Thursday 18 December 2014

Reford: The secret Dublin years

Robert Redford just wanted to remain anonymous in the Dublin restaurant. Then Dickie Rock started singing The Way We Were . . .The movie legend came to Howth to work on his biography with Michael Feeney Callan. As he prepares for the book launch, the writer recalls some close encounters with locals

Robert Redford. Photo: Reuters
Robert Redford. Photo: Reuters

Paul Newman once told me, "Call the book The Late Robert Redford," and the words rebounded in my brain as I sat in the lounge of Redford's rented house in Ceanchor Road in Howth and watched him dawdle.

It was a frosty December day with whitecaps on the bay beyond the window and Christmas heavily in the air. Redford had agreed to sing with my children's school choir in Grafton Street at midday and it was already past eleven-thirty.

I was looking forward to his performance. He'd long wanted to make a musical, pined even for Phantom of the Opera, and I'd heard him sing in the shower: he was a good, robust baritone. But the clock was ticking.

He finally got moving past twelve and I wedged him into my MG and jumped some red lights. We arrived in Grafton Street to a monsoon downpour and empty streets. The school carollers, fundraising for the Children's Hospital, had left.

Redford and I repaired to Little Caesar's Pizzeria for penne arrabiata and his favourite Merlot. The meal was interrupted by the blinding flashes of cameras from neighbouring tables and we summoned Hassam, the owner, who politely asked the offenders to desist.

Redford was unfazed. His preoccupation was his subject-of-the-moment which, in view of the fact that I was writing his life story, was his relationship with the cobblestones of Dublin.

My food stuck in my gullet. I was thinking of the Christmas disappointment of kids who still believed in Santa. "Don't worry," he drawled in his saddlebum burr. "We'll sort 'em out."

The next day the choir of the kids from the Burrow School in Sutton was his priority. First and truly a family man, he had bonded with my children, Corey and Paris, on our visits to his homes in Utah and in Calistoga, north of San Francisco. Paris, then eight, had requested him to collect her from school and he was ready to oblige.

Take two. We went to see the choir.

My first childhood encounter with the hysteria that surrounds fame was hunched on my father's shoulders in June 1963 watching President Kennedy swan over Drumcondra Bridge in a shiny blue mohair suit with an impossible tan.

The surge of sound as people cheered shocked me and I remember a woman beside me shouting, "You're f***ing gorgeous."

In the years after, in my work in film and TV, I'd ventured out in company with Roger Moore, Joan Collins, members of the Beach Boys. But I'd never again experienced unbridled fame-mania. It happened all the time in Redford's company.

Wherever he went, literally everywhere, he was recognised. Blessed with a Beatles hairline and the body of an Olympian, he'd retained his sexy good looks despite arthritic knees, the family curse. One could read his mood by the application of his favourite French beret. If he wore it jauntily, he was ready for the people. If he pulled it close to his eyebrows, stay away.

His gloominess was not whimsical, but associated with work.

But Dickie Rock was also dining across the room and he spotted Redford and whispered to the resident pianist. Dickie's acknowledgement was swift and dignified. He sidled up to the piano and started singing The Way We Were.

I winced, but Redford loved it. Dickie waved. Bob waved back. "Soundtrack of my life," he said. And the beret came off.

At Burrow Road School there was no beret and the public encounter was less like President Kennedy than a scene from A Hard Day's Night. Redford was immaculately well-mannered, as he always is with children, and listened as the kids (none of whom, I'm certain, knew who he was) sang a cowboy carol (really).

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