How could my life have resulted in this? Banged up in a police holding cell, awaiting a visit from the duty solicitor, with no idea what would happen next. One thing was clear – I was in trouble! Duty solicitors were for poor people, weren’t they? Well, like it or not, they would have to do! I had a myriad of lawyer friends who might have helped me, or at least organised a colleague who could, but their numbers were all neatly filed away amongst some 2000 odd contacts and ‘friends’ in my iPhone – None of them much use to me now! The police had confiscated two phones, two iPads and my MacBook during the arrest. I was allowed to record two phone numbers before all devices were slid deftly into evidence bags, sealed, labelled and squirrelled away to the darkest depths of the Holborn police station. My regulation phone call had resulted in no answer to both numbers. Jacob, my on-again-off-again pseudo-boyfriend should have been waiting to hear from me as he’d been with me at the time of my arrest, and the second number belonged to Teem, a friend and employee whom I’d vaguely thought may have been the best backup option in my panic to jot down the numbers, but he was also deserting me. To be honest, I wasn’t thinking at the time. Nothing prepares you for these situations, and everything had happened so fast, but at the same time it all felt like it was occurring in slow motion – my life painfully unfurling before my eyes as if I were in a trance. What would become of me?
Clearly they were going to lock me up and throw away the key. I’d been caught red-handed and could only ponder at how insanely stupid I’d been! Fear of the unknown mixed with anger and disgust at myself for allowing this to happen. Eventually I came to the conclusion that no amount of pacing the cell endlessly would do me any good at all. I had to force myself to calm down, weigh up the options, and try to work out the next step forward. Sitting down on the filthy bench, I started to replay the events of the day which had brought me here, going over and over in my mind every little detail, grasping for some glimmer of hope which would extricate me from the enormous hole I had dug for myself. A silly old man, alone in the darkness, with no friends who cared enough to even answer my phone calls, and nothing to rely on but a poor-peoples-solicitor, and my own wits – the latter of which hadn’t been too dependable to date! The weight of evidence against me seemed insurmountable, but, ever the optimist, as I started to rewind, a small glimmer of hope seemed to emerge from the fog of panic. It was a slim chance, but it might just be my salvation. My mouth was so dry, no doubt dehydration from the cocaine I had hoovered up hours earlier. I was hungry and needed some water. After what seemed like eternity, the duty constable appeared to tell me they were going to test my saliva for drugs – eek! This was starting to become an obstacle course, a veritable minefield which, from here on in was going to take every sense and skill I could muster, to ensure I came out the other end in one piece. I never had been any good at orienteering, but now I had no choice but to learn - fast! Stupid, stupid STUPID! I’d been so busy ‘chasing the dragon’ that I had paid scant regard to the consequences of my actions should I find myself in this situation. Yes I felt sorry for myself - How could they do this to me? This wasn’t my fault! Other people’s foolishness had caused this, and now I would inevitably be left holding the baby! I hated babies!
Chapter 1. The Birth of My Demise
The birth of my demise was the move into the new flat in Belsize Park. Massimiliano and I had been conducting a long distance relationship for the past year, he living just outside Geneva, Switzerland, with me in the United Kingdom, but he had quit his job as an accountant, and was moving to London where we would finally be together. I was excited about the year ahead. As a freelance travel journalist, I was booked up for the forthcoming 12 months, but together we had also committed to producing two human-interest documentaries which had already generated considerable attention with the commissioners at three major television networks, and had the potential to change the world!. The travel TV show on which I had been working for a good six months had also piqued their interest, and they had asked for a taster. Given that we were about to depart on a tour of Cambodia for research on one of the documentaries, followed by a further two weeks filming the other in Israel, it provided the perfect opportunity to take the extra footage needed for this also. The plan was to fly to Phnom Penh for two weeks, then directly to Tel Aviv, meeting the crew who would fly out from London to join us, spend two weeks filming and editing on the fly, splicing together a short film which could then be submitted to the Marche de Cannes and if accepted, would be used to attract investment to produce the full length feature film.
