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Syrian refugee who aced Year 12 exams becomes an Australian citizen

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Saad Al-Kassab, 22, was granted Australian citizenship last month. It was a major moment for the refugee, who fled Syria in 2013 and was named dux of his Catholic school after teaching himself English in two years

Saad Al-Kassab, 22, was granted Australian citizenship last month. It was a major moment for the refugee, who fled Syria in 2013 and was named dux of his Catholic school after teaching himself English in two years

Saad Al-Kassab, 22, was granted Australian citizenship last month. It was a major moment for the refugee, who fled Syria in 2013 and was named dux of his Catholic school after teaching himself English in two years 

A Syrian refugee who aced his Year 12 exams just two years after teaching himself how to read and write English has become an Australian citizen. 

Saad Al-Kassab made national headlines in 2016 after scoring a near-perfect ATAR of 96.65 and being named dux of his prestigious Catholic school in Melbourne

The 22-year-old, who fled war-torn Syria with his family as a teenager in 2013, revealed he had taught himself English by watching ‘Question Time’ in Federal Parliament with his older brother Omar. 

Last month, he could hardly wipe the smile off his face as he joined 600 other flag-waving migrants in a packed hall in Sunshine, north-west of Melbourne, for a citizenship ceremony.   

Almost halfway through his medical degree, he hopes to become a doctor so he can help other survivors and refugees – after witnessing hundreds of people die from injuries that weren’t lethal in Syria. 

‘It’s the greatest honour that I’m Australian, I belong here now. I feel honoured that this privilege was given to me,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.

‘I’m so grateful to Australia for welcoming me and adopting me as one of theirs.’

The impressive young man scored a near-perfect ATAR of 96.65 just two years after learning English (Saad pictured as a scout in Syria before the war broke out)

The impressive young man scored a near-perfect ATAR of 96.65 just two years after learning English (Saad pictured as a scout in Syria before the war broke out)

The impressive young man scored a near-perfect ATAR of 96.65 just two years after learning English (Saad pictured as a scout in Syria before the war broke out)

I'm so grateful to Australia for welcoming me and adopting me as one of theirs,' said Saad (pictured at his citizenship ceremony in Melbourne last month)

I'm so grateful to Australia for welcoming me and adopting me as one of theirs,' said Saad (pictured at his citizenship ceremony in Melbourne last month)

I’m so grateful to Australia for welcoming me and adopting me as one of theirs,’ said Saad (pictured at his citizenship ceremony in Melbourne last month)

The Al-Kassab family, pictured left to right: Brothers Omar, 25, and Yuser, 19, mother Amal, 54, uncle Abdul Khalek, father Abdul, 55,  sister Alma, 17

The Al-Kassab family, pictured left to right: Brothers Omar, 25, and Yuser, 19, mother Amal, 54, uncle Abdul Khalek, father Abdul, 55,  sister Alma, 17

The Al-Kassab family, pictured left to right: Brothers Omar, 25, and Yuser, 19, mother Amal, 54, uncle Abdul Khalek, father Abdul, 55,  sister Alma, 17 

Saad said his father Abdul, who spent 11 years locked up in a Syrian jail from the age of 16 for political protesting, was watching on proudly from the back of the hall.

‘Because of his life journey… he doesn’t get emotional. (But) he felt so relieved, he’s always worried, always thinking what if something happens to me.’

But the milestone meant the world to his mother Amal, who abandoned her career as a chemical engineer to raise him and his siblings in a totally foreign country.

‘She was so proud. It means the world to me, she’s such a selfless person – she gave up everything for us… I just hope I can make her proud.’ 

The citizenship was made that much sweeter when Saad received offers last week to study a Doctor of Medicine at both Melbourne University and Flinders University. 

Saad had once again beaten thousands of Australian-born students and scored in the top percentile in the state – this time in the Medical Schools Admission Test.  

He told Daily Mail Australia he hoped to become a humanitarian doctor after completing his degree.

