After the earthquake in Turkey, Layer Cake actor Tamer Hassan was surprised when one of the displaced families gleefully mocked him for his resemblance to Antonio Banderas.
He answered: “If Antonio Banderas and Steven Seagal had a baby, it would be me.”
It was a rare moment of laughter for a family who lost their home and possessions after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit southern Turkey and Syria on February 6.
Just over a month later, the Hardman, who starred in Layer Cake alongside Daniel Craig as well as classics Football Factory and The Business, has carried out a terrifying humanitarian mission across the country.
As part of the relief effort, Turkish Cypriot Tamer, who is popular in Turkey, is rushing food, water, clothes and hygiene products to those left with the clothes on their backs.
He said. “Families were just walking around like they were in a trance.
“The smell of death was something I’ve never felt before.
“If there was a hell, I was standing in the middle of it.
“You couldn’t see the sky, it was so bad. Dead bodies in the rubble and stuff like that.
“By the time I actually got down to the affected areas, it was too late.”
Tamer was in her native Cyprus when she heard the news of the devastating earthquake, which eventually killed more than 50,000 people and left 150,000 orphaned children, a number that could rise as recovery efforts continue.
After following family members around the region, Tamer said he was shocked by the Turkish survivors who traveled to Cyprus.
He said. “Survivors were literally coming to Cyprus without shoes or socks.
“These people went to bed thinking they were going to wake up and take their kids to school and go to work or open their own businesses, and in a matter of minutes that whole life was destroyed.”
Survivors literally arrived in Cyprus without shoes or socks
There, he and some expatriate volunteers set out to find shelter and supplies for the survivors.
In addition to her personal funds, she started a GoFundMe that has raised over £56,000 to date to help survivors.
Four days after the first earthquake, Tamer found a safe way to Izmir after hearing the news about the trucks.
He and his brother Mustafa, who worked tirelessly as his repairman, traveled from Izmir to the town of Kusadasi, a holiday hotspot 40 miles from Bodrum.
There, he took lists of families’ needs and distributed them, sometimes working up to 20 hours a day non-stop for a month.
He said. “Each family of six to eight people would probably cost about £2,000 for clothes, food and water for about a month.
“We start at 7 in the morning and sometimes we go until two, three in the morning when we finish.
“We’ll go home and then someone will call and it’s crying on the phone saying ‘we don’t have food, we don’t have water.’
“I will look at my brother, he will say: are we going out?” and I’ll say “what do you think?”
He also contacted hotels and Holiday Swap, a vacation rental company, to arrange rooms and apartments for families displaced by the earthquake.
Tamer provided help to families who were shocked to find a big star on their doorstep.
I hug these people
He remembers an old lady sobbing as she told how she lost her entire family in a natural disaster.
Taymer said: “It was heartbreaking, but heartbreaking.
“I hugged these people around and sat with him and gave him a few hours to show him that we’re here for you.”
The actor then told how he and his volunteers later found an emergency shelter for families and orphans.
He said. “We stumbled upon a sports summer camp that housed some orphans and some families.
“The great thing was that we could focus on large quantities of food, clothing, toys, educational staff, feminine hygiene kits and all the usual stuff.
“And it was great because we had a couple of trucks and we were really loading and unloading and I got to sit with the kids every day and hear their stories.”
Journey to Hell
But it wasn’t until Tamer traveled to the cities of Hayat, Gaziantep and Nurdagh, which were at the epicenter of the disaster, that the chilling reality set in.
He said. “I wanted to go down to the affected areas to see exactly what they needed, how it was done, and understand what these people went through.
“I tell you, I’ve never felt anything like it in my life.”
There, he witnessed families desperately digging through the rubble in hopes of finding a family member.
I was looking behind this teddy bear and there was this guy just looking at the rubble
One man in particular in Nurdagh, where 90 percent of the population was killed, stuck in his mind.
An uncharacteristically emotional Tamer said. “There was this teddy bear and I was looking behind this teddy bear and there was this guy just looking at the rubble.
“These houses had just been demolished, like a bulldozer had demolished them.
“He was just standing there and I went over and put my arm around him and asked, ‘Are you okay?’
“He couldn’t even talk. He said “my children” and I asked where are your children. and he pointed to the sky and said “they are fine, they are with their mother in heaven above.”
“For someone to look at it, it’s just a stuffed animal under the rubble, but the story behind it is that there are children lying under it.”
The long way
At that point, Tamer decided he would stay as long as necessary to help the people of Turkey get their lives back.
He said. “It’s driven me to keep going as long as I can and keep me going for the next two years, whatever it is, three years.
“I know I have to find a balance somewhere.”
After a month of sleeping four hours a night, Tamer’s manager begged her to take a day off because she was showing signs of burnout.
Now, as well as helping the families, Tamer is planning a massive fundraising campaign to help rebuild the devastated cities.
“They need millions,” he said.
This week he arranged with a team of volunteers at Drayton Nursery, Enfield, west London, to transport a lorry across Europe to Turkey.
He and the Entourage Sport agency have started signing names like Brazilian footballer Roberto Carlos for a charity match for the charity Football for Peace.
Although Tamer started filming her on social media to encourage donations, she is now making a feature-length documentary using her footage.
The actor is delighted with the generosity of Sun readers in our campaign, which has raised more than £1.5m so far.
He said. “Now is the time when survivors really need the world’s help.
“Great Britain have been phenomenal so far and they’ve really come together and it just shows the love they have for Turkey.”
Tamer plans to return to England soon, but is looking for a way to spend the next few years in Turkey when he’s not filming.
But he says he will never forget the memories of the devastated earthquake sites.
He said. “My heart will always belong to the Turkish people.
“I may be known as a tough person, but this has changed me forever.”
Tamer’s GoFundMe can be found at gofundme.com/f/please-help-the-people-of-turkey.