Looking back at 2021; I cheated death, had major brain surgery, didn’t cruise. I end with a simple message.

Time to look back at the year almost gone. An odd one for me as I nearly died in 2021. Major brain surgery got in the way of me achieving my goal of recording my cruise crime mysteries ready for the new form of entertainment that is taking off: Whispersync. So, how did my head get covered in glue and end up on fire? That’s not as important as how incredible the NHS were. Broadcast news would have you believe that every non-COVID patient is sidelined. My tale can hardly be more different!

First, the season’s best to all and a hope that the world has an opportunity for a better new year, but I have concerns and predictions. I’m not trying to compete with the Queen by offering a message, but as a filmmaker, I have always looked at trends and tried to predict the future, as many of you know who have come to my lectures onboard a ship. On one ship a lady once asked me if the message in the film was as important as the film. Unfortunately, that was right at the end of the 45 minutes and I had to give a polite concluding answer. A ship’s entertainment is fixed at 45 minutes; not a minute more as the next users of the space get 15 minutes to set up and the audience change. Next year, I will be cruising again, and I will be joining SAGA as a guest for the first time and so looking forward to the exciting new ships. Cunard, P&O and possibly one other.

The message in any form of entertainment should be hidden in the plot. I have written futuristic screenplays with predictions that sold to Hollywood; I love to extrapolate into the future. Adam McKay’s new film Don’t Look Up, has many of the issues I and other filmmakers toy with, in Orwellian fashion. I expect McKay’s asteroid comedy to be in the Oscar running next year. It stars Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio in a star cast and has been picked up by Netflix, the online network which continues to bear down on the demise of broadcast TV. WhisperSync, Audible and Podcasts, like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Apple TV have improved and reshaped entertainment. Even the familiar YouTube is now an acceptable 4k TV station, and that is where you will find our Doris Visits Port Guide channel and our cruise films that play on the big screen. When we continue – we hope will be filming Black Sea ports next, we will film in 4k. During the lockdown, I enjoyed many a power-budget TV series, but I am overwhelmed by the harvest of great films this year. As a voting member, this time of the year I am offered around 250 films to watch and vote on. I feel Don’t Look Up, The Last Duel, Tik Tik Boom and Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Lucille Ball with an amazing performance by Javier Bardem as Desi Arnez, are the ones to beat. Free Guy should also be in there, although light, it too is a trojan horse look at the future. The best British film in the BAFTAs in my opinion is a fight between Dream Horse and The Duke. Judging great films is a terrific, if not time-consuming, end to what should be a forgettable year.

Maybe twenty years ago, from the stage of a cruise ship somewhere at sea, I was suggesting the audience would all be glued to a smartphone, carry and use multiple screens and be addicted to wifi. Many thought me wildly wrong when I suggested that will end with an implanted communications chip. That is as wild as cars driving themselves, right? The movie Free Guy takes digital interaction further. A few years ago I started to suggest that there might be a plague feasting on the increased density of living. One that would spread uncontrollably. I was not alone; the movie Contagion came along in 2011 and backed me up. So what next? Now, I am looking and seeing a frightened animal backed into a corner and spitting dangerous venom. The animal is news; general broadcast news and some print news. Now more than ever, their fight for viewing figures appears more important to them than seeking and telling real news. Much news has become a magazine show of opinions, predictions and often unfounded sensationalisation. That too is an opinion, but from someone who joined the BBC back in the days when the corporation trained you and sent you through broadcast college. I then weaved a career of over 50 years, learning how to tell stories and make THEM BIGGER. My journey to A-List movies and directing did include a short spell as a stunt performer, where I definitely cheated death once before; on the Lewis Collins movie, Who Dares Wins. Ask me that story if you see me on stage because it is quite a tale and started with me joining the James Bond 007 team at Pinewood Studios for A View To A Kill.

