- Extract 2
THE END OF RON
One of the more
complex and interesting castaways was Ron Copsey, a trainee
psychotherapist from Hampton who had been at various times an
actor, journalist, PR man ... you name it. Though he had been
very excited about the project in the early stages, the drudgery
and remoteness of island life got to him, and by the time I
visited in June, it was clear that, after the death of his beloved
dog Charlie, Ron was at the end of his tether. As were, for
that matter, more than a few of the castaways, for Ron was never
a person you could ignore ...
Boat to mainland
Two days later the Lion boat was in again, bringing with it
this time assistant producer Paul Overton, myself and Louise
the Compost Toilet expert from CAT. Producer Chris Kelly was
following on after a meeting in Stornoway. As we landed in the
sunshine on Pig Beach, we wondered quite what reception we were
going to get.
Ron was, to use his phrase, in my face as soon as I sat down
for lunch in the steading, sounding off with his attacks on
Lion, his fellow castaways and so on. 'Keep it for the tape
recorder,' I told him as he frothed on, and around him his associates
Monica and Julia and Warren rolled their eyes and laughed wearily.
We sat in his little pod in the same positions as we'd sat two
months before, and to me, the outsider, it seemed as if nothing
had changed. Ron looked worn out, his blue-grey eyes blank as
he gazed out down the walkway to the steading, the Taransay
Strait and the mountains of Harris beyond. His fury with Lion
was centred around the fact that there were now three more programmes
going out in September, which was not what he'd signed up for.
The project had become, he said, a 'trashy voyeuristic soap
opera'. Friends of his had sent him audio tapes of the first
four programmes and he wasn't impressed. 'It's about discord,
it's about bitching, it's about human beings at their worst.'
Of the material he'd actually seen, he was equally scathing.
There was nothing shown from the CAT week about the alternative
technology. 'It's all people based. There's nothing about the
positive aspects. Now suddenly they come in and institute these
rules. They want to make it like Big Brother.' He had already
given in his notice and it had never been withdrawn. 'So I can
leave at any time,' he told me. 'I won't even tell Lion. I'll
just go. I'll be here one day and gone the next.'
As I went round the other pods that afternoon and evening doing
interviews, it was clear that everyone, even Ron's one-time
friends and supporters, were heartily sick of him. 'He's not
the man I knew when I started this project,' said Philiy. 'He
needs to go home.' 'As for our little stirrer with the wooden
spoon,' said Tammy, 'I think if he pissed off the island it'd
be a better place.' Others, like Dez, talked of how they just
blanked him now. 'The more you want him off the island,' he
told me, 'the more he'll want to stay.' Toby and Trevor just
'keep out of it'. 'He's imploding nicely,' joked Trevor, 'self-destruction
is the finest quality you can see in somebody.'
'Why don't you just vote him off the island?' I asked Julie
Lowe as we sat drinking wine-box Cabernet Sauvignon under the
driftwood mirror in her neat little pod and she explained how,
as she saw it, Ron was forever upsetting the equanimity of the
community. 'A little poke here, a little word there, a little
stir there. A flagrant disregard for anything that other people
hold right and fair.' Even as we left the subject and moved
on to discuss her ambition to write a Mills and Boon under the
name Tara Cast, there was a knock on the door and a breathless
Sheila appeared. Ron had just gone crazy in the steading, she
told us. Paul Overton had presented him with the vet's bill
for Charlie's last hours and the psychotherapist had lost it,
screaming loudly in Paul's face for several minutes, then hurling
a chair the length of the steading, 'narrowly missing Aaron'.
He had then stormed out and run amok in the washroom with the
TV audiences were to see the discussion
that later developed in the steading, in which Julie talked
openly of her fears. 'This is no way to have to live. He intimidates
the hell out of me,' she concludes as she breaks down in tears.
'I'm scared of that man.' With the cameras off, the idea of
actually removing Ron from the island was then mooted by Julie.
