello Liam, Sean Connery here…” He’d been away, just received my message, and had left a quote on the off chance that it might still be of use. It was. I believe we got a new story out of that quote alone. Such was his draw.
That Edinburgh took the boy from Fountainbridge to their heart is without doubt. Despite his Hollywood status to many he remained a man of the people and was never a stranger in the city he grew up. I realised how accessible he had remained in my teenage years when a pal told me he'd been visiting his then girlfriend. As they watched telly, she announced her Uncle Tam was to drop in. He was stunned when her cousin, a young Jason, walked through the door followed by James Bond himself. “Meet Uncle Tam,” she grinned as he picked his jaw up from the floor and stuttered, ‘Hi’, much to Uncle Tam’s amusement. That evening ended in the Victoria Bar on Leith Walk where the locals happily accepted Sean’s offer of drinks all round.
I first found myself ‘in his company’ at the Usher Hall in 1991 as he was presented with the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh. As he arrived, I realised the physical stature of the man – he was tall, 6ft 2in, and that’s really tall when you’re 5ft 5in. Years later, Alan Longmuir, the original Bay City Roller, told me how it was his build that helped land him a job with his dad at the Co-op Funeral Parlour. Alan’s dad was a undertaker and, for a time, the young Sean worked with him polishing coffins, his strength making him perfect for carting the wooden boxes about.
That he was popular is an understatement. I remember the excitement one Fringe when he was spotted queuing to buy a ticket at The Pleasance. Luckily I had a photographer nearby and the front page of my Festival pull-out the next day had a picture of Sean chatting with punters in the queue as he waited his turn.
For most, of course, the closest they came to the Hollywood star was sitting in a darkened cinema watching him on the big screen, where for many he wasn’t just the first 007 but the best Bond. Even Roger Moore conceded this when I met him, after first describing him, with a raised eyebrow and twinkle in his eye, as “the best warm-up man in the business”.
The last time I saw Sean, he was at the Edinburgh Film Festival. It was to be his farewell visit to the event. He looked frail and wasn’t doing interviews yet his appearance on the red carpet proved as electric as ever. RIP Big Tam.