Nicholas Wedgwood Evans: THE TRUE STORY …
By J. MARSHALL CRAIG
BEVERLY HILLS, CA – The time has come for Nick Evans the actor to let the world meet Nicholas Wedgwood Evans the character.
Or should that be characters? Thespian, restaurateur, concert promoter, multi-media entrepreneur, pioneer of third-world cellular communications, and globe-circling captain of his own yacht: They’re all the son of the world-renowned stage and screen actor Michael Evans (Gigi, My Fair Lady and The Young and the Restless). Nick grew up in 1960s L.A. ~ which meant hippies, free love, wide-eyed exuberance and such seemingly everyday things like The Doors opening for Arthur Lee at one of Nick’s North Hollywood High school dances. It meant surfing, cruising Malibu and hitchhiking up to Nicholas Wedgwood Evans to see The Grateful Dead … smoking dope with weirdo “Topanga Charlie” (a couple of years later known to the world as Charles Manson).
Nick began following in his father’s footsteps, appearing on both stage and screen, and met with admirable success but few jobs. He found his calling behind the scenes. And in the case of sailing around the world for six years, beyond the sight of land.
“I’ve been thinking about this for years,” Evans says in his stylish Beverly Hills pied-à-terre, adored with collected artifacts and souvenirs from his world travels – including few choice samples of rare handmade china from his Wedgwood ancestry) and, he humbly acknowledges, an exceptional portrait of him done by Rolling Stones guitarist (and acclaimed painter) Ronnie Wood.
“I think I’ve got some pretty good stories to tell. Neither my brother nor I have any kids … this is the end of the line for my family.”
Not that the end is anywhere near for Evans: The sixtysomething keeps in such good shape that he beats nearly every opponent he meets on his tennis court. Including, sometimes, his former Wimbledon-veteran tennis coach.
Like every young man his age in 1969, just graduated from high school, a draft card arrived in the mail one day. His horrified father packed up his son and promptly enrolled him in the Guildford School of Acting drama school in Surrey and put him on a boat back to his native England. No way was Michael Evans going to have his British son shipped over to be killed in Vietnam.
“That saved my life in more ways than one,” Nick says. “Those were great, crazy days and we were all having the time of our lives, but things started to get out of hand in L.A. I had no direction, didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I was getting caught up in some weird shit, man.
“My girlfriend was this really cool chick named Nancy Pitman. Suddenly, she disappeared. She’d been introduced to Charlie and Tex Watson and ‘The Family.’ Nancy’s parents called me and asked me to find her. I really tried to get her out of there but I couldn’t do anything. By this time Charlie and I had a history. It was simply not a good scene. I split. And, what, a year later my former girlfriend’s in prison for murder. It was so tragic.”
When asked more about his “history” with Manson, Evans smiles and says, “buy my book. It will all be in there.”
Once back in England, Evans found his footing. After a year at the highly regarded Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and respectable notices in several large productions and three BBC television shows, he yearned to be a part of the crowd instead of a performer for it.
“I fell in love with this amazing girl, Brigitte. She was a German model who also worked as an assistant to Vidal Sassoon. In the beginning, she helped me open a stall in High Street Kensington Market, selling velvet jackets and all that kinda stuff to rock people. I laughed when I first saw Austin Powers, ‘cause I thought, ‘he could have bought all those clothes from me!’ ”
As Evans became closer to his celebrity clients, he reached out to Ringo Starr and Keith Moon with the idea of opening a nightclub.
“At that time there was almost nowhere in London where you could get a drink after 11 o’clock,” Nick says. “There was the Scotch of St. James, the Hard Rock … there were five places in all, I think. But for a city that size in the height of its rock-and-roll boom, the stars were clamoring for a place they could be until three or four in the morning.”
Ringo and Moon opened their phone books and sent out invites. From opening night, The Last Resort, at 294 Fulham Road, was THE place to be. It became a second home to Anita Pallenburg and Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Rod Stewart, Steve Marriot, Ian MacLagan, and the hottest horn section in rock and roll, Jim Price and Bobby Keys. Frequent patron David Bowie tended bar in drag as his wife Angie sweated it out on the dance floor.
Evans himself became a fixture on London’s hottest, hippest scene and was dubbed “American Nicky” by his superstar clients and friends.