One thing I have never spoken about was the incident that nearly killed me back in 2014 and took until 2021 to resolve both medically and with a financial settlement. It is an amazing coincidence that in a lockdown my near death, brain surgery and the settlement all came together after all those years. It is something I have never touched upon as it had the complication of still being in court.

Day two. Under-skin re-blistering and it is now too thin to cut away like the top skin was the day before.

What I was living with was a vein in my brain that had nearly burst with a ridiculously huge increase in blood pressure (an/or heat), on or about the time my head got covered in contact adhesive and caught fire. I will spare you the head injury pictures from back then, but when no one came to put the fire on my head out, I had no option but to smother the glue on my head with my hands and press it in to starve it of oxygen – or I would have died. The hot burning contact adhesive transferred to my hands and they burnt. The picture here is the day after the original blisters had been cut away at the hospital. These secondary blisters formed on the under-skin and were eased on day two. The explosion happened in 2014, and back then they had to stop me running and jumping into the Danube because even after the fire was out my head felt burning inside.

My condition was obvious on the fine-cut MRI done back in the UK at London Hospital. I use the medical word, obvious, as it is the one they used when explaining the scans and pictures to me. It showed that the permanently enlarged and misshapen bobbled vein in my head was seemingly welded to the Trigeminal nerve. The blood flow was beating the nerve like a drum with the rhythm of my heart. It caused seizures and fits. The medical team at the London Hospital included the oral medicine department at London Bridge which I could call 24/7, and the neurology department at Guy’s. I was under the head of both departments. Surgery was explained to me to prepare me for something that could be needed at any time. Showing the scans, and explaining what was wrong, they then informed me of the dangers of such surgery. These included death, forms of paralysis, or unknown various as the problem was right into the brain stem. It would be put off while it could be kept under control with drugs and it was suggested I stayed in the NHS system as the operation would be done in a specialist cranial unit that could deal with any eventualities. Oh, and I had a brilliant NHS therapist.

Oh, again, and I was also surrounded by legal professionals who all had their opinion, as I was suing a major company. So, was I a walking basketcase? No, not until 2021.

In rehab I built a Wendy House for our new grandchild (now x2)

In the years between 2015 and 2020, the drugs controlled seizures and I got good at knowing how to control the dose. Only once on a ship did the lady I was speaking to at dinner call Jean and exclaim she thought I was having a stroke. My face seized. Jean smiled and replied that I would be fine in a moment.

On stage, I talked about my career, from Superman to Mrs Brown’s Boys to Aliens. I revealed the real secrets that drive a totally commercial industry, but I did not mention the section of it which I was now fighting in court. It is in any case more fun to share the crazy times like directing rock legends Status Quo in the typhoon-hit island of Fiji for Universal films to my looking after the action on Emmerdale for 26 years. The latter began with me joining to help plan and enable the recreation of a plane being blown out of the sky. That still remains television history and doubled the number of viewers that Strictly can only hope for in a good week. Recently Emma Bunting had me on ‘Too Much TV’ to ask about it again. On stage, I also explain how weird filmmaking is: the incredible story about how after waiting to shoot a futuristic action movie in the USA with James Cann and Jean-Marc Barr. I didn’t, it got canned and in a heartbeat, I was transferred to direct a period love story – figure that one. The Scarlet Tunic, shot in Dorset, is based on a Thomas Hardy short story, and I took Jean-Marc with me to play the lead. The wonders never cease; I was then ordered by lawyers not to read the original story. I will explain that drama on my cruise in May 2022. My show can also include how I made the UK sex trafficking movie Freight for ICON and shown on Netflix. I was determined to film that, showing the tragedy of people but without any sex or violence. I wanted it to be about human suffering. Natalie Anderson from Emmerdale came with me and played the immigrant mother whose child was taken from her. After I delivered the edit, the first thing I was asked was, “Is there any more footage of sex or violence.” It shows few read the script. The more I cruised in rehab, the more I wrote. There are now six books in the cruise crime mystery series written in the six years from 2015 to 2021. 

