ACTOR ROBERT Carlyle is sitting in the kitchen of his Vancouver home clutching poignant messages gathered during the Covid pandemic.

It is just 24 hours since the Trainspotting star recorded them for what will become the powerful audio for I remember: Scotland’s Covid memorial and he admits they have left their mark on him even reducing him to tears.

Mr Carlyle was approached by The Herald to become involved in the memorial project and he said he was honoured to be asked to read these memories.

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The Herald is leading a campaign to create a memorial as a fitting tribute to those who have been lost during the pandemic. Last year we appointed artist and poet Alec Finlay to design and create the memorial. He reached out to people using the I remember form, a single sentence which reflects how a person thinks or feels, and we received hundreds of responses. They will be a key element of the memorial at Glasgow’s Pollok Country Park.

HeraldScotland: Robert Carlyle has recorded the audio for I remember: Scotland's Covid memorialRobert Carlyle has recorded the audio for I remember: Scotland's Covid memorial

The memorial will involve 50 oak tree supports linked by focal points brought together through the idea of a memorial walk. The I remember audio is an integral part of the memorial and will be accessed through a QR code on the supports.

Describing the recording of the I remember audio, Carlyle said: “It was very emotional. I knew it was going to be like that as I had read through the piece a few times in preparation for reading it and I never got through it without crying.

“This is real life, people’s real thoughts and it was such a poignant thing to do. I became aware of it through The Herald and Tweeted about it and it got a tremendous response.

“This is exactly what we should be doing. It is so sad that this has happened and that so many people’s lives have been destroyed by this. The memorial is a wonderful way of marking that and saying this happened and affected people.”

HeraldScotland: Scotland's Covid memorial will be created at Pollok Country ParkScotland's Covid memorial will be created at Pollok Country Park

Reflecting on the moment when he read the passages in a studio in Vancouver, where he is now based, Carlyle said: “There is something incredibly poignant when it is boiled down to one sentence, and sometimes it is just six or seven words. There is something very pure about that; something very real about that. It was difficult because I was aware that with everyone that I read we are talking about a life lost here.

“It really hit home for me. There are several hundred I remembers and that is just a fraction of the people that have been lost, that was in my mind the whole time I was doing it. Even though there were so many on a page, I tried to take each one of them incredibly seriously. I tried to put everything into each single one to try and give it the credit and honour which each one deserves.”

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All the sentences which are gathered are anonymous, but perhaps mention a first name, but Carlyle said there was still a connection.

“When I recorded the audio it was a year to the day that a very close friend died through Covid. I couldn’t believe this was the anniversary when I came to do it, so it really hit home doubly hard for me because of that. I feel a real personal connection through this and in fact I have lost three people to Covid," he added.

“It was a project from the heart for me and was very personal to me.”

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While he might have read many movie and TV scripts, he said he'd never done anything like this and even after the recording he was still sitting with the words.

“That shows you what it meant to me, it did have quite an effect on me that is for sure,” added Carlyle. “It was more difficult than I thought it was going to be. You can’t prepare for a thing like this. You just walk in as honest as you can be and try and say these words as honestly as you can.

“We did it in a couple of hours and on the drive home from the studio and even a couple of hours after that I was very moved. It was something that had a profound effect on me.”

The Herald is currently fundraising to reach our target of £233,500 and already we have raised more than £136,000 towards Scotland’s Covid memorial. We launched the campaign to create a memorial as a tribute to those lost during the pandemic in May 2020. Glasgow City Council stepped forward with the offer of a site in Pollok Country Park and we have been working with environment charity greenspace Scotland. Our artist Alec Finlay and his team of Lucy Richards and Ken Cockburn became involved last year.

In December we were able to reveal images for the first time of one of the memorial’s key sties.

The memorial will involve a series of supports at key locations including the Riverside Grove, close to Pollok House, where work is due to start soon. And it will be supports at this site and others where people will be able to sit and listen to the 30-minute audio as they reflect on what they have been through.

