The ‘boy’ who went back to school aged THIRTY: Incredible story of Scotland’s most notorious imposter Brian Mackinnon who fooled teachers is told in a new film out today
- ‘Canadian’ Brandon Lee joined class 5C at Glashow’s Bearsden Academy 1993
- He had a sad backstory, gawky looks and shared a name with Bruce Lee’s son
- But people were mainly endeared to him for being kind, funny and a bit different
- However, there was a catch. ‘Brandon’ was not, in fact, the bright 17-year-old
- He was actually Scotland’s most notorious imposter: Brian MacKinnon, 30
- His incredible story has been made into a film by one of his former classmates
- My Old School, starring Alan Cumming, has been released in cinemas today
A new feature film is set to be released today depicting the story of a failed medical student who pretended to be a schoolboy and returned to school – while actually aged 30.
Brian MacKinnon, now-58, enrolled back at his own former school and fooled teachers and classmates by claiming to be a fellow sixth former called Brandon Lee aged 16 to follow his dream of going to university to study medicine.
Twenty five years on his story is hitting the big screens, directed by Jono McLeod, who was a classmate of his in 1993.
My Old School features interviews with old schoolteachers and former school friends as well as an interview with MacKinnon himself, although he apparently refused to appear on screen and is mimed by celebrated actor Alan Cumming.
The film, which is out in cinemas today, was directed by his former schoolmate Jono McLeoud, who told The Mirror: ‘A lot of people in the class have their own take on what ‘Brandon’ did but for the most part they have a fondness for him. I know that’s not across the board. The film is not a takedown of him but I don’t agree with all the decisions he made back then.’
My Old School is set to be released today depicting the story of a failed medical student Brian MacKinnon, who pretended to be a schoolboy and returned to school – while actually aged 30
MacKinnon is pictured left as a teenager when he attended Bearsden Academy, back in the 1970s, and as ‘Brandon Lee’ (right) when he returned to his former school and fooled teachers
The film details how MacKinnon returned to Bearsden Academy, just to the north of Glasgow and stars Alan Cumming
The film details how MacKinnon returned to Bearsden Academy, just to the north of Glasgow, in 1993 despite having already left in 1980 to study medicine at university before failing exams and crashing off the course.
None of the teachers – including those who taught him first time around – twigged his real identity and so he was allowed to study among those half his age to get the grades needed to have another crack at Uni and achieve his dream of becoming a doctor.
MacKinnon was originally a pupil at Bearsden Academy between 1974 and 1980 and got grades good enough to study medicine at Glasgow University.
However, once there he failed his exams twice and left the course in 1983.
MacKinnon pictured as a fresh-faced young schoolboy in the 1970s in Glasgow where he grew up with his mother and father
Ten years later, he decided to have another go at studying medicine, spurred on by the death of his father from an undiagnosed cancer.
To help him get a place at university for a second time, he plotted his now infamous Walter Mitty-style ruse and joined Class 5C at Bearsden.
He renamed himself Brandon Lee – unwittingly after the recently deceased son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee – and pretended to be from Canada – even talking with a fake Canadian accent.
MacKinnon also gave himself a tragic backstory, telling teachers how his mother, an opera singer, had died and his father, who he said had died shortly afterwards, had packed him off to live with his grandmother in Scotland.
To back up his story, he gave two references, one in Canada and the other in London but neither were checked. One of the names was an ex-girlfriend of Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger.
MacKinnon failed to study medicine first time round so went back to school to try again, spurred on by the death of his father
Despite being twice as old as other pupils and taller than most with a penchant for carrying a briefcase rather than a rucksack, he passed off his more distinguished look as ‘premature aging’ -although once let slip once to a friend that he remembered the day Elvis Presley died in 1977, the year ‘Brandon’ was supposedly born.
He was clever, boasting a genius-level IQ of 161 but held back in lessons slightly as to not blow his cover, instead becoming an all-rounder who joined the football team and the debating club.
His more mature years allowed him to also take bullies under his wing, to listen without judgement and to help guide them onto the right path.
There was one embarrassing moment during his time back at school that could have exposed him, when his bogus North American accent landed him the lead role in a school play in which he was supposed to kiss a 16-year-old girl.
He managed to hold off until the night of the performance and even the kiss was one a girl would give her father.
But he went undetected for two-years and achieved five grade A’s on his Highers exams, which earned him a place at Dundee University to study medicine.
MacKinnon, a popular pupil at the school, is pictured out for dinner at TGI Fridays with friends
MacKinnon’s deception made headlines around the world when his secret was uncovered in 1995 and his true identity was revealed despite him winning a place at university
His dream of becoming a doctor was almost in sight until his luck ran out and a neighbour let slip his true identity in 1995, thrusting him into a media storm which eventually cost him his place at university for a second time.