You now know how my availability allowed me to be on a ship, chatting and answering questions about my career, and how as a storyteller, I started writing. It won’t surprise you to hear that the novels are being looked at by many of my colleagues to make into film or a TV series with all kinds of names from Hugh Grant to Daniel Craig as a possible lead. Until it happens it is all pie in the sky, or, as we are lucky enough to be spoilt, Michelin star food at sea. The pondering reminds me of sitting in the American Pavillion at my first Cannes Film Festival. On the table behind me, one person was trying to sell his film script to another and suggested Bruce Lee for the lead. The listener calmly informed him that Mr Lee passed away many years earlier. Without taking a breath the seller continued to list other suitable actors. I choked not so quietly. Such tales help me deliver stories you don’t hear elsewhere. But why was I on a ship at all?

The objective of therapy was not just to help me deal with the explosion I was in and the brain surgery ahead, but to get me back into society, back into work, and to re-engage in my career. As I had previously written screenplays and directed, writing novels to re-connect with my industry was my therapy homework. My therapy involved a lot of writing and much homework (CBT can). I had to write my emotional journey in the first person from the moment of impact, and nothing else other than my emotions. Just me, my thoughts. It is why the Cruise Ship Heist is written in the first person as the ex-military special forces commander steps on a ship for the first time. My character was tasked to be the Panama Canal commentator and officer at the Remembrance Day service, but he gets involved in a South American drug plot. My homework became serious work, I took all of the medical care very seriously and did it. Also, my brilliant NHS therapist was keen that being a guest and speaking on ships allowed a celebration of a positive career that should not end in the disaster that could have killed so many. I should explain that I had been on ships before, but never regularly, although this was re-engaging with an opportunity that was there. I was first sent by the Emmerdale publicity team to talk about the soap. Following that, other cruise lines made offers which I could rarely schedule, but I was in the system. I utilised my new availability and for some years did twelve cruises; that is how Doris Visits started. With a wide-brimmed cowboy hat on, I filmed Jean doing port guide presentations so she had something to do while onboard. Doris is her character from a TV show she invented. The burns to my head had healed well, but I could not go in the sun for possibly another two or three years. When I caught even the slightest sun, I would instantly go red and itch like crazy, so I stayed inside and wrote. On sea days, I looked out of the lounge window at the ocean and wrote in the most creative office I have ever had. The first four books were written on a ship. Disastrous Romance (book 5) was started in New Orleans while on the P&O Ventura in February 2020, just as the pandemic broke. By the time we got to the Caribbean, ships were being turned away from ports and my over-creative mind sensed the spread. I wanted to leap forward and predict a future look of cruising post-pandemic. Most of the predictions in the book – from compulsory vaccination, to the closure of the buffet, and track and trace – came true. When it was published I took a lot of stick, especially on the Doris Visits chat sites, at my suggestion a vaccination might become a cruise requirement in the future and they might be wise to seek and keep evidence of having had the jab. I underestimated the government’s ability to make a formal covid passport work in such a short time. 

In 2021 a well-known movie star may have been involved in an alleged film set shooting incident. As it was a star, it became headline news. I don’t know the facts of that film, nor do I wish to prejudge what I assume might be a complex legal matter. I do know Harry Potter’s young stunt double has been paralysed since 2009 and will never walk again. I know the explosion that so nearly killed me was six years in and out of our appointed judge’s chambers in pre-trial, prior to an expected high court conclusion. But then, this year, in a coincidence of film magic proportions, my legal case was settled just as my condition climaxed and my physical outcome had to be risked.

