We’ve lost another giant. Someone who made us laugh, who thrilled kids with his sinister and sensitive portrayal of Snape, and who made us sob with his achingly beautiful portrayal of grief with Juliet Stephenson in Truly, Madly, Deeply. So collectively we say goodbye to someone who brought us together with his awesome talent. This is true for me, but I have also lost a very great friend too, a most beautiful, fearless, and caring presence who’s been in my life for almost 25 years.
Way back in the early ’90’s when I was just 21 years old, I was part of a small group of people setting up an aid agency and we needed money and support. I wrote to the star of Die Hard and Robin Hood, who’s career had just gone through the roof, and a week later he was in touch. Together we put on a show at the Brighton Dome called The British In Love.
But Alan would never have been happy just handing over a cheque. His brain was creative and strategic, so he would help us solve problem after problem in the years ahead. Soon after The British in Love he called me up and said a film he was working on had finished ahead of schedule and he has a few days free. So together we flew out to north east Romania to join the team working in an orphanage supported by the money he helped raise. The kids adored him, but the hardened team of care workers did too.
The village we lived in had no running water and he was first down to the spring to collect water for everyone in the morning. He slept on the floor of a school hut with the rest of us; I remember waking up on the first morning to have Alan peer over from his sleeping bag and say in his trademark droll tone, ‘you didn’t mention that mice would feature so prominently in our trip’. The room was infested and you could feel them running over you at night – I had forgotten to warn him, something he ribbed me about periodically for decades.
At key times in my life, he was always, unstintingly, there. He desperately wanted people to use all their talent and he hated it when friends talked themselves down. Once we were walking down a street and I laughingly said, ‘oh the university have suggested I do a doctorate’. He asked why I was laughing. When I said that people like me don’t do PhD’s and, anyway, I’m not bright enough, he stopped in his tracks and rounded on me. He literally tore strips from me for underestimating my own potential, for taking the easy way out by not taking something tough but achievable seriously. He took me back to his flat and sat me down with his partner, Rima, who was a lecturer, and from that moment sprang the first step to me becoming Dr Peter Kyle. I wasn’t alone either, there are dozens of people out there who have similar stories to me.
With his resolution came extraordinary sensitivity and caring though. I worked myself too hard writing my thesis and became ill at one point. He called once to say ‘hello’ and didn’t believe me when I said I was fine, he heard something in my voice. Half an hour later came another call, ‘I’ve booked us tickets to Circ de Solei tonight, you’re coming up, staying over, and having an evening off. I won’t take no for an answer!’. He was right, or course.
We know about his career, but there’s more to it than people realise. He was fearless and values-driven – not just in his personal life but whenever he could professionally too. The best example is Rachel Corrie. Rachel was a young American diarist who became a campaigner for Palestinian communities in the West Bank. She died under an Israeli bulldozer and her diaries told the story of her journey. Rachel’s parents treasured the diaries and wanted them to inspire others, but were careful about who to trust to tell the story. Alan met them and grew to love them and lovingly adapted the diaries for stage and directed the play both in London and New York. There were protests and rancorous arguments about such challenging subjects, but in his heart he knew the story was sincere, powerful, and need to be told and nothing would stop him.
I learned so much from Alan. He was disciplined, fun-loving, and thought deeply about people and the world. A great example of what it’s like to be his friend is when I was staying with Alan and Rima in Italy. One morning he said we were meeting some friends for lunch, so I drove us. The friends turned out to be Richard and Ruth Rogers, the architect and famous chef, and some other amazingly successful and talented people. I was awestruck by each and every one of them. The conversation, the food, and setting was like nothing I’d ever experienced. As we were driving home he said to me, “you know we always go through life thinking of ‘what’s next’. That was a great lunch, what’s for dinner? That project went well, but quick I need another one. But sometimes you have to stop and say to yourself, ‘this is as good as it gets’ and celebrate the moment. Today was as good as it gets for me and I want you to know that.”
What a moment to share. What a beautiful thing to say. And what a fantastic insight into how to enjoy life and recognise the people who make it special.
Last year Alan came to campaign for me in Hove for the day. What he really wanted to do was thank the people who had worked so hard for my election. I’m posting a photo from that day, it was very special to everyone. The public moments are what everyone sees, but what people didn’t know was that even though he was directing his film with Kate Winslet, A Little Chaos, he was also calling and emailing me furiously with lovingly supporting messages, urging me to stay focussed, to work hard, but most of all, to never forget to listen to people.
I write with a swelling heart and tears in my eyes. I loved him very, very much I’m glad from looking at the news today that so many of you did too, Peter