How does it feel when your child eclipses your achievements before he's reached adulthood?
Dominic Holland, father of the more famous Tom – star of The Impossible – gives the lowdown.
Wednesday 16 January 2013
It is the natural order of things that successive generations will achieve more than their predecessors. Jim McCartney was a professional trumpeter and had a son called Paul. And because it is normal for parents to be ambitious for their children, when this particular milestone occurs, it should engender pride rather than any sense of failure. Plus it is handy if the parents are planning on being kept in their golden years as well.
I hope that all four of my boys will out-achieve my accomplishments – but I was not expecting this to happen quite so soon and in my own chosen profession, really.
My eldest son, Tom, is now 16 and the unwitting star of a rather unique family story. A story about how a kid danced his way to Hollywood via the West End and overtook his "celebrity" dad on his way. I am the "celebrity" dad. A somewhat famous comedian, author and general wit for hire. It is a story that started to gestate in my mind as I sat in the stalls watching Tom play Billy in Billy Elliot the Musical at the Victoria Palace Theatre. By the time I was on a beach in Thailand manning a BBQ for Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, my story, just like the sausages, was cooked and one that I felt compelled to write. Tom had been cast to play Lucas in the film The Impossible, now on worldwide general release, two years after it completed filming.
And all of this happened without any planning whatsoever. In fact without a single drama lesson, let alone a drama school, in sight. This whole thing has really been a complete fluke. Tom attended a street-dance class on a Saturday afternoon at his local council leisure centre and, when he was nine, was spotted by someone affiliated to Billy Elliot. Scroll forward 10 auditions and two years of training, and Tom finally took to the stage for his first-ever speaking part in a play. Until then, he had never been cast in any of his school productions and had never even spoken on a stage.
So this story, that ends on a red carpet in LA, is an interesting tale on its own but is also a comic one when set against my own less-successful endeavours to crack Hollywood. And if any more colour to this story is needed, then just for good measure, this summer, another of my sons played Prince Harry to Naomi Watts's Princess Diana in the forthcoming film about her life. This was another fluke I add quickly. The idea of refuting the inevitable accusations that we are mad, pushy parents from hell, bent on making our offspring famous is an attractive one and a good enough reason alone for writing this story – which I am about to publish as an ebook.
Stand-up comedy is not for the faint-hearted or the thin-skinned. There is nothing quite as loud as the silence of an audience when a comedian is on stage. Many will try comedy but few will ever really prevail. And even those who do will constantly look for other, less stressful and less exacting outlets for their funny. Writing funny obviously has many appeals to the stand-up comedian. As such, all comedians will try their hand at it: sitcoms, plays, newspaper columns, novels. Some will even take aim at the biggest and hardest nut of all – Hollywood. This is something I did nearly 20 years ago and I am still living with the mental scars that I picked up along the way. I once flew to LA on my own ticket and the guy I had gone to see wasn't even in. Apparently the bastard was golfing. I was very upset but too polite to point out that golf is not actually a verb.
But my efforts in film might now be about to bear fruit. Not because I am any closer to hearing the seductive word, "Action!" but because my misadventures in LA and Soho are now a useful spine to a comic story comparing the lives of father and son. A story that happens to be true and is funnier than any script I have ever made up and hawked around.
Indeed in writing this story I even wonder if the whole thing has not been preordained because there are so many coincidences and moments of serendipity between us. When I was 14, I, too, appeared in a film. It was the very first film on Channel Four, called P'tang Yang Kipperbang. Don't watch it now and expect to see me. I was only an extra. I did have one single line but it never made the edit and I did read for the lead when the producers dropped in to our school unannounced one day. At the same point of my son's life, Tom played the lead in a Hollywood film and was long listed for an Oscar, so this story was always on the cards and has had a long time to really warm up.
Many years ago I was a young and, dare I say it, very hot new comedian. Maybe even the hottest of all if the now defunct Perrier panel of judges were to be believed. As such I was asked to appear in the Evening Standard's column A Rising Star. I was very flattered and naturally, I said, yes darling, of course. Only then I was dropped very suddenly by the editor, to make way for an unknown actor. The reason given was that, according to this editor, I was already a star!
This came as something of a surprise to me. At the time, I certainly did not feel like a star – any more than I do today in fact. And I wasn't deceived either. I knew that I was being bumped. Making way for someone even hotter than me, an act who was a safer bet. But I still appreciated the manner of the rejection which remains to this day my most flattering ever. And incidentally, who was I bumped for? And what ever became of him? Was the editor right after all?
It was some bloke called Ewan McGregor who was apparently turning heads at the time – and if this editor should ever come by this article, then let me say, good call mate and no hard feelings. However, what would have salved my hurt even more at the time would have been the knowledge that young Ewan would indeed go on to become a movie star and that one day he would play the father and "supporting actor" to my, as yet unborn first son. This was some way off. Almost 20 years, but something to look forward to eh?
And I can now say that it certainly has been. I have flown around the world a fair few times to chronicle this story under the guise of being Tom's chaperone and pastoral guide. This story began as a blog which you will note I omitted from my earlier list of outlets that comedians seek for their voice. This is because blogs are never cool, not really. So a dad writing about his son and in a blog is absolutely perilous. But my story has been written with great affection and with no rancour and not to garner any sympathy for my career plateau. I am not a dad who anyone should ever feel sorry for. I have enjoyed my endeavours in film and while I accept that Tom's eclipse of me is now complete, this ebook of mine could become a sensational hit and who knows, even a movie…
'How Tom Holland Eclipsed His Dad' is an ebook available at dominicholland.co.uk. Dominic recently published his third novel, 'A Man's Life', as an ebook available at his site
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