Since the unbelievable explosion that I will never forget, it is a possible interpretation that the medical advice from the opposition was to doubt I was in any way still ill, if ever ill at all. By the start of 2021, I was continually seizing and crippled with pain. One of the messages I want to leave you with as we go into 2022 is don’t believe the news. It is possible news revenue might be low, that staff may have been cut, but it appears that weather presenters can be sent to make local items to fill a lack of news investigated by seasoned reporters. Broadcast news here in the UK currently appears less powered than a 1970’s local radio newsroom. In 2021 it was reported ‘like’ buttons are being ticked on social media, without articles being read. It was a complex year with conditions that make it easy to light a match and ignite anger. I fear that familiarity with liking headlines without now needing the facts has led to no facts or evidence being offered. I fear a future where people will comment even faster, repeating social gossip as fact, and broadcasters are refusing to give real news.  As I talk film, let me guide you to Apple TV+’s marvellous multi-award winning TV series The Morning Show starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Billy Crudup. The TV series Newsroom starring Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer or the news scenes in the new movie Don’t Look Up where Cate Blanchet plays the newsreader and the honesty should frighten you. These are examples of people that make and shape the news. If you can’t quite grab the concept, let me give you an example of how to make a ridiculous headline.

Many cases fill our courts with medical issues, and it is sad that whilst medical professionals in the NHS work so hard, they must see other medical professionals privately make a profit in legal cases even when they are wrong.

Wrong? I hear you ask, how can medical professionals be wrong?

A recent study showed that 50% of private medical professionals were proved to be wrong.

What? You ask. Though people rarely do ask, but I will say again because if I say it enough you will repeat it. 50% are wrong.

50% are wrong?

That seems a little high and worrying, right? Isn’t the news wonderful? Isn’t it easy? So what is the study? Well, an expert is employed by each side to back up the argument before the court. Each professional is likely to have been paid handsomely to join their side, whatever it is. One expert is normally found for each side. The opposing medical sides may differ, but in court, only one can win, which means one has to lose. By default, half is right, 50% is wrong. The study is the fact that in court, someone wins, 50% lose. As you can see, it is so easy to make a dramatic headline for a potential evening news programme. Perhaps the real headline should ask, ‘how are people allowed to do such a thing without being subject to having their badge of authority removed if they are wrong?’

There is a wide variety of new sources just as there is for drama, The likes of The New Yorker online, or the European television output of Al Jazeera (on Sky 513 and on Freeview and online) or FRANCE 24. Exploring news options is like finding star-studded crafted mega TV drama on demand. Or to be frank, we all have the ability to consume a better-funded product, made by more talented individuals from better-managed Networks. We live in an increasingly more global world, and as cruisers, we don’t stay in hostels we have staterooms, and we don’t need to consume narrow local news, we are global people.

This year has shared people’s problems and exposure to mental illness. Some of it that is due to the huge increase in personal debts from gambling. People have become homeless this year over debts caused by playing online bingo! The stories are all over the news, or maybe they’re not. Why are these stories not all over our domestic broadcast news? Let me ask, could ITV survive without gambling? From our waking hour, Andy wants us to gamble by phone to win money, a car and other bundled luxuries. ‘Just text’ is the encouragement. It is an encouragement to gamble and is a soft introduction to bingo gambling by day-time TV, sports gambling by evening, then a nighttime casino live. The real problem is that familiarity breeds acceptance. As people get away with things, they try a little more drive for even more profit. This year The Guardian said there were 13 studies showing ‘Loot’ boxes in children’s games are collecting up to £350m, and some child users, even as young as 11, are problem gamblers. Few are standing up in parliament against the lobbyists who want MP’s silenced. Conservative MP Richard Holden stated there is a “loophole” in the law that allows this in children’s cartoon-like games. It must be stopped, but will we be given compliance adverts that sidestep the issue with a line like, “only gamble to enjoy it”, or some other brilliantly crafted line. Maybe it is time the country pulled together as it showed it could when fighting a pandemic. Or is the news trying to tell us not to bother with that anymore when France and Germany are betting far more strictly. Is it time to do away with a two-party system that encourages the taking of sides rather than solving a problem with the best minds? To stop lobbyists? Maybe the news should stop pulling down whoever gets on top.