The Cambodia leg of the trip worried me. In the back of my mind I was also secretly hoping we would come away from it with enough content to submit a second short film to the Cannes Judiciary, killing two birds with one stone, and therefore justifying the eye-watering amounts of cash needed to fund the excursion, because at this point, to me it was shaping up as a complete folly which would cost us a small fortune with no guarantee of anything worthwhile in return. Max was adamant it would be phenomenal so I had reluctantly gone along with it, hoping he would be proved right, but I had grave reservations.
Months earlier, in the infancy of our relationship, when we were first discussing the prospect of the Israel project, Massimiliano, Max to his friends, had also broached the subject of filming in Cambodia. It transpired that he had ‘met’ a real live Khmer Prince on ‘Gay Romeo’, or some such other gay networking site, who had been living in Rome since the Royal family had been exiled in the early seventies, around the time of the coup d’état of the Khmer Rouge. The two of them had discussed the possibility of filming there, and the Prince had offered his assistance in providing valuable access to the Royal Family, and other contacts not normally available to the general populous. Although I’d had the country on my bucket list of places to visit for quite some time, I had been initially dubious. It all seemed rather unlikely that any member of a Royal family, no matter how minor, from any kingdom should take an avid interest in a quiet, unassuming accountant from Switzerland, with very limited production or filming experience and wish to bestow all manner of favour upon him, in order to facilitate the creation of a film of which content, format, reason, or theme were unknown. What was his motivation? What was in it for him? If the offers were genuine, it was an amazing opportunity, given the access promised, and it definitely warranted further investigation, fantastic as it seemed, but I had my doubts! Not to be deterred, Max had been invited to visit the Prince in Rome to discuss the project and possible angles in more detail, but as the old adage states: If it seems too good to be true, it usually is, and this was no exception. For the moment I would reserve judgement until the facts became clearer, but I was adamant I would not be drawn into anything on a whim!
Max and I had telephoned constantly throughout the week preceding his Rome excursion, and I was confident by the time he departed, that he was adequately armed with questions I needed answered to investigate all the opportunities exhaustively, so with excess-baggage quantities of Swiss chocolate as gifts, off he went, promising to call me once they had concluded the initial meeting. The phone rang at about midnight on Saturday, and He seemed in excellent spirits. He had met with the Prince for the first time and it turned out they were kindred spirits. Both, it seemed were incredibly ‘Spiritual’ and apparently the Prince had detected a special aura and exceptional ‘energy’ in Max, so had insisted Max undress before him in the hotel room to enable the energy to flow! I should have put a stop to this madness right then and there - even if it were true, none of these attributes afforded him the first bit of credibility in the world of film production, and it seemed they had overstepped major boundaries. This was not how business was conducted in the real world, and poor Max had been far too trusting and open to this guy, who was to my mind clearly not focussed on business! Max insisted the meeting had gone well, and indeed, I don’t know about the energies the Prince had detected but he was clearly hoping something would flow, as they were now discussing a further meeting, this time involving me.
Despite my doubts, Max was still determined to pursue this, and insisted that the guy was legitimate and genuine, so, not wanting to burst his bubble, I went along with it, agreeing to a phone call with them the following afternoon, in which I could address my concerns. I didn’t hold out much hope of anything substantial coming of it, but I figured, ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ as Mother used to say! Max was in awe of this guy, and hopeful of gaining something unique and significant, but one thing was certain; there was no way I would be stripping naked in front of someone I had just met in order to have my aura read - Prince or no Prince!
The phone call between me and the Prince the following afternoon did little to allay my doubts, consisting largely of pleasantries and platitudes. There was no substance to anything he said and when asked specifics, he had an artful way of dodging the questions and steering the conversation in other directions, so in my mind I’d written the project off, but perhaps Max had been more successful in gaining useful information than me. The following Thursday I met him at Heathrow, and we travelled back to Islington by tube. He was so excited about Cambodia that the Israel project to which we had already committed, seemed to pale into insignificance by comparison. I listened carefully to his ideas for the full hours’ journey but still couldn’t see an angle, or even a reason to justify the vast expense it would inevitably entail. In explanation of the naked aura searching, according to the Prince, the people of Cambodia believed the King, and the Royal Family to be the spiritual link between the mortal people and the Gods, and therefore it was necessary for him to fully explore Max’s energy in order to ascertain his suitability for any commercial projects, thereby building trust before he was introduced to other members of his family. In short, looking back it was a blatant abuse of power and privilege to extract sexual favour, preying on Max’s celebrity aspirations, in fact no better than a Jimmy Saville or any other sexual predator in the headline news of the time. I could understand the need for trust, and security, but seldom in business did this involve naked aura searching!