I had meanwhile moved on to Liz and Dez, hearing their complaints
about the psychotherapist. He had the nickname Thunder Clouds,
said Dez, because whenever he was in the village there was just
this big depression over it. Eventually Liz led out a loud groan.
'I'm just bored to tears talking about this Ron thing,' she
cried. It was, it seemed to me, a heartfelt summary of the community's
feeling and I felt strongly that something practical had to
be done. Of course I was only there to observe, but I mean,
The next day, Friday, Paul and Louise returned to Harris on
the mailboat and I was left alone on the island to complete
my interviews. I came out of the Corrigan's pod mid afternoon
to see Ron still mooning next door, gazing mournfully out of
his window at the sea. He was seriously thinking of going, he
told me. All he needed to do was make a phone call to Ruari
the boatman and he'd be off. No bother. 'Well, you could always
come with me tomorrow,' I said. 'There's a boat coming over
at twelve.' I explained that I was staying on in the Harris
Hotel for a few days. We could have a nice slap-up dinner, I
suggested. Or I'd put him in a taxi to the airport if he wanted.
For the first time since I'd arrived his eyes brightened and
showed a little of the old Ron spark.
A little later Rosemary called on
him. 'Having heard about the incident where he threw the chair,'
she was to tell me in August, 'I thought I'd go and talk to
him, because obviously something had cracked. Chucking a chair
didn't seem in character to me. I talked to him, and he was
very tearful, I think he was a bit drunk already. He was saying
Lion were so insensitive, bringing over this vet's bill for
Charlie. I see his point, but in the real world you would just
get sent a bill. Anyway, he'd opened this envelope and it had
brought back all the Charlie dying thing for him. I think he
was at the end of his tether in lots of ways, still very grief
stricken by Charlie's death. He said, "I gave them so much
when Charlie died. They filmed every detail of it and now they're
just using me." Then he said, "This is the biggest
mistake I ever made coming here." So I just said, "Well,
why don't you go? Go tomorrow." Ron was miserable. "Look,
is it worth it?" I asked him. "What are you staying
for? What are you trying to prove?" He was saying, "Rosemary,
you're the one person ... you're so wise." He was pretty
pissed at the time. I think he needed pushing, because there
was still something holding him. It's just a feeling that you've
failed. Eventually he said, "I think you're right. Shall
I? Yeah, OK." Then he started pulling all the photographs
off his wall.'
As I emerged from my next interview,
I heard the news buzzing around the excited community. Ron was
leaving, he really was. He had started giving away his possessions,
just as Ray had done before him. While I was talking to Trish,
Wee Mike ran in clutching a heavy secateur-type tool that Ron
had given him. Trish was impressed. 'You're joking,' she said.
'Gosh, they're about £60.'
'It was £120,' Wee Mike corrected her.
'Is he drunk?'
'No, he's leaving.'
God, I thought, unaware of the chat Ron had had with Rosemary,
what have I done? Had it been my turn to stick my finger in
the Petri dish?
As I went down for six o'clock supper, Colin Corrigan approached
me. Julia was organising a farewell party for Ron in the schoolhouse.
'Keep it to yourself,' he said.
There was a small post-prandial diversion as Roger was bitten
on the leg by one of Trish's dogs and went into an irreversible
black mood, hands out on the kitchen table in the MacKay House,
muttering about having the animal taken off the island and put
down. Rosemary made a raised-eyebrows face and we left him to
it, glowering over his diary.
Ron had not yet arrived in the schoolhouse. A small band of
friends and supporters were there. Julia and Colin Corrigan,
obviously, with beautiful little Tash, seriously upset about
her favourite adult's departure; Pat and Gwyn; Philiy; Padraig;
Warren and Monica; Trish; Tanya. There were a couple of bottles
of the foul, chemical-tasting home-brewed wine, which gives
you a hangover before you're even tipsy. Thankfully Louise from
CAT had managed to leave some brandy, ostentatiously taking
back the bottles she'd brought as gifts, unbeknowns (the castaways
crowed) to the Lion police, filled with tea.