But I digress, let me get back to the start of the year when the recording of my cruise-based mystery novels was hugely important because the consumption of eBooks and Whispersync showed that listening was seriously challenging printed books. Just as Netflix had challenged broadcast TV, and Amazon had challenged shopping empires and our evening news is losing respect. Whispersync arrives and is both reading and listening at the same time; listen to the story being read as you read. Then just read, or just listen, then come back to both, as you please. Normally done on an eBook reader like an iPad, smartphone or Kindle, but it can be done with print though without all the options. During COVID, traditional broadcasters ran out of shows and the public looked elsewhere at the more diverse forms of entertainment. The interest in podcasts and eBooks, as well as downloadable television, climaxed. I knew my paperbacks and eBooks had to become audiobooks, and my lockdown project intended at least the first book, Cruise Ship Heist to be out before the summer when cruising might restart. I did not know I was about to lose the ability to speak, to then be testing a cocktail of drugs to control my seizures and pain, and then be back in therapy. Not only could I not read out loud to record the novels myself, but in this state, I would never manage to go back on a cruise ship stage again and talk or answer questions about my movie career. Back in 1985, I might have frightened others half to death as the most horrific character in movie history, James Cameron’s Queen Alien, but now I was scared. I had all but stopped talking because it hurt.

I had waltzed into 2021 from last year’s Christmas lock-down positively and with a clear plan. I hung old duvets in a square, rigged our film kit condenser mic on boom-arm, and stood a screen on a light-stand. With the recording booth erected, I started testing. At first, all was going well, then, as I spoke at length, the air crossing the roof of my mouth caused me to fit. My condition, classic Trigeminal Neuralgia, was deteriorating fast. It is a condition of such severe pain that has a very high rate of suicide; in fact, that is its nickname in some places; the suicide disease or condition. My medical team had on record a fine-cut MRI and could see the cause. I preferred to trust the NHS experts from the hospitals I was under, rather than any paid opinion that might have felt there was nothing wrong. Brain surgery was beginning to feel a reality rather than something we talked about. 

Rarely has failure been an option for me, so I junked the first few recorded chapters of Heist and switched to book 5. Whilst the cozy crime mystery series suited my reading, ‘Disastrous Romance’ was one book that should be read by a female. My wife Jean, who you all know well from presenting the video port guides, read it. I edited when I could. I was hoping that, by the end, one of the new drugs might start to kick in and I could jump back to read Heist. They never did allow me to talk again, so I wrote the sixth book, Blood Diamonds – the second lockdown cruise mystery and the only one never to have a word written on a ship. In the story, the theft takes place during a ship’s refit.

A last-minute tree present for a cruiser this Christmas? All proceeds go to improve the website. https://amzn.to/3e1Dxiy

Although ‘Disastrous Romance’ had the same characters as the series of cruise mystery crime novels, it is about a young-at-heart determined older woman. The main character, Violet, has some mental issues and I was going through my own when I wrote it; the ships were cathartic for both of us. There was no cruising from Summer 2019, so I finished writing the book. The reader sees an inevitable crime coming from the outset, then they have to solve it with the characters. Expect the story not to be that simple. The wonderful Violet starts in the care-at-home system, suffering from claustrophobia, having been institutionalised most of her life. In lockdown, she feels television and radio understand her situation. The population’s longing to return to normality encourages Violet to take that journey of freedom. Against medical advice, she escapes before she can be interned again. She joins the first cruise out of lockdown, the ship she saw anchored in the bay from her apartment window in Weymouth. She feels it will afford her a safe haven with the safe spaces she needs to go outside. Those who know ships will understand how I developed that world inside Violet’s head.