I also worried that we would be biting off more than we could chew. We had already pledged to produce the Israel documentary, Peoples of Israel, having spent countless weeks and months planning, establishing access to different contacts and sites, contracting crew and talent, and booking accommodation and transport links, the list went on, and I felt that as this was our first time working together, in a relatively new personal relationship, it would be churlish to overburden ourselves with the pressures of two major, on-location endeavours. I conveyed all this to Max, but he was afraid the Prince would go to someone else and we would lose a once in a lifetime opportunity.
He promised all would become clearer when we met; it seemed the two of them had hatched a plan in which Max and I would fly to Rome in early January to meet with the Prince and his partner, and they would all seek to convince me of the virtues of this grand folly. I should have been stronger and insisted on more details, or in fact, just said no, but Max was so convinced of the merits, that I reluctantly agreed to join them on the 10th January. As the 19th was my birthday, and I had been planning a ski resort feature for one of the magazines to coincide with it for quite some time, Max and I resolved to meet in Rome and then both fly back to Switzerland together, where I would spend the week reviewing hotels in Geneva, and we would spend the weekend at the newly refurbished and reopened Crans Ambassador, in the ski region of Crans Montana, celebrating my birthday there on the Saturday night.
The Gods were obviously against this from the start! My passport had just expired, so after the New Year celebrations were over, I trotted off to New Zealand House to renew it, but somehow managed to lose the expired document along the way. This posed a monumental problem. As I had managed to misplace or lose the previous four or five aside from this one, needless to say the New Zealand Consulate were not entirely impressed with my history, so were now insisting on having my passport photos verified by a New Zealand Citizen who had known me for longer than 5 years! Luckily an old school friend, Andrew Ross was now living in Kent, so after a day spent on the train to Rochester and back, I was able to re-submit my application, paying the requisite £200 surcharge for emergency issue. This gave me a passport valid for one year, with a nasty little note from the Consulate General advising that I had been a naughty boy, and that if this document were lost or stolen, another one would not be issued until exhaustive measures had been implemented to recover it!
AS if this wasn’t enough of an omen, Max had booked my flight for 2pm on Friday afternoon, and thinking he was being helpful, added a train ticket on Gatwick Express, in reality less convenient than the standard Brighton line from Kings Cross, and five times more expensive. I left home in plenty of time, arriving at Victoria Station right on 11am to find absolute chaos as I ascended from the Underground. There had been a bomb scare five minutes earlier, resulting in all trains being cancelled for the foreseeable future. After flagging a cab, negotiating traffic on Vauxhall Bridge road on a Friday afternoon, and after a 55 GBP fare, I alighted to find that check-in for my flight had just closed and the next flight to Rome wasn’t till 4pm, meaning I would miss our dinner booking at 7pm, arriving rushed, stressed and ill-prepared, making it more difficult to extract the details needed to make an informed decision on the future of the project. I had phoned Max, suggesting that I fly directly to Geneva and meet him there on Sunday night, but he was crestfallen so again I capitulated, booked the flight at more than double the original price, and headed off to Rome.
I disliked the Prince from the start, and I’m pretty sure the feeling was mutual. I’d like to say this sentiment was based on face value, without any preconceived ideas, but the fact is I had lost respect for him before I’d ever met him. He had overstepped fundamental business boundaries and in my mind I had already dismissed him as a fraud. I had arrived, as predicted, two hours late, to find them all waiting in the reception of our hotel. I was tired and irritable, and would have liked to shower, change and compose my thoughts before the introduction, but this was now out of the question, so dumping my case in the hotel room, we immediately went in to dinner. The food was mediocre to say the least, and the company of a similar calibre. The Prince had recommended the hotel and the restaurant, and then proceeded to dictate the choice of wine and menu, which rather stuck in my craw, considering we were paying, however it did give me somewhat of a glimpse of the personality of the man, and what to expect in future. To make matters worse, knowing I spoke no Italian and very rusty French, they conducted the entire evening in a mixture of the two, despite the three of them being fluent in English. Whenever I did manage to get a word in edgeways, and steer the conversation back to the matter for which we were all gathered, I was benignly dismissed with phrases like,
“Once you are there I’m sure you will find an angle”, or “My dear, there are so many opportunities, you only have to open your eyes…” Patronising Pricks!
