I've been in Belgium filming a documentary about Tintin. I'm a huge fan of the cartoon reporter who has adventures all around the globe without ever seeming to have to file any stories – some people have all the luck.
I chose to go off in search of him using the Method so beloved by actors like Robert De Niro. I wanted to immerse myself in the character and so, a couple of days ago, I found myself in a Brussels barber getting a Tintin cut. Actually, the cut wasn't that big a deal as I have always sported a little quiff, but I was also keen to dye my hair the same colour as Tintin.
For some reason I'd always thought he was blond. It turned out that, despite having read all the books about a hundred times, I had failed to notice that he was a ginger. Once suitably coppered up and dressed in the trademark sky blue jumper and brown plus fours I looked a little more like Tintin's unhealthy elder brother than the real thing but at least I'd made the effort.
Next up, I needed to get a dog. Tintin always had his faithful white wire fox terrier, Snowy, by his side. We got someone to lend us such a dog, but it turned out that totally white ones are very rare so ours came with a lot of brown patches.
"Aucun problème," said the cheerful owner.
He sent along a huge block of white chalk which, he said, would do the trick. So I found myself in a Brussels alleyway trying to chalk a dog white. The unfortunate beast (real name Roger) was not that happy about his sudden leap into showbusiness and, after several attempts, we were forced to give up.
Tintin has enormous emotional appeal to Belgians. His creator, Hergé, has been called "the Belgian Shakespeare". Wandering through the capital dressed as his creation was a weird experience. There are a couple of scenes in the books where he is recognised and mobbed by fans who follow him down streets screaming his name and asking for an autograph. I was spotted by a huge group of school kids in the Grande Place, the central square in Brussels, and I was enthusiastically followed by a crowd of about 50 of them. I eventually had to jump into a taxi to escape. The cabbie, an exiled Iranian, was not at all perturbed to have to rescue Tintin from a mob. In fact, he turned out to be a huge fan – as a boy in Tehran he'd read all the books in Farsi.
"Tintin is like the Belgian Simpsons," he said as he careered down slippery cobbled streets.
People often inquire as to how Tintin finances his jet-set lifestyle? Ten minutes of standing on a street corner gave me a hint. People assumed that I was some form of human statue and started chucking money at my feet. Another hour or so and I would have been able to buy Marlinspike Hall. Being Tintin does have its problems, however. We are following the story of the Black Island, when Tintin came to the UK. Arriving late at Ostend and late for the last ferry, we couldn't find any signs and we got very lost.
Eventually, we stopped by a remote Portakabin where a policeman was keeping a lonely vigil. I jumped out and knocked on his window to get directions. He put his face to the glass window and peered out. All he could see was a panicked-looking Tintin shouting, "Où est le ferry?"
He did an almost comical double take before nervously pointing out the direction that we needed to go. We roared off, leaving him to wonder whether he might be overtired. In true Tintin style, we caught the ferry with seconds to spare. Next stop, Scotland.Reuse content