For those wanting to know more about WhisperSync, it is still rare. The dual purchase of the written and the spoken novel has to be as near 100% accurate as possible. If you are thinking of giving someone an audiobook as a Christmas present, a trial is the best way to go. With the Audiobook only trial (this one ends Dec 31st, 2021) customers will receive:

  • One free audiobook of their choice – theirs to keep, even if they cancel. Prime customers receive two audiobooks in their trial.
  • The ability to choose from an incredible selection of audiobooks including best sellers, new releases, sci-fi, romances, mysteries, classics and more.
  • Unlimited listening to the Plus Catalogue – thousands of Audible Originals, podcasts and select audiobooks.
  • You need to check the current deal, but the Audible deal appears to be 3 months at 99p a month.
  • You can cancel easily anytime under the current offer, so if you might enjoy listening to a book, there isn’t a better deal in town.

My doctors knew I was deteriorating and the drugs trials had not worked. My medical records showed the opposition legal team everything they needed to know. They even had a private detective park outside my house taking pictures. They were following my social media and my posts on Doris Visits and suggesting it could be a new career. I wish it might be, but although a storyteller from the outset back in the 60s and 70s, the poor income afforded to a novelist was the reason I chose the mechanical media route. My Amazon novel income and the Google income ledgers were presented to the court and showed they could never produce in a year what I earned in a day in film. Fraught legal arguments continued in judges chambers, but the court case was still hanging on for something. My attacks and pain were more severe and more regular and I didn’t enjoy trying to talk. When I tried, I would shake my head to try and lose the sharp pains. 

An offer was made into the court. It was pathetic, not even as much as they had paid me for one season of the show I was on, less than one year’s salary. But I was told that if I did not take it, the costs could all fall on me if I now eventually lost the case. As much as there appeared no chance of that, I was now weak and feeling battered, and in no state to fight, or leave Jean to fight if I couldn’t. Worse still, leave her with a bill to pay if I was no longer around. Their financial offer was perfectly timed for them, not for me. I knew if I did not survive the surgery, the legal case in hand would fail and Jean would get nothing and it appears she could face costs that were already way, way into six figures. I had no option other than to take what I considered, and what I had been led all along to believe, was an insult. My lawyers obviously would be paid if I accepted. But life mattered more than money. I rushed to get my papers straight and make a new will but in the middle of COVID, I collapsed again, the worst yet, screaming in pain. The time had come.

I trusted my own medical team at the NHS. Within two days, I was in a small board room at Guys Hospital on the Southbank of the Thames. I sat with a pain nurse behind me in case I went into a seizure, and I counted seventeen people around the table. Up until then, when I saw half a dozen doctors around a patient on a TV show like The Resident, Greys Anatomy or The Good Doctor I would exclaim, ‘no one gets that many doctors’. I take it all back. My original face and head pain specialist from the hospital at London Bridge had travelled along the Thames to Guys. She had tracked my case for two years. The Head of Neurology at Guys, who I was under, chaired the discussion. Another doctor from Guys Neurology was there. Plus a psychiatrist from Guys who had sat in on a previous appointment when I had been told of the inevitable brain surgery. Last, but not least, someone I was to get to know well, someone I owe my life to: the brain surgeon who would perform the surgery. She was a straightforward confident woman who I instantly trusted. She had cycled up from the special unit at Kings Hospital in South London to where I would go for the specialist surgery. There were at least two people taking notes, and I felt they were counting the financial beans; maybe a lawyer as this was elective surgery and had to be formally agreed. Plus maybe some interns as it is a teaching hospital. No one pulled up a picture of my brain. No one needed to; they were all familiar with the strange but obvious mess in my head. Just like when I broke my arm in thirteen places falling from a flying wire on Duran Duran’s Wild Boys’, I don’t do things by half. I could not take in all the names but here is not a place to publish them without asking. I do remember them saying that I was at the end of the line with drugs and surgery was obvious and necessary now.

