Net result as Disney looks to Whitby for prop

WHEN Whitby net maker Steve Leadley took a call asking him to lend his expertise to a new Walt Disney film, he thought it was a “wind up”.

Steve Leadley of Whitby based Caedmon nets. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

So he asked for confirmation by email, and knew the job was real.

But what he did not learn until later was that he would be making a key prop for the personal use of one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, Angelina Jolie.

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And when cinema goers get the chance to see Jolie star in the Disney production Maleficent next year, they will see her handling a special net handmade by Mr Leadley himself.

Briar Rose Productions, the UK company handling the British filming at Pinewood, wanted Mr Leadley’s firm Caedmon Nets to make four lightweight nets which are used in the movie to catch ravens.

“I took the call and really thought it was a wind-up from one of my mates,” said Mr Leadley, the managing director.

“I thought hang on, where’s Jeremy Beadle? Then they followed it up with an email, and we realised it was genuine.

“They said it’s for an actress to catch a pair of ravens – I didn’t think much about it.

“I didn’t realise the ravens, and catching the ravens, was an integral part of the film and where the characters stem from.

“I think she’s throwing the net.”

Mr Leadley, 48, who runs the business with his wife Diane, got to work straight away but the nets were too heavy.

“We made the first versions from sisal (natural fibre rope), but they were just too heavy for the actress to handle so we sourced some lighter-weight spun flax from Egypt,” he said.

“The four nets are all eight feet square, two with a two-inch, and two with a three-inch mesh.

“We had to be careful about things like the colouring of the flax – the nets had to look authentic in the movie’s medieval setting.

“We can’t wait to see them in action.”

The nets were made with the same care and attention that has sustained Mr Leadley’s business for 25 years.

“I always work to a standard,” he said. “You’ve got to be happy with the job going out the door.”

Mr Leadley comes from a long-standing and respected Whitby fishing family but was unable to follow earlier generations to sea after being badly hurt when hit by a car in a hit-and-run incident while on a night out a few weeks short of his 18th birthday.

He lost the lower half of his left leg among other injuries and also suffered post-traumatic epilepsy.

“With that went my dream of a life at sea catching fish in my own boat,” he said.

After months of rehabilitation, he was making building blocks as part of his occupational therapy, but yearned to be in the industry he was born into.

He said: “My dad said ‘You can do better than that, Steve’. I said ‘I know I can’. I learned the basics of my job with my grandfather and it went from there.”

Mr Leadley’s great-great-great grandfather Robert was one of the 12 crew members lost in the 1861 Whitby Lifeboat disaster.

He left a widow and seven children.

Mr Leadley’s grandfather Jim was instrumental in setting up the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations and was made an MBE for his services to the industry.

In May 1942, while his grandfather was stationed in Looe commissioning a ship, Mr Leadley’s father James was born, and from that moment the two were affectionately known as “Auld Jim” and “Young Jim”.

Mr Leadley set up Caedmon Nets in 1989 and it is now one of only a small handful of companies in the UK making nets. The smaller, specialised nets are completely hand-knitted.

As well as fishing nets, the company makes many other types including sporting nets, scramble nets for playgrounds, and nets for transport, waste management and haulage.

Maleficent tells the story of the wicked witch who curses the infant Sleeping Beauty after 
not being invited to her christening.

As well as Jolie, the film, due for release next spring, stars Elle Fanning and British actors Peter Capaldi, Miranda Richardson, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Kenneth Cranham.

Janet Deacon, North Yorkshire area director for Welcome to Yorkshire, said: “There are some fantastic small businesses along the North Yorkshire coast and in the North York Moors National Park.

“We’re delighted that one of them has reached Hollywood.”