Gray's anatomy of flawed Scotland

HER razor-sharp tongue and caustic wit have made Muriel Gray the scourge of pompous politicians and pop stars alike. So making her an "ambassador" for Scotland's tourism industry was always a high-risk strategy.

True to form, Gray's first public comments since taking up the position are far from diplomatic. Scotland, according to the outspoken broadcaster, is blighted by "horrible frightening drunks", "grumpy unhelpful service" and graffiti and vandal-infested streets.

While Gray's inaugural address has been welcomed as a breath of fresh air in some quarters, a leading public relations expert last night described the remarks as misleading and an embarrassing own goal.

Pride and Passion for Scotland, which receives money from VisitScotland to promote tourism, has form for recruiting plain-speaking celebrities. Chef Nick Nairn "promoted" Scotland by revealing he struggled to get decent staff.

In her inaugural interview, on the organisation's website, Gray revealed what she would like to change about her homeland.

"First it would be goodbye to the midge," she said. "Secondly I'd see an end to the rash of contemptuous unhelpful service some establishments (we all know who they are) seem to think is acceptable to offer the visitor.

"If someone wants to eat after 2.30pm then bloody feed them. If someone wants a log fire on in August then light one. I would love to wave a wand and get all those grumpy misanthropes out of Scottish tourism forever. They spoil everything."

Gray also bemoaned the state of our main towns and cities. "We can't have river walkways full of graffiti and vandals or town centres full of rowdy, horrible, frightening drunks if we genuinely want to compete with the great cities of the world.

"We have beautiful urban environments, everything from the gorgeous architecture of Glasgow and Edinburgh to the fabulous sparkling river fronts of Perth, Inverness and Dundee. But if these places are ruined by our own bad behaviour their delights turn to dust."

The former presenter of cult pop programme The Tube and BBC Scotland quiz show The Golden Cagoule said it was time for Scots to adopt a more enthusiastic, can-do attitude when it comes to welcoming visitors.

"I'd like to see a North American pride in service being translated into our culture. There is no shame at all in providing a world-class service. I've worked in almost every part of the hospitality business and I never once felt inferior for turning down a bed or serving up some soup."

Gray felt sloppy service and oafish conduct were made all the more frustrating because of the head start given to us by our rich history and stunning scenery. "The landscape in Scotland ranks among the most beautiful, wild and unspoiled in the world. I also love the underlying seam of history and culture that permeates Scotland."

But public relations expert Jack Irvine said Gray's comments would hinder rather than help Scottish tourism.

"I certainly don't think Muriel Gray's remarks will help to attract people to come to Scotland," said the chief executive of PR firm Media House.

"To claim that our town and city centres are full of 'rowdy, horrible, frightening drunks' is a false and misleading impression of our country, and I, for one, would not like it to be sent around the world.

"Personally, if I were trying to improve the profile of Scotland I would have chosen someone else to deliver the message."

Professor John Lennon, a tourism expert at Glasgow Caledonian University, welcomed Gray's appointment, but felt her criticism may have been too harsh.

"Before we beat ourselves up, and we are very good at that as a nation, we should realise that these are by no means exclusively Scottish problems.

"I do a lot of work in England, and places like Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and York have far bigger problems related to city centre alcohol abuse than anywhere in Scotland."

But Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, gave her full backing to Gray's comments.

"Muriel is spot-on. Scotland has fantastic assets and we are seeing improvements in our town and city centres, but we need to do better.

"Our competitors worldwide are constantly improving their products and we need to look at ourselves through a different lens. I'm sure Muriel will continue in future to bring a freshness, directness and a drive to make things happen."

A spokeswoman for Pride and Passion said: "Muriel Gray is the epitome of a proud and passionate Scot. Many of her TV programmes focus on just how brilliant Scotland is and we are thrilled to bits to have her on board."

Nick Nairn, the celebrity chef, created his own controversy earlier this year when he was unveiled as an ambassador for Pride and Passion for Scotland.

He revealed that a dearth of skilled staff forced him to sell his award-winning restaurants in Glasgow and Aberfoyle and claimed that Scotland's restaurants lagged behind other European nations.

The Ready, Steady, Cook star said: "There have been huge advances in Scottish cooking but it is still a pretty depressing culinary landscape.

"There is a whole generation of chefs now working in big Scottish hotels who don't have any skills."

Pride and Passion receives public funding from VisitScotland, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the European Social Fund as well as support from the private sector."

Gallus besom who courts controversy

WHEN Muriel Gray launched her first production company in 1989 she named it Gallus Besom after the Scottish term for a bold or outspoken woman.

Her career, with as many peaks and gullies as her beloved Munros, proved this to be an extremely apt choice.

The peroxide-haired native of East Kilbride first came to prominence after she ditched her punk band to become an interviewer with 1980s alternative pop show The Tube.

Gray sparked huge controversy later that decade when she successfully hoaxed millions of viewers, and fooled a number of art critics, with her spoof Channel 4 culture show Art Is Dead - Long Live TV.

She made headlines in 2002 when she launched a vituperative attack on the Miss World pageant in Nigeria, which was the focus of religious rioting that left more than 200 people dead.

Gray made a memorable call for the show to be abandoned, claiming: "These girls will be wearing swimwear dripping with blood."

Never afraid to put her head above the parapet, Gray also penned a highly controversial column in the wake of London's 7/7 terror outrage, in which more than 50 people died.

She put the blame for the bloodshed squarely on the shoulders of religion.