I agreed without hesitation. I had been an athlete, then a stuntman; I was used to hospitals and always considered them positively as solvers of problems. No one in the team showed any indecision. They were not in this for the money. They were frank with the risks and explained everything. When it was agreed, I was informed I had to have seven days of solitary quarantine, but the surgeon had a space for me next Tuesday. It was Monday. Suddenly the future had an eight-day possible finite reality. What I was agreeing to was elective surgery.

I had to spend seven days in my house, and neither I nor Jean were allowed to go out, nor have a guest, not even onto the front garden. I saw my kids on Zoom. Then Jean had to drive me to the hospital and I was entered into an ultra-clean unit by an escort. My wife  drove away, I guess looking back, wondering if that was the last time she was to see me. I had never considered the tales of people dying and not being able to see the body. Only just now as I am writing this did she tell me she cried all the way home. Jean is tough, but so tough I often take it for granted.   

I woke late afternoon after about five hours in the operating theatre. I knew immediately the problem in my head had eased. My blood pressure was back to near perfect for the first time in years. I ate, I can always eat. I got out of bed, walked and did a light arm and leg exercise, then went back to bed and slept. That evening, I got up and exercised again. I did not even have a headache. It was decided I should gradually come off my medication over the next four weeks, by which time I was a new man. My eyes had become slits in the last year but were wide open. For the first time in years and my face was different. People said I looked younger.

Physically, I have a funny ridge down the back of my head but for the first time since Christmas 2014, when there was an intervention to ensure I would get treatment, my head feels clear. The hospital has signed me off and I have no current medical condition of concern. The elastic on a facemask pulls at my right ear which must have been peeled back, but the discomfort is not enough to risk a COVID infection by not wearing it. If you think wearing a mask is an inconvenience, try being locked inside the Queen Alien ten to fourteen hours a day.

Our Insurance and Medical testing page has other options and is worth a look

The inside of my brain. The pad can be seen.

I can cruise again and have agreed to three so far for next year. The cruise in May will also thank Jean as our 42nd wedding anniversary will be while onboard. Medically, I no longer have a condition or risk. My case was elective surgery that was not directly life-threatening. The surgery was. The vein was successfully separated from the nerve all the way down and a soft pad was fitted in between them. The NHS was amazing. If I don’t tell you of a non-COVID success story by the NHS, the current budget broadcast news is unlikely to, as an audience in fear returns and views again. 

Years ago, I produced The Krays movie starring Martin and Gary Kemp. I remember Ronnie Kray explained, “Fear is the key.” I am sure the line is in the film, it is too good and too true not to have been included. We are persuaded that hospitals are not doing the backlog of important life-threatening surgery. I can only speak as I find. My story, sadly for the news, is factual. Others were in this unit and being treated. I have had visits to four different hospitals throughout COVID and I don’t recognise what they tell me on the news. I am not saying their stories are incorrect, just that it appears to suit them to tell only one side. Tonight they are talking of queues for the boosters when our friend went to Hillingdon Hospital today and was seen straight away. But, ours is not a frightening news story. News needs to frighten you, so you then need them for protection. Just as I learned when making The Krays, and I have never forgotten his philosophy on life, “fear is the key.” Ronnie committed a crime and was locked in the Tower of London in 1952. His was a crime in a world where selling gambling, selling children, selling people or giving incorrect advice is not. In the coming year, all I suggest is when a magician asks you to look left, ask yourself what is on the right. When someone tells you something, ask why are they telling me this? If you hear something ask was it fact, speculation or hearsay? News means newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent events. There was a time when it needed to be verified and not by just by someone’s social media. I am not alone in refusing to watch our broadcast news. Try Russell Howard’s show. Check out the European service of Al Jazeera. And don’t miss Adam McKay’s comedy movie Don’t Look Up, which will appear on Netflix. It is being suggested that it is a movie that no one dares to review because it is pointing a finger straight at all the things it is too hard for polite society to say about how everyone is avoiding facts. It is embarrassingly hilarious. Meryl Street as the American president is far too frightening. My message for the year to come is to beware of poor news, don’t accept poor advice, and protect our children, not just from gambling.


