Veteran St Helena broadcaster Anthony ‘Tony’ Leo was on board for the RMS St Helena’s final voyage to the UK in May/June 2016. Now, one year on, he is ready to share the story of the RMS and her crew with the world in his latest film, ‘The Last Farewell’.
Before the launch of his documentary on Saturday 15 July, we sat down with him to get to know the man behind the camera.
So who is Tony Leo, tell us a little bit about yourself
I was born on St Helena and went to school here. I’ve been on the island for 73 years. In 1982 I did a six month course in broadcasting at the National Broadcasting School in London. When I came back I worked for the St Helena Radio Station, retiring in 2002. I have been in radio for about 30 years altogether.
Tony then and now
What inspired you to get into video production?
It was in 1990 when I took up videography. My first attempt was with a borrowed camera that was a big shoulder-held Mitsubishi camera from Nick Thorpe. I worked alongside the late John Beadon who took a lot of 8mm cine films and I was interested in the way it was done, how it looked, and sending it overseas to get it processed before you could really see it. I watched him whilst I was in radio and thought to myself ‘I would like to be able to do that’. Then at a Queen’s Birthday celebration at Plantation House I borrowed the camera from Nick and everyone saw that I was filming and they all wanted a copy, so I gave it to one and then others wanted it; and I thought this could be a business, so I started from there.
When did you come up with the idea for a film about the RMS St Helena?
It was in 2015 when they announced that the RMS was going to do her voyage up to the UK. They started selling tickets at Solomon’s Shipping Agents and I thought it would be a great way to celebrate my wedding anniversary, and I decided not to tell my wife. It was nearly time for us to go when I thought it would be nice to take my camera and capture something. So that, I think, must have come about a month before we left, and I sat down and I slept on it and I thought, right, if I’m going to take my camera just to capture a little bit, I might as well do something that’s worthwhile.
I knew what my story line would be so I started from there. In hindsight, I should have captured the morning when they sold tickets as people were there at 4am or 6am, and I should have captured that queue for the start of the film. Now the start of the film is actually when people are getting their baggage tickets at Solomons.
How long did it take you to edit it down to the final format?
I started with five and a half hours and I just kept editing it to an hour and a half, and later down to an hour, and now 58 minutes. It went through an extensive editing process with quite a few people seeing it and commenting on it. This took six months.
Where can you buy a copy of the Last Farewell?
For those on St Helena who would like a copy, they can contact me at home. Anyone off-island who would like to purchase a copy can visit Reach Back St Helena.
I’ve filmed over 300 weddings. I’ve worked with the Education Department. For five years I filmed the Basil Read project. I have also done some pieces for television and St Helena Government. But the highlight of all of my filming must have been the opening of the Television Service on St Helena because it was live. Governor Hoole opened the whole system and I was at the Briars and filmed him talking and the island could see everything because it was live. I’ll always remember that.
I don’t know. I have material that I haven’t used yet, all to do with the RMS St Helena. The finale of The Last Farewell has the Festival of Lights where the RMS St Helena float passed the RMS St Helena in the harbour. I have lots of material like this.
I have material of personnel both past and present that worked on the RMS St Helena. Let us not forget that the RMS is still running, so what’s going to happen at the end of it, I don’t know. But what I would like to see happen is, when the RMS leaves St Helena for the last time, I would like as many people as possible to take part in a short ceremony at the Customs building and then the RMS crew walk off, board the RMS St Helena and sail off. I think that could be another great film.
Watch the trailer for the Last Farewell: