THE last time Michael Forbes visited Edinburgh was 38 years ago, when he arrived at Leith Docks on a fishing trawler.
That probably only partly explained the look of bewilderment on his face as he took to the stage – in full Highland dress – to collect the “Top Scot” honour to a hero’s standing ovation at the Prestonfield Hotel in Edinburgh.
The success of Mr Forbes – the 60-year-old nemesis of tycoon Donald Trump – in claiming top honour in the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland awards sparked a torrent of late-night tributes on Twitter, to which he was also oblivious as he fended off a flood of congratulations at the ceremony.
His brief “I’m speechless” address from the stage was the only hint of disappointment at the 15th annual event, which saw the acclaim for Mr Forbes topped only by the reception for Scotland’s Olympic and Paralympic heroes.
Presented with the award by a previous Olympic idol, sailing star Shirley Robertson, they were represented by Olympic canoeing champion Tim Baillie, Paralympic cyclist Neil Fachie and Paralympic rower David Smith. They accepted the award on behalf of a total of nine London heroes, who also included equestrian winner Scott Brash, rower Katherine Grainger, cycling icon Sir Chris Hoy, tennis star Andy Murray, rower Heather Stanning, and cyclist Craig MacLean.
Baillie said it had been an “absolute privilege” for the athletes to accept the award, particularly after the backing that they had received in London over the summer. “It’s quite nice that the judges chose not to split the award. It would have been very hard to try to choose between all the achievements we all saw in Britain over the summer.
“I’d like to thank the public for their support as it would not have been as special without a home crowd. It was a huge opportunity and platform in London, and also to come back for the homecoming parade in Glasgow.”
The 15th annual ceremony, set by the whisky brand in partnership with The Scotsman to recognise “inspirational individuals” across a wide cultural spectrum, saw seven other awards handed out.
If the London Games were the undisputed sporting highlight of the year for Scotland, then it was the Disney-Pixar film Brave which was the big cultural winner, helping to land the screen honour for Kelly Macdonald, who played the lead role of rebellious princess Merida, and North Uist singer Julie Fowlis, the main star of the soundtrack.
Fowlis, a torchbearer for Gaelic song for well over a decade now, won the public poll up against strong competition from Emili Sande, violinist Nicola Benedetti and indie favourite Johnny Lynch, better known as Fence Collective favourite Pictish Trail.
In the absence of Macdonald, Leslie Hills, the festival’s outgoing chair, read a message from the Glaswegian star, saying: “I’m very honoured. I was really lucky to be part of a production with so many other Scottish artists and a film that portrays our country so well.”
If Fowlis and Macdonald are well established household names, the winner of the art award recognised a figure who has remained elusively in the shadows, despite being the key figure behind the critically acclaimed new Fringe venue Summerhall over the last two summers.
In a brief speech, Robert McDowell, who bought the former Royal Dick vet school building from Edinburgh University for several million pounds, said: “It is a new, huge, mad thing that we are doing there, but it is the spirit of Richard Demarco, it is the spirit of the Edinburgh Festival I hope it will grow and express the spirit of all the arts.”
Gustavo Pardo, the founder of the Edinburgh-based coffee emporium Artisan Roast, which is now recognised as the best cafe in the UK, won the food category.
He said: “It was only a few years ago before we set up that it was so difficult to get a decent coffee in Edinburgh, but it is now seen as one of the capital cities of coffee anywhere in the UK.”
Glaswegian author Ewan Morrison published two books in 2012 and it about to see another, Swung, turned into a big-screen film, said he was pleased that his work had been recognised with the writing prize in the face of the “dumbing down” of literature and paid tribute to the backing he had received from the “much-maligned” Creative Scotland.
The other two awards saw the charity Trees for Life’s founder Alan Watson Featherstone recognised in the environment category while Lucina Bruce-Gardyne, the creator of a gluten-free bread, won the business honour.
As for Mr Forbes – who will now be invited back to attend future Spirit of Scotland award ceremonies – the Top Scot was left to speculate on the reaction of Donald Trump.
“I actually thought the award should have gone to Anthony Baxter, who made the documentary. I’ve no idea what Donald Trump will make of the award. I’m sure he’ll have something to say about it at some point.”