THE Royal Caledonian Ball has long been the highlight of the London social season since its inception in the 1840s, and despite the enforced absence of many military personnel who usually attend it - being on duty at the moment - it went with its customary swing.
Indeed, the ball can lay claim to being one of the oldest in the world and it is Grosvenor House’s most loyal customer since 1930, not least because having the largest ballroom in London enables it to cope with the hordes of invading Scots.
The sizeable 2004 Scottish contingent that made the trek south included the Borders newscaster Fiona Armstrong, with partner, landscape photographer Sir Malcolm MacGregor of MacGregor in tow.
Others included the Earl of Erroll, Iona, Duchess of Argyll, Lord Dalmeny, and Fraser Robertson who made the trip from Los Angeles.
Sir James Cayzer also pitched up in dinner jacket but instead of being turned away for incorrect attire was given a balcony seat so he could admire the dancing below.
Appropriately enough, Edinburgh author Roddy Martine was also on hand to ensure the reeling was up to scratch, as co-author of The Swinging Sporran - regarded as the essential guide to the basic steps. "It’s strange to travel to London to get a grown-up ball quite like it," he said, "but think of a proper Highland Ball and multiply by five and you get the idea.
"There were lots of tiaras and also a good collection of younger generations, but the military presence was sadly affected by the Iraq situation.
"We do have a Scottish committee but it’s fairly inactive and next year we must do more to get even more to head south for it. I’ve been going for years as it’s always the best way to catch up with the London crowd."
Ball secretary Sarah Bardswell added: "It’s one of the few white-tie dances left and it is very traditional, not least because it hasn’t changed much since the Sixties.
"We usually have four sets of reels but this year we were down to one because various regiments couldn’t be with us.
"Our numbers may be down to 500 but it does give people more space to reel in. It’s also one of the few evenings where everyone dances every reel because it’s a true Highland event and also an occasion when it is correct to wear the kilt south of the Border."
First held in 1848, when the sixth Duke of Atholl gave a ball in London to raise funds for Scottish charities, it has donated over 300,000 to Scottish charities and worthy causes over the last ten years.
In 2002-3, it helped several charities, including the Queen Victoria School in Dunblane, Borderline, Erskine Hospital and St Catherine’s Homeless Project, Edinburgh.
Galleries can teach a lesson in art of building projects
HOW our MSPs and project managers behind the new Scottish Parliament must look with envy at the National Galleries of Scotland. The ambitious 30 million Playfair Project, to restore and link the Royal Scottish Academy with its neighbour the National Gallery of Scotland will open this August eight months ahead of schedule.
The only problem with the Princes Street Gardens scheme is that it leaves less time to close a 1.6 million private- sector funding gap, but a 400,000 donation from a United States charity has reduced the ask to 1.2 million.
At a champagne shindig to announce the donation, beneath the National Gallery’s permanent collection, Brian Ivory, the chairman of the NGS trustees, was doing his best not to gloat.
"Without wishing to get involved with making comparisons to other major building work in Edinburgh, it is good news that a Scottish project of this size can be delivered on budget and ahead of schedule," he said.
"It’s obviously a different story over there and should be left at that. The 400,000 matched donation comes from the Kresge Foundation and is the first time they have donated to a Scottish project."
The author Alexander McCall Smith did appear fresh from a whistle-stop US book tour; he took in no less than 16 cities in three weeks, and was on the prowl for potential material for his daily novel 44 Scotland Street, published in these pages.
"There might be an appearance for Brian Ivory’s colourful socks," said the amiable Sandy. "It could well transpire that 44 Scotland Street has a secret tunnel and during a meeting of a certain society a pair of bright socks will be seen walking past because of the door not quite reaching the ground.
"Otherwise, there are plans to write in a Scotsman journalist with experience of the wine trade and we are also in talks with Working Title over making a film of it, probably as a television series.
"I recently heard from Armistead Maupin who wrote Tales of the City that if I was ever stuck for inspiration I should give him a call in California, which is good to know."
As Maupin’s 1976 tales of the comings and goings of a mythical apartment at 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco have enthralled readers and television viewers alike there can surely be no better literary mind for Sandy to tap should the muse ever desert him.
No crimping on style as the ladies get pampered at Klownz
NOW that K has ridden off into the sunset it was left to Boswell and Z to brave the lion’s, or lionesses’s den, of bespoke Edinburgh crimpers Klownz for what was virtually a ladies-only evening, featuring clairvoyants, make- up artists, wine tasting and lashings of fizz.
