Cover image for Ewan McGregor : the unauthorized biography
Ewan McGregor : the unauthorized biography
Adams, Billy, 1971-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Woodstock, NY : Overlook Press, 1998.
Physical Description:
280 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 21 cm
General Note:
Originally published: Edinburgh : B&W Pub., 1998.

Includes index.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library PN2604.M38 A33 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



The first in-depth look into the extraordinary life and times of Hollywood's hot Scottish actor, from his brilliant performance in Trainspotting to his starring role as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first of the Star Wars prequels. 25 photos.

Author Notes

Billy Adams is a freelance journalist and writer who has written on a wide variety of topics, most recently for Scotland's best-selling daily newspaper, The Daily Record. He lives in Edinburgh.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

According to his awestruck biographer, 29-year-old, publicity-shy Scottish actor Ewan McGregor is set to metamorphose from indie-favorite to megastar with the May release of his next filmÄStar Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace, in which he plays the young Obi-Wan Kenobi. This detailed and well-documented portrait will reach bookstores in advance of the upcoming glut of McGregor biographies (by May, there will be four others), and should be hard to best, as Adams got there first, and had access to McGregor's family and close friends. McGregor's near-idyllic childhood in Crieff and almost storybook luck in landing a top British miniseries right out of school doesn't make for compelling reading, but Adams writes clearly and knowledgeably about his film work. The key to McGregor's success, he says, is his blend of on-screen charisma, a determination to be an "actor" not a "star," and his ability to forge propitious relationships with other filmmakers. Adams expertly documents the successful teaming of McGregor with director Danny Boyle and writer John Hodge, who created Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. McGregor has not only starred in 15 pictures in five years, but has chosen his roles well, appearing in such acclaimed films as The Pillow Book, Emma and Velvet Goldmine. These choices have created a strong, loyal following with film buffs more than huge box office receipts. All that is likely to change with Star Wars, though his longevity as a cinema icon remains to be seen. 25 b&w photographs. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One The McGregors of Crieff On the edge of the Scottish Highlands lies the town of Crieff, a pleasant interlude for those on the road to the better-known tourist attractions of the North. But Crieff has not always been so tranquil--300 years ago it was the scene of the bloody exploits of Rob Roy MacGregor and his clan, and was considered to be one of the most violent towns in Europe. Crieff was renowned as a place where Highlanders would come together with those from the Lowlands to settle their differences--by fair means or foul. In those brutal times, the authorities showed little mercy to lawbreakers, wherever they came from, and many troublemakers ended their days swinging from the local gallows.     It was here that Ewan McGregor spent his childhood--although the town he grew up in was a different place altogether from the one which had witnessed the adventures of his roguish namesake Rob Roy. Crieff had long since abandoned its wild ways to become a haven for elderly tourists and day trippers. Ewan Gordon McGregor arrived on the stage of life just after eight o'clock on the night of March 31, 1971. He was born in Perth Royal Infirmary, a hospital 15 miles from his home town. He was the second son of James Charles Stewart McGregor and Carol Diane McGregor. Theirs was a classic story of childhood sweethearts who fell in love among the textbooks at school in Crieff. The relationship eventually blossomed into marriage on a hot July day in 1966 at the town's St Michael's Parish Church.     At the ages of 23 and 21 respectively, both started work as schoolteachers, and in February 1969, when the couple were living in a flat in Glasgow's Edgemont Street, Carol and Jim celebrated the birth of their first son, Colin, at the city's Royal Maternity Hospital.     Work commitments soon brought them back to the town where they had met, when Carol started a job at the state-run Crieff Primary School, and Jim returned to their old school, the independent Morrison's Academy, as a physical education teacher.     