Saad said he would study his father's battered English-Arab dictionary to learn the language

Saad said he would study his father's battered English-Arab dictionary to learn the language

Saad said he would study his father’s battered English-Arab dictionary to learn the language

Throughout his Year 12 studies Saad continued to learn of friends who had been killed in Syria (Saad is pictured left standing with a close friend who was later killed by a mortar shell)

Throughout his Year 12 studies Saad continued to learn of friends who had been killed in Syria (Saad is pictured left standing with a close friend who was later killed by a mortar shell)

Throughout his Year 12 studies Saad continued to learn of friends who had been killed in Syria (Saad is pictured left standing with a close friend who was later killed by a mortar shell)

Living in Homs, Syria, following the unrest of the 2011 Arab Spring – Saad watched on as some of his closest friends were shot dead and locked up without reason. 

His own brother Omar, who became an Australian citizen just last week, was arrested without reason and tortured under the oppressive Assad regime.

‘Before the war I would go to school, play soccer, go to scouts and hang out with friends,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.

‘I had those moments that I wished I would wake up and never have to go to school again. My dreams actually came true when the war broke out … How stupid I was to think that way.’ 

Saad said his decision to become a doctor was inspired by three Syrian medics who refused to leave his hometown, instead staying to help treat injured citizens. 

‘That’s the determination that stayed with me, and got me to where I am, that’s what gave me hope.

‘I want to become a doctor who’s going to pass on that hope to other kids who were and who are in my position. I was in their position once.’   

Saad (right) and his older brother Omar (left) learned English by watching 'Question Time' in Federal Parliament (pictured in the Senate chambers)

Saad (right) and his older brother Omar (left) learned English by watching 'Question Time' in Federal Parliament (pictured in the Senate chambers)

Saad (right) and his older brother Omar (left) learned English by watching ‘Question Time’ in Federal Parliament (pictured in the Senate chambers)

Saad and Omar fled war-torn Syria with their family when their home in Homs started being shelled by mortars in 2013 (pictured is Homs neighbourhood of Khaldiyeh, in 2013)

Saad and Omar fled war-torn Syria with their family when their home in Homs started being shelled by mortars in 2013 (pictured is Homs neighbourhood of Khaldiyeh, in 2013)

Saad and Omar fled war-torn Syria with their family when their home in Homs started being shelled by mortars in 2013 (pictured is Homs neighbourhood of Khaldiyeh, in 2013)

 

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Barnaby Joyce explodes at Karl Stefanovic in furious rant

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Barnaby Joyce launched into a furious rant while on the phone to Karl Stefanovic on Tuesday.

The Nationals backbencher and former deputy prime minister was speaking on radio station 2GB from his parents’ home in the New England area of northern New South Wales which was just metres away from bushfire.

‘I’m at my parents’ place and… I’ve got to try and work out how I rig up some firefighting equipment around their house and try and save their house,’ Mr Joyce said.

‘There are spot fires round it. I don’t know how this works, we’ll just do our best job.’

Barnaby Joyce (pictured at his parents' home in New England) launched a furious rant on the phone to Karl Stefanovic on Tuesday

Barnaby Joyce (pictured at his parents' home in New England) launched a furious rant on the phone to Karl Stefanovic on Tuesday

Barnaby Joyce (pictured at his parents’ home in New England) launched a furious rant on the phone to Karl Stefanovic on Tuesday

Mr Joyce was calm until Stefanovic (pictured) asked him how bad the fires were

Mr Joyce was calm until Stefanovic (pictured) asked him how bad the fires were

Mr Joyce was calm until Stefanovic (pictured) asked him how bad the fires were

Mr Joyce was calm until Stefanovic asked him how bad the fires were. 

Becoming angry, he said: ‘Yeah. How bad do you want it to look? It’s the same for a lot of people. I don’t expect any special sympathy.

‘This is a nightmare for so many people. I am looking at it right now. I can see the fire and it’s scary as all s***.’

Earlier on Tuesday Joyce came under fire for saying two people who died in the fires ‘most likely’ voted for the Green Party.  

He blames the party’s local councillors for opposing back-burning in high-risk areas – and made that clear in his rant to Stefanovic. 

‘We’ve got to get on top of this s***,’ he said.

‘We’ve got to get on top of this crap where there is all this bureaucracy that stands in the way of people keeping their place safe,’ he said.

‘We are just absolutely sick of people that have got nothing to do with our bloody life telling us what to do.

‘There are people that have been killed, there are people that have been hurt. It’s not pretend for us. It’s not like fluffing your feathers in the senate and showing what a smart little person you are.

