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Wonderful book, written from the heart.
on 13 November 2013
This wonderfully written book finally answers a question on the lips of anyone who ever asked: "Whatever happened to Bobby Henrey?" Bobby (now Robert) Henrey has lived a life full of amazing good luck, tinged with heartbreak and the appalling tragedy of losing his teenage daughter, who died in his arms. The only child of best selling writers Robert and Madeleine Henrey, he was born in June, 1939, at his parents farmhouse in Normandy on the cusp of World War II and, as the Germans invaded France and swept towards the Normandy coast eleven months later, he and his parents were lucky to be able to board the last ship sailing for England. They barely made it, for the Luftwaffe attacked the ship and tried to sink it. The Bobby Henrey story may well have ended there, but it seems that God had other plans for Bobby. Settling in a little flat in Piccadilly, London, Bobby and his parents survived the Blitz and he was the only child to be living in central London when all the others had been evacuated. During his early childhood, he had no contact with other children and was surrounded by adults. He didn't go to school, either, his parents preferring to teach him at home.
In the summer of 1947, through a chain of amazing circumstances you will read about in the book, the then eight years old Bobby was chosen for the pivotal role of Phillipe, the son of the French ambassador in London in Carol Reed's new film "The Fallen Idol". We've all heard stories about one particular boy being chosen from hundreds of others for an important part in a film, but Carol Reed only interviewed Bobby and never saw another child. As soon as he saw the boy, he knew that Bobby was Phillipe and he was right. Bobby, having been brought up in France and England, spoke English with a liquid French accent, which the part called for and when the film was released in the autumn of 1948, Bobby caused an absolute sensation. The critics raved over the astounding performance from a boy who previously hadn't acted in so much as a school nativity play, but successfully carried the whole film on his eight years old shoulders. He became a star overnight and people flocked to cinemas all over the country to see the boy wonder, heralded as the greatest kid since Jackie Coogan.
This early experience of child super stardom was to have unforeseen consequences. When he was 11 years old, Bobby started school and this was a major culture shock for him. Not only because he had been a film star of two feature films (the other one being "The Wonder Kid"), but also because he had lived an entirely different life to everyone else there. He was gentle; fey; highly intelligent and `different'. School bullies target other children who are `different' and Bobby was bullied terribly. Because he had never played games with other children, he was hopeless at sport and this made things even worse. Later on, he blamed all this on being in "The Fallen Idol" and for many years refused to discuss the film. This book details his lifelong battle to come to terms with being such a famous child star and his final acceptance of it.
It is so interesting and so well written, that I could hardly put it down until I had finished reading it and I highly recommend it. I have recently had the honour of meeting Robert at the launch of this book and all I can say is that he is just as charming now as he was as a child star. In fact, I was already a big fan before I met him and now I'm an even bigger one!