Jim also became an active member of the local community. At Morrison's he advised the pupils on their careers, and ran the school cricket team. Outside, he was chairman of the local Round Table, and was on the organising committee of the annual Highland Games, at which he also commentated. Local historian Colin Mayell remembers that in 1973 Jim founded the town's rugby club, and became its captain. It is also interesting to note that Jim and Carol were among the founder members of the Crieff Film Society, set up in the seventies by a small group of movie devotees. Its existence became all the more important when the town's small cinema closed down shortly afterwards--meaning a lengthy trip to Perth for anyone who wanted to see the latest releases. Frustrated by the lack of variety on offer, the members hired more obscure movies, particularly those with French subtitles, for regular film nights in local hotels.     Jim was one of a long line of McGregors who had made Crieff their home--his great great grandfather, James, worked as a stonemason during the construction of the school in 1860. Jim's father, also James, seems to have had a more colourful history. The son of yet another James, who fought with the Black Watch in the First World War, he worked as a stonemason and fitter, and at the Hydro hotel. In 1936 he married his sweetheart Isabella Macindoe in Gretna Green, the little village on the border between Scotland and England that has long been a sanctuary for couples wanting to get married, without necessarily wanting others to know about it. Isabella was the daughter of a former consul to the Chilean government, and their marriage certificate records a simple ceremony in which Sarah Armstrong, of Gretna, and Mary Little, of Carlisle, acted as witnesses to the wedding of a 21-year-old bachelor and his 20-year-old girlfriend who lived just a few streets from each other almost 200 miles away.     If Ewan McGregor's acting talent is in any way hereditary, it seems likely that it originated on his mother's side of the family. While Carol spent a dedicated and fulfilling career in teaching, her younger brother Denis pursued an acting dream that would later prove an inspiration to her son.     Carol and Denis Lawson were both born in Glasgow, the children of a jeweller and watchmaker, Laurie, and a confectionery saleswoman, then housewife, then jeweller, Phyllis. In 1953, when Carol was nine and Denis six, the family moved to Crieff, perhaps because Phyllis' own family were originally from that area, to open a jeweller's shop in the town. They quickly became popular within a community so small that everyone knew everyone else. For nearly 30 years Laurie and Phyllis built a solid reputation for their jewellery business, moving to new premises on the High Street shortly before Laurie's death. He had specialised in repairing watches and clocks, and is remembered by many as a gentle, likeable man who knew the names of all his customers. Phyllis recovered from the loss to continue running the business which still operates successfully today.     Friends recall the couple's frequent appearances at dance halls, fondly remembering how, although they may have been getting on a bit, they could still show the youngsters a thing or two. "Mrs Lawson was always elegant in the dancing," said Reverend Sandy Tait, a former minister at Crieff South Church. "Performing the tango, she is a sight to behold."     Both children went to school at Morrison's, after which Carol went into teaching, while Denis, aged just 15, left Crieff in 1962 to become a carpet salesman in Dundee. As he later recalled: "I was the world's worst carpet salesman and the place closed down shortly after I left."     His heart was set, however, on a career in acting, and this finally led to a place in drama school back in Glasgow. From there he went on to perform in repertory theatre for a number of years, before moving to London in the early 1970s, the city he still calls home. The Crieff that Ewan McGregor grew up in was a rural, middle-class town that had gradually acquired an image as a tranquil resting place for people heading into old age. It tended only to get clogged up by traffic when too many bus loads of pensioners had decided to go there for tea on the same day. The town's most significant landmark was a hotel, the Crieff Hydro, while its High Street was cluttered with an array of shops selling tartan rugs, tweed jumpers and numerous souvenirs to keep the seemingly endless procession of elderly visitors happy. The attitude of the 6,000 or so residents was illustrated by the fact that Crieff was one of the last remaining areas in Scotland to vote Conservative. Only in recent years have the Scottish Nationalists begun to seize the political initiative.     Situated in the rural calm of the Perthshire hills, Crieff in the 1970s was insulated from many of the vices of modern society. It was a place where people still dressed in tweeds and flat caps and drove Morris Minors--this at a time when bell-bottoms and Kevin Keegan perms were all the rage. As local councillor Ian Hunter put it: "People tended to give the impression that [Crieff] was stuck in some sort of time-warp."     In many ways, Crieff represented a world that had, for the most part, vanished. For the inhabitants it was a place where the spirit of those gentler times lingered on.     