Within seconds of entering, the elegant Hampstead London house, familiarly piercing eyes command me to follow up to the top floor, where, in true LAWRENCE OF ARABIA fashion, the 4-year-old captor mock-decapitates a teddy bear, booming unafraid, “You did want to see my nursery, didn’t you! Master Lorcan O’Toole. Son of Peter.
If ever there was a chip off the old block: that roguish smile, the mop of blonde hair, the fair skin, those same blue eyes and that resonant voice, inconceivable in one so young, ringing out, “Now, you must meet Mr. Peach!” Tornado-like, Lorcan hurtles back down several flights of stairs, popping out with and gaining momentum on Mr. Peach, his multi-directional robot-ride-on-car, dashing this way and that, gathering up the Persian hall rug under its wheels, until the robot’s arms fasten onto an ankle in a doorway.
And there he stands, 54-year-old PETER O’TOOLE, one of the greatest British actors of all time, all 6’4” of him, still the same beanpole of a man I last met 13 years ago. The middle-age spread has passed him by, his silver hair no longer dyed blonde as it was in his forties when he described himself “as grey as an old fox.”
His boldly-striped yellow-green-red-grey tie seems unusually loud for this now quiet and gentle man, but tones in well with his dark sports jacket and fawn trousers. And no longer the bad boy, only happy in rowdy, inebriated, smoke-filled rooms, the giant stork has survived in spite of himself, his private life being nothing like the roaring lion and madman he so often portrays on screen and stage, which he himself describes as “my attraction to larger than life roles the same way they are attracted to me.”
I feel both amazed and privileged having been invited into the sanctum of this most private man, from which most people are excluded. So why am I here? Within seconds, his eyes revealing his thoughts, I realize it is Peter’s deep-seated need to display the charms and talents of the son he is so passionately proud of, the baby he attempted to kidnap during legal custody restrictions with Lorcan’s mother, American model Karen Brown, his partner after Peter’s 1979 divorce.
But the venture to bring Lorcan in his carry-cot plus nanny back to the U.K. via Bermuda had failed at the airport. Nowadays they share joint custody, with Lorcan currently staying three months with his dad in London. Momentarily the stutter Peter had as a youngster returns, as he explains softly, but still with that staccato voice: “We d.. d.. do alright. We are very close. He’s a grand little boy and time goes so quick.
I miss him a lot when he’s not here. But we have our compensations. It is a good balance. I’m not very good at discussing these private little matters. I’m sure you’ll understand. Would you like a jujube?” He pulls out a little metal tin of sweets from his trouser pocket, passing them across with his long sensitive fingers, less nail bitten now than they were years ago. Is it a sign of greater peace of mind?
Once the only place on earth, he could find that peace was in his beloved Ireland home with his horses, gardens, and books. “No, I can find it here now in this house where I have lived for 26 years. But I love them both equally. Maybe Lorcan prefers the cottage. We have such wonderful times there, like last summer. He goes wild in the big fields there, the beaches, the sea. He really enjoys his childhood.
At four, he can ride, swim, jump into the sea, climb, play cricket, play rugby…..It’s so exciting to watch him grow up. We play all the things every dad and son play. We enjoy games, we read, we adventure. Lorcan is beginning to read himself now. So the obvious answer is to give him a book.
But he also loves toys and the robot car Father Christmas brought him. Come and have a look!” We leave the silver-grey Venetian drawing room to the adjacent master bedroom, and there at the foot of the gigantic bed lie dozens of children’s books from nursery rhymes to Grimm’s’ fairy tales and Renard the Fox.
So the little rascal, may be affected by the tug of love across two continents, has really tamed the old tiger, who now describes himself as “tottering into antiquity,” and Lorcan has even accentuated O’Toole’s incomparable charisma, with that new lease of an energetic life with this bright and talented child.
He waves about his long cigarette holder, complete with a French Gauloises cigarette (Sian always insisted Peter smelled like a French train), and although you can’t doubt his sincerity, the actor never totally disappears, every word thought out, mentally rehearsed, written all over his face before he speaks. “I want to give Lorcan a happy childhood and a sense of enthusiasm and adventure.
That’s all. I try to teach him to be as independent as possible as soon as possible. I will let him climb up a stool and watch him fall of, rather than telling him not to climb up. Then I can show him how not fall off next time.” Leaning back disappearing into his chair, all arms and legs and thinness, he smiles wryly, clenches both hands at the back of his head, pauses and changes the subject, declaring dramatically: “Nowadays I am neither disinterested nor uninterested in women. But my expectations are very low. I’m having a rest from them. I am quite hopeless with women.
“Besides, the love you receive from and give to a small child is a most fulfilling experience. Maybe it’s time for the pearls!”