Letter from New Delhi
The original James Bond 007, Sean Connery, celebrated his 88th birthday on 25 August in secluded retirement, as Kul Bhushan recalls his Kenya connection
In 1973, Sean Connery arrived in Nairobi for the Kenya Open Golf tournament at Muthaiga Golf Club and I had a long interview and spent some quality time with the famous actor on a leisurely Sunday.
Sean Connery meets the press in Nairobi
“That’s James Bond!” cried a number of fans on spotting him with his long side-burns at Nairobi Embakasi Airport when he walked the tarmac, in the company of two smiling air hostesses.
Hero of the Bond phenomena, probably the greatest rage of the Sixties and the Seventies, Connery recalled how he rocketed to stardom after shooting Tarzan films in Thika in 1960.
Relaxing at Muthaiga Golf Club later in the morning, he told me, “We were here 13 years ago on Tarzan films when I heard that Ian Fleming had an idea on what his hero should be like.
“Back in Europe, I learnt that they wanted to test screen personalities for the part. I said I would not submit myself for the test to find out if I was okay but I still got the part,” he recalled.
Asked what role he was playing in the Tarzan film being shot in Kenya, Sean said, “I was the villain. Quite a few years have passed since then and I am interested to see what’s happened here.”
Queried on how he fitted the role of Bond, he replied in a very Scottish accent which he subdued in his films, “I played the part! But now I have left it – on a permanent basis.”
But still people call you James Bond, don’t they?
He was quick to retort, “You haven’t called me James so far.”
How did he do all those superhuman acts of his mindboggling films?
“Stamina! But seriously, I end up by doing only about 50 percent of those stunts. We have stand-ins who go through some of the rougher stuff,” he explained.
What hobbies do you have beside your work?
“Golf in the UK, I have a handicap of seven.”
Very appropriate, I thought. “After the Kenya Open Golf championship, I will be holidaying here and if I see something that might fit into my forthcoming movies, I will all certainly include it but certain filming facilities are lacking here.”
Recalling his pre-Bond days, he said he had acted on the stage, television and films. “I have played all sorts of parts. In Tarzan films, Alexander the Great, Macbeth, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Euripides, Arthur Miller stuff, and many others before turning to Bond.”
Are you here on a secret mission? “No, only a sporting one.”
As soon as we finished talking, Chandu Vasani, an ex-Nation photographer joined us. “Hello, how are you. I remember you,” said Sean. At once, he recognized the young studio owner in Thika who invited the Tarzan film unit to a curry dinner so many years ago.
After retiring in 2003, he rarely appears in public and spends his time with his grand-children. He was last photographed in New York a year ago while leaving a barber’s shop, helped by a caretaker.
But his charisma remains as he was approached for an autograph by a fan who recognized him. But he moved on.
Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi
* Published in print edition on 31 August 2018