An evening with Michael Roc Thomas
21st November 2018 in Kensington, London
by Chamali Fernando, Events Secretary Friends of Sri Lanka Association
Michael Roc Thomas warmed our hearts on a chilly November evening with his tales and adventures of 10 interesting and transformative years of living in a little known part of Sri Lanka. In 2000, his girlfriend Alison persuaded him to move to Sri Lanka. Whilst there, they were married and aged 54, he finally became a father and he discovered a new meaning to life which he described as “a bit like having a new highway appear on my life’s Satnav.”
Michael has had an entertaining life in many respects. He is the son of British film stars Patricia Roc and Anthony Steel whose careers blossomed during the Golden Age of British Film in the 1940’s and 50’s and who made one film together in 1952 called Something Money Can’t Buy. Michael was born in France and moved to England just before starting school. His talk was as much about Sri Lanka as discovering his own identity.
His mother and the future 40th President of the United States (Ronald Regan) were briefly an item in Hollywood. We saw some wonderful slides of Michael, his wedding, the landscapes of Sri Lanka and where the tsunami hit the island and claimed lives.
Patricia Roc and Ronald Reagan in the USA
Michael was a photographer in the fashion industry and spent 20 years of his life travelling around the world. He first visited Sri Lanka in the year 2000 for some rest and recuperation after spending the Millenium with friends in Thailand. Alison and Michael fell in love with the area and decided to invest if they could find the right spot. When his daughter Steel was born prematurely with retinopathy, a condition that leads to blindness, Michael took to writing poems with a view to awakening Steel’s other senses. We were treated to several witty and charming verse tales that related to his talk for example there was one about a Flamingo Called Liz who conquered the world of showbiz, which Michael jokingly said is “loosely based on his mother” and creatures such as the “ugaduwe” – the Ceylon polecat.
We heard about the murder of Michael’s nextdoor neighbour in Sri Lanka, a 70 year old Swiss gentleman, who had been stabbed to death in the middle of the night and what Boxing Day 2004 was like for him and his family, their neighbours and friends – the day the tsunami devastated the lives of many families living around the Indian Ocean. The hotel Michael and Alison were building remained close, while it became the local HQ for a newly launched charity Adopt Sri Lanka. Michael read another of his poems that reflected events that quite possibly took place in Yala National Park.
In addition to the unexpected drama, Michael reminisced about the happy times he had in Sri Lanka. His talk was extremely interesting and very moving. We hope he will speak to our association again, perhaps in the daytime so that those of you who live outside of London will get the chance to hear about his fascinating adventures.
The verse tales in Michael’s book are not all about Sri Lanka but many are influenced by his experiences in many countries, with different people, the wildlife and events around the world. The book was launched at the Galle Literary Festival this year and is called Seeing Better Now. It comprises 56 tropical and topical tales told in verse. Each is beautifully illustrated by two of Sri Lanka’s finest female artists (Sally Hulugalle and Ruwangi Amarasinghe). The book has received fantastic press reviews this year and has already won an Outstanding Achievement in the Arts award! Signed copies of Michael’s book were available on the night for purchase. With Steele’s condition in mind, Michael is donating part of book sale proceeds to NEST, an island wide registered charity that supports children with severe disabilities across Sri Lanka, where public funding is minimal or non- existent. Michael describes Nest as “a wonderful cause managed by magnificent volunteers.” This stunningly illustrated book overflowing with wit and charm makes the ideal and amusing Christmas gift. The book can be ordered directly from Michael’s website www.michaelrocthomas.com or from Waterstoneswww.waterstones.com/ipc but the charity does far better when books are ordered through Michael’s website.