Spirit of Scotland winners put on a dram fine show

Some of the winners and presenters assembled at the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Awards 2011. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Some of the winners and presenters assembled at the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Awards 2011. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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The Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland award winners were unveiled in a glittering ceremony this week, celebrating Scots who help our nation punch above its weight in the world

FOR Scottish biologist Dr Alan Bowman, his hunt to find a way to kill off a mite that preys on bees is a matter of life and death – for people. “I love honey,” he says, “and I understand the massive importance of bees. I know that every third forkful of food we put in our mouths is due to bees. In China, where they used an enormous amount of pesticides that killed the bees, people had to get up ladders and pollinate their apple and pear trees themselves.”

The Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Awards were set up 13 years ago to recognise the pioneering spirit of those who have helped Scotland punch above its weight in culture, science, or sport. Bowman, an Aberdeen University researcher – a virtual unknown in his field until early this year – seems the perfect winner. Bowman won the environment award for his research work into a chemical that targets the Varroa mite – seen as one major culprit in the drastic decline of the honeybee population – through its own immune system, without harming bees or other animals. Field tests into his discoveries with small bee colonies begin next summer.

“We desperately need a cure for Varroa,” said broadcaster and traveller Piers Gibbon, presenting the award. “Dr Bowman may have come up with one.”

The Glenfiddich awards, run in partnership with The Scotsman, was held at the Mansfield Traquair, Edinburgh, on Tuesday night. A cross-section of Scottish talent gathered in the soaring former church designed by Robert Rowand Anderson, whose other great building – the Scottish National Portrait Gallery – is reopened to the public today after an acclaimed renovation.

That project’s driving force, gallery director James Holloway, lost out on the art award to artist David Mach. But Dr Gordon Rintoul, the man behind the £50 million overhaul of the National Museum of Scotland, was named Top Scot on a public vote. Clearly moved by the award, he said the museum also celebrated the spirit of a country that produced some of the greatest scientists of the past two centuries. They ranged from Alexander Fleming to Sir James Black, who died last year, inventor of beta-blockers, to which “some in this audience tonight may in fact owe their lives”, he said.

“Tonight we will be celebrating the pioneering spirit across Scotland’s rich cultural spectrum,” said Glenfiddich’s Sally Gordon, great-great-granddaughter of Glenfiddich founder William Grant, in a country with “an extraordinary wealth of creative, innovative,and enterprising spirit.”

But the spirit she invoked was that of her great-aunt Janet Roberts, who in August this year celebrated her 110th birthday, as the oldest woman in Scotland. “Wee Janet, as we call her, attributes her long life to hard work, perseverance, and enjoying all things in moderation, qualities perhaps we could all hope to embrace.”

William Grant & Sons added this year’s Distiller of the Year title to a track record that has seen it collect gold medals for every whisky in the Glenfiddich range.

Painter Alison Watt, presenting the art prize, with her show Hiding in Full View currently at the Ingleby Gallery, paid tribute to the company’s support of contemporary art through its prestigious artists-in-residence programme: “They are a family company so they can indulge in their passion for art. Artists love them.”

It was a night for outsiders, with the nominees chosen by the judging panel but winners voted by the public. The Scotsman food columnist Stephen Jardine celebrated “local food heroes” when the food award went to Norman MacDonald, proprietor of Café One in Inverness. The Michelin-starred chef Martin Wishart – with two restaurants, a cook school, and now a new brasserie, The Honours in Edinburgh – was among the nominees. Wishart, who left school at 15 for a Youth Training Scheme, was still enjoying his honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh this week, the first chef to be recognised in its 428-year history. “I still actually pinch myself,” he said.

Visually impaired para-cyclist Neil Fachie won for sport in a field that included the likes of Katherine Grainger, Britain’s most successful female rower. “It’s great just to be recognised, that para sports is shown alongside able-bodied sports,” he said. “I just hope that folk realise that the Paralympics will be a show as good as, if not better than, the Olympics.”

