"I Create As I  Speak"

Coltrane’s Planes, Automobiles and Me. A Personal Tribute to a Giant of a Man

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Robbie Coltrane Tribute Newspaper Picture

Una Carlin is a Communications Consultant and owner of Carlin Creative. She has worked for Channel 4, ITV and the BBC in London and NI. Here she shares her memories of working with Robbie Coltrane.

On Friday night, I was invited by my clients The Hummingbird Project, from Portstewart to attend the Social Enterprise NI Awards 2022. It was there, I learned actor and global superstar Robbie Coltrane had passed away at the age of 72.

I told our table a story about how, funny, curious, talented, sensitive and smart this larger-than-life man really was.

I met him while working as a publicist for Channel 4 Television in London. It was 1997 and I was promoting Robbie Coltrane’s Planes and Automobiles Series.

In the programme, the host and self-confessed petrol-head Robbie Coltrane examined the history of important developments in mechanical transportation.

It was all about steam and diesel engines, V8’s and smelly Two-Strokes. Nothing I really knew anything about but that’s PR and you soon become an expert.

To launch the series, I organised a press conference followed by two days of TV and radio interviews.
I’ve never really been star struck or into celebrity culture, but I was young and a bag of nerves when Mr Coltrane’s car pulled up outside the Channel.

I stuck my hand out to introduce myself saying: “Mr Coltrane, my name is Una Carlin and I will be your publicist for the next few days.”

His reply: “Nice to meet you wee girl,” in the most perfect Belfast accent. He spoke to me in that accent for the following three days even during the press conferences.”

We parted ways soon after until a chance encounter, a few years later.

I had moved to Scotland to help launch Channel 4’s Nations and Regions division but on that day was flying down to London for a job interview with ITV.

On the plane, I heard a commotion. Robbie Coltrane had boarded. I wrapped a newspaper I was reading around my head to avoid the ‘Do you remember me doing your publicity conversation?’ and to give him privacy.

He sat down right next to me leaving me stuck behind the paper until the cabin crew asked us about lunch. I said no thanks and got on with my job of hiding.

After a while I heard a rustling sound coming from the bottom of my newspaper. An enormous hand appeared with a tiny tray of dessert. In a perfect Belfast accent, he said: “Profiterole wee girl?”

He knew exactly who I was just by the two words I had spoken and probably because I was the only person on the plane appearing to ignore him.

It turns out, he was on his way to London to play a baddie in a James Bond movie involving a high-speed boat chase on the Thames.

He had a bad cold so I gave him two tiny green and yellow Lemsip capsules. What do you want me to do with those, he said? I replied: “I don’t know maybe put them where the sun isn’t shining.”

We had a great journey together that day. I discovered his intellect was as big as his personality and sometimes I was having to run to catch up.

I walked with him to the arrivals hall to pick up his bags. I got a sense he wanted me to stay with him, that he was more comfortable in the airport having someone he knew by his side.

Despite his superstardom, his character, his size, I felt a vulnerability about him and I would have stayed and accompanied him if I had time.

Grateful to have crossed paths with this legend. A huge talent. A gentleman. A scholar.


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