The entire tone of the evening was one of the dear benevolent Prince being so kind as to take the privileged common folk on a tour of his beloved country, and of course give us access to people and places we would never encounter without his gracious intervention. This may in some part have been true, and who knows what his intentions might have been towards Max, but I couldn’t help asking myself why? There had to be some benefit for him, aside from just generosity and largesse from the goodness of his heart, but this was soon to become abundantly clear. As the plot unfolded, I soon learnt that we were to pay for return business class flights from Rome to Phnom Penh for the two of them, accommodation for all of us at the Raffles Le Royal hotel, one of the most renowned and exclusive hotels in the world, a car and driver for the entire two weeks, not to mention all meals, tips, passes, and everything to do with the permissions for filming etc. In return, he would introduce us to other members of the Royal Family, and show us around the country. In short we were to pay for a jolly old vacation for the poor fellows, at a time which conveniently coincided with family and state functions the Prince wanted to attend, but lacked the means to accomplish, and at the same time he would earn brownie points and status for single-handedly facilitating the introduction of film makers from London who would make a documentary to be shown worldwide, showcasing the excellent works his relatives were doing in improving the poor lives of the population of the country at large, thereby elevating his stature – in fact, nothing short of an exercise in propaganda and self-glorification!
I was determined that there would be no point in re-documenting topics which had already been covered admirably by all number of filmmakers far more accomplished than us; the reign of the Khmer Rouge, Angkor Wat, or topics which I had no desire to investigate at all – the child sex trade in particular! If we were going to proceed, I wanted something which would put a positive spin on the country, sending a message of hope and encouragement to the world, not screaming poor, poor us, and flogging a dead horse on corruption, dictatorship, degradation and poverty, But I felt at this moment that the Prince was hell bent on showing us only what he wanted us to see. I also felt that to make the sort of film I had envisaged, we could do it quite easily on our own, without the need for five star accommodation, chauffeur driven cars, and money-grubbing, egotistical tour guides, however self-important they had made themselves out to be. This of course could all have been achieved at far less cost than the £20,000 or so that I envisaged the present arrangement would total, but again, I was a minority of one, with Max adamant that nothing could be realised without his bosom-buddy, the Prince.
At the end of the weekend my opinion of the Prince had not changed, and if anything, had been cemented. To me, he’d showed himself to be arrogant, conceited, and flashy, a total show pony, but also manipulative, conniving and sly, using bullying tactics and a passive aggressive attitude to achieve his ends. I made a note to myself to keep a wary eye on him in any future dealings. To be frank, I didn’t trust him one little bit!
After an extravagant weekend of wining and dining our illustrious Royal couple, at exorbitant cost, we departed for Geneva, and over the course of the next week, had time for extensive discussions together, without the influence of others to cloud our judgement. Although I stopped short of telling Max of my intense dislike of his friend, he certainly knew I had my reservations, but together we agreed not to be swayed into making something which would stop short of being exactly what we wanted, and as Max had his heart set on continuing, I folded. The prince emailed through an itinerary he had organized with a tour guide in Cambodia, and still not really having any idea what we were heading towards, I figured it best now that we were committed, to go along with it and see where it led us.
Chapter 2. Downhill with No Brakes
Israel on the other hand, was coming together nicely, or so we thought. We’d had several conversations with the people in Nazareth, who were the subjects of our story, and they could not have been more helpful to us in arranging accommodation, transportation, and ideas of other contacts to interview and meet. Max and I were co-producers, and I had offered the Job of first cameraman to Joel, my closest friend in London, but in initial discussions with Simon, a prospective investor, it had been mentioned that if we had a reputable director it would help our cause in attracting the right amount of funding. He’d suggested Paul, who on paper seemed perfect. He had produced a number of similar projects before and directed a number of others, was an expert in sound production, and had won awards at major film festivals worldwide so Simon put us in touch and we arranged to meet.
