--------------------INVERNESS COURIER, FRIDAY, JUNE 22, 2001--------------------

   On the fifth anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster Fan Club Calum MacLeod
talks to founders and organisers Kathy and Gary Campbell
Keeping track of monster mania

    For a man who deals with the unexplained and unexpected, perhaps it is appropriate that something as mundane as stopping in a Highland lay-by to look at some insurance papers would lead to the creation of possibly Scotland's strangest fan club.

    But the lay-by Gary Campbell chose to stop in was beside Loch Ness and in the water he saw something that was to lead he and wife Kathy to found the Loch Ness Monster Fan Club, which has just celebrated its fifth anniversary.

    "I was sitting back in the car when out of the corner of my eye I saw this black hump," Gary explained. It was like a mini-whale, that's the best way I can describe it. Then it came out of the water again. It was about 10 to 12 feet in length. There was no head or neck, just these black humps."

    It was when Gary tried to report his sighting that he realised what the loch lacked was a central place to receive and record reports of strange phenomena.

    "Kathy and I were discussing it and we realised there was no such thing as a fan club for Nessie and we thought we could do that ourselves. No one else was doing that, combining the serious and the fun," said Gary.

    "The first day that we set the fan club up, we got a phone call from an individual living around Loch Ness saying that we couldn't do that because that was his idea."

    The caller claimed he had registered the idea with his lawyer three years before.

    "That's a coincidence," Gary replied. I registered it with my lawyer four years ago, but never got round to doing
anything about it."

    The couple heard nothing more from the caller, but this was not to be the only challenge they faced to the club.

    An e-mail tipped the couple off to the existence of another Nessie Fan Club in the USA.

    'We wrote to this guy Robert Leonard in Las Vegas telling him that we believed he was breaching our  copyright, ever so slightly," said Gary.

    In return they received a letter threatening legal action.

    "He said that he had the rights to 'Nessie' and 'the Loch Ness Monster'. He had bought this book, 'Nessie and the Little Blind Boy', for a six-figure sum to make it into a film. The upshot was that he was going to sue me for $5
million dollars unless I stopped saying that he didn't have the rights to Nessie," said Gary.

    In response, Gary and Kathy enlisted some cross-party support.

    'We got Charles Kennedy, Fergus Ewing and Mary Scanlon to back us," Gary revealed. "Everyone except Downing Street.  The Monster Raving Loony Party were brilliant. We tracked them down to this pub in the middle of England and got them with this sign saying: 'Keep Your Hands Off Nessie'".

    The legal threat was averted, but Gary admits that some other people have also questioned just how "official" the fan club is, among them a "very pukka" broadsheet reporter.

    "He asked just how we became official," Gary recalled.

    I told him by writing 'official' on a piece of paper. If it was an Elton John fan club, you could go and ask Elton John, but when it's the Loch Ness Monster it's a bit difficult to go 600 feet down into Loch Ness and get a watery
signature. He said that I had a point."

    Other encounters with the press have taken a stranger turn.

    Gary joined an expedition to the home of Scotland's second most famous monster, Loch Morar, where a diver found some bones on the edge of an underwater plateau. Gary casually mentioned the expedition's only discovery to a freelance journalist, who showed great interest in the ordinary-looking bones.

    Gary thought no more about it until Kathy started getting an increasingly odd series of phone calls from national
newspapers and Radio 4.

    It was the Natural History Museum in London that worried me," said Kathy. "They wanted to speak to Gary about the bones he had found."
    It was only then that he discovered his journalist friend had put out a press release claiming that "dinosaur bones" had been found in Loch Morar, resulting in a quick phone call from Gary to the unrepentant reporter.

    "Ah, Gary, you know you have got to talk these things up," the reporter told him. "Just think, we will be on the front page of every newspaper in Europe tomorrow."

    Gary immediately ordered a halt to the story, but added: "The biggest laugh was that night, someone stole the
bones out of a tent, so to this day we don't know what these bones were."

