When people think of Sean of course they think of James Bond, but he wasn’t really acting when he was playing that part. In real life, when he walked into a room, he walked like James Bond and he talked like James Bond, which people could find disconcerting. That was because he didn’t change anything about himself, including his Scottish accent, which tells you a lot about the man.
Sean was a very tough man in some ways, but very sensitive in others. I first met him in 1971 when he was setting up a charity to help young Scots [the Scottish International Education Trust], wanting me to get involved – he liked how I projected Scotland to the world as a racing driver. He loved his country but realised it had its limitations – even though Glasgow’s fine art is renowned, he knew there weren’t similar opportunities elsewhere in the arts. He understood why people moved away for new opportunities, given he had come from a very ordinary background himself and done that, but he wanted Scotland to thrive from within.
He was very proud that people knew him as a Scot all around the world. I’m apolitical but he wasn’t; he wanted Scotland to be independent, and that never left him. After Micheline [Connery’s wife of 45 years] called me to tell me he had died in his sleep, I called the first minister. That’s how important he was to Scotland.
I’ve been in some interesting situations with Sean throughout the years. At a charity shooting event at Gleneagles, he convinced the king of Jordan to let Steven Spielberg shoot an Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade scene in Petra. He was there with Steven and Harrison Ford, who was a good shot, but Sean – James Bond himself – couldn’t shoot.
Sean treated everyone the same and didn’t suffer fools gladly. He had fun with people like that. Not with fans, though – he was always kind to them, never refusing an autograph. And obviously, Sean was very good-looking, so whenever we went out for dinner together, there were always women chasing him, but he’d always be surprised. He never thought of himself as a star.
I spent some time with him not long before he died in the Bahamas. He was very unwell then with dementia, which is a very cruel disease – I know this personally, as my wife has had it for several years. It was sad seeing him like that, but there we were, the two of us, lying side by side on his bed. He told me he wanted to watch Sidney Lumet’s The Hill [from 1965], his favourite film in which he’d acted. It’s not well known, but he’s brilliant in it, playing a soldier in a north African army prison. That role meant more to him than all the Bonds. The next day, he asked me again if I’d like to see it as if he’d never asked me before. And so we did.
When he died, I wished there had been a run of his films on TV to recognise what he did both for Britain and his beloved Scotland. He was a very dear friend. I’ll miss him very much.
Sir Jackie Stewart OBE is the founder of the charity Race Against Dementia