Paul Carter: Living with the legacy of a bad dad

Paul Carter fled the shadow of his military father for life on oil rigs. Now a parent himself, his greatest fear is becoming like his dad – so why does he want to play him in the film of his memoirs?

Few men will escape the feeling, at some point in their lives, that, for better or worse, they are turning into their fathers. The habits, the turns of phrase, the hairline. For Paul Carter, that transformation will be sudden and extreme when, an audition permitting, he plays his father in a film adaptation of his own, best-selling memoir.

Carter is a dyslexic British former oil rig worker based in Australia, who once got locked in a toilet by his pet monkey. He has also tried to set a land speed record on a motorbike fuelled by used cooking oil, and almost became a presenter of Australia's version of Top Gear, until, he says, he was ditched for being too British.

In 2007, while he was coming to the end of a career as a swashbuckling oilman in war zones and disaster areas, Carter, who has no academic qualifications but could earn an instant PhD in storytelling, achieved unexpected literary success. Don't Tell Mum I Work on the Rigs, his ribald memoir, went on to sell half a million copies worldwide. Three further books and now more than two million total sales later, Carter is looking forward to a film inspired by his life and that first work. A screenplay has already been written, by John Collee, the Scottish writer behind Master and Commander, Happy Feet and an upcoming Tarzan movie.

Paul and his father Paul and his father (Micha Theiner) Carter wants to win the role of his father, Alan Carter, a retired RAF navigator who died 18 months ago, not so that he can honour him, but rather to lay bare the worst parts of his personality and approach to fatherhood – the traits that he is desperate not to inherit.

"My boy, Sid, won't remember meeting his grandfather," Carter says of his three-year-old son, during a visit to London to promote his latest book, Ride Like Hell and You'll Get There, about his land speed record attempt. "Years from now, when he asks what he was like, I'll be able to say, 'have a look at this, son', and hit 'play'.

"At Dad's funeral, all these people described this life and soul of the party, the man who'd tell a story and the whole room listened. 'He was great,' they said, 'I wouldn't be where I am today if it hadn't been for Al'. 'Good old Al!' And I'm thinking, fuck off, no. How about 'high-functioning sociopath Al', or 'terrible father Al'."

Carter is animated and angry, but what really worries him is the extent to which he has to check himself as he feels more like Alan. He is convinced even that young Sid is displaying some of his grandfather's traits. But before he describes that fraught shadow, what is it that made Alan such a bad father?

Alan Carter lived in a large, rundown house with a gravel drive in the Scottish Highlands. He and Paul's German mother had separated when Paul was young. When Paul was 10, his father summoned him to the house. His mother, who was equally scared of Alan, dropped the boy off at the end of the drive.

"The first thing he did was say, 'you're sleeping in the barn at the back of the house, it will harden you up, boy'," Carter recalls. "Inside there was a camp bed, a gas lamp and a loaded rifle. He told me not to touch the gun, and that he was going to teach me to shoot it the next day.

"It snowed that night, and I remember putting on my clothes and walking around the side of the house and looking into this large lounge room. There was a fireplace, a television on a milk crate and old Chesterfield with a table lamp in the corner. That was it. Dad was sitting there with a big glass of whisky, staring at the TV, which wasn't on. I remember staring in, shivering, thinking how lonely he looked."

Carter later returns to bedtime, the manner of which he sees as a measure of good parenting. "For me, it was like a military exercise," he says. "'You, boy! Stand up! Quick march into the bedroom, NOW!' I'd get into bed and hold my breath, he'd flick the light off and slam the door and I'd cry myself to sleep."

Two years before he died, after which father and son had made some sort of peace, Alan visited Paul and his family in Australia. "We were having dinner and it was Sid's bedtime. So I swept him up and gave him kisses and cuddles and went to read him a story. My wife, Clare, told me later that, in the meantime, Dad told her a different account. 'Oh, Paul and I had this wonderful game,' he said. 'I'd be commander and he'd be the soldier...' and he gave her this version of what had made me such a bedwetter."

Carter's mother and her new partner worked in Aberdeen in the oil industry. Had Paul's father won custody after his parents split, he is certain he would have been sent to Sandhurst and into the military, where he says he would have gone mad. Instead, he found male role models on the rigs, embarking on a career of drilling in some of the world's most hostile environments.

"There's no privacy on a nasty offshore rig in the Third World," he says. "The toilet is eight stainless steel bowls facing eight showerheads. You're sitting there while some 6ft 4in monster with tattoos and no neck is getting clean, his genitals bouncing around inches from your nose, and you're all engaging in conversation."

Carter is shorter than the average "rig pig", and was bullied at school. But he thrived on the oilfields, thanks to a gift for telling stories, perfected on helicopter decks and in insalubrious bars. He loved the life for its freedom and escape, but when his wife Clare offered him an ultimatum, he quit when she became pregnant with Lola, their first child, who is now six.

He had already fallen into writing by accident, when a statement he had written as part of a psychological assessment at work – a raw, bracing rant full of stories and humour – ended up in the hands of a publisher. It was packaged as a story for blokes, and new editions were soon required. When he's not writing or embarking on new adventures, Carter has worked as a television presenter for National Geographic, and still keeps a foot in the oil industry. Otherwise, he is devoted to being a good father. But a recent episode made him wonder how far he could escape his own upbringing.

"I'm on the balcony at home, looking inside," he says. "Clare's making bread, Lola's doing a jigsaw. A weekend before, Sid picked up a toy gun another boy had left on our front yard after a party. Clare hasn't let him have any 'boy' toys and he was immediately drawn to it and took it to bed, playschool – everywhere.

"Sid walks into the lounge to get something out of the big chest where we put their stuff at the end of each day. He needs two hands. What does he do? He jams the gun in the back of his pants, puts his jumper over the grip and opens the box. He's never seen that in a movie. Peppa Pig doesn't shove a 9mm in her waistband. Clare freezes and we look at each other. I felt a combination of pride and total fear."

On another occasion, Carter saw Sid reacting violently to bullies twice his size. "I told Clare about it and said, 'we have to get this boy tested, he's not right'. She said, 'don't be ridiculous, you're projecting your paranoia on to your son. It's not genetic, it's not transferred from grandfather to grandson, just like it isn't with you.'"

Carter is quietly confident about his audition later this year, and the prospect of stepping into his father's clothes. "I'd love to do it," he says. "I'd give it all the venom and gusto I remember so well of him. It will be cathartic for me to get that out and revisit it." He adds: "I won't play him out for the sake of it but rather to speak the truth about a guy who wore a very convincing human suit."

'Ride Like Hell and You'll Get There' by Paul Carter (Nicholas Brealey, £9.99) is out now

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger Jonas Gutierrez reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
News
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable
science

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    IT Portfolio Analyst - Prince2

    £45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client, a glob...

    Project Co-ordinator - Birmingham - Permanant

    £20000 - £25000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    Head of Maths

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Head of Maths position at a prestigious ...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week