Nick’s recalls

I can not over estimate the influence and help my father was in those early years. It was only natural that I would take seriously the things those around me did. So I would play act a lot. Mimic the comedians my dad worked with and acquire a taste for pretty women at a young age. Whilst kids whose dads were mechanics might play with mechanical things, I was learning stage make-up at 7 years old and performing in all the school plays.

I was much more interested in entertaining the other kids than studying at school and through that period my education somewhat passed me by. I failed the “11 plus” exam that determined what level your education would continue at from 11 years on and still wasn’t really concerned when I started at a school better known for the murderers it produced than the standard of education.

When I was 13, I “stared” in a school play and got excellent reviews from the local paper. So I was sure I was going to be an actor. When I was 14 I was so full of myself that I refused to be in the next school play... because I just didn’t like it! So I put on my own rival production, producing and directing as well as taking a lead role.

I felt that my life was on track. Then one of my teachers decided to set me straight. He explained to me that I was not as smart as I thought I was. He told me to give up art and drama... that I’d never make any money doing that... as I would spend my life working in a factory. He advised me to concentrate on woodwork instead.

I will always be grateful to this man as it was a HUGE wake-up call. He thought I was going to work in a factory? Was he crazy? Within 6 months I was top of my (mediocre) class in 6 subjects. No one could believe the difference. They moved me into a higher class and, although I struggled to catch up, I worked twice as hard as everyone else. I haven’t stopped.

When I was 15 my dad was teaching at Drama School. There were 3 classes of students for each of the 3 years. At the end of each term, each class had to put on a play. That meant 9 shows with 30 people in each and only a few days to teach them all their make-up. I earned pocket money following behind my dad as he designed the make-ups and I gave practical advice on mixing colors and sharpening eyebrow pencils. I have to admit that I learned a lot by the mistakes I made there.

When I was 16 I went on to a sixth form collage. I grew a lot there, had a lot of fun , started a drama group and produced three collage reviews.

During this time my dad worked on the movie OLIVER for 16 weeks. OLIVER was the first film set that I visited. I carried that memory back to our low income housing estate and began fantasizing over the possibility of acting in movies

When I was 17 I realized that, when I was young, people had lied to me... I WASN’T going to be tall and handsome! Having grown up in the business I had enough experience to know that if I wanted to act I could expect to wait another 20 years to become a character actor. I had to start thinking about other aspects of the business that might offer more success in less time. That Christmas, I did a 4 week show as a follow spot operator in a West End theater. That was a good experience but I didn’t see myself becoming a lighting tech permanently.

One day I was home when the phone rang. I answered it. Someone had got my dad’s number and was looking for personnel to do make-up for a show at the Royal Albert Hall. Dad was out and they didn’t know they were talking to a 17 year old kid. My mother was shocked when I talked for an hour about the job, negotiated the deal and took the booking... for the TWO of us. That was the first job where I WAS THE BOSS and I realized that maybe my future would lie in make-up.

As a result, my dad contacted the make-up artists that he had befriended on OLIVER and I applied for a union ticket which was essential to work on movies. Unfortunately they had not permitted any new members for 14 years so I wasn’t holding my breath.

When I was 18 I transfered to art collage but my dad became very sick. Within a few months he was unable to work. I didn’t want him losing his job at the drama schools, so I stepped in and took over his classes. I thought it was a temporary measure but he was never able to return.

A year later I was invited to an interview to be considered for that union ticket. Apparently they were impressed that I was 19 and teaching at 6 drama schools including what is now Middlesex University. I didn’t like to tell them it was part time work and I also had to fill in doing office work for the London Borough of Brent to pay the bills.

I had just turned 20 when I got the call telling me that I had been granted a union ticket and was free to work in movies. That was 1969. It sounds like the end of my story. But it was just the beginning. I was in movies... but continued to struggle to find work for many years.

My Dad died in 73 at the age of 49. I have always been grateful for his inspiration and aid in getting started in the industry. I would often work for very short periods. But I turned a blind eye to the risks that scare others away from freelance work. My dad had lived his life that way and although he was never acclaimed, he lived his dream and had no regrets. I have always thought that it is more of a risk to sacrifice your dreams for a “proper job”.

If there was a secret to my success it was perseverance. I strove to generate new opportunities and made the most of EVERY one that materialized. I was partly driven by an excessive ego and partly driven by the determination to prove that teacher was wrong. So even when things looked hopeless, I refused to give up. And I promised myself that day by day I would learn a little more, work a little harder and strive to be better than others could expect of me. I have lived my whole life by that principle. It separated me from the crowd.

If you wish you can read more about the rest of my journey to making STAR WARS.