AS a professional theatre director, Joe Douglas should know a good story when he sees one.
So when that story involves himself, he saw the potential for a theatre show.
He is not the only one to recognise how good a story it was.
When Douglas’s one-man show Educating Ronnie made its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, it was rewarded with a Fringe First Award.
It is a story that covers 10 years, thousands of miles and thousands of pounds as Douglas examines the long term repercussions of his decision to support a young African student.
However, it was a story that even some of Douglas’s nearest and dearest did not know about until he put it on a public stage.
"That was really me telling this story for the first time," he said.
"Up until then, it’d kept it almost a secret. Even some of my family, when they came to see the play, were going: ‘What? We didn’t know anything about this!’"
It a story that Douglas knew would resonate with others, taking in issues on Third World development, First World guilt and trying to do the right thing — but not always getting it right.
"The thing that makes it most interesting is that I am there telling the story," he said.
"That adds another layer to it. A lot of people don’t really believe that sort of thing can happen unless they know a country like Uganda."
The story began in 2002 when 18-year old Douglas left Britain for a six-week African adventure.
He chose Uganda because his aunt worked for a charity there and it was in Uganda that he met 16-year old Ronnie.
"Ronnie lived in the village where my auntie did," he explained.
"Ronnie had this certain glint in his eye. I think he was also pleased that I was a boy because most charities seemed to send out girls to work in Uganda. He played football together and he took me to meet his family."
After six weeks of safaris, white water rafting and other typical gap student experiences, Douglas returned to the UK, but once he was back in Britain, he received a text from Ronnie.
"Even back in 2002 the proliferation of mobile phones in Uganda was massive," Douglas added.
"Because of the lack of infrastructure and land lines, when mobile phones came out they were really popular with anyone who could afford them."
The short message was to have a far reaching effect on Douglas.
It read: "Brother, my sponsor has pulled out on me and I want to stay in school. Can you help? Ronnie x."
For Douglas, who had been struck by how privileged he was as a European teenager in comparison with the young people he met in Africa, it was an appeal he could turn down, calculating —in true student manner — how many pints of beer per week Ronnie’s initially modest request would cost him.
However, the requests kept coming and Douglas found that he was not only supporting himself, but Ronnie.
"Unlike most of my friends, I never went to a music festival, for example," he said.
"I was sending my spare money away to Ronnie. Part of the show focuses on my relationship with my partner. She took on a lot of the emotional burden of what was going on and at times I was supported financially by her.
"There were also times when I had to ask other people for money. Ronnie had pressures from his family and they were being passed on to me, so I would pass them on to other people. And always at the back of my head, I would have this little bit of doubt: does he really need the money?"
Putting his experiences and questions on stage has helped Douglas take a fresh look at his decade long relationship with Ronnie — whom he has not seen since he left Uganda in 2002.
"The show is not therapy, but it has allowed me to reflect on what has happened," he said.
"The show is also about growing up. I’m now turning 30 and getting married and I think part of growing up is about hardening the heart and making the right decisions. I still want to support charity, but as I go forward, I think I’ll be more discriminating.
"Philanthropy is important and what is a relatively small sacrifice in my life makes a big difference in his."
Ronnie is aware of the play and has given Douglas his blessing to perform it, even if it does not always show Ronnie in a good light, though the success of the play has raised other issues.
"If I do the show again, I have to ask questions like how much money is Ronnie entitled to? It’s his story too," Douglas said.
"But the dream is to take the show to Uganda. It would be really interesting to perform it and have Ronnie and my auntie in the audience."
• Educating Ronnie, written and performed by Joe Douglas, is at the OneTouch Theare, Eden Court, Inverness, on Thursday 12th September and the Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, on Saturday 21st September.