SAM Neill once appeared as James Bond - sadly, just in a screen test which can still be seen in modern-day DVD ‘extras’. He lost out to Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill) and his efforts still exist in the ‘Daylights’ DVD extras, 1987.
Maybe his taste in drinks was wrong. Bond propagated martini (shaken but not stirred) while Neill’s tipple is obviously the finest of wines, although the latest Bond offering - Skyfall starring Daniel Craig - has switched to Heineken Beer. Sacrilege!
Anyway, Neill, the nearly Bon,d who starred in Jurassic Park, Omen III and The Hunt for Red October inter alia, was in Portadown on Friday night, publicising his New Zealand created pinot noir wines, as part of a round Northern Ireland tour. He was handing out a licence to chill for a plethora of connoisseurs! And about 40 had the bottles signed at the Seagoe, prior to a dinner for wine merchants.
He sold and signed no fewer than 1,800 bottles as he covered all six counties, attending various promotional dinners and ‘wine signings’, his venues including Omagh where he was born, Armagh where he spent part of his childhood, and Newcastle, not far from Tyrella where he spent many happy family outings.
Perhaps the best-known New Zealand actor of the modern era, he played the part of the perfect host as the general public flocked to meet him, have bottles of his Two Paddocks wine signed, and sample the vintage.
His father was stationed in Omagh as an officer with the Irish Guards when Neill was born in 1947. “Omagh, Armagh and Tyrella Beach are my earliest, happy memories before we returned to New Zealand where my parents came from – I was seven at the time,” he said.”I also remember suffering from whooping cough here and thinking I was going to die. But I pulled through!”
He covered all six counties of Northern Ireland in his travels – starting in Belfast, and taking in Londonderry, Lusty Beg, Armagh, Portadown and Omagh, a whistle stop tour with agents the Robb Brothers of Portadown.
The actor pointed out that he came from a long line of spirit merchants, dating back to his great-grandfather in Belfast in 1861. They continued the trade in New Zealand as one of the country’s biggest spirit merchants – “but I’m the first to have cultivated the grape”.
He added: “I’m shooting the BBC TV production Peaky Blinders, a gangster saga set in the days after the First World War and being filmed in Birmingham, Leeds and Liverpool. So I took the opportunity to cross the Irish Sea, have a look around the country of my birth and introduce the people to my wines.”