Author’s note: I know the title of this series is “Big Phil’s War,” but this is a little bit of a diversion to explain how I got into the filmmaking business in the first place. It’s all about hunting in the good old US of A, so I’m sure there’s plenty here to keep you reading!
Life has a funny way of turning out. When I left the SAS, I went to the employment office to find out what was on offer for someone with my skills—skills that Her Majesty’s Armed Forces had spent hundreds of thousands of pounds developing.
The answer? A lollipop man. For those of you over the pond there in the U.S., that means someone (usually retired) who stands in the middle of the road making sure that children cross the road safely to and from school. I’m sure that in its own way it is a highly skilled job and there is no doubt it is a tremendous value to the community, but let’s face it: It’s not really one for Big Phil, really.
And now the whole television caper seemed to be headed the same way. Instead of Big Phil’s SAS survival skills, first they wanted to test drugs on him, and now they wanted him in the kitchen.
“Don’t worry,” said Toby. There then followed the five words that I have come to dread throughout the time I have known him: “I will think of something.”
The upshot of the meeting with Channel 4 was that they were prepared to give us ten grand to shoot the pilot for a cookery show. Beyond that, there was not much indication what they wanted, but it didn’t take a genius to work out that it would involve more than Phil adding Tabasco to a takeaway curry.
I wanted to be involved as much as possible in any of the decisions that would be made, but there was a problem: I was on an overseas job in Jerusalem looking after one of the world’s most high-profile (and controversial) figures. Given the sensitivity of the assignment and the value of the client, I was on the go pretty much 24/7 and wholly in Toby’s hands back in London.
Late one night I got a phone call from him.
“When can you get time off?”
“I’m due back home just before Christmas.”
“Well, you are going to have to wait to dress up as Santa Claus, because we’re off to Florida.”
“Why we going there?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll explain when you get there. I’ll book you on a flight to Miami. Bye.”
Sure enough, two weeks later, I stepped off the plane from Tel Aviv into the Florida heat.
I was met at arrivals but Toby and our cameraman, Jake.
“What’s the plan then?” I asked.
“We’re going hunting.”
“Hunting what? Donald Duck in Disneyland?”
“No. Guess again.”
I thought hard. Then a light bulb appeared over my head.
“Got it. Alligators.”
“No,” said Jake (who, it would turn out, knew everything), “they’re a protected species.”
“They aren’t in Florida. It’s one big fucking swamp.”
Turns out I was wrong. Partly anyway. Florida is mostly a swamp, but it does have wild boar. Pretty big ones, as I was about to discover.
So this was their plan. Between the two of them, Jake and Toby had discovered a landowner with a huge spread over on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. We were going to spend a couple of days as his guest, hunt down a wild boar or two, kill them, and eat them. Nothing could be simpler.
So we picked up the hire car and headed north, picking up I-75 to Naples. It was a great drive through the Everglades—swamp as far as the eyes could see and the occasional orange grove. I kept my eyes peeled for any alligators, but the only wildlife I caught a glimpse of were the bugs splattering onto the windshield as we tore along the highway at 90 mph.
We managed not to run into the Florida Highway Patrol, which meant we reached our destination in record time. Naples, according to Jake (the know-all), was the second wealthiest community in the whole of the U.S. on account of all the very rich old people who retired there. Unfortunately, we had spent most of our budget on the flights to Miami, so we weren’t looking at any five-star hotels.
Eventually we found somewhere that didn’t look too shabby and dumped our gear. We were all too knackered after the trip to do any filming, so we decided to cut loose into town.
It was in the second or third bar that we visited that we started a conversation with the kid who was serving drinks. He had been drawn over because of our accents and mentioned in passing that the owner was from the U.K. and had served in the army.
I wasn’t really paying too much attention because I had my eye on the next pool table that was coming free, but I could half hear what the other two were saying.
“What regiment was he in?” asked Jake out of curiosity.
“Well he served in the Parachute Regiment, and then he said that he joined the special forces.”
All at once he had my full attention. I was on full Walter Mitty fantasy alert.
“Oh, yes?” I said trying to sound as casual as possible. “Did he say which part of the special forces?”
The boy looked a little bit alarmed. Maybe I wasn’t coming across too casual after all.
“Er, he didn’t really say. In fact, he said there were a lot of things he couldn’t really talk about.”
Now I was well and truly interested. It was classic a Walt tactic: Sow the seeds and then tend them with just enough bullshit to keep the interest growing.
“What time is this boss of yours coming in, then?” I asked.
“Well, usually around nine.”
I caught Toby’s eye.
“That’s a shame,” he said, “because we’re just leaving.”
“No we’re not.”
“Yes, we are.”
It was a standoff. Me, who wanted to stay on and front-up a Walt who was pretending to be something he wasn’t, and my television producer, who just wanted a quiet life.
Eventually, he threw up his hands.
“All right, have it your way. Stay here. Do what Phil does best: Get into a fight and get arrested. And then get deported. Maybe we can film it all and Channel 4 will broadcast that instead.”
“But he’s a fucking Walt,” I said.
“So what? Won’t be the first, won’t be the last. I tell you what: We’ll do all the filming and on the last night, we can come back and you can front him up. Deal?”
So we left. It was the wisest thing to do. After all, I owed it to my public.