The truth is somewhere in between, The Independent on Sunday has established. Andreas Grassl, now back at his family home in Bavaria, learnt to play a keyboard at the age of 10, say schoolfriends. He reads music and plays well for someone who was self-taught, but is not a concert pianist. Not so much the Piano Man, according to witnesses to his playing we have re-interviewed in the past few days, as the Yamaha Keyboard Man.
The story of the mysterious stranger who calmed himself by playing music for hours on end gripped the imagination of the world. More than 250 names were put forward by people who thought they had recognised the photograph, published worldwide, of the intense young man in a dark suit, with dyed blond hair, hugging a folder of music.
He was variously "identified" as a missing Czech pianist, a French street musician, an Irishman named Dominic who lived in Norway, and a Swede. It was also thought that his long silence could be attributable to a damaged or missing voice-box. Another theory was that he was autistic.
He was, in fact, 20-year-old Andreas Grassl, a farmer's son from a small village on the German-Czech border. His family lawyer has categorically denied that he faked his illness. It is thought that his problems may stem from his fear of being the only gay in his village. German newspapers, who had given the myth of Piano Man the same attention that he had received the world over, appeared positively disgusted to discover that the mystery patient was from Bavaria. "It's all over," sighed the Frankfurter Rundschau. "The truth is often so awfully banal." One left-wing newspaper remarked that it was better to be "half-dead and playing the piano in a British psychiatric hospital than living as a homosexual in a Bavarian village".
While he was in NHS care, at least four staff confirmed that he could play well, although frustration may have caused him to hit the same note again and again. They have all now been instructed not to talk in public, but one carer told the IoS: "He played for several hours. It was hard to get him to stop. Reports suggesting he was some kind of virtuoso were false, as were those that he played only one note." Another said: "I don't know where the report came from that he could only play one key. Whoever leaked that must have had a downer on him."
He was also angered by the suggestion that Mr Grassl had faked his illness, saying that the Little Brook unit, in Dartford, "contains lots of very sick people - I don't believe that someone could stay there for long without being ill".
Andreas Grassl was the only child from the tiny village of Prosdorf to take the equivalent of A-levels, before doingcommunity service with disabled people in west Germany. In March, he moved to Paris and disappeared.
On 7 April a frightened, uncommunicative young man was found wandering on the Isle of Sheppey, his smart suit drenched, and with no identification. He rocketed to a sort of fame after an NHS press release mentioned his piano-playing in the hope that someone would identify him. Nine days ago, a nurse entered the Piano Man's room and asked rhetorically, "Are you going to speak to us today?" Andreas Grassl replied: "Yes, I think I will." He was ready to go home.
Additional reporting by Lauren VeeversReuse content