Mission Impossible? How I tracked down Tom Cruise on the North York Moors

Scarborough News reporter Louise Perrin tells how she spent a day with photographer Richard Ponter tracking down Hollywood A-lister Tom Cruise.

Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 9:57 am
Updated Friday, 23rd April 2021, 2:38 pm

It’s not every day you get a message from the boss which says; “If you fancy a trip to Pickering today, Tom Cruise is filming there and it’s all based at the train station. Do you want to go?”

Did I? The star of almost every film I watched during my teenage years? You bet I did!

I messaged a contact on North Yorkshire Moors Railway who said the site was closed and he was unable to help, so I headed for Pickering to look for myself.

Tom Cruise pausing for reporters in Levisham - Photo: Richard Ponter

I met up with Richard in Pickering and together we walked to the station car park where numerous location vans were set up to look after the almost 300 crew who are involved in the filming.

In a nearby field we met Pickering residents Emily Harrison and Tori Richardson who were out walking American Bulldog, Buddy.

Their morning stroll has taken them to the field where Tom Cruise had been rumoured to land the day before.

Emily said: “We saw it on Facebook yesterday and we didn’t realise how close he was.”

The black helicopter we spotted on the approach to Levisham - Photo: Richard Ponter

Tori said the two girls had come down because: “It’s not very often a legend comes to Pickering.”

A little further on, retiree Jo Gonella was also sitting waiting for Mr Cruise to arrive. She said: “I’m surprised there’s not more here. It’s absolutely brilliant for Pickering, I’m just hoping we’ll be able to go to the cinema to see it.”

Jo was joined by friends Tracy Goodfellow, from Low Costa Mill Cottages, and Sarah Jones, from Pear Tree House Bed and Breakfast, whose pictures on Facebook on Monday had first sparked our interest.

She said: “We’d heard a rumour he was about but actually we were just walking the dog.

L-R Emily Harrison and Tori Richardson with Buddy - Photo: Richard Ponter

“Chris, my husband, ran down because he wanted to watch the helicopter land and then Tom Cruise came out!

“He was very relaxed, waved, shouted how lovely it was to be here and said it was a beautiful day.”

“He’ll probably now be met by a group of dog walkers!”

Sarah told us how she’d spent Monday afternoon in Levisham and been able to get relatively close to the action.

Jo Gonella, Sarah Jones and Tracy Goodfellow were hoping to see Tom Cruise land - Photo: Richard Ponter

Richard and I assessed the scene - more dog walkers than security, no windsock for the helicopter land and certainly no Hollywood A-listers walking around.

We decided to head to Levisham to see what we could find there.

In truth, we expected very little, but we chatted about how we hoped we might get even a glimpse.

Richard is a massive Tom Cruise fan and a huge lover of his action movies. There was an undercurrent of boyish excitement that was both charming and infectious as we drove over.

As we turned off the A169, the tension in the car was tangible. Would he be there? Was he even filming today? Would security let us get anywhere near?

The approach to Levisham is only a couple of miles but it felt like ten.

Tom Cruise filming an action sequence with co-star Hayley Atwell - Photo: Richard Ponter

Then, as the station first came into view, the hairs on the backs of both our necks raised. Not only was there a small army of film crew based at the station, there, just in the distance, was a stylish black helicopter.

I swear Richard put his foot down.

Signs inform you that you are not allowed to park at Levisham Station and we left the car high above the tiny village and walked down to see what was going on.

Security staff were again tight-lipped and not particularly forthcoming. Eventually an equally unforthcoming publicity lady came to see us and informed us that she couldn’t give us any information.

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“I’ve got him Lou, I’ve got him,” said Richard in a voice I can only describe as calm and professional with an undercurrent of adrenaline.

The filming was taking place around 500m from the road and, although I tried to zoom in with the camera on my mobile, I honestly couldn’t tell what I was getting!

Then a sea of bright orange coasts started heading toward us. In the first group I noticed a gentleman jumping on and off the train lines who ,as he got closer, gave us a cheery wave.

It wasn’t until I watched the footage back that I realised it was Jeremy Renner - Hawkeye from the Avengers movies. My daughter has disowned me for not getting better pictures … and an autograph...and his phone number.

The thing is, when somebody with the incredible charisma and star quality of Tom Cruise is in town, he becomes the main focus of attention, almost to the exclusion of everyone else.

Richard’s camera never left the megastar as he photographed him walking up the track.

As they crossed the road when they reached the station, we were only so far from Mr Cruise as to say we were appropriately socially distanced.

In a very relaxed moment, the Hollywood icon paused to have a word with us. “It’s beautiful here, lovely to see you,” he said, before posing for Richard and even going so far as to make sure he got the shot. “Did you get it?” he said, before disappearing into the makeshift film village for lunch.

It was a very brief encounter, appropriate when filming takes place at a railway station.

Richard and I headed back up the (very steep) Levisham hill beaming. Buzzing and elated at what we had achieved.

After 26 years working as a photographer for the Scarborough News, Richard announced that this had been his best story chase day ever.

For me, the completion of a successful mission, one which proved to not be impossible, has created a memory which will stay with me for a lifetime.

Hayley Atwell with Tom Cruise in the background - Photo: Richard Ponter