Oh Man, here's an isle that the stars just Love.
THE Manx people like to fly the flag. Not the Union Jack, mind - the Isle of Man is not part of the UK but has its own 1,000-year-old government, the Tynwald, while the Queen reigns as Lord of Mann.
The distinctive red flag bearing the silver-armoured Three Legs of Mann, all joined at the hip, flutters in the breeze from every other building.
Its inscription proudly declares, "whichever way you throw me I stand" - and that has remained trueth roughout the turbulent history of this gem cast adrift in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland, Lancashire, Cumbria, North Wales and Galloway in Scotland.
Folklore has it that from the summit of the highest mountain, Snaefell, on a clear day, you can see England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Heaven and Neptune.
Nowadays you're far more likely to spot a famous actor or actress, as the island has built its reputation as Britain's answer to Hollywood.
If I'd visited the capital Douglas this spring, I could have bumped into Renee Zellweger as she took her daily run along the beach, or heard Ewan McGregor revving up his classic motorcycle.
The pair were starring in Miss Potter, due for release in January - one of 82 big-name films or TV dramas that have been shot on the island in the past 11 years.
John Malkovich, whose film with Johnny Depp, The Libertine, was rescued at the 11th hour by the Manx film people, is just one high-profile player who has taken advantage of the Manx government's offer to pay a quarter of the film's budget if most of the movie is shot on the island. And Malkovich's demand for 300 naked extras was met by islanders.
It's a win-win situation for the island - film-makers hire local crews, stay in local hotels, and spend the Isle of Man's own pound notes in the shops. Plus the island gets a huge injection of glamour.
But according to Isle of Man Film's development manager Hilary Dugdale, locals are fairly unexcited by the celebrities in their midst.
"I've spotted Tim Bur ton arm-in-arm with Helen Bonham Carter strolling around M&S in Douglas, and nobody was asking them for autographs," she says. "Nobody batted an eyelid."
Likewise, when Guy Ritchie was filming Revolver he'd spend his evenings drinking with the locals in Douglas watering-hole The Prospect, and Bill Nighy, who's filmed there a number of times, has said he adores the island.
The island's best-loved famous resident, Norman Wisdom, now 91, is honoured with his own statue outside Douglas library.
Nearby, a bronze George Formby is leaning against a lamp-post with his ukulele. And now Bee Gee Robin Gibb has announced his return to the island of his birth.
However not everyone has been a hit with islanders. Jeremy Clarkson, an enthusiastic supporter of the isle's lack of a maximum speed limit, upset locals by fencing off the coast around his lighthouse home with barbed wire to deter what he called "militant dogwalkers". And apparently one former resident, racing driver Nigel Mansell, didn't do himself any favours with neighbours by flying his helicopter early on Sunday mornings.
The latest big movie hope for Isle of Man Film is Stormbreaker - with Alex Pettyfer as teenage "James Bond-cum-Harry Potter" Alex Rider.
Despite starring heavyweights such as Ewan McGregor, Mickey Rourke, Stephen Fry, Robbie Coltrane, Bill Nighy and Jimmy Carr, the movie wasn't a box-office smash. But the just-out DVD and game could win more people over, and there's an extra incentive to visit the isle, following an Alex Rider Trail Map, and cracking a code to win prizes.
The Manx government now co-owns the film rights to all six of Anthony Horowitz's best-selling Alex Rider books, and has its fingers firmly crossed for sequels.
The island does period locations spectacularly well - from intact medieval sites such as Castle Rushen in the island's ancient capital Castletown, to the pains taking lyre stored Victorian Gaiety Theatre in Douglas. The neighbouring Villa Marina has done the same in Edwardian fashion. In the summer, horse-drawn trams still run along Douglas's twomile promenade, there are Victorian electric and steam railways, and the giant Laxey water-wheel still turns.
Yet Stormbreaker is full of futuristic sights. The first greets me as the plane lands, after a bumpy ride through heavy rain-clouds, at the modern Ronaldsway Airport.
On the way from the airport to Douglas - often referred to by locals by its Gaelic name Doolish - we pass a bizarre metal tower. This is the island's radical, eco-friendly Waste To Energy incinerator-cum-power plant, which doubled as Mickey Rourke's archvillain Darrius Sayle's factor y in the film.