‘This is our life, we actually live this s***.’

In his controversial comments on Tuesday morning, Mr Joyce told Sky News: ‘I acknowledge that the two people who died were most likely people who voted for the Green party, so I am not going to start attacking them.

‘That’s the last thing I want to do. What I wanted to concentrate on is the policies that we can mitigate these tragedies happening again in the future.’

Mr Joyce’s comments were in relation to the tragic deaths of grandmother Vivian Chaplain, 69, and George Nole, 85, were both killed after a bushfire tore through the remote town of Wytaliba, three hours inland of Coffs Harbour, NSW.

A third victim was named as Julie Fletcher, whose remains were found in a destroyed building at Johns River, north of Taree, on Saturday afternoon. 

Mr Joyce doubled down on disputed claims the fire service had conducted insufficient hazard reduction burns this year as a result of opposition from Greens councils.

Lost to fire: Grandmother Vivian Chaplain

Lost to fire: Grandmother Vivian Chaplain

Lost to fire: Grandmother Vivian Chaplain

Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally slammed his remarks during a Senate estimates hearing.

‘How does he know who they voted for and why does it matter? They’re dead; they died in a bushfire. Isn’t that enough?’ Senator Keneally said.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale also blasted Mr Joyce, tweeting: ‘How low can you go? Why does it matter who the victims of this terrible fire voted for?’

‘Stop trying to shift blame and distract from your government’s failures to address the climate crisis, and remember: the first duty of a government is to look after its people.’ 

Despite raising policy suggestions of his own while the bushfires continued to burn, Mr Joyce criticised Greens MP Adam Bandt for demanding an end to coal production.

‘To make these spurious links – that a policy change would have stopped the fire – is so insulting and just completely beyond the pale,’ Mr Joyce said.

‘Because people think, well, maybe if that was the truth I wouldn’t be burnt, maybe if that’s the truth a good friend of mine would not be dead.

‘And you can’t do that Adam, you just can’t do stuff like that.’

His comments are the latest escalation in an increasingly bitter stoush between the Nationals and Greens over the cause of the bushfires.

On Monday, Nationals leader Michael McCormack attacked ‘raving inner-city lunatics’ for linking climate change to the fires.

In return, the Greens labelled the deputy prime minister a ‘dangerous fool’ who was putting lives at risk.

Greens senator Jordon Steele-John branded major party politicians ‘arsonists’ for supporting the coal industry.

His incendiary spray on climate policy came as catastrophic fire conditions gripped NSW.

‘You are no better than a bunch of arsonists – borderline arsonists – and you should be ashamed,’ Senator Steele-John told the chamber on Tuesday.

Mr Joyce's comments are the latest escalation in an increasingly bitter stoush between the Nationals and Greens over the cause of the bushfires

Mr Joyce's comments are the latest escalation in an increasingly bitter stoush between the Nationals and Greens over the cause of the bushfires

Mr Joyce’s comments are the latest escalation in an increasingly bitter stoush between the Nationals and Greens over the cause of the bushfires

 

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BBC strikes gold with this racy new drama: CLAUDIA CONNELL reviews Gold Digger 

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Gold Digger

BBC

Rating:

No good ever follows when a film or television drama opens with a scene of a woman in a white dress on her wedding day.

In this case the bride was Julia Day, a 60-year-old grandmother, who was about to marry Benjamin Greene, a man about half her age – a union that her family vowed to sabotage.

‘Daughter, wife, mother. The roles I chose… and then you came along and exploded it all,’ said Julia in the opening scene last night before throwing down her engagement ring and driving off. From that moment, it was fair to assume that Gold Digger, the BBC’s torrid new drama, will not have a happy ending.