Declining the chance to remove their shirts to have their torsos sprayed with miracle fake tan, unlike the females, or have their fortunes read, the pair were virtually the only men in the room packed with some 170 ladies who lunch.
Making a rare foray back from New York was the man behind the success of the Stockbridge salon, Derek Preston, who explained the difference between his respective client bases here and in the States.
He said: "I’ll soon be heading back out to New York where I’ll be working for seven weeks and tonight is really in honour of Sonya Moore who runs things so well when I’m away.
"My partner in New York is an artist so we’ll be putting on an evening that combines the two in an art gallery but over there the set up is very different.
"Clients in some New York salons like to stay for much of the evening chatting and eating canapes as they prefer a much more low key and private set up than some of the big name places. With everything that we have laid on tonight for a classic girlie night that is something we are doing here."
With some 20 years experience at Klownz under her belt Sonya Moore was happy to be off duty for a change though the imminent visit of Garbage singer and friend Shirley Manson for a style-up will probably change all that.
"Shirley will be in town next month for her sister’s wedding so she’ll probably pop in here to get her hair done," said Sonya over a jar of champagne.
"We are also planning to repeat the Waverley Care Ball we put on at the start of the year at Prestonfield House but make it a summer party in June 2005."
Guests included PR guru Fiona Duff, Carol Rutherford, director of Muckle Hen productions, jeweller Gaynor Turner and Gary Deans, account manager for Clynol Salons who has an enviable job.
"We’re about to open a new 1 million London academy on Seymour Place which is a big project for us but otherwise I have trips to Mauritius and Cape Town with our clients lined up who are almost entirely female."
Despite booming popularity Vettriano unlikely to make the New Club
ALL eyes will be on Lyon & Turnbull this week for a fine art sale which includes a clutch of Jack Vettriano pictures after the recent record-breaking 744,800 price reached for The Singing Butler by Sotheby’s at Hopetoun House.
Although dealers are not expecting anything like those sort of prices, the star of the Friday sale is expected to be A Kind of Loving which was inspired by a fancy dress shop in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket and could go for 100,000.
"A Kind of Loving features a man between two mannequins and was famously recreated in 1992 by Scottish TV showing how Vettriano was inspired by the fancy dress shop he walked into in Edinburgh. It’s being offered at between 50-70,000 but we have high hopes that it could go for over 100,000," said Nick Curnow, Lyon and Turnbull’s MD.
On something of an art hunt himself for bespoke bolthole The New Club was Brigadier Charles Ritchie, though he is unlikely to be pocketing a Vettriano.
"I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to art," said the brigadier over a glass of vino. "The club is on the lookout for a couple of Edinburgh pictures to plug a couple of gaps. We’re probably talking around 5,000 for something in oils but as we already have three pictures of the castle not to mention decent views it would have to be a different Edinburgh landscape."
Another attendee was James Manclark who is currently in the process of putting together his own elephant polo team for the September championships.
He said: "Last year I went with Chivas Regal who although they were winning everything three years ago came second last year so I’m putting together my own team this time. I’ve recruited Scotland’s best polo player and we have high hopes but we’re up against a total of 16 teams and 32 elephants."
• IT IS hoped that Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, the acclaimed Leith-born sculptor, will travel from his London home despite being seriously ill, for a preview of a major show celebrating his work as he reaches 80.
The event, at Edinburgh’s Dean Gallery on Friday morning, will showcase the work of a man said to have paved the way for the pop art movement.
Between them, the Dean Gallery and the nearby Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, have housed the world’s biggest collection of Paolozzi’s work since he donated 3,000 items in 1995.
The new five-month exhibition, which opens on Saturday, will feature pieces from his huge archive of sculptures, prints, drawings, and book jackets.
High hopes TV star Ash will be on top form at the festival
AFTER Leslie Ash’s recent travails, Boswell hopes that she will be fighting fit for the Edinburgh Festival where she is expected to take part in a semi-autobiographical monologue which also explores an iconic historical figure.
The 44-year-old television star contracted the superbug MSSA after being rushed into hospital suffering from a cracked rib and punctured lung.
Ash is still recovering in hospital but it is hoped that she will recover in time to be one of the three participants in the three separate monologues written by her friend the Scottish playwright and actress Lynn Ferguson.
After previews in London the monologues will be shown at the Assembly Rooms.
"It’s been a very tough time for Leslie recently and at the moment her health is the main priority," says my man backstage.
"Everybody is keeping their fingers crossed."