Just 50 miles further south the story could not have been more different. In Glasgow, gangland feuds and grinding poverty cast a long dark shadow over the city's reputation. In the run-down, derelict centre of the "No Mean City", people lived with the fear of becoming victims of violent crime. Across in Edinburgh, the architecturally stunning and culturally conservative capital was being engulfed by a wave of drug abuse, on a scale that Scotland had never seen before. As heroin addicts overdosed in record numbers, and shared needles spread the infection of the dreaded HIV, Edinburgh would become known as the AIDS capital of Europe.     Crieff was only an hour's drive away from the problems of the inner cities, but the locals' only real knowledge of drugs and violence came from the newspapers, or grave discussions involving much tutting and nodding of heads in the town's cosy tearooms. Crieff was small, safe, and virtually free from crime.     It was in these somewhat old-fashioned surroundings that Ewan McGregor spent his childhood. As a restless adolescent he would find the town's limitations too restrictive, but for a carefree youngster its open spaces provided a wonderful playground.     After Ewan was born, Jim and Carol had their hands full coping with the joys and traumas of bringing up a young family. Although both parents were newly qualified teachers, their pay was still relatively poor, and their home, "Edgemont", named after the road they had lived in in Glasgow, was a drab concrete semi-detached bungalow on Sauchie Terrace, in a less affluent area of the town.     The environment in which Ewan grew up was loving, stable and supportive, and his parents' priority in life was to ensure the right start for Ewan and his brother Colin. As a child, Ewan was a wide-eyed lad, eager to explore and learn, rarely seen without a smile on his face, or an excited glint in his eyes. On one occasion, however, an angry outburst led him to run away from home. For an hour he sat on The Knock, a large hill that overlooks Crieff, before returning home for tea with his tail between his legs. "He left because he was fed up with everybody," remembered Carol, who was so unperturbed by his actions that she made a packed lunch for him and told him to take their pet dog. "I knew he would go up The Knock and a friend of ours actually met him when he was up there with the dog, sitting under a tree, looking fed up."     His earliest memory, he said in an interview with The Face, was of dropping a Fry's Chocolate Cream bar into the River Earn when he was just two, and crying uncontrollably about the loss for a long time afterwards. Hardly a great trauma, in what was an otherwise remarkably happy and trouble-free beginning to his life.     Ewan's best pal was Jimmy Kerr, who lived two doors down in Sauchie Terrace. They would constantly run about together, fascinated by plastic go-karts that were popular at the time. When they were not playing with the go-karts, cardboard boxes provided hours of amusement. Indeed, their parents never ceased to be amazed by just how much entertainment children could get from a simple cardboard box. Like all best pals at that age, Ewan and Jimmy spent the rest of their time knocking lumps out of each other.     Although the bungalow had been a decent enough home, with two growing boys Jim and Carol needed somewhere bigger. As one neighbour recalled, there were also problems with damp. She remembered one occasion when Jim McGregor stormed into their house raging. "A lot of the houses in this street suffered from damp at that time," she said. "Jim wasn't too happy when he came in to see us after talking to the builders. They had given him a ridiculous answer to his problem. They told him he shouldn't have allowed kids to live in his house in the first place. Naturally he was extremely angry."     Not long afterwards the McGregors moved house. With Jim's new position of housemaster at Morrison's came the benefit of living in a much nicer house on the more affluent side of the High Street. Their new home, "The Hermitage", was a plush, three-bedroom Victorian house set in a tree-lined lane. Young Ewan even had his own room, looking out on to a large back garden. For Jim McGregor the new house was ideal, as it was only a short walk from the grounds of Morrison's Academy. He had been educated there, and now his two sons were about to follow in his footsteps. Copyright © 1998 Billy Adams. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Prologuep. 1
I The McGregors of Crieffp. 4
II School's Outp. 13
III An Actor's Life for Mep. 23
IV The Caped Crusader of Kirkcaldyp. 34
V The Drama Patientsp. 45
VI London Callingp. 55
VII Presley, Potter and Stendhalp. 68
VIII Scarlet Pridep. 82
IX Dr Hodge, the Corpse and the Cashp. 95
X All About Evep. 106
XI Gravediggingp. 118
XII Trainspottingp. 129
XIII How Greenaway was My Valleyp. 143
XIV Family Tiesp. 156
XV Tinseltownp. 170
XVI A Life Less Usualp. 182
XVII Iggy, Ziggy, and Obi-Ewan Kenobip. 196
XVIII 1997: A Space Odysseyp. 209
XIX Rebel Without a Pausep. 222
Epiloguep. 245
Filmographyp. 255
Awardsp. 258
Referencesp. 259
Picture Creditsp. 274
Indexp. 275

Google Preview