If they were to make a movie of your life which actor would you want to play you? It’s a Sunday supplement question, isn’t it, the kind to ponder over toast and marmalade? But not for Gary Mulgrew.
Mulgrew was one of the NatWest Three, the trio of investment bankers extradited to America in 2006 after becoming embroiled in the Enron scandal by way of an investment deal which turned out to be fraudulent, although none of them knew this at the time. The three men made millions from the deal but they also became – entirely unfairly according to Mulgrew – inextricably linked to one of America’s biggest corporate corruption scandals. After a prolonged legal wrangle, Mulgrew, David Bermingham and Giles Darby lost their battle against extradition and, having agreed a plea bargain with prosecutors in the US, were each sentenced to 37 months in prison.
Mulgrew’s book, Gang of One, is the story of what happened next. It captures the dizzying disorientation of someone going from high-flying investment banker to inmate at the high security Big Spring Federal Correctional Institution in Texas. It traces the impact of what happened on Mulgrew personally, of course, but also in terms of how Mulgrew’s extradition and incarceration shattered his family, not least his relationships with his children, Calum and Katrina.
Before knighthoods were stripped and we all learned more about issues such as Libor than many of us ever wanted to know, Mulgrew’s fall from grace was spectacular. So it makes sense that the book was optioned as a potential film even before it was published. And now, as the paperback comes out, plans for the big-screen adaptation of Mulgrew’s story are well under way. There is a director, Tommy Gormley, to whom Mulgrew speaks a couple of times a week as the script takes shape – it should be complete next month – and then they have to find the money to make it happen.
But who will play Mulgrew?
Dougray Scott. He’s the one who will have to find a way to embody not only the cockiness of a millionaire investment banker, the working class boy from Dormanside Road in Pollok who made good, but the fear of someone facing a stretch behind bars, and also the desperation of a father looking for his child, because that’s the part of Mulgrew’s story that continues. That’s the part for which there remains no resolution.
Mulgrew now lives in Brighton. He runs a pair of businesses, part-owns a couple of pubs. Writing Gang of One was cathartic, it helped Mulgrew process some of what had happened to him and allowed him to capture what it was like to be an “ordinary guy” preparing to go into somewhere that he describes as “a place of nightmares”. But it was also about more than that.
“I wanted to capture how edgy I felt, how hopeless,” he says. “That period when I was waiting to go [into prison] was terrifying.” To stop his imagination from running wild, Mulgrew sat down with some paper and pens and wrote down his fears. It was something his mother had encouraged him to do and a technique he’d seen used in plenty of business seminars. In coloured pen, he wrote words such as “rape” and “buggery”, “violence” and “death”. Then he divided the words into two categories: “bad” and “f***ing catastrophic”. It helped him get some perspective. Gallows humour is a Mulgrew trademark. It helped him survive his ordeal and it makes his book surprisingly entertaining to read. But beneath the humour there was real and palpable fear. “You’re constantly imagining things,” he says, “that’s why I ended up writing everything down and at least trying to condition myself a wee bit for it. To be honest, I was scared that I wasn’t going to be strong enough to come out the other end.”
The dry wit is a skill that was honed in jail because writing three or four letters a day to his family and friends, Mulgrew needed to find something to say that wouldn’t worry them. He understood that almost from the beginning of the indictment process, when an uncle took him aside and told him in choice Scottish language that he had to keep it together because if he didn’t no one else would be able to either. It was an instruction Mulgrew took to heart. “When you’re writing from terrible places, but you’re writing to your mum or your son or your brother, you don’t write about how scary it is, about how bad it is,” he says. “What you try to find are the bits of compassion, the bits of humour, so you get practice at looking for those.”
Prison wasn’t what Mulgrew expected. He couldn’t have imagined the intensity of relationships formed in an environment where there is little or nothing to do, where violence can erupt at any minute among men living without freedom or, for some, even the hope of it.
“I wanted everything to be black and white, I wanted everyone to be evil and bad. I had visualised that I’d spend the whole time not speaking to a soul, sitting in a wee corner in a cell, maybe dealing with one or two people. Of course, the reality is so different. You get involved with people. I created a couple of friendships that I’m sure I’ll have for life.”
Writing the book gave Mulgrew the opportunity to set the record straight to some extent – he maintains that he never set out to defraud anyone – and his perspective on the heady world of investment banking is fascinating. At the peak of his career, Mulgrew ran a group with the bank whose sole purpose was to help wealthy clients avoid paying the tax they owed. Sound familiar? He writes: “We were producing nothing, making a negative contribution to society, just making ourselves and our already rich clients even more wealthy, and deluding ourselves that we were of value.” If you ask him whether he thinks that the seismic jolts that have rocked banking and the City in recent years will have an impact on the way business is done, he answers with the grim resignation of someone who knows the industry from the inside.
“When I first started in NatWest [as a graduate trainee with a business degree from Strathclyde University] it was the first time I’d had a suit. I was proud. It was seen as a good job.” Mulgrew spent 13 of his 17 years at NatWest on the commercial side of the business – sorting out car loans and mortgages and working with small businesses. He was moved into the investment side of the business because he was doing well. “Up to that point I hadn’t earned much money,” he says, “but suddenly everything was about money, that’s how everything was judged and if you’ve got a problem with it there is a queue of people waiting to replace you.”
The only way the industry can change, he believes, is if commercial banks are separated from investment banks. “They are completely different animals,” he says, describing the merging of the two sides of RBS as akin to “giving a five-year-old a loaded weapon”. Who could argue?
