Mr. Turner star Timothy Spall learned he had won a major prize at the Cannes Film Festival in France in May (14) while he was trying to fix his boat in Holland.

The Brit admits he had left the event after promoting his new Mike Leigh film and had one hand up a "tube full of grease" while the other was holding toilet paper when the phone rang.

He recalls, "They don't pay for you to stay around to find out what the result is, so I went off and I went to my boat and I went to Holland... I had my hand up a tube full of grease on my boat... I pretended I knew what I was doing with this greasy pole; I had no idea.

"I got a phone call and it was guy who said, 'Timothy, you must come back to France... I cannot tell you (why). It is impossible... There's a car waiting for you'."

Spall pressed him for more details and the Cannes official said, "Ok, you come back there might be something interesting for you to come here."

The actor and his wife hurriedly returned to Cannes via Nice airport and met the official, who had hired a police escort to race him back to the festival.

Spall adds, "As we were going through all these lights, I said to my wife, 'Things are looking up here, love'... Cut to me sitting in the cinema and the next thing I knew Jane Campion came down and said, 'The Best Actor at Cannes this year is Timothy Spall', and I just sat there. There was a tap on my shoulder and it was my publicist and he said, 'That's you...!'

"I was a little but overcome and I started blubbing (sic) and crying and thanking everybody... I ended up nearly thanking the guy who refused to sell me a gerbil when I was about six. All of a sudden you realise why people go bonkers at awards ceremonies, because it's so shocking."