Steel living big screen dream


It’s a long way from Tea Street in Galashiels to the bright lights of London and directing some of the best-known faces in the British film industry.

But while he might now be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Steven Berkoff and Danny Dyer, William Steel remains proud of his Borders roots.

For more than 30 years, Billy, as he is better known to family and friends, has plied his craft as both an actor and for the last four years, as a director and writer for the big screen.

Later this year, his first feature film, The Rapture, which he has both written and directed, will be released.

Click here to see a trailer, created by the director, exclusively for Southern Reporter readers

An intense and surreal thriller, its story is woven around a plot by an international art thief, played by Martin Kemp, and a corrupt politician, played by Phil Davis, to steal an ancient religious artefact known as the Spear of Destiny - the spear that was used to pierce the side of Christ at the crucifixion.

As members of a secret society, they plan to use the spear to fulfil an ancient prophecy, by extracting DNA from the blood of Christ.

Following a trail of coded clues laid down by the Knights Templar centuries before,, they enlist the help of bitter scientist Professor Anderson (Gary Kemp) and his assistant (Jamie Murray), to use the DNA to hasten the apocalypse by creating a laboratory clone.

Working against them, and directed by the mysterious Controller (Steven Berkoff), are agents of the Vatican and a gang of mercenary free runners led by Wraith (Danny Dyer).

After being educated locally in Galashiels, Steel went on to study with the Scottish Youth Theatre and at The Barbican in London.

“I spent 32, nearly 33, years working as an actor on the stage, and in film and television and I made the switch to directing and writing because I’d pretty much achieved what I’d wanted,” he told The Southern this week, from his home in London’s Highgate.

“I didn’t really want the big fame stuff as I’d been brought up in that kind of world for part of my life,” explained Steel, who is the adopted son of former Borders MP and Lib Dem leader David Steel - now Lord Steel of Aikwood - and his wife, Judy.

Steel occasionally makes it back to his native Borders, although admits it is not as often as he would like.

“There’s a lot happening in the acting and creative industries in Scotland now but when I was younger my career just took me south - it’s just the way it was. You have to go where the work is.

“But I when I finally retire, my plan has always been to move back to the Borders.

“I’ve always loved the Borders and it’s the only place I know that’s never really changed in nature and that’s quite special.”

Now in pre-production of the next in the trilogy of films of which The Rapture is the first, Steel also has several other projects on the go.

One of these is a film for television on Ettrick Shepherd James Hogg’s poem, Kilmeny, which Steel wants to shoot in the Borders.

“I’m in the process of raising money for that. I’ve always loved the works of Hogg and think he deserves much wider recognition than he gets,” said Steel.

“I’ve used my own money so far on taking the project forward and developing it, but still need to raise another £10,000 to bring it to fruition.

“I’ve always loved Kimeny. It’s a wonderful poem.”

Asked if he is hoping one day to write or direct a smash hit blockbuster of a film, Steel says that’s not the point.

“The most important thing is to be true to yourself, to your own heart. That’s what brings the greatest contentment.

“I love directing, but it’s the writing part that 
I get the biggest buzz 
from. There’s nothing like holding a finished manuscript, that you have created from scratch, in your hands. It’s just a magical feeling.”

Steel admits the professional world he inhabits can turn heads, with all its fame and money, but says what keeps his feet firmly on the ground are his six children, aged from three to 26.

“The most important thing are my kids - in the end, that’s what life is all about.”