External events have lent weight and interest to Mulgrew’s perspective on the banking industry, but that wasn’t his focus when he was writing the book and it isn’t his focus now. When Mulgrew and his now ex-wife Laura separated two years before his extradition, their son Calum, then eight, chose to live with his dad. His sister, Katrina, who was five, lived between the couple. After he was extradited, Calum was looked after by Mulgrew’s then-partner, Jackie, but Katrina was taken out of the country by her mother. All Mulgrew knows is that Laura remarried, converted to Islam and moved to Tunisia, where her new husband was from, taking Katrina with her. Mulgrew hasn’t seen his daughter for five years. He still has little idea where she is.
“I hadn’t written the book with the hope that I’d get out of prison and find Katrina, I wrote it knowing that I would, that nothing would stop me and I’d find her. Dealing with the failure of that has been tough.”
He takes a deep breath. “It’s very hard to deal with because I don’t really know what it is. It’s not a bereavement, but it kind of is. The photos I have are of this cute, wee five-year-old and that’s how I remember her. And then I got a picture of her when she was nine, it’s not the same person so you feel that sense of loss.”
The emotion is audible in Mulgrew’s voice. He’s a man who has survived a lot, but it’s clear his ordeal is far from over. “How do you cope with it? I could be in a café and someone would come in with their daughter who’s about ten and that’s me, I can’t speak for two hours because I’m so upset. And then I spend my whole time thinking, what should I be doing? Why am I even sitting here, shouldn’t I be in Tunisia? Should I be living there? But then I’ve got Calum, so I can’t and I shouldn’t do that.”
Writing his book helped him deal with the emotions about Katrina. It made him feel that he was doing something for her, doing something to get her back. When the book was written he was left with his feelings of guilt about not actively looking for his daughter.
“I’d sometimes sit down and think, a whole week has gone past and I have done nothing. I haven’t moved forward. I fire off emails all the time, I’m always trying different things but it’s hard.” He catches himself. “But she’s not dead, she’s still out there and I will find her. She’s still out there. I’m fortunate and I’ve got a lot to be grateful for. I’ve got Calum, which is so important.”
Mulgrew has travelled to Tunisia eight times. On his first day of freedom – April 30, 2010 – he went straight to the airport to catch a flight to take him there.“I get there and there’s an Icelandic ash cloud.” He laughs grimly. “I saw people freaking out. I stayed there three days, totally calm. One of the great things about prison is that you become very patient. I just waited.”
He went with nothing to go on really, and he admits that he hasn’t really got very far. “I’ve been to places where she has been and I’ve been to a school where she was,” he says and then his words seem to run out.
The legal situation now is that Mulgrew’s wife would face seven years in prison for removing her daughter. According to Mulgrew that’s “just wrong”. “Day to day, the agony never leaves you. But the solution is to bring people back together, not to break them up. My hope, my prayer is that Laura will end up with a good relationship with Calum and that Katrina has a good relationship with Calum and that Laura and I can at least have a civil relationship for their benefit if nothing else.”
But as time passes, things get harder. He says that one of the most emotional conversations he’s had recently was with his mother, former MSP Trish Godman.
“She said to me that she thinks she might not ever see Katrina again, that by the time we get Katrina back she’ll be dead. Katrina was the first and only daughter in our family, before that it was all boys. She was precious beyond words. It’s not just my pain, it’s uncles and aunties, cousins and nephews and nieces, it’s grandparents.”
Mulgrew’s experience has taught him not to hold back with telling his son how important he is to his dad. He says Calum, who’s now 16, gets sick of him telling him that he loves him. He also insists that family members write birthday and Christmas cards for Katrina, which he keeps in a box. He hopes that someday she’ll read them and realise she was always loved and missed. It’s not just his experience in prison that makes Mulgrew this way. He carries the wounds of his own childhood when, after his father was long gone and his mother struggled to support her three sons, she placed them in a children’s home. They stayed there for three years.
“I spent three and half years thinking that it was me, that it was my fault. You do. You don’t understand that’s what you’re thinking but deep down that is what’s going on. It took me a long, long time to understand that’s what I carried around with me – the thought I wasn’t good enough.” That’s what he never wants his own children to feel.
It’s clear that Mulgrew isn’t bitter or eaten up by anger. But I wonder about Calum? “At 16 he’s not ready. At some point in the future there will be some kind of a reckoning. When he’s mature enough, it might be when he’s 19 or 20, I’m sure there’ll be a time he wants answers and I’m sure there’ll be psychological pain that comes with that. But he’s not ready for that now. He doesn’t talk about his mum and I don’t bring it up that often. It’s been a long time for him. He was 11 the last time he saw her.”
As for Katrina, Mulgrew remains convinced that he will find her. “I am in no doubt that I’ll find her. I actually believe that she might find me. I’ve got a website and a Facebook page. I like to think there are a lot of good things that I can bring to her life and I’d like to have that opportunity. ”
Such is Mulgrew’s conviction that he will find his daughter, I feel awkward even asking about how he might prepare himself for the possibility that even if he does make contact she might not want him in her life.
“I’m sure she won’t,” he says instantly. “The best solution is that I find her and her life is good. Then I work very, very hard at having contact by going down there, getting an hour where I can, for as long as it takes, gradually building her confidence.” He pauses. “It will be really hard, it just will be. But what else do you do? It’s true what they say your love for your kids is the one genuinely unselfish love. You would give anything to them even if you get nothing back.”
Gang of One by Gary Mulgrew is out now in paperback, published by Hodder, £8.99.
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