Across the island, the picturesque, sleepy harbour of Port Erin was used for the film's first action scene - a motorcycle chase. Part of the famous TT motorcycle course was used for a car-chase. And the island's wild centre became an SAS training camp.
The Isle of Man is at its most rugged in the west. Here you'll find the Bradda Hills, cliffs seen in the opening scene of Waking Ned, and at its southern tip, the Calf of Man, a tiny island cut off from the headland by dangerous currents.
Frequented by seals and basking sharks, the nature reserve, along with coves on the main island, was used as the location for a 1999 adaptation of Treasure Island, starring Jack Palance as Long John Silver.
The UFO-shaped new restaurant at The Sound, overlooking the Calf, was apparently visited by Renee and Ewan. We'd already feasted on Manx lamb cutlets and creamy local Davisons ice cream at another visitor centre restaurant, just up the coast at Niarbyl, which has been open for a year.
The southern port of Castletown's ancient market square was filled with WW2 troops and swastika flags for the TV series Island At War (actually meant to be a semi-fictitious Channel Island).
Here, as in Douglas, the tiny west coast city of Peel - which boasts two cathedrals, one a ruin within the castle grounds - Ramsey, Port Erin and Port St Mary, many of the hotels and boarding houses that once welcomed Lancashire mill-owners and other holidaymakers have been converted for residential use.
The establishments that have stayed the course have kept their grand exteriors and been modernised inside. The four-star Regency Hotel in Douglas is where many stars stay, but it's fully booked so I'm in the Claremont, along the town's Loch Promenade, the venue of choice for film crews.
It's a superior three-star hotel, and I get a room with sea views. Its slightly pretentious restaurant, Coast, is popular with the film set, as is the trendy Bar George, up Hill Street.
But the best place to eat - with prices to match the quality - is Tanroagan Seafood Restaurant (01624 612355) along the Ridgeway in Douglas.
I get my first taste of the island delicacy, queenies (queen scallops), served in a parmesan tartlet with bacon (cost pounds 7.50) as a starter. When the maitre'd came over with a wriggling lobster, I couldn't resist having that for the main (served with dill and lemon butter, and potatoes, pounds 22).
The restaurant is a small place popular with the chattering classes, in contrast to the town's warm and welcoming pubs, such as The Albert, The Prospect and Heron & Brearley.
Here you can sip on Manx ales, brewed under strict purity laws - Okells is the best known.
There was so much to see that I didn't get around to sampling the usual Isle of Man clichAs - a kipper, or a motorbike at crazy speeds on the TT course (the event's centenary is next summer).
And I didn't spot a tail-less Manx cat nor a Manx four-horned Loaghtan sheep, nor a polecat or wallaby (yes, they live wild on the isle).
But the Isle of Man won me over anyway with its individual quirks, fascinating Viking and Celtic heritage, gentle pace, fairy folklore, easy charm and stunning vistas.
It seems the same might be the case for the A-listers. They'd be hardpushed to find anywhere to top up their botox or collagen, and the nightlife is not quite as happening as in LA or London.
Notorious hellraiser Mickey Rourke was apparently worried about how he'd pass the time without partying - yet he still came back for a second visit after making Shergar.
"I think the island mellowed him," says my source from the film commission. WHAT'S THE DEAL?
THE Steam Packet Company (01624 661661, www.steam-packet.com) sails fro m Heysham, Lancs, and Liverpool from about pounds 30 return for foot passengers. Or fly with Euromanx (www.euromanx.com) or BA (08708 509850, www.ba.com), from pounds 70 return.
THE Claremont Hotel in Douglas (01624 698800, www.sleepwellhotels.com) costs from pounds 70 per room per night.
FOR more information log on to www.visitisleofman.com, www.isleofmanfilm.com and www.gov.im
On location... Alex Pettyfer (Stormbreaker), James Nesbitt (Waking Ned) and McGregor and Zellweger (Miss Potter)' The Sound restaurant with its amazing views was a haunt of Renee and Ewan' Norman Wisdom, 91, lives on island' The Isle of Man flag' One of the island's thatched cottages' Catch the ferry to the island's capital Douglas Pictures: WOLRD PICTURES/IMAGE NET/BWP MEDIA/DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM AND LEISURE' ISLE OF MAN/ALAMY REX
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Sunday Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Dec 3, 2006|
|Previous Article:||TRAVEL UPDATE.|
|Next Article:||INSIDE GUIDE; Need expert advice on your hols?|