York & North Yorkshire

Autograph collector Paul Bradley's galaxy of stars

It was flamboyant singer Danny La Rue's visit to his school in North Yorkshire that first inspired Paul Bradley to start collecting autographs in earnest.

Now, more than 20 years later, Mr Bradley has more than 6,000 autographs of film, TV and stage stars - and many pictures of himself with the rich and famous.

"I set my goals in life," said the collector, from Scarborough.

"And I achieve them."

He said his very first autograph was signed for him by motorcycling legend Barry Sheene, who had been taking part in a race at the seaside town's Oliver's Mount.

Then when La Rue came to open his school's fete the die was cast and the collection began.

Now, a small portion of his collection - mostly dealing with film stars - has been published in a book called Galaxy of Stars.

It is an A to Z collection, from Amy Adams, BAFTA-nominated for her part in The Fighters, to US actress Leigh Zinnerman.

Missing Michael Jackson

In between are Hollywood actors of the calibre of Sean Connery, Morgan Freeman, Mickey Rourke, Sylvester Stallone, and Steven Spielberg

Image caption Mr Bradley has an autographed note from Liza Minnelli in his collection

Mr Bradley said having his photo taken with Steven Spielberg was "one of the most memorable things I've ever done in my entire autograph career".

However, despite several chances to meet one of the world's biggest superstars - Michael Jackson - Mr Bradley turned the meetings down for an unusual reason.

He was scared of Jackson's rejection of his request for an autograph.

"I would be gutted to not get it," he added.

When pressed to choose his favourite autograph, the first name mentioned is Tina Turner.

Five bulging suitcases

Mr Bradley, who works as a gardener, was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome about five years ago.

He said he believed his disorder could be "channelled" into his collection and added it would be "something to look back on".

The book's author Mark Harland said he had initially assumed it would be a simple task to get an A to Z together. But then Mr Bradley appeared on his doorstep with five suitcases "bulging" full of memorabilia.

Mr Bradley said the book's editor had "absolutely no idea of the scale" of the task of pruning his collection and only a "small fraction" made the eventual book.

Image caption Ray Winstone gave Mr Bradley's book his encouragement

When the book was launched at a hotel in London Mr Bradley was amazed to see, among the many famous people present, actor Ray Winstone. The launch gave him a chance to expand his collection even further.

Mr Winstone said Mr Bradley should "be very proud of the book".

The autograph collector said he financed his obsessive collection through whatever he earned from gardening.

He said he would often take the overnight coach to London to save money and then change into his best suit in Victoria coach station before setting off to add to his collection.

Mr Bradley said he would not just hang around the stage door to grab his autographs, instead he would go to see the shows and films that are his hobby.

Because of that he has become knowledgeable about the minutiae of the film industry.

However, his description of how he meets - and in some cases befriends - the stars is simple.

"I go out there and be myself," he said.

On a trip to London once, he caught sight of Sean Penn waiting in a cafe for a business meeting. After introducing himself, he was asked by Penn to wait until after the meeting.

Mr Bradley waited for more than an hour before chatting with the autograph-reluctant film star. Finally, he persuaded Mr Penn to sign for his collection.

'In his element'

He describes the result "as one of the hardest autographs in the world to achieve".

Despite his many meetings with stars of stage and screen, Mr Bradley said he did not miss the chances presented in his home town Scarborough. Sir Alan Ayckbourn lives in the town and he often chats with Mr Bradley.

The filming of A Chorus of Disapproval, based on Mr Ayckbourn's play, in the town gave him a "field day", especially meeting its director Michael Winner.

Ten years later, in 1998, Little Voice was also filmed on location and Mr Bradley was "in his element" meeting all the cast and getting Michael Caine's autograph on a picture of him starring as Lieutenant Bromhead in 1964's seminal Zulu.