Julia Ormond (Julia) and Ben Barnes (Benjamin), who starred as Prince Caspian in the film adaptation of The Chronicles Of Narnia, have sizzling chemistry (pictured together on screen)

Julia Ormond (Julia) and Ben Barnes (Benjamin), who starred as Prince Caspian in the film adaptation of The Chronicles Of Narnia, have sizzling chemistry (pictured together on screen)

Julia Ormond (Julia) and Ben Barnes (Benjamin), who starred as Prince Caspian in the film adaptation of The Chronicles Of Narnia, have sizzling chemistry (pictured together on screen)

The first episode ends with Benjamin rehearsing his groom¿s speech, an evil glint in his eye as he says ¿...and what¿s yours is mine¿ (Julia Ormond and Ben Barnes pictured in the new series)

The first episode ends with Benjamin rehearsing his groom¿s speech, an evil glint in his eye as he says ¿...and what¿s yours is mine¿ (Julia Ormond and Ben Barnes pictured in the new series)

The first episode ends with Benjamin rehearsing his groom’s speech, an evil glint in his eye as he says ‘…and what’s yours is mine’ (Julia Ormond and Ben Barnes pictured in the new series) 

The action then jumped back a year to reveal the story of how the sexy and intelligent but bored and unfulfilled Julia met the mysterious Benjamin, who claimed to be a 35-year-old copywriter.

You could hardly blame her for wanting a little excitement in her life. Her husband of 35 years had dumped her for her best friend, while her three grown-up children were selfish and unpleasant.

Leo, her brat of a youngest son, forgot her 60th birthday, Della, a failed stand-up comedian, missed her flight home for the big day, while Patrick, her lecherous lawyer eldest son, was stuck at work.

No wonder Julia left her fabulous Devon home to spend the day – and night – in London alone. On the train journey the camera homed in on the furrows in Julia’s forehead, her mumsy size-14 figure and liver spots on her hands.

The message – unsubtle though it may have been – was clear: This was a mature woman who looked her age. No Botox or fillers here.

Written by Marnie Dickens, who was behind the BBC¿s gripping kidnap series Thirteen, this promises to be a drama that breaks taboos (pictured Nikki Amuka-Bird and Alex Jennings in the new series)

Written by Marnie Dickens, who was behind the BBC¿s gripping kidnap series Thirteen, this promises to be a drama that breaks taboos (pictured Nikki Amuka-Bird and Alex Jennings in the new series)

Written by Marnie Dickens, who was behind the BBC’s gripping kidnap series Thirteen, this promises to be a drama that breaks taboos (pictured Nikki Amuka-Bird and Alex Jennings in the new series)

Julia headed to the British Museum, where she once worked, and it was there she met Benjamin. They flirted over a display of 6th century artefacts before he asked if she fancied a drink.

‘I’m not some weird stalker,’ promised Benjamin, something only a weird stalker would say.

Before you could say ‘early bird special’ Julia and Benjamin were in a pub where they played a game of ‘the worst thing I’ve ever done’. Had they played it 24 hours later Julia would have been able to say: ‘Taken a bloke young enough to be my son back to my hotel.’

The next morning the smitten pair walked along London’s South Bank and Julia bought Benjamin an expensive watch.

And there lay the premise of the six-part series: Was Benjamin genuinely interested in wealthy Julia or was he merely a gold-digger?

It’s no surprise which side her horrible children came down on.

‘My kids are going to love you,’ said Julia before the world’s most awkward family dinner. Over lobster, Patrick interrogated Benjamin and concluded he was a conman.

Drama, sexual intrigue and the promise of dark secrets ahead, the series got off to a captivating start (pictured Jemima Rooper in the new series)

Drama, sexual intrigue and the promise of dark secrets ahead, the series got off to a captivating start (pictured Jemima Rooper in the new series)

Drama, sexual intrigue and the promise of dark secrets ahead, the series got off to a captivating start (pictured Jemima Rooper in the new series) 

There was certainly something creepily odd about Benjamin. He dressed in designer clothes yet never appeared to go to work. He had no social media footprint and was vague and shifty when quizzed about his background. Against the backdrop of Julia and Benjamin’s ‘love’ story was the suggestion of something dark and sinister that had occurred in the Day household years ago.

Written by Marnie Dickens, who was behind the BBC’s gripping kidnap series Thirteen, this promises to be a drama that breaks taboos – with an older, sensuous woman at the centre of the story.

Julia Ormond (Julia) and Ben Barnes (Benjamin), who starred as Prince Caspian in the film adaptation of The Chronicles Of Narnia, have sizzling chemistry. In their first sex scene, Julia is shy and turns the light off. By the time we get to a steamy shower scene, however, all such timidity has vanished. The actors went on (platonic) dates to deepen their connection. Some dates!

