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Red carpet night in Hampstead: Brendan Gleeson reveals he tried to meet ‘Harry The Hermit’

Movie star searched Heath for Harry Hallowes on his day off

15 June, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Brendan Gleeson at the Everyman cinema 

THE red carpet was rolled out last night (Wednesday) for the stars of a new rom-com called Hampstead – a film inspired by the life of Harry Hallowes, the “hermit” who lived in the gardens of Hampstead Heath-side mansion Athlone House. The film’s world premiere saw leading man Brendan Gleeson and co-stars Phil Davies and Jason Watkins appear at the Hampstead Everyman cinema in Heath Street – and Mr Gleeson told the New Journal how Harry’s story had touched many people.

Camden Town actor Jason Watkins on the red carpet

Harry won squatters’ rights in the High Court in 2007 to stay put in the mansion’s gardens after the NHS sold it to a Kuwaiti billionaire. Harry lived there peacefully until his death, aged 88, last year. The film uses his tale as a starting point for a story that has Mr Gleeson taking the role of the hermit, and Diane Keaton playing his well-heeled Hampstead love interest.

Mr Gleeson told the New Journal: “There was something beautiful about his story and that was what the film is getting at. I think the idea of living off-grid appeals to us all. He lived on his own terms and I wanted to show that dignity.”

When the New Journal broke the news to Harry that he had inspired a rom-com, he said he didn’t want anything to do with it. Mr Gleeson said: “I didn’t get to meet him – but I did go up the Heath and try and say hello. I was in London and I had a day off work so I walked up there. It was lashing down with rain and he didn’t want to talk.”

Harry ‘the hermit’ Hallowes

Mr Gleeson instead wrote Harry a letter, which was passed on to him by a Heath ranger. “The ranger came back and said Harry said thanks, but no. I didn’t want to intrude on his privacy,” added Mr Gleeson. The actor said that while the Hampstead story was inspired by Harry’s life, he did not want to try to create a biopic.


He added: “I had heard anecdotes about him but I chose not to bring it into my character. That gave me some freedom and meant I did not have to consider his take on things. I felt it meant I did not infringe on his integrity. The court case was of course already in the public domain, so we could draw on that, but otherwise I was reluctant to take from his life.”

And would Mr Gleeson fancy giving up the trappings of an actor’s lifestyle, head up the Heath and see out his days in splendid isolation? He said: “I would have loved to a few years ago – but I don’t think my old bones would take it now.”


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