Lord Thurso heads to New York for first Tartan Week

As a former Arkansas cowboy who also worked for a company in Florida and married a New Yorker, Lord Thurso is no stranger to the United States.

Chairman of VisitScotland Lord Thurso in New York City for Tartan Week 2018. Picture: Phyllis Stephen

Today he returns to his old stomping ground as the chair of VisitScotland at the start of Tartan Week, relishing the opportunity to sell Scotland to the Americans.

Lord Thurso will spend the best part of a week in New York, meeting representatives from Scotland’s biggest overseas market at events to promote Scottish business, hospitality, food, drink and culture.

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From the public’s point of view, Tartan Week is best known for the annual Tartan Parade down Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, an event that last year attracted an audience of 30,000 with 3,500 participants taking part.

Singer KT Tunstall will lead the Tartan Day parade. Picture: Getty Images

Today’s parade will be led by singer/songwriter KT Tunstall, the first woman to lead the parade between 45th and 55th Streets.

But it is the more low-key receptions in the city’s skyscraper towers where the real work of Tartan Week takes place.

“Scotland Week is something that the diaspora here in New York invented some 20 years ago,” said Lord Thurso. “It is a fabulous event. It brings together people who are Scots at heart, Scots who have emigrated here, people whose parents, grandparents and great-grandparents came here and people who just like the idea of Scotland and the wonderful mix that is modern Scotland. That is glorious cultural heritage and the modern innovative Scotland that is creating new industries.

“Presenting that can be exploited here in a way that we can convey a message to people who might want to invest in Scotland or might like to come and work or just visit. So it is VisitScotland getting the maximum value for the scarce resources that we all compete for. This is a really important event for us.”

Singer KT Tunstall will lead the Tartan Day parade. Picture: Getty Images

Despite his many visits to the US, this is the first time Lord Thurso has attended Tartan Week and he will be taking his place in the parade today, sporting his Ancient Sinclair kilt.

“I will be in my day kilt on Saturday with my bonnet,” he said.

“I am sort of a clan chief but didn’t bring the eagle feathers across the Atlantic! I am clan chief of the Sinclairs of Ulbster which is a sept of the Sinclairs. The paramount chief of all the Sinclairs is my cousin, Lord Caithness.”

Critics of the event have suggested Tartan Week, with its element of kitsch, cheapens Scotland’s heritage, but Lord Thurso disagrees. “This week is something that people in America developed. It is their expression of culture in exactly the same way as the St Patrick’s Day Parade is the Irish expressing themselves in New York. It would be quite rude and insulting if we were to come along and tell them they have it all wrong. However it is done, it is their way of doing it, and I view it as a fantastic opportunity to talk about our great culture and history,” he said.

“Last night we hosted a reception where we were presenting stories of modern Scotland, of people who have moved their companies’ headquarters to Glasgow in one particular case.

“Informatics, biotechnology, all of these things are what Scotland is doing extremely well. If we can hook somebody to come and visit us because they like what happens here this week and can then introduce them to the other things that we have to offer then to me that is simply clever fishing.”