We stood and chatted and laughed and then champagne was served,
the last bottle of the Mail on Sunday editor's gift. A toast
was proposed. Ron made a speech, but was by now barely coherent.
He had been drinking, someone told me, since the Personal Allowance
stuff had arrived on the boat at lunchtime. 'Look at you,' he
muttered, tears glazing his eyes, as he looked round. 'Look
at you-ou-ou all ....' He collapsed into sobs and Philiy and
Tanya ran to comfort him.
Padraig was so drunk he could barely stand. Yet he somehow managed
to sing from memory the two songs he'd written about the castaways.
The Taransay Rake and Rosemary's Song. Rosemary laughed gamely
and Ron sobbed. Pat and Gwyn were dreadfully sorry to see him
leave, they told me, and I thought about how Ron had called
them 'simple people' and wondered how I was going to deal with
that one, since I liked and had respect for the Lancashire pair,
and didn't want them to think they'd been, in Peter's phrase,
When Ron had gone Julia and I steered Padraig down to the steading
kitchen for a midnight snack. 'I won't believe he's leaving
till I see him on the boat,' he told me. 'He's said he would
so many times.'
In the steading kitchen the next morning Pat was making bread
rolls and Liz and Julia were frying bacon. They really thought
Ron was going this time. Gordon didn't. He'd work out a way
to change his mind again, he said with a short laugh, as he
strode brusquely through.
The boat arrived at ten to twelve
over a flat calm sea. I trudged down to Pig Beach with my cases,
the troop of castaways ahead and behind me, all of them on tenterhooks
to see if Ron really was going to depart. Trish and Jodene were
leading Aillie the horse and Arnie the foal, for whom the boat
had originally been ordered. Ron was already there, centrally
on the beach in the light drizzle. Beside him was the Devil
Camerawoman, filming everything assiduously.
Now Ron had got on the boat and was refusing to get off. Angus
MacKay seemed uncertain what to do, shaking his head and scratching
his windswept blond hair. Eventually he decided to phone Chris
Kelly on his mobile. Down the line from Glasgow, the overstressed
producer was clearly unhappy. So was the psychotherapist. 'Will
you please tell Angus to take me home,' he cried to the general
gathering around him on the flat-bottomed landing craft. 'It's
a very difficult situation, Chris,' protested the boatman, 'and
I'm not going to manhandle him.' Behind the camera on the ramp
up from the beach, I watched as the phone was passed from Angus
to Julia Corrigan. 'Chris,' she pleaded, 'you've got to let
him go, you've got to.'
'He's saying I can't go, he's saying I can't go,' Ron told the
castaways on boat and beach, every last one of whom didn't want
him to get off the boat, stay, become a martyr, maybe change
his mind again. Meanwhile the tide was turning and Angus was
fretting. From the beach, Trish was shouting about the horse.
It needed to go now. Come on. Negotiations were continuing with
a clearly desperate Chris. With a clanging clatter of hooves
on the metal ramp of the old landing craft, Aillie and Arnie
were hauled up onto the boat. Now Tanya had put down the camera
and had the phone. I dodged past her and the snorting, stamping
horses, crouched up out of shot by the cabin. 'Take notes,'
Roger shouted over at me bossily, and for a flash of Programme
11 you can glimpse me, out of focus with my shorthand pad, as
Jodene strokes the horse and weeps in the foreground. 'Aillie,
Arnie and Ron are going,' she sobs, 'and they're the few people
who I love.' 'See ya, skinhead,' says Ron, as he pats Wee Mike
on the head. The horses continue to champ and clatter.
Tanya has passed the phone to me. 'You've got to let him go,'
I explain to Chris. 'They're all gagging to see the back of
him, but none of them can be seen to want him to go.' My pleading
is irrelevant. The horses are on by now and Angus has started
the engine. At the other end of the line Chris has bowed to
the inevitable. 'Throw the bastard off the boat into the Taransay
sound, would you?' he jokes, as I switch off the phone.