I’d invited him to a smart Mexican restaurant in Mayfair and initial impressions were less than ideal. To start with, he was fat! Back in Australia, in the 80’s era of business motivational boot-camps, positive mental attitude, lateral thinking and the like, I’d once attended a grooming and body language course, run by a former Miss Universe, and one thing she said, had stuck in my mind throughout my adult life:
“Never hire fat people, because fat people are lazy people!”, she’d advised and although I know it’s not politically correct to use it out loud nowadays, in all my years of business, I have never seen an exception to this rule. He arrived at the restaurant over an hour late, wearing a stinking old raincoat, which on removal revealed massive dark sweaty circles under his armpits. His table manners were atrocious, and he took the word unkempt to a new level, however I wasn’t hiring him for his good looks so I resolved to see what he had to say. He seemed to know what he was talking about, even allowing for his outrageous name-dropping, and his IMDB revealed that he had worked for, and with, some of the big names in film and television. He was willing to take on the project for a reasonable fee and also had a protégé cameraman which he could bring to the table, so after a discussion with Max, we decided to hire them both. This meant that our crew was complete, and the final cherry on top was that my dear friend, Actor, and presenter Alex Legouix had agreed to front it for us if we could work around her commitments to other television shows, so we were in business.
The closing date for entries to Cannes Film Festival coincided with the day the crew would be flying back to London, but the director was confident he could edit on the fly, producing something good enough to get us accepted prior to his departure, so this was the target. We would then submit the final edit on the morning of the first day of the festival, and Paul assured us that this was possible as he had done it numerous times before.
By coincidence, the director and his cameraman had just moved into a new flat, a short walk down the road from me, and had invited us to their housewarming party, planned for a fortnight prior to our departure. Throughout our short association, if we had needed to meet it had always been in a café or restaurant, where the director had an irritating habit of always ordering the most expensive item on the menu. As he never had a penny to bless himself with, I was always left to foot the bill, which ordinarily I wouldn’t have minded so much, except that we were desperately trying to curb our expenditure, and this did nothing to assist in keeping to the budget. I also had firm views about maintaining boundaries between ourselves and staff, or contractors, but as we hadn’t yet met James, the second cameraman, and with Max in London on his last visit before moving, we decided to attend...
The flat was Squalid! I have never been so appalled in my entire life. The kitchen surfaces had taken on a life of their own. They obviously hadn’t washed a single dish since moving four weeks earlier. The kitchen table was covered with pots and pans, plates and bowls; all adorned with dark hairy growths, and the aroma was one of musty Wellington boots. The glasses of ‘cocktails’ they handed us were sticky, with a cloudy film of grease around the rim. It was difficult to imagine how someone so slovenly could possibly produce anything of merit workwise, but with little less than two weeks before our departure and still so much to do, we decided it was too late at this stage to look for a substitute, and after all, his IMDb couldn’t possibly lie, could it? I was beginning to have grave doubts at this point, and frankly, resented having agreed to take this fellow on. I should have trusted my initial judgement. In all honesty, hiring him had done nothing to further our cause in attracting investment, rather looking like it had been a clever ruse on the part of Simon to get his mate a job, and he himself had been less than proficient in securing funding for us, instead trying to sting us for a £10,000 brokers fee upfront with no guarantee of anything at the other end, so he wasn’t exactly high on our Christmas card list at this stage either!
The other worrying thing about Paul was that on closer inspection of the facts, he seemed to have fallen out with everyone, or been fired from every job he had ever held. When mentioning him in passing to a group of friends in the fashion industry, his name had been met with derision and contempt, with most warning us to steer well clear of him. The issue which should have aroused further suspicion was that he seemed to know every single, try-hard, fraudulent, free-loading wannabe in the London fashion and social scene, mostly people I had tried very hard to avoid over the years, and certainly not those with whom I wanted to be associated now! In actual fact, every single alarm bell was ringing about this guy, and there couldn’t have been any more indicators of impending disaster, but for some bizarre unknown reason, I ignored every single sign, and to this day, I have no idea why!
On top of this, I was yet to be convinced that we even needed a director for the project we had planned, Max and I might have disagreed on details concerning Cambodia, but on Israel we were both singing from exactly the same hymn shee