But after several years, the constant party and all the hard work had exhausted Evans – as had the punitive British taxes.
“I couldn’t take it anymore,” he says. “It was a dream and the time of my life but it got to be too much and wasn’t fun anymore. I began to dread going to work and all I wanted to do was move to France and take a year off. So I did. I sold my interest in the club to partners Charlie Smith and Richard Burden and immediately flew to Paris.”
Evans began to reinvent himself and went to work on his dream of becoming a rock and roll concert promoter. “It wasn’t that big of a challenge,” he says, “because I knew just about everyone in the business. They all liked and trusted me and within the year I had started promoting everyone from Wings to Queen and Miles Davis.”
Having been introduced to South America on a vacation with Rolling Stone pal Mick Taylor, he fell in love with Rio, and relocated there – where some of the days’ hugest rock concerts were put on.
“I was in Brazil when I first started to hear about how things were getting hairy at the club.”
About a year after Evans sold his interest in The Last Resort and moved away from Britain, an Irish man was arrested in Sydney carrying a few thousand hits of LSD from London. He told police he was just a courier – and named The Last Resort owner Burden as the kingpin. The Australian police passed on the information to the UK police. It was a small tip in a much larger, Britain-wide drug sting called Operation Julie. By 1977 there were more than 800 police officers from 11 different law enforcement agencies involved. On the morning of March 26, 1977, after nearly three years of surveillance, the forces swept in on 87 locations all over England. More than 100 people were arrested and enough LSD to make 6.5 million ‘tabs’ (with a street value of £6.5M) was seized. Eventually £800,000 was discovered in Swiss bank accounts.
The 15 ringleaders were sentenced to a combined 120 years in jail. For his part, Richard Burden got six years.
Nick Evans was never even a suspect.
But his name still made the papers, since he was the founder of The Last Resort.
“That absolutely broke my heart,” Evans says. “The newspaper stories, the whole shocking scandal. I mean, of course I had nothing to do with it and had been out of there for more than a year, but my name still cropped up. It was absolutely devastating … my grandfather Josiah Wedgwood – the former manager of the Bank of England – reading his grandson’s name in the paper just because this happened at an establishment I used to own.”
Subsequent allegations that Evans’ phone was tapped and even that there was a warrant out for his arrest began to surface.
“All lies,” he says, “but once it’s in the papers people believe what they want to believe. It drowned my fond memories and destroyed such a great legacy of such a fabulous time and place. I get very angry when I think about it – maybe even more so now with the Internet and anyone who Goggles me can trip upon such slanderous untruths.
“That hurts. It’s one reason I’m writing my book – to set the record straight for once and for all.”
And the other reasons?
“Well … when I got tipped off that the Brazilian death squads had me on their radar to kidnap and shake down because of all the rock promotion money. I had all my cash converted into diamonds, emeralds and rubies and went straight to the airport and caught a flight to San Diego! That’s a pretty cool story.”
Then there is the sailing. Evans says he’s keeping most of his six-year journey around the planet a secret for his book ~ but promises it will be a page-turner.
“I had sailed all my life, and after the club and the music and other business ventures, I had quite a lot of money saved up, so it was time to turn it over to my OTHER passion: Sailing. I bought the Midnight Rambler … a Swan 46-foot … hull #9, manufactured in Finland. She was the Rolls Royce of racing sailboats. It was a gypsy dream of mine to sail around the world, and we set out from Monte Carlo…”
Along the way, Evans teases, there were pirates, a near-mutiny from a crew member, a near-fatal capsize from a 100-foot rogue wave in the Indian Ocean’s treacherous “Roaring Forties” seas that crippled the boat.
“We were adrift for eight days,” Nick says. “Remember, this was before GPS and satellites. We were 2,500 miles from the coast of Africa in the middle of the Indian Ocean on a 12,500-mile journey to Perth, Australia. My mast and main sail were gone but the crew and I managed to rig a slight sail and we limped to a supposedly deserted island that I knew was close because of sea birds overhead. Not only was it not deserted but it was a massive, secret spy naval installation. They were not happy to see us coming.
“What happened next … I’m saving for the book!”
Evans won’t reveal the title of his memoir but promises that it will be published sometime in early 2016.