Drawing: Billy Hayes in Riding the Midnight Express

billy hayesIn 1970, American student Billy Hayes was caught with two kilograms of hashish at Istanbul airport and sentenced to four years imprisonment. Weeks from his release, the Turkish High Court changed his charge from ‘possession’ to ‘smuggling’ and increased the  sentence to ‘life’. In 1975 he made a dramatic escape in a rowboat from his incarceration on the island prison to Greece, where he was interrogated and deported back to the States and freedom. He went from criminal to counterculture hero,recounting his experiences in the book, ‘Midnight Express’, which was also adapted into the classic and controversial 1978 film of the same title. Directed by Alan Parker, the screenplay was written by Oliver Stone, who went on to win his first Oscar for the adaption. He fictionalised parts of the book and according to Billy, missed the most exciting segment of the story-the daring escape. The violent and uncivilised portrayal of Turkey saw a 90 per cent drop in the country’s tourism numbers and Billy Hayes became public enemy number 1 in that country. He has spent the last thirty years trying to deal with the perception of the film. After a successful off Broadway run with his one-man show, ‘RIDING THE MIDNIGHT EXPRESS’ , Billy has bought it to the Soho Theatre in London. “As much as I like the film, I’ve always had problems with it and I’m so delighted to really tell my story, my way with my words’, he said. In 2007,he finally returned to Turkey and offered a public apology. Oliver Stone did likewise. I met Billy at the Soho this week,where he signed my sketch. The show finishes on Sunday 13 April, 2014.

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