Actor Julian Sands is due to join his four brothers for their regular weekly pub meeting in their native Yorkshire in two days. But there is little doubt now — even as the family’s mood oscillates between hope and fear — that he will be absent.
It is two weeks since Julian, 65, whose starring role in the 1985 film A Room With A View earned him international acclaim, disappeared while climbing in the treacherous, snow-bound San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles. The British actor lives near by with his second wife and their two daughters.
This week, as police in California resumed their search for him from the air, after deadly storms hampered their earlier efforts, the family praised their heroism.
Meanwhile, in Yorkshire, Julian’s brother Nick, 66, whose home is close to Gargrave, the picturesque village on the verge of the Dales where three of the Sands brothers were raised, is now coming to terms with the fact that the brother with whom he shared a boyhood bedroom and the closest of fraternal bonds will not make their Monday Club reunion.
Pictured from left to right: Julian Sands, Jeremy, Quentin, mum Brenda, Robin, Nick Sands in the 1980s
Julian Sands is pictured sitting on a peak of the Weisshorn mountain in the Swiss Alps
Each week, the four UK-based Sands brothers: Nick, Robin, Jeremy and Quentin — who live a short drive from each other in Yorkshire — meet for a drink, and sometimes a meal, near Gargrave.
‘And at least three times a year, bless him, Julian makes sure he comes home to see us, just for the one night,’ says Nick. ‘He gets the train up from London to Skipton, then never wants a lift to Gargrave. Instead, he walks the five miles over our local hill, Sharp Haw, which looks down on our village, then breezes through the front door of my office there.
‘We used to play on Sharp Haw in the bracken, exploring the caves as kids. It’s a lovely walk from Gargrave or Skipton, with spectacular views — we’ve been doing it since we were lads — and nothing would please me more now than seeing Julian striding down that hill again to great fanfare.’
The Sands family is living in limbo. The pendulum swing of their emotions — from resignation to optimism — is an endless torture. They do not know what has happened to Julian.
In the past week, Nick has found himself referring to his brother in the past tense. It is his strategy for coping with the fact that his younger sibling — separated from him by a year — could have perished.
‘I’m the most positive person there is and, at first, I thought he must have hunkered down in a cave and was just keeping out of the weather; that he’d walk out when it was better. He is a passionate, experienced hiker. He set out on Friday, January 13, with his ice axe, crampons and food for a day. He was expected home that evening.
Pictured: Julian in the middle, then (clockwise from left), Nick Sands, Jeremy, Robin, and Quentin in bobble hat in 1962
Pictured from left: Julian Sands is seen with his brothers Quentin, Jeremy, Nick and Robin at a pub in Britain
‘But the next day, I heard that he hadn’t returned home, that he’d gone missing on Mount Baldy, the most challenging peak in that range of mountains. He’d probably been there a hundred times before. It’s such a vast area and they couldn’t pinpoint where he was. You do get emotional. I’ve shed many tears.
‘Julian’s first love is walking and hiking. It came before his career and he had enormous, phenomenal energy. When he walked up a mountain you could see the sparks on his boots and he’d wait for you at the top.
‘He took risks. He has always been like this: wild, extreme, adventurous; never constrained by rules or boundaries. He’s happiest close to a mountain top on a cold morning.’
Nick had been scheduled to meet Julian in London this week, where he was due to discuss a film project followed by their Yorkshire trip.
Julian, who recently became a grandfather for the first time, has a son, Henry, from his first marriage to Sarah Sands, a journalist and former editor of Radio 4’s Today programme, as well as two daughters, Natalya and Imogen, both in their 20s, with his second wife, novelist and screenwriter Evgenia Citkowitz. ‘I so feel for Evgenia; for the girls, for Henry. It’s awful for them. They’re in limbo.’
Nick, who works in financial services, is married to Deborah. Their four children all loved to see their Uncle Julian. Then there are his siblings. Nick thinks back to the last time the clan gathered — all five brothers — for the Monday Club, on October 31 last year. ‘We went to the Sound Bar in Skipton, then out for a curry.
Julian took risks: he was wild and adventurous
‘We spoke about the past. There were some great anecdotes. Julian has run marathons all over the world and, in 1998, we went to do the one in Athens — Julian, Robin, Jeremy and I. The night before, we had a good bit of fun and we remembered it with much laughter on that last meeting.
‘Julian suggested we climb to the top of the Acropolis [the ancient citadel on a rocky outcrop above Athens], so we did, and from the top we could see the Parthenon, which had scaffolding over it.
‘We decided to climb that as well and when we got to the top we sat there with our legs dangling over the edge, looking over the panorama of Athens. When we climbed down we were met by three police officers. One of them grabbed Julian, who pushed the officer in the chest and said, ‘Run!’ So we ran like hell until we’d lost them.’ Even now, his sadness is tinged with laughter.