HeraldScotland: Memorial supports will be close to Pollok HouseMemorial supports will be close to Pollok House

The Full Monty actor hopes that the voice running along with the physical memorial will be a reminder of what has happened.

“I hope the voice going along with it is a reminder of what has happened and the effect it has had on people,” he added. “Like it did to me, it hits home when you hear these simple, simple words.

“There was one very simple I remember and perhaps a first name and you can’t help but let your mind go to that person and you go to the person that gave us that memory. It is a very immediate thing and that is why it should work so well.

“The expression I remember reminds me a little bit of Lest We Forget which we will hear a lot of at Remembrance Day. There’s something very powerful about that three word saying and similarly there is a two word sentence in I remember. It has got a tremendous resonance.”

HeraldScotland: Memorial artist Alec Finlay at Pollok Country ParkMemorial artist Alec Finlay at Pollok Country Park

For Glasgow-born Carlyle, home for the past few years has been on the west coast of Canada in British Columbia.

While the city didn’t go into full lockdown, there has been an impact for Carlyle practically when filming on sets and travelling for work.

“There are times when I have been working and we are being tested three times a week and there is a worry and added stress,” he added. “Every second day you are waiting for that negative result to come in. I think the pandemic has made things incredibly difficult for everyone’s industry and entertainment has been no different.”

He added he believes it is very important to remember and that there is no time like the present. It is now more than 20 months since The Herald launched the idea of creating a place to remember those lost to covid and the pain of not being able to grieve properly has been difficult for many.

“I think there is no better time than the present to remember. I think it is now while it is fresh in people’s minds,” Carlyle added. “Now is the time you want to honour that in some way.”

HeraldScotland: Robert Carlyle reprised his role of Begbie in Trainspotting 2 in 2017Robert Carlyle reprised his role of Begbie in Trainspotting 2 in 2017

With travel restrictions in place it meant a bit more time was spent at home and even the former James Bond villain, he played Renard in The World is Not Enough, couldn’t escape home schooling.

 

Carlyle added: “It was nice to be together as a family. We are over here in Vancouver which was very different as well. It was strange as we watched it happening from China, Italy, and you could see the wave as they call it coming towards you.

“It was a different perspective we had on it from over here. Although British Columbia didn’t go into full lockdown, it was partial lockdown, schools were off and we were home schooling.

“It was a strange experience. I remember hearing the terrible things from Italy and we would all light candles and put them in the windows at night. There was an atmosphere in the house - a kind of darkness. There was a coming together for us. We are very close as a family anyway, but it was lovely to have that time together.

“In the first part of the pandemic I remember travelling through Vancouver airport and there was just no one there. You felt like you were in a movie, post-apocalyptic. Life imitating art and vice versa. Coming back forward between Canada and the UK at that time meant two weeks quarantine and being put up in government hotels which was an odd experience.”

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Our memorial artist Mr Finlay was delighted when Carlyle agreed to read the I remember audio adding it was an emotional time during recording.

“Robert read amazingly,” he said: “We both broke down in tears quite a few times. It brought home to me how moving the text is and how much it will affect people.”

Mr Finlay said it was a dream that Carlyle, who gave his time for free, was brining it together.

He added: “The sense of community that the memories embody makes this work unique as a response to the pandemic, as it has such a range of personal experiences and responses and, heard together, they become akin to a dramatic chorus that expresses what we’ve lived through. When I saw the unity in the text – the paradox of a unity that is made up of a variety – I wanted to find a voice that people know and trust, someone who has people’s respect as an artist, but who they still see as one of their own.

"That way, when they hear the words they won’t be coming down, as if from a stage, but rather, will land in their ears, as if a close friend was speaking. The text is such a blend of heartbreaking loss, pathos, humour, hurt, anger, endurance, and healing, which I've tried to shape into a narrative, even though the pandemic goes on. It’s a dream for me that Robert will be the one to bring people’s words it to life.”