    But Gary was instrumental in bringing another monster tale to the world.

    Told by boat owner George Edwards of a mysterious 30ft by 30ft hole on the bottom of the loch, Gary mischievously asked him what lived there.

    "A couple of fish," George suggested.

    "No, George," Gary said. "Think about it. What's big and green and might live in there?"

    And so the story was flashed around the world that George had discovered Nessie's cave.

    Gary himself is regularly phoned by radio stations as far apart as Iceland and the western USA, and has appeared in television reports and documentaries around the world.

    His brother and sister-in-law were on  holiday in Australia when they caught a fleeting glimpse of Gary on the
television in a Sydney bar. As they kept watching, Gary kept reappearing as the station flashed up trailers for a
programme on Loch Ness.

    Gary, who was housesitting for his brother and sister-in-law, soon received a frantic call from Sydney.

    "I'm 10,000 miles away from you, you are staying in my house and I still can't get away from you. Every time I put the TV on, there you are," Gary was told.

    He was also persuaded to dress up in a kilt for an appearance on an internationally syndicated television show
hosted by America's most notorious DJ Howard Stern. The predictable question about what Gary wore under his kilt, was fielded by Gary with a comment about the Loch Ness monster that even got the unembarrassable Mr Stern to move the conversation swiftly along.

    But for all the frivolity that goes along with the fan club, Gary believes that one of his greatest achievements was organising a conference about Nessie in 1999. That event attracted monster-hunters from the USA to Japan, among them Lauren Coleman, famous in America for his lifelong pursuit of Bigfoot.

    Even a cynical journalist, who came to the conference as a sceptic, told Gary he was now almost persuaded there was something to the story after listening to the 45-minutes testimony of retired detective Ian Cameron, who holds the longest Nessie sighting on record.

    "Lauren Coleman said that when you came to Loch Ness you were immersed in it and you really got the feeling that you were in Monster Country," said Gary.

    The Loch Ness Monster Fan Club has not been as widely successful as some predicted - when the couple set it up in May 1996 they were told they would have 30,000 members within a few months. To date they actually have 210.

    But the response from around the world shows what a truly international phenomenon Nessie has become since the Inverness Courier first broke the story to the world in 1933. Gary points to all those who have come to the loch to probe its mysteries forget the hundreds of scientists, mystics and part-time cryptozoologists, Nessie has also attracted such world-famous investigators as Sherlock Holmes, the Saint, Stingray and Scooby Doo.

    "That's another thing about the loch. There is this total polarisation about what is in there," said Gary. "On one hand you get people like Adrian Shine who say there is nothing in Loch Ness and they are there to prove it, to those who think it's a ghost, a water monster or something from another dimension.

    I was on the radio the other day with a man who was convinced that the River Styx, the underworld river in Greek mythology, was underneath Paris and was connected by a secret passage to Loch Ness."

    If this was not an odd enough theory, the same person went on to claim that the Titanic was sunk by aliens.

    "What is the Loch Ness Monster? I haven't got a clue," said Gary. "The theory that it is a giant eel is quite valid. There are Sargasso eels that get into lochs and don't get out again. They just stay and mutate. I have heard stories that a 10-foot eel was taken out of the power station at Foyers.

    "There is a narrow band in the Northern and Southern hemispheres where all these monster lakes are found and they all tie in with the ice ages and where the ice ended. When the ice melted the land mass rose and if something came in from the sea it could have been trapped and adapted. It hasn't changed at the bottom of the loch for 10,000 years and that is evidenced by the fact that we have got Arctic char there."

    Although Kathy has not had the benefit of her own sighting, the weight of evidence she deals with almost every day has persuaded her that there is something in the loch.

    "I'm not a great dinosaur believer, but because the loch hasn't changed in so long, something could easily have got in there and become trapped".

Copyright © Inverness Courier 2001 -  Reproduced by kind permission of the Inverness Courier - email courier@zetnet.co.uk


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