Published: 15/05/2014 11:51 - Updated: 15/05/2014 12:08

Bagpiper to Bardot, now Norman is a movie star himself

Written byMargaret Chrystall

Norman MacLean in 'Blackbird'.
Norman MacLean in 'Blackbird'.

THEY call Norman Maclean — piper, comic, star of Gaelic TV, singer, writer and the Gaelic voice of cartoon hero Danger Mouse — "the Billy Connolly of the Gaidhealtachd".

But in his 70s, Norman is also now a film star and is already writing about acting in the BAFTA audience award nominee Blackbird for the sequel to his autobiography The Leper’s Bell.

In the movie, made in the Isle of Whithorn in Dumfries and Galloway, Norman plays Alec, who inspires young Rhuadhan to protect the folklore tradition of his elderly friends in his home village.

Norman — who had already appeared in international movie production Play Me Something — turned up on set for his first day on Blackbird and chalked up his first "nude" scene.

Norman said: "The director Jamie Chambers said ‘OK darling, you can take your gear off now!’.

"I was determined to show I was an old pro and I was ready at the age of 74 and thought ‘This is going to be good’…

"But it’s a bath scene with my carer and it was horrendous because naturally, being a perfectionist, Jamie took about 73 takes and the water was getting colder and colder.

"And the bubbles that were created to hide my modesty were dissipating — I came out looking like a prune."

But in a career which has seen Norman become a household name for his TV series Tormod Air Telly, his battle with alcohol addiction and his book about his adventures — like joining a mariachi band in Mexico as their resident piper — his encounter with film legend Brigitte Bardot is a high spot.

Norman had been invited to pipe for Brigitte at her home in the South of France, but her husband Roger Vadim didn’t seem too keen when Norman turned up…

Norman recalled: "I blew it because of the man she was with and more importantly because of a bodyguard she had.

"He was a guy I would have punched out in my youth. And of course I had been exposed to a lot of cheap wine, so I walked out on Brigitte.

"She was called the Sex Kitten but she was tall, she was more of a tigress!"

But Norman recently heard a better version of his encounter with Bardot.

"There’s a guy from Harris works in Inverness and he told an acquaintance of mine — a good friend — ‘I’ve read Norman MacLean’s autobiography and you see that stuff about Brigitte Bardot? He didn’t tell us the truth at all’.

"My friend asked him what he meant and he said ‘The thing was, Brigitte Bardot was crazy about that man, but he was Church of Scotland and didn’t want to be involved in a marriage in Paris’.

A scene from 'Blackbird'.
A scene from 'Blackbird'.

"So that’s why I lost Brigitte Bardot, according to him!"

In Blackbird, Norman’s performance as Alec is playful and touching and makes it easy for the audience to understand why young hero Ruadhan wants to stop Alec’s stories and songs dying out.

Director Jamie Chambers explained how Tim Neat — director of movie Play Me Something — had recommended Norman.

Jamie explained: "I went up to Grimsay where Norman lives and was completely taken with him as a source of energy and inspiration.

"We wrote the role of Alec completely for Norman’s personality — he is such a wonderful performer."

Now he and Jamie are working on a script, Norman revealed.

• Blackbird screens at Eden Court Cinema tonight (Thursday) at 6.15pm and in Fort William on May 24. For more information, go to: www.eden-court.co.uk

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