The first episode ends with Benjamin rehearsing his groom’s speech, an evil glint in his eye as he says ‘…and what’s yours is mine’.

Drama, sexual intrigue and the promise of dark secrets ahead, the series got off to a captivating start, and will be dissected at dinner parties up and down the country.

It earns a gold star from me.

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Rod Stewart’s secret hit track! Veteran rocker finally lets the world see his legendary model railwa

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He has long been known as a model railway enthusiast — even if at times he didn’t want to talk about it.

But now Sir Rod Stewart’s legendary layout — 26 years in the making — can be seen for the first time in all its finished glory.

The rocker’s astonishingly detailed 124ft long x 23ft wide model depicting an American city and its industrial hinterland in the 1940s contains hundreds of buildings, from trackside switchman shanties to vast factories and skyscrapers.

Called Grand Street And Three Rivers City, it also features a railway station crossed by numerous bridges at rush hour. There are period cars and lorries as well, of course, as trains, and it is all surrounded by lush landscape and dramatically lit in the colours of late afternoon sunshine.

Next stop, Gasoline Alley: Sir Rod and two friends worked on elements of the layout while he was on tour, even booking an extra hotel room for their workshop

Next stop, Gasoline Alley: Sir Rod and two friends worked on elements of the layout while he was on tour, even booking an extra hotel room for their workshop

Next stop, Gasoline Alley: Sir Rod and two friends worked on elements of the layout while he was on tour, even booking an extra hotel room for their workshop 

Rock island line: Coal wagons, warehouses and rugged city skyscrapers . . . ‘I find beauty in what everyone else sees as ugly,’ says Sir Rod

Rock island line: Coal wagons, warehouses and rugged city skyscrapers . . . ‘I find beauty in what everyone else sees as ugly,’ says Sir Rod

Rock island line: Coal wagons, warehouses and rugged city skyscrapers . . . ‘I find beauty in what everyone else sees as ugly,’ says Sir Rod

Stewart’s turntable classic: This Forties Pennsylvania Railroad scene is accurate in every minute detail

Stewart’s turntable classic: This Forties Pennsylvania Railroad scene is accurate in every minute detail

Stewart’s turntable classic: This Forties Pennsylvania Railroad scene is accurate in every minute detail

Six-five special: Sir Rod Stewart with the huge diorama at his house in Los Angeles. ‘It’s the landscape I like. Attention to detail, extreme detail, is paramount. There shouldn’t be any unsightly gaps or pavements that are too clean,’ he said

Six-five special: Sir Rod Stewart with the huge diorama at his house in Los Angeles. ‘It’s the landscape I like. Attention to detail, extreme detail, is paramount. There shouldn’t be any unsightly gaps or pavements that are too clean,’ he said

Six-five special: Sir Rod Stewart with the huge diorama at his house in Los Angeles. ‘It’s the landscape I like. Attention to detail, extreme detail, is paramount. There shouldn’t be any unsightly gaps or pavements that are too clean,’ he said

Sir Rod told Railway Modeller magazine that scenery and structure modelling, rather than locomotives, trackwork or electrics, are his forte.

‘It’s the landscape I like. Attention to detail, extreme detail, is paramount. There shouldn’t be any unsightly gaps or pavements that are too clean,’ he said.

This also extends to soccer fan Sir Rod referencing his beloved Celtic FC in the name of the Celtic Coal & Steel firm building. There is another nod to his Scottish roots with his Great Caledonian Steel & Iron Co.

The 74-year-old’s now demolished childhood home at 507 Archway Road in North London overlooked train tracks.

Yet, he was inspired by American railways because that is where he was living when he began the model in 1993. At the time, he had recently built a new house in Los Angeles and included an attic room specifically for the layout.

But he told the magazine, which features Sir Rod as its cover star in its new December edition along with an in-depth feature, he does not think American railways are better than British ones. ‘They’re bigger, the locos are bigger but not any better,’ he said.

While life on the road as a rock musician and its temptations has led to many contemporaries going off the rails, for Sir Rod railway modelling became an escape from the pressures of touring — he would take kits, tools and paints with him and book an extra hotel room for a workshop so he could pursue his hobby in between concerts wherever he was in the world.