The ramp is drawn up and the boat finally heads away as the
castaways stand in a long group, solemnly waving. Monica, I
notice, hands on little Kiera's shoulders, is smiling broadly
(supportively, she was at pains to tell me later.)
Ron leans tragically against the blue rails of the old landing
craft, his brow crumpled with emotion, his mouth a flat line
as he bites his lower lip to hold back the tears. 'See you,
Mr Prater!' he shouts to Wee Mike. 'I'll have tea when I get
to the hotel, Mr Prater!' He stays at the beach end of the boat,
magnificently alone, except of course for the horses, one of
which is now crapping furiously. Now Ron holds Aillie's head
as she shakes her mane. 'Tina Turner!' he cries. I realise he
has his puppy Boo with him. 'I thought you were going to leave
him behind,' I say. 'Last minute decision,' replies Ron.
The castaways in their colourful waterproofs dwindle on the
beach. Ron keeps waving, turning with a tragic self-absorbed
look to me at the other end of the boat, before turning back
and waving some more. Angus's young lad and an older teenager
with glasses, holding the horses, shrug and smile tightly at
After fifteen minutes or so we arrive at Horgabost beach. The
lads unload the horse and foal. Then I jump off, then Ron. He
smiles a nervous smile as he looks round at the empty mainland.
He's already slipping back into camp mode. 'I'm going to shop
till I drop!' he tells the startled boys.
Up by the empty roadside we wait for Mr Cameron's taxi to take
us up to the Harris Hotel. 'You're taking this very calmly,'
Ron tells me. 'Well,' I reply with a shrug, 'it's your decision.'
He nods thoughtfully. 'Am I going to regret this?' he asks a
In the taxi he's ranting about how
terrible the island was. Liz had said to him, when he first
arrived, and they were still friends, 'Beautiful island, shame
about the people.' She was right, though now he's realised that
she, and in particular Dez, was one of those people. God there
were individuals on that island he wouldn't share a doner kebab
with, let alone an island. He's not sure what he's going to
do. One moment he's going to straight to friends in Glasgow,
the next he's going to hole up with me in the Harris Hotel.
He's not going to the papers. He's just going to slip away,
go back home, maybe go to friends in Queensland.
Eventually he decides to stay at the hotel. 'I need to be quiet,'
he says. 'I'll just put it all on Lion,' he adds. Boo is nervous.
'She's not seen cars before,' he points out.
Back at the Harris Hotel, the grey-haired, moustachioed deputy
manager is on duty at reception. His eyes widen visibly as he
sees Ron. In the little bar Ron is suddenly thrilled to be back
in civilisation. He orders a pint of Velvet and a pepper steak
with glee. He's making plans for London now. He's going to go
to the Harrods food hall and just savour and salivate and just,
uum, darling, love it. He's going to come out with so many bags
and hail two taxis home. He's going to dress up and go to the
opera and give his ears a feast. He's not going to give Lion
an interview until they pay him pro rata of his end of project
He's not even sure if he wants to give me an interview. 'I might
be shooting myself in the foot,' he says. But why, Ron, if you're
not going to the papers? 'Well, I don't know that I'm not ...'
It all depends on how Lion treats him. He wants to keep his
I buy him a second pint, then a third. We retire to the TV room
for an interview, during which we consume a fourth. Once I've
got him on the sofa with the mike clipped to his tracksuit top
he's fine. 'How much d'you think I could get for my story?'
he asks me.
Relaxed and off the island he is no longer the blank-eyed, simmering
pod-occupant, but funny and endearing once again. He wasn't
going to slag his fellow castaways off, he told me, because
he knew enough about human nature and people to know there were
reasons for everything. Stepping back from it now, he could
find forgiveness in his heart. Even for Trevor and Toby, who
had kidded me they were involved with Trish and Tammy. 'Taransay
sickness, darling. Pretending something is happening when it's
not. There is no single person on that island at the moment
getting their end away.'
His beef was with Lion, he repeated, and once again told me
about unfair contracts, tabloid TV and all. 'It is a cess pit,'
he elaborated. 'It is incestuous. I think it's destructive.'
