YOU have to remember that I had nothing, I was useless. I didn't go to university - I got my O-levels as they were then, but only because I went to a crammer. Apart from that I was just a dunderhead, but I always wanted to write, to direct and be in the theatre, that's what I wanted to do.

During this episode of my life - I was about 20 or 21 - I'd decided like everybody of that age to have fame and fortune. I decided I was extremely good-looking and I thought I would become a model. So a friend of mine took some pictures of me of which this was one: wearing Chelsea boots, and sort of seriously lighting my cigarette. I sent it round and got one job out of it: for a thing called King magazine: it was me stepping out of an Easter egg with someone else, both wearing Sixties suits.

I had no idea what I was going to do with my life really. I had left home, I had no money, I was living in a bedsit in Notting Hill Gate where the room was just big enough to take a very thin single bed, and there was a Belling stove on the window-sill and a chair which you had to put on the bed when you opened the door.

I was working in the theatre most of the time, so I could never sleep at night and I used to walk around till three or four in the morning. That's when I would see the expensive cars in Park Lane, pulling up outside the Hilton, and all these people would get out, dressed up, and there was me in jeans and T-shirt and socks I used to wash every day because I couldn't replace them.

There were two cars that always got to me in those days: the Jaguar XK120 and the Bentley Continental. They were such beautiful works of art, and they represented an ease of life that I could never have. I was penniless, I was out of work much of the time, I had no training, right? But here was the materialism of the Sixties blowing around me. I've always had these chips on my shoulder, I've always felt secondary to other people, even now. Why do you think I keep going on all the time? Christ, I could retire and just have a great life. I've always got something to prove, I don't know who to. But those cars were symbolic of what I didn't have.

Nothing in my life has been a bad period, though - even the unhappy moments you learn from, and I'll give you a good example. You had this guy on his own, who had tremendous problems mentally - I don't mean I was a nutter, but I'd broken up with a girl, I couldn't pay the rent, I was about to be thrown out of my bedsit, everything was going against me and I was just broken by emotions, poverty,


I walked into a Roman Catholic church around Manchester Square because I thought maybe a priest could help, and this guy came, and I sat down with him and burst out with all these problems. I just went on and on, and in the end he looked at me and said, 'Are you a Roman Catholic?' I said, 'No.' And he said, 'Then I can't help you, my son.'

Two minutes later I'm out on the street and I think, 'OK, Shah, you really are on your own.' And from that moment things started to get better because suddenly this adolescent started to get it under control and since then I've controlled my own existence to a degree. I've worked hard.

The cars? About six or seven years ago I actually bought them. They meant something else by then. Suddenly I was driving something that was 35 years old - are you with me? - and they were so well built.

'Manchester Blue', a novel by Eddy Shah (Doubleday, pounds 14.99)

(Photograph omitted)