ston Martin and James Bond are virtually synonymous. How did that relationship come about?
On the third Bond movie Goldfinger in 1964, the set designer was Ken Adam, an amazing designer and brilliant architect. He had developed the set for Dr No (1962), which was superb - a brilliant execution of creating atmosphere and environment for those evil lairs! So, he was commissioned to work on more Bond films [eventually remaining with the franchise up to Moonraker in 1979]. For Goldfinger, he focused much closer on the source book [by Ian Fleming] and if you read the book, although at one point Bond is driving a Bentley, an Aston Martin is mentioned. However, Ken Adam had a very, very small budget for Goldfinger in terms of set design compared to Dr No, as the cost cap was coming in, they were wanting to do more and more movies more frequently - so he couldn’t afford to buy an Aston Martin to race around the Italian Alps and so on.
But his daily journey from his offices to the film studios took him through the outskirts of London and every single day, he passed a Silver Birch DB5. And even though they had planned use the Jaguar E-type, in his mind, he knew Bond just had to have an Aston Martin. So, he finally said, you know what, I'm not using the Jaguar. It has to be an Aston Martin and it has to be a Silver Birch. So, he phoned Aston Martin in Newport Pagnell and said, Hey guys, do you have a car I could borrow? On that first phone call, he only got through to a junior member of staff who basically said, No, sorry we don't do that. Ken replied that it was for a movie, but still, they put the phone down on him
Terrible! So, what happened next?
He was tenacious. He thought, well, this can't be right and phoned again, asking to speak to a manager. And this time, he got through to the shop floor manager in charge, who said, Yes, sure - what do you want it for? ‘Oh, a few days filming for a new movie, the next James Bond’ said Ken. And at the time Bond wasn’t well-known, it was relatively new, but the manager said sure, we'll loan it to you. And they did. And then - that car went missing off the next film set. It's never been found.
What happened? It had been stolen?
Yes, it was stolen, that original DB5 that was used. When films end, everyone's packing up their film cases, flights cases, cameras, lights, people are stripping down a set, there's a car under a cover and - all of a sudden someone says, you know what, put that on the back of a truck - and it's gone.
Nevertheless, that started what has become, really in terms of products in film, the longest-reigning placement of any product in a film. To the point where, when we were working with Sam Mendes on Spectre, he introduced the car as a cast member. We all went down to Pinewood where the film’s title was announced, the cast and crew was announced but at the beginning of his speech, Mendes announced he first was going to unveil the most important member of the cast - and he pulled the cover off a DB10, saying here it is, the Aston Martin DB10, cast member number one. So that's how the car has moved from being an automotive brand to a legend. Now, when you go to the cinema and see a Bond film, and everyone sees the car for the first time, people cheer. The last movie [No Time To Die] had four cars. And you could hear in the movie theatre, when the car is first seen, like an ‘Oooh…!’
Yes, everyone’s excited to see what Bond’s driving!
I think it's almost become part of entertainment culture now. People are like, ‘which Aston Martin is going in the next movie?’ It's become part of the makeup of Bond in many ways. We've transcended product placement to actually being part of his story.
So every time they are preparing a new Bond film do they contact you and give you some sort of direction or a bit of an idea of what they're looking for?
Well, now there are no more scripts, because Ian Fleming’s books have all been filmed. So, the script and the creation of the movie is now from a blank sheet of paper. The production team will come here, and I'll say, ‘When's the next movie, guys?’ And if it’s in three years’ time, I would show them what product plans we had coming up. They’d then go away and think about the script development and come back with some ideas, where our future cars may have a role to play.
This time, in No Time To Die, we ended up with four cars featured. Because Daniel [Craig] is being retired, the narrative is about his past, present and future. His time off grid, him coming back, the future. We see the iconic DB5 and the period V8 he so loves, but also a product from our current portfolio – the DBS Superleggera that is driven by the new 00 agent Nomi – and a glimpse to the future with our upcoming model Valhalla visible in a wind tunnel at HQ.
'I showed the Bond team everything - our helicopter, our apartments in Miami, even a project we’ve done using a submersible – and said, "Look, do you want any of these other props?"'
It must have been incredibly exciting to embrace the possibilities afforded by all the ‘extras’ – the legendary gadgets and so on…
That was all part of the movie’s narrative which I also found so interesting. I showed the Bond team everything - our helicopter, our apartments in Miami, even a project we’ve done using a submersible – and said, ‘Look, do you want any of these other props?’ And that goes back to Casino Royale, the first Daniel Craig movie, where we put him back in an Aston Martin. All the designers were like, ‘Great! What can we do?’ The Aston Martin design team and I created all the defibrillators, gun drawers and one or two of the other props, in the studio.
This time, [in No Time To Die], when the bombs scatter from the DB5, we had initially thought that maybe the wheel spinners could come out and do that. On Spectre, when he lands with the parachute and deploys through the roof, we had created a whole roof panel system to allow him to deploy. But in the end, they cut that scene from the movie because they wanted the surprise of him escaping and then landing. But we had prepared it all.
How do your team react to the challenge of coming up with ever more wild tricks and props? I've run an internal competition since then. If anyone on our team can get one of their props into a movie, we invent a prize for them - typically a ticket to the premiere!
Being such an integral part of this legendary franchise, working with your team to dream up these fantastical possibilities – it all must be an unbelievable experience for you, as a designer?
Imagine being a young kid, who grew up in a very industrial city like Sheffield, and always wanted to be a designer, from the age of 12 or 13. Back then, I used to go to David Mellor's cutlery factory and studio in Hathersage in the Peak District, to watch silversmiths designing and making cutlery. What a boring 14-year-old kid I was! But I loved it and realised that's what I want to do. And so, to then end up designing a car for James Bond - not just once, but five movies - it's been remarkable for me, beyond the realms of expectation!