The Chancellor of Dundee University threw him off the course for a ‘lack of integrity’.
His form teacher Gwynneth Lightbody, said she initially mistook him for an adult student, but then became convinced he was mature because he was Canadian.
Now 78 and retired, she said: ‘At that time the school used to have a separate class for adult students doing Highers and I thought he was an adult student, so I said to him: ‘If you’d just like to wait outside, I’ll just take this quick registration’, but he replied, ‘I’m in your class’.
‘I was slightly taken aback but he came in and did the registration. Then I did my Higher class and during the interval afterwards one of the science teachers said to me, ‘have you got that man in your class?’ And I said ‘yes’ and we were both surprised.
‘But he was an excellent student, always sitting in the front of class. Sometimes overseas students mature quicker than British students and I just assumed this was the case with Brandon, him being apparently from Canada.
‘We had other things to think about at the time, we were busy. It was just a weird situation.
‘I think I would’ve recognised him had I been teaching him during his first time at the school. A big mistake was that the school never insisted on seeing his birth certificate.’
Mrs Lightbody, who still lives near her old school, previously said she had not managed to speak to MacKinnon since his deception was uncovered, despite trying to catch up with him in a local supermarket.
She explained: ‘For years, I used to see him shopping at Tesco with his mother. He preferred the evenings because it was quieter. He used to wear a baseball cap down low.
‘Once or twice, I used to kind of follow him round just to see if I could catch up with him, but he always vanished as soon as he knew someone had spotted him.
‘It’s an astonishing story but a sad one really, he never got to practice medicine. But how long would he have been able to keep on going with a false name? The ruse would’ve been discovered sooner or later.’
Softly-spoken MacKinnon now lives a reclusive life by himself but has remained close to Bearsden.
He goes out to the supermarket and to the local library – where he is said to read up on conspiracy theories on the Internet – but for the most part keeps himself to himself.
A few years ago he worked on a local industrial park but said he stopped after he was assaulted by a gang of men.
He wrote his autobiography, published online in 1997, and plans to release an updated version later this year.
Although always reluctant to bring up the past – once turning down a reputed six-figure book deal – he previously told MailOnline: ‘I did what I did. That was then and this is now. I kept my head down and got on with it.
MacKinnon took an active part in school life the second time round where he took his exams when he was 32. Here he is in a school production of South Pacific in the year he left
‘There were a few teachers there the second time around who had taught me originally but none of them recognised me.
‘They may go on to say they did in this documentary, but they didn’t. Of course they didn’t. When I set out to do something, I do it well.
‘It was the same with medicine. I was a good student and I was doing very, very well.’
In January, speaking through a crack in the door of his first-floor one bedroom Glasgow flat, where he lives alone, unemployed Mr Mackinnon blasted the film and told MailOnline: ‘I have had nothing to do with this film and I have zero interest in ever wanting to watch any of it.
‘I have never given an interview with Jono McLeod, I don’t recall even being at school with him the second time around.’
Pictured as he is today, this is Brian MacKinnon, known as Scotland’s biggest imposter after he returned to his old school 15 years after he left to re-take his exams and study medicine
These days Mackinnon rarely ventures outside – and he told MailOnline that he wants nothing to with the film and will never watch it, attacking both the film’s director and Cumming, the actor who plays him in it.
He said he walked out on McLeod, after he approached him in a coffee shop in Glasgow’s West End five years ago to outline his plans for a film about him.
Mackinnon went on: ‘Mcleod introduced himself to me in a coffee shop back in 2017 and after inviting himself to my table, he came across as a nervous, garrulous, affected and pushy fellow.
A new film called ‘My Old School’ directed by one of his former classmates, features interviews with former teachers, old pupils that he fooled as stars Scottish actor Alan Cumming (above)
‘He said that he was a documentary film maker, had a collection of newspaper cuttings relating to me and had been a fifth year pupil at Bearsden Academy. He also said he headed a production company and had secured the services of actor Alan Cumming to portray me.
‘I cut short his harangue by standing and reaching for my jacket and heading swiftly for the door as he made a last, desperate reference to Alan Cumming.’
Neighbours told how MacKinnon lives as a hermit, rarely venturing out of doors.
One told us said: ‘He’s been living here for a few years now but he’s very quiet, you don’t see too much of him.
‘He doesn’t go out much, just the odd trip to the library, but he spends quite a lot of time in the flat.
‘He keeps himself very much to himself but I’ll speak to him now again, even if it’s just to say ‘good morning’.
‘I’ve heard about his story, it’s incredible really that he managed to pull it off. I like him, he’s a nice guy.’