It was a soap opera, a circus with neon lights and balloons
on sale and candyfloss. Being there felt mucky, unclean, dishonest,
like he'd been raped. He was glad to be leaving it all behind.
'Friends of mine have written to me,' he said, 'fellow actors
that I once worked with. They said, "After this you'll
be so famous you can do what you like." I wrote back and
I said, "It was a dalliance with my ego and it was a fantasy."'
The truth was, he wanted to go back to college and finish his
degree and become a therapist.
So he had done it, I said, to be on TV. No. 'I saw an advert
that said, "Have you ever thought about living on an island
for a year?" I have very strong spiritual beliefs and it
has crossed my mind in the past that I could end up in a monastery.
I suppose my beliefs are closer to Buddhism than anything, and
this is something I am going to look into. I haven't given that
side of me a life. I went out of curiosity and of course they
told me what I wanted to hear, just as they told Rambo it was
going to be a survivalist thing ...'
At 5.30, worn out, I retire to my room for a bath and a nap.
To wake blearily at 7.30. Must get up, I've arranged to have
dinner with Ron. But when I drag myself downstairs I discover
that the psychotherapist, having paid a visit to the public
bar over the road, has crashed out. Meanwhile the newspapers
have started to phone. There's a local journalist in the bar,
says Sarah the manageress. But it's only a young Tarbert lad
who joined the Stornoway Gazette a few months ago. 'It's amazing
how it gets out,' she says cheerfully. She's denying that Ron's
staying here, of course. 'But if he wanted to keep it quiet
he shouldn't have gone to the public bar ...'
In the morning, Ron's down before me. I go up to his room. 'Who
is it?' he yells through the door. When I tell him he opens
up. There've already been journalists phoning him, he says.
He's not talking to any of them.
I leave him to it and go out for the day. In the evening we
meet for dinner. Ron has had bad news about his flat. His flatmate
(to whom he's been paying rent to hold his room) has sublet
it. The landlord's throwing him out and he leaves today. Where's
he going to go? He wants his own things around him and he doesn't
want to be camping on people's floors. Meanwhile, he's had several
more calls from newspapers. There's a fellow from the Stornoway
Gazette through in the bar, not the young guy, but the older,
serious reporter, Iain Somebody-or-Other, who's covered all
the Castaway stories so far. There being no flights or ferries
into Stornoway or Tarbert on a Sunday, this guy has got instructions
from nationals to negotiate with him. Ron seems quietly delighted.
He's smiling as he comes back from talking to him. 'I've just
said I'm not talking to anybody at the moment. I wonder how
much he's authorised to pay,' Ron speculates. His eyes dart
mischievously. 'Shall I go and ask him?'
He's got the Castaway videos from
Sarah, but can't work the video. There's a girl in the TV room
watching the Wimbledon final but Ron barely seems to notice.
'I can't get it to work,' he grumbles, kneeling on the floor
fiddling with the buttons.
We stay up late, drinking and talking. Ron seems to be returning
to his old self. The depressed self-obsessive has been replaced
by the camp anecdotal charmer. 'I wonder how much Rod would
pay ...' he speculates of his old acquaintance the editor of
the Mail on Sunday.
In the morning he's down before me again. 'Oh,' he cries, 'you've
just missed a scene.' A table of eight, over the far side of
the breakfast room, had been discussing Castaway 2000. Talking
about Roger the doctor, saying what a pain in the arse he was,
and Rosemary too. 'So I got up and went over and said, "Excuse
me, you may not recognise me but I'm one of the castaways and
I've just left the island and I'd rather you didn't talk about
my friends like that while I'm eating my breakfast."' I
laugh. 'How did they take it?' They saw the point, he says,
nodding over at the now cowed group. When I return from the
Post Office an hour later Ron is sitting on the floor of the
TV lounge watching the Castaway video. He's going to sell his
story to the highest bidder, he tells me, and put the money
down on a flat.