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RELAXING in his cosy bungalow in a quiet County Durham cul-de-sac, Nick Richmond is in no doubt of the huge debt he owes Sir Sean Connery.
"He's paid my mortgage, cleared my credit cards and taken me round the world," says Nick. "Oh yes, I owe him an awful lot."
At 67, and after more than 30 years of being a full-time Sean Connery lookalike, he has finally decided to hang up his white tux and his decommissioned Walther PPK pistol, and he's learning what it's like not being 007's double.
"It feels strange but the time was right. Sean's given me a wonderful life but the travelling was getting me down," he says.
It all began in 1985 when the post-Bond Connery made a film called The Name of the Rose. It was the first time he'd dispensed with his toupee and grown a beard.
"Suddenly, people were telling me how much I looked like Sean Connery but the truth is that I already had the haircut and the beard so, technically, Sean Connery is a Nick Richmond lookalike - I got there first!"
The son of a steelworker from South Bank, Teesside, Nick was travelling around Scotland as an auditor for a shoe company at the time. "I was basically a shoe counter and I hated it."
Then a programme came on television called Derek's Doubles, following the fortunes of one of the country's first lookalike agencies, and the Moneypenny dropped.
"As a good Yorkshireman, I suddenly realised there was brass to be made."
Nick sent off some photos and was signed by the agency. He bought himself his tuxedo, ordered his gun, and started watching Connery's films over and over again to study the nuances of the character.
It got off to a slow start, taking a month for the first booking - a corporate "meet and greet" in London - but pictures from the assignment went in the agency's brochure and his new career accelerated faster than an Aston Martin DB5. By 1999, he was so busy he was able to give up his job.
Since then, he's been all over the world. It's not just that he looks uncannily like Sir Sean but he's learned to walk and talk like him, adopting a gravelly voice, rolling every 'r' and replacing his 's' sounds with the trademark 'sh'.
"You're a shite for shaw eyesh - that's my favourite line. It never fails to get a laugh," he smiles.
Asked for the highlight of his time as Bond, Nick cites the time he met Prince Albert of Monaco in Monte Carlo. The scariest moment was when he was asked to climb down a rope-ladder from a helicopter onto a moving ship. "I politely declined."
Nick has met his famous doppelganger twice. The first on holiday in Florida when he discovered Sir Sean was filming 50 miles away. He blagged his way onto the film set and was granted a few minutes with the great man.
"He glared at me for a while and then said: 'You ugly bashtard - you're shupposhed to look like me!' It broke the ice and he was fine after that."
The second time was years later when Connery was promoting the Scottish Nationalist Party in Edinburgh and Nick was a face in the crowd. "I was flattered that he remembered me and came over to tell me I was still ugly."
In fact, having the same handsome features and twinkling eyes as the actor repeatedly voted the world's sexiest man has had its perks. "I've had my offers from women but, of course, I would never take advantage," he insists. "I just remind them that I'm not the real thing."
Restaurants frequently ask him to sit at window tables and The Savoy in London sent its limousine to pick him up for a "gig".
Once, when flying from Heathrow to New York, he was unexpectedly upgraded to first-class. "I said to the check-in attendant 'you've seen my passport - you do know I'm not really him, don't you?' 'Of course,' she replied, 'but the other passengers in first-class aren't to know, are they?'"
After three decades, that jet-set lifestyle is in the past as Nick looks forward to retiring to a quiet corner of County Durham. A long-standing member of the Darlington Magic Circle, he'll concentrate on his first love of magic and pottering in the garden.
Has he really played Sir Sean Connery for the last time? "I definitely won't do it for money anymore...but I might make the odd appearance for charity. It would be hard to let go of Sean completely."
Never Say Never Again...
The real Sean Connery
Peter Barron Media
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April 20, 2016: Today is National Lookalike Day and PETER BARRON meets a man who has spent three decades earning a living as Sir Sean Connery
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