Julian (right) starred in A Room With A View, with Helena Bonham Carter (left), the movie that cemented his fame worldwide
A map of the area of southern California in which Julian Sands, 65, was reported missing
Nick adds: ‘Quentin wasn’t on that trip but over the years, he and Julian have spent the most time together, with many a tale of derring-do.’ And there are many such recollections of good times shared. Julian had walked all 268 miles of the Pennine Way, ‘and ten years ago, on a golden autumn day, we walked part of it again, from Gargrave to Horton-in-Ribblesdale, the two of us together,’ recalls Nick.
‘You have to climb Pen-y-Ghent [one of Yorkshire’s Three Peaks], and we had a fantastic day with lots of chat about our childhoods: seaside holidays in Morecambe and Bridlington — the holidays we spent with our father when he’d take us to the Lake District.
‘He’d cram the car with tents and canoes, and off we’d go for a week in the rain; our last family holidays, four years in a row, all boys together.’
Extraordinarily, the Sands boys — although they could not be a more closely-bound band of brothers today — spent their childhood, parted by their parents’ divorce, in two separate households.
When Bill Sands, who sold veterinary products, and his wife, Brenda, broke up in 1962 — a rare event in those days — their children were also split up.
Julian’s brother Nick said: ‘Julian’s first love is walking and hiking. It came before his career and he had enormous, phenomenal energy.’ Pictured: Julian hiking up a mountain
Julian, in pursuit of the ultimate adventure, had other brushes with death, his brother Nick says
The eldest two, Robin, then 12, and nine-year-old Jeremy, went to live with their father in East Yorkshire. Meanwhile, Nick, then six; four-year-old Julian, and Quentin, two, decamped to Gargrave, where their mum raised them as a single parent in a two-up, two-down end-of-terrace.
Nick does not know why their parents settled on this domestic arrangement. But the two factions of the family remained remote throughout their childhood: ‘Julian, Quentin and I didn’t see much of our father or elder brothers until later in life. Perhaps that is the reason why we have all kept so close as adults.
‘The divorce had a profound effect on my brothers and me. I’d been the secure middle brother of five and suddenly I became the eldest of three. Dad died in 1985, aged 58. Mum, who was debilitated by a stroke, went six years ago, and sadly we didn’t take the chance to talk to her about our unusual domestic set-up.’
It is a profound regret, this sense of opportunities lost.
But despite the distance between them, Julian always kept in close touch with his family.
‘He would come and see mum regularly, and he’d join us all at the Monday Club. When we meet in two days’ time, doubtless we’ll talk about him, as we have for the past two weeks.’
The redoubtable Brenda was a capable, resourceful parent. ‘She was renowned in the area. A local councillor, she ran an upmarket second-hand dress agency called Vogue Fashion in Skipton. She was a stalwart of the amateur dramatic society in the village, so a very positive influence on Julian’s career.
‘He was passionate about theatre and films as a boy; he was also solitary, at ease in his own company. He’d take himself off fossil hunting. He’d befriend interesting people like old Rhodes Thompson, an archaeologist who inspired his love of collecting and cataloguing.
‘Jules has a fabulous collection of art and antiques, and it all started with those boyhood collections of cow horns and fossils.’
Julian won a scholarship to Lord Wandsworth College, Hampshire — awarded to pupils from single-parent families — and Quentin followed him.
His family reported him missing at 7.30pm on January 13 and rescuers recovered a snow-covered car, which was towed away
The rocky area in Angeles National Forest where the British actor was reported missing
From there, he went to London’s Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. A starring role in the 1984 film The Killing Fields followed and a year later he starred in A Room With A View, with Helena Bonham Carter, the movie that cemented his fame worldwide.
Thereafter his roles — in Warlock, Arachnophobia, Boxing Helena and Leaving Las Vegas — became more idiosyncratic.
His love of romantic poets Shelley and Keats inspired a one-man show. He wrote and performed another about the playwright Harold Pinter: Nick and Deborah saw both productions four or five times. Julian’s fertile mind proved as agile as his thrill-seeking body.
As his brother says: ‘He can never just ‘sit’. He loved being an actor, he loved the adulation. He worked for 40 years, which is commendable. But he just wanted to expend energy, to hike and climb, to compete, to challenge himself.’
He loved being an actor — the adulation
To this end, in 1999, he bought a silver cup, inscribed it with the words Sands Challenge Trophy, and every year the brothers would compete to win races. Ten-kilometre runs, half marathons, loops round the local area; they ran with fervour, to beat each other.
Nick fishes out the trophy, inscribed with their names. And there is Julian, prominent among the victors, triumphing for three years in succession.
Julian, in pursuit of the ultimate adventure, had other brushes with death. ‘He climbed Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Andes, and got a blood clot. He got caught in a storm and was in a bad way. He was lucky to have survived,’ says Nick.
‘He wanted to do more, to scale the highest summit on every continent. He’d achieved five. He just had Denali in Alaska and Everest left to climb.’
For now, his fellow Monday Club members wait in hopeful anticipation. Nick has a bottle of claret his brother gave to him and he wants nothing more than to see him ‘striding down our hill, in defiance of all of us, into Gargrave, to share it with us.’