SINCE learning of the death of Sean Connery from a phone call from his family, I have been asked many times what I thought of him. I have said that Sean Connery was the world’s greatest Scot, the last great Hollywood star and the definitive James Bond.

Sean was all of these things and much more – a staunch patriot, a deep thinker and an outstanding human being.

I have had the rare privilege of being Sean Connery’s friend for more than 30 years and enjoyed every single moment of his company and talk.

The key to understanding Sean was to be aware of his great sense of loyalty to Scotland, to his family, to his friends. He was probably the most honest, forthright and loyal person I have ever known.

He also had such charisma. I have met many people and never been fazed by them, but the first time I met Sean I was so nervous I ended up talking incessantly. He was kind and generous and yes, he did know the effect he had on people, but he was patient and tolerant as well.

His sense of humour was legendary and used to take people aback because they were not quite sure whether he was joking or not, which was normally most of the time.

He was quintessentially Scottish in his attitudes, and he was incredibly brave, because when he took stances on a whole variety of things, he knew he would attract flak, and even though there was no personal advantage to him he did it anyway.

Sean also wanted to improve the lot of his fellow Scots, and that’s why he founded his charity the Scottish International Education Trust (SIET).

The trust, of which Jackie Stewart was a co-founder, was very important to him, and has over the years supported thousands of youngsters with a helping hand in their education.

Sean was largely self-taught and the lack of formal schooling gave him a life-long reverence for education. I once went with him to Princeton where he was speaking to a class of graduates. They were totally awestruck and spellbound as he recounted his early life in Edinburgh. There was a question-and-answer session and one of the graduates asked him “what was the most important thing you were ever taught, Mr Connery?” He answered instantly: “How to read. When I learned to read, then I learned everything else.”

The SIET, on which I served as a trustee for 10 years, has been going for 50 years now, and I have just finished five years as a patron of the trust. I am certain he would regard the trust as his greatest legacy.

His support for Scottish independence was unshakeable and started long before it was fashionable. It made him a political target for many who would otherwise have fawned over him, but he shrugged it off knowing that he was a much bigger person than any of his detractors.

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He played his part both for the SNP and for the campaign for a double Yes vote in the 1997 devolution referendum. He was proud of his country and his home city. Before the opening of the Scottish Parliament he was asked what had given him the most pleasure in his public life and he said “being given the Freedom of the city by Edinburgh”. Sometime after 1999, he was asked the same question and he replied “the Freedom of Edinburgh and the opening ceremony of the Scottish Parliament”.

He could have said his Oscar or lifetime achievement award, or any of the awards he got in his career, but instead he cited his Freedom of Edinburgh and the opening of the Scottish Parliament. I think that says a great deal about him and his priorities.

Sean knew a lot about politics. He read a lot about history and current affairs and was really bright in his political insights. I was helping him with a speech once, back in 2001 when he received the William Wallace Award from the American-Sottish Foundation in Washington. It was presented to him by vice-president Dick Cheney and then we went off to meet President George W Bush – even he just gawked at Sean.

In the private rooms at the White House they started chatting and Sean observed to the president it would be as well not to have a war with China.

“You’re not going to do that, are you Mr President?” asked Sean, leaving Bush open-mouthed. Sean was very anti-war, I can tell you.

In his speech that day, he cited the words of Paul Robeson’s great song “What is America to Me?”: “What is America to me? A name, a map, the flag I see a certain word, ‘Democracy’ What is America to me?” Robeson added the words “the right to speak my mind, that’s America to me”.

Here was Sean standing on the steps of the Capitol addressing the very people who had taken away Paul Robeson’s passport, and he was extolling the greatness of a hero of the civil rights movement – Sean knew exactly what he was doing and the message hit home. Above all he was a great Scot. Be in no doubt about his love for his country: Scotland Forever wasn’t just tattooed on his forearm but was imprinted on his soul.

It has been one of the privileges of my life to count him as a friend. He was a great and gentle man. My condolences go to his wife Micheline, his sons Jason and Stefan, his brother Neil and all of the family.