‘We’d tell them in advance and they were really accommodating, taking out the beds and providing fans to improve air circulation and ventilation,’ he said.

Many a skyscraper was completed that way on afternoons before a show, and Sir Rod believes he may have never finished the model if he had not done so.

The 74-year-old’s now demolished childhood home at 507 Archway Road in North London overlooked train tracks (pictured: The tracks near his North London boyhood home)

The 74-year-old’s now demolished childhood home at 507 Archway Road in North London overlooked train tracks (pictured: The tracks near his North London boyhood home)

 The 74-year-old’s now demolished childhood home at 507 Archway Road in North London overlooked train tracks (pictured: The tracks near his North London boyhood home)

While life on the road as a rock musician and its temptations has led to many contemporaries going off the rails, for Sir Rod railway modelling became an escape from the pressures of touring (pictured: Rod Stewart's HO Scale Model Railroad)

While life on the road as a rock musician and its temptations has led to many contemporaries going off the rails, for Sir Rod railway modelling became an escape from the pressures of touring (pictured: Rod Stewart's HO Scale Model Railroad)

While life on the road as a rock musician and its temptations has led to many contemporaries going off the rails, for Sir Rod railway modelling became an escape from the pressures of touring (pictured: Rod Stewart’s HO Scale Model Railroad)

Sir Rod used photos for reference when making the layout and they would often stop to take pictures of a scene that caught their eye

Sir Rod used photos for reference when making the layout and they would often stop to take pictures of a scene that caught their eye

Sir Rod used photos for reference when making the layout and they would often stop to take pictures of a scene that caught their eye

Soccer fan Sir Rod references his beloved Celtic FC in the name of the Celtic Coal & Steel firm building. There is another nod to his Scottish roots with his Great Caledonian Steel & Iron Co

Soccer fan Sir Rod references his beloved Celtic FC in the name of the Celtic Coal & Steel firm building. There is another nod to his Scottish roots with his Great Caledonian Steel & Iron Co

Soccer fan Sir Rod references his beloved Celtic FC in the name of the Celtic Coal & Steel firm building. There is another nod to his Scottish roots with his Great Caledonian Steel & Iron Co

Now Sir Rod Stewart’s legendary layout — 26 years in the making — can be seen for the first time in all its finished glory

Now Sir Rod Stewart’s legendary layout — 26 years in the making — can be seen for the first time in all its finished glory

Now Sir Rod Stewart’s legendary layout — 26 years in the making — can be seen for the first time in all its finished glory

Despite its vast scale, he said ‘none of it was really planned’ and he ‘just winged it’, with the help of two friends.

His photographer and model wife Penny Lancaster, 48, also played her part. Sir Rod used photos for reference when making the layout and they would often stop to take pictures of a scene that caught their eye.

Sir Rod, whose hits include I Don’t Want To Talk About It, You Wear It Well, Downtown Train and Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?, said: ‘I find beauty in what everyone else sees as ugly — rugged skyscrapers, beaten-up warehouses, things that are very run down.’

While Sir Rod acknowledged it took a while for him to publicly admit he was a railway enthusiast, he agreed in his interview with the magazine that attitudes now appear to be changing towards model railway making.

But he added that he was still wary about answering questions on TV about it because ‘it’s hard to talk about something so all- encompassing’ if he was meant to be discussing his music.

His passion was first inflamed when he was ‘eight or nine’ on a family holiday in Bognor Regis where he saw a ‘marvellous’ railway layout in a model shop.

He said his father had once given him the advice that ‘every man needs a hobby’.

‘Mine’s model railway,’ said Sir Rod, who had a toy railway as a child. When he wanted a station for it, his dad bought him a guitar instead, which many might think turned out to be a shrewd move.

His fortune stands at £190 million, according to the Sunday Times’ UK Musicians’ Rich List, and he has had nine No 1 albums and 62 hit singles in the UK.

Sir Rod said guests are stunned by his magnificent model railway when he runs it for them at his LA home. He said: ‘When I take on something creative like this, I have to give it a 110 per cent. For me, it’s addictive. I started, so I just had to finish.

‘I’m lucky I had the room. If I’d realised at the start it would have taken so long, I’d have probably said No! No! Nah!’

  • Read the full article in the December edition of Railway Modeller magazine, on sale tomorrow.

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