My message to John Cleese

In 1976 I travelled up to London to stay at Westminster school. It was a week away from home for children with disabilities. The first evening was a trip out to the theatre to see a play but I arrived too late and missed the coach. One very kind lady, I can’t remember her name but I wish I could, took me aside and told me not to worry, she would look after me until the coach returned later that evening. From what I remember she was in her thirties and very confident, she had an air of authority about her which made me feel safe.

“Don’t worry, I’ll look after you for the evening.” She told me. Not only did she make sure I was looked after, but she introduced me to three people that I will never forget. 

“Let’s go in the hall and see what’s happening,” she said. The hall was quite grand, wooden panels with grand paintings in thick ornate frames hung from the wall. It wouldn’t of looked out of place at Hogwarts. There were so many people all chatting, drinking wine. I knew it was wine because it was dark red liquid in a traditional bulbous type wine glass. I’d seen my parents drink out of those type of glasses to know it was wine.

We walked in and straight up to a group of people chatting away. 

“Nigel, I’d like you to meet Mike”, I said hello but as I was doing so I realised it was Mike Brearley, the England cricket captain! As I said hello and shook Mike’s hand she quickly introduced Peter Ustinov. I was now dumbfounded. In my mind I kept saying to myself, ‘That’s Peter Ustinov’, ‘That’s Peter Ustinov’, ‘That’s Peter Ustinov!’

The lady could see that I was a little overwhelmed and, yes, slightly intimidated, so she took me to one side and told me to sit while she got me a soft drink. While I sat in the chair waiting for my drink to arrive a very tall man sat down beside me and asked me my name. I was halfway through telling him my name when I realised I was talking to you (John Cleese).

We chatted for about 15 minutes about what my favourite subjects at school were, what do I like to do in my spare time. I responded with questions of my own, “How did they chop off your arms and legs in that film?” You were courteous, kind, interesting and such a decent fellow to meet.

When I had to leave you walked out at the same time. We were still chatting away when my left leg, the weaker of the two at the time, gave way and I collapsed onto the floor. My trousers torn, my knee bloodied from the impact. You helped me up. You gave me your phone number and told me if I every needed anything to ring you. I never did, I would have been too intimidated, besides, I lost your number!

I am now 55, I am a full-time wheelchair user. My legs gave up about tens years ago. In 2012 I took on a challenge. The 50 List, a list of activities to do before I turned 50 later that year, to show my daughter, who has the same condition, that anything is possible. There were quite a few extreme items on the list that needed adrenaline and nerves of steel, and then there were the not so extreme items, like a 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle. One of the items on the list was to meet you, John Cleese. You see, I’d like to meet you to see if you remember that evening, a long shot I know, but I’d still like to meet you as you were one of my heroes when I was growing up, and you still are!

I have tried to contact you via social media, your agent and your PA but there is a fine line between trying to contact someone and becoming a nuisance. So, in the hope that you get to read this post I really do hope that one day we do get to meet up again.

Yours sincerely

Nigel Holland