Inside Sir Sean's Scottish embassy
DECKED out with stags' heads, kilts and sporrans, it looks like the grand interior of an archetypal Scottish castle. This, however, is Sir Sean Connery's remarkable new Manhattan-based 'Scots Embassy'.
Next week, the 75-year-old former Bond star will officially open the sumptuous venue - a refurbished $8m townhouse on East 64th Street, which he personally developed in order to further his homeland's cause.
Known as Alba House, the three-story building will, Connery hopes, become the hub for Scottish affairs in the city that never sleeps. The building is the latest success story of the Friends of Scotland charity, co-founded by Connery, which will use it to promote its fundraising efforts in the city.
However, organisers said it had already become the country's "unofficial embassy" with Scots officials from the worlds of government, university and business clamouring to use it as a New York base.
A lifelong supporter of the SNP, the actor insists that, despite the symbolism of the 'embassy', he created the house purely to meet a need, after noting there was no official focal point in the States where Scotland could promote itself. The building will be officially opened by the actor next week as part of the annual Tartan Week celebrations.
Connery said: "The formal opening of Friends of Scotland's Alba House in New York City is another huge step forward for the charity."
He went on: "With the opening, the Friends of Scotland have completed their initial goals - and in record time. The Friends of Scotland's Alba House is open to anyone with an interest in Scotland."
One of the organisers, Scots-American businessman Geoffrey Scott Carroll, who runs the Dressed to Kilt fashion parade, added: "It is like an unofficial embassy. This isn't about politics. We just realised that there was no place for Scotland. Most of the other countries have their own facilities; the Irish have theirs and so on. We just weren't sure why we didn't have one as well. This place will act as an educational and cultural centre for all things Scottish."
He added: "It is available to everyone. We hope universities can come along and use this when they are wanting to recruit students."
Connery and the Friends of Scotland charity now hope that more such 'embassies' can be opened elsewhere across the world. They believe Scotland would benefit from new centres in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Sydney, Hong Kong and Singapore.
The building in New York has already been used widely in the same way as any normal embassy. Scottish universities have been invited to use it as a base to attract American students. Last week, Scottish Development International held a meeting there. Scots businesses will also be invited to use it to help gain a foothold in New York or to hold meetings with American clients.
However, sources close to the Scottish Executive said any talk of a new 'embassy' would be viewed with suspicion by ministers and officials, who remain nervous that an increase in Scotland's international profile will promote the cause of Scottish independence.
Connery's support for the SNP remains undimmed and, last week, in a recorded message to the party conference, he insisted that "there will never be a better opportunity than now" for the Nationalists to finally win power. He is not expected to play a major role in the actual campaign itself, however.
SNP leader Alex Salmond said: "We have a first-class opportunity to build this scheme into commercially oriented centres promoting Scotland and Scottish culture in key locations such as North America."
James Barron, Connery's spokesman in America, said: "When Sean and I first discussed this, we wanted to provide Americans with a window on Scotland and what we found was that there wasn't a place that offered the kind of exposure that Scotland deserved. This is a platform for Scotland and everyone is welcome."
Scots-American Peter Morris, the chairman of Bafta in Los Angeles, added: "There are up to 30 million people in America with some kind of link to Scotland. We were thinking that is was about time that we established a permanent base.
"In order to raise funds, we needed a permanent base and this will also provide a facility for Scottish people who need somewhere to base themselves."
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