Scottish rugby’s Chris Paterson, last year’s sports winner, spoke of his huge admiration, “not only the work that the Paralympians put in but the level of performance and training, and the level of strength.” He recalled the “over-riding memory of bitter disappointment” from the loss against England in the Rugby World Cup, but looked forward to the next clash at the start of the Six Nations.

Novelist and playwright Alan Bissett won the writing award against a field of mostly better-known names, from poet and author Jackie Kay to the prodigious children’s writer Julia Donaldson. The theatre composer and musician David Paul Jones won the music prize, against the likes of Primal Scream. In the screen awards, Doctor Who actress Karen Gillan pipped big names like Lynne Ramsay, the writer and director whose film We Need To Talk About Kevin is in Oscar contention.

Other nominees included writer and documentary maker Mark Cousins, who has won acclaim for his 15-hour series The Story of Film. He is now working on producing a feature-length film that explores literature and travels through Mexico for what he hopes will be a budget of £100.

Butcher-turned-entrepreneur Simon Howie had told his son sitting next to him at the table that there was no chance of him taking the business prize. “Don’t worry, Dad, I put it on Facebook,” he joked, which may be a lesson for next year’s contenders.

The art winner, David Mach, who transported his whole studio to Edinburgh for a major exhibition this summer, flagged up his next project based on the Kama Sutra. “This trophy was made by my art teacher in Dundee,” he said. “I’m not the kind of guy that gets awards.” The awards were fashioned by leading sculptor Alastair Ross, who taught Mach at Duncan of Jordanstone College in Dundee.

The Scotsman editor, John McLellan, noted how both newspapers and the drinks industry have faced challenges this year: “We are very proud of our association with this award scheme, as a tribute to this country’s energy, innovation, and raw talent, that every years throws up radical new faces. I can only hope the worst fears of all those who produce the world’s best-known Scottish product are not realised,” he said, of new legislation to introduce a minimum price for a unit of alcohol in Scotland. With newspapers still facing the fall-out from the phone hacking scandal, “all of this has overshadowed the excellent work that responsible journalists. produce day in and day out. I can only hope what emerges from this is a Press and a system of regulation in which the public has full confidence.”

The evening ended with a special tribute to Libby Lafferty, who in 41 years with William Grant & Sons has played a key role in running its sponsorship programmes, including the awards.

From 1969, she helped develop the Glenfiddich Distillery Visitor Centre at Dufftown, the first of its kind, pioneering what has become a major part of the high-end Scottish tourism industry. “Libby has created a category and an economic force within Scotland,” said Peter Gordon, chairman of William Grant & Sons.

WINNERS AT A GLANCE

Top Scot: Dr Gordon Rintoul:

The National Museums Scotland director Gordon Rintoul returned to Scotland in 2002 after 20 years “down south”. Soon after taking the post he began work on the £50 million renovation of the flagship National Museum of Scotland, unveiled to huge acclaim this summer.

Food: Norman McDonald

MacDonald’s Cafe One in Inverness specialises in authentic Highland produce. Famous customers include Lee Westwood and Prince Andrew.

Screen: Karen Gillan

Inverness-born Karen Gillan plays Amy Pond, companion to the 11th Doctor Who. She has just made her professional theatre debut in Inadmissable Evidence.

Writing: Alan Bissett

Bissett’s novel, Pack Men, was called a landmark Scottish work. His play Turbo Folk was shortlisted at the Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland 2010.

Business: Simon Howie

Howie’s business has expanded dramatically from a single butcher’s shop to a group with an annual turnover over £40 million and 400 staff.

Music: David Paul Jones

David Paul Jones’s work as composer, pianist and vocalist has included the National Theatre of Scotland recent production The Missing.

Sport: Neil Fachie

Aberdonian Neil Fachie, originally a track athlete, started training with the GB Para-Cycling team in 2008. He has now competed at two World Championships and won four gold medals.

Environment: Alan Bowman

Bowman’s research into a mite that kills honeybees holds out hope of reversing a dramatic world-wide decline in vital bee populations.

Art: David Mach

Mach filled Edinburgh’s City Art Centre this summer with 70 works, showing his range of dramatic large-scale collages, sculptures and installations.