Back to full strength, and back to work, I have done some end of year stream-lining to Doris Visits. To concentrate on our domestic cruisers and main brands, I dropped many chat groups of cruise operators aimed at other markets (Germany, Spain etc). We still have around 50,000 members in the remaining groups. I created the Black Sea Port Menus here on the main site ready for us to film them should we be allowed to sail there. I also added river cruising as many of our cruisers enjoy river cruising as well as ocean cruising. Plus I added clippers and yachts to a Luxury group that includes Regent Seven Seas, Celebrity and others. I also joined Azamara together with Oceania as an R-Class classic ship group, and joined together Arcadia and Aurora as the P&O Adult group; both mergers have been well received. So, I am back working and ready for 2022.

Sadly, it now seems all of us know of someone who didn’t swerve the pandemic’s Grim Reaper. Worse still, unlike Elvis, Mr COVID has not left the building and it looks like he won’t. As with influenza, it appears to be something we need not just to understand how to live with, but control enough not to overly stretch the medical services. They need to be able to do the kind of wonderful thing they did for me. It can happen that anyone might need a hospital. A cruise ship with a small hospital or clinic for emergencies cannot cope with huge numbers that need intensive care; it needs to ensure it can cope. The Greek prime minister said on UK television recently that no more than ten percent of those in intensive care in Greek hospitals were vaccinated. The problem they have is being caused by those not yet vaccinated. Being numbers led, as insurance companies and underwriters are (they are only glorified betting shops and we go full circle back to gambling), it is easy to understand why ships have asked for the COVID pass to take a cruise.  Getting on and off a ship has more and more rules by the day. France is not alone in insisting FP2 and better facemask wearing is compulsory with no exemptions, or there is an on-the-spot Euro 135 fine for failing. To go in anywhere, you need your COVID pass, and that includes many outside venues like going into a park area where there is a Christmas market. Germany has similar with its 2G law (2 jabs). But it wasn’t COVID that got me.

Following the disaster that consumed me in fire, in 2014, I had time to go on the ships and time to write. A fair question would be: how do you turn the books out so fast? That is thanks to 50 years in broadcast media, where you have no option other than to deliver because the show has an on-air date. The question as to how I could get up and talk, well, that’s another story. For the first ten years of my career, I was a radio DJ and TV presenter until, in 1980, TVS in Southampton asked me if I would play the part of Dave Farrell in a TV soap called Radio Phoenix. Video Killed the Radio Star – or nearly.

This morning, on the last non-festive weekend of the year I have just watched the first three episodes of a documentary. It is the same as a screenplay I was trying to sell in Hollywood around 2010, long before any of the subject matter happened. I just dug out the old screenplay to see if I should rework it as a novel, maybe in a ship’s lounge soon. Alive and kicking, I start back on the ships in 2022, first with SAGA. Please come and chat if you see me writing in the lounge (my office).


Make sure you enjoy the future.

I  am next on the Spirit of Adventure for SAGA (click here) off to the Ancient Wonders SU049 and I  am so looking forward to it.  Stuart St Paul – click here  I believe there might just be one cabin left. I want to make next year special. I have a couple of days on the QM2 in the middle of the year and then I am working as the guest on SAGA’s other ship, the Spirit of Discovery, at the end of the year in the Canaries and Africa. There are other pencilled cruises that I will list as the year settles. 

Cozy Cruise Crime Mysteries are a whole new experience of a cruise. You may not have been to the ports in the novels, you certainly won’t have been to the parts of the ship they use, but they take you there. Stuart’s page is here.

The cheapest way to buy his cruise thrillers is the KINDLE BOX SET, all six cruise thrillers for the price of two. Happy holidays, 2022 must be better.

Thanks to Jean and David for checking this, and the support they give on copy editing the novels.