Born: May 25, 1928;

Died: October 6, 2016

MIKE Tomkies, who has died aged 88, drank with Lee Marvin, reputedly saved Elvis Presley’s life on a carousel and discussed loneliness with Brigitte Bardot and the meaning of life with John Wayne. He socialised with the stars in Hollywood, Vegas and Monte Carlo, slept with some of them and almost married the actress Alexandra Bastedo, once regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the world.

When that relationship faltered, he turned his back on the hedonistic jet-set lifestyle and went to live in the wilderness, first in Canada and then in the Scottish Highlands, with just pet dogs and wild animals for company.

He wrote about his life with bears and eagles, badgers and wildcats, in a series of best-selling books, including Alone in the Wilderness (1977) and A Last Wild Place (1984).

By the time I met him in 1992 he was living in a forest in the Scottish Borders, six miles from the nearest road, without phone, gas or electricity. He was a lean and lanky figure in combat fatigues, ruggedly handsome, with a mop of tangled hair, grey beard, but no moustache. He looked more than a little like Abraham Lincoln.

The son of a travelling salesman, John Michael Stewart Tomkies was born in Nottingham in 1928. His mother Bunty, whose family were from Islay, died giving birth to his sister when he was four. He had a difficult relationship with a violent father. They moved home repeatedly and he attended a series of different schools, where he struggled to fit in.

He spent much of his childhood alone on the South Downs, watching jays, magpies and dragonflies, which he thought were like helicopters. At 17 he left home after a row with his father, enlisted in the Coldstream Guards for 12 years and served in Palestine.

He was standing next to his best friend when a sniper blew half his head off. After buying himself out of the Army, he worked in local newspapers and graduated to Fleet Street as a crime reporter at the Sunday Mirror. He was nicknamed “The Mountie”, because he always got his man.

Film star Ava Gardner was in town, but had not given any interviews since her divorce from Frank Sinatra. Someone decided that if anyone could get to her it would be Tomkies. “I found out that she liked yellow roses, so I sent her yellow roses and a poem by Garcia Lorca,” he recalled.

To cut a long story short, he got his interview and a new career that took him all over the world. “I was really mixing it with the high life, drinking with all these people, and I had taken quite a few of them to bed,” he said. His lovers included the Hungarian actress Eva Bartok, who starred with Burt Lancaster in The Crimson Pirate (1952) and also dated Sinatra.

He was going to marry Alexandra Bastedo, but her contract for The Champions (1968-69) prohibited her from getting married for three years. So he went to Canada and built a log cabin on the Pacific coast with the aim of writing the “Great British Novel”.

Bastedo was in tears when he left, begging him not to go, and the solitude was tough for a man who had never been alone for more than a weekend. He wrote a novel, but could not find a publisher.

Three and a half years after going to Canada, and after some uncomfortably close encounters with grizzly bears, Tomkies came back to England and moved in with Bastedo in Knightsbridge, but it did not work out. “You can’t go back to women,” he said.

He and Bastedo kept in touch and remained friends. She noted on her own blog that he came to visit her several times at the animal sanctuary she ran. He never married.

While in Canada he had found a copy of Ring of Bright Water (1960) on a rubbish dump. Inspired by Gavin Maxwell’s account of life in the West Highlands, Tomkies moved into a dilapidated croft house on Eilean Shona, a little tidal island in Loch Moidart.

He would go down to London occasionally to do star interviews and he wrote biographies of John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. Then he began writing about his experiences of living up close and personal with nature in Canada and Scotland.

He moved from Eilean Shona to an isolated croft on Loch Shiel, which was accessible only by boat or by foot. He spent 14 years there, rescued injured animals and bred wildcats and returned them to the wild. He was patron of the Scottish Wildcat Association and an honorary fellow of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.

Tomkies also lived for a while in Spain, before moving to the Scottish Borders. Latterly he ran a small nature reserve in Sussex, which is where he collapsed and died. He had been suffering from pneumonia and prostate cancer.

He was without doubt a much more interesting man to interview and spend time with than almost any big-name Hollywood star.