Alan Cumming: New Edinburgh events arena will 'change the face' of Princes Street Gardens

KT Tunstall and Alan Cumming joined forces to promote The Quaich Project at a fundraising gala on Broadway.
KT Tunstall and Alan Cumming joined forces to promote The Quaich Project at a fundraising gala on Broadway.
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Broadway star Alan Cumming has declared that a £25 million bid to replace Edinburgh's run-down Ross Bandstand will “change the face” of Princes Street Gardens - as KT Tunstall was forced to defend her backing of the planned open-air concert arena.

Perthshire-born Cumming, an official backer of The Quaich Project, made the claim in an Instagram video filmed on Broadway shortly before appearing on stage with Tunstall at the launch of an international fundraising campaign for the project.

However campaigners trying to thwart the project have targeted the two stars on social media for their backing of the proposed overhaul of West Princes Street Gardens, which is being pursued by a charitable trust set up by a hotel developer and the city council, which owns the park.

The Ross Development Trust says the proposed redevelopment will turn the gardens, which date back to the 1770s, into "one of the most acclaimed city gardens in the world" - and on a par with projects like New York's High Line and Singapore's Gardens by the Bay.

The trust, which was set up by Apex Hotels founder Norman Springford, wants to "reimagine the gardens as a space for all to celebrate and enjoy in new ways."

New York-based Cumming, who shot to fame at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the 1980s as one half of the double actor Victor and Barry, agreed to host the fundraising cabaret night at the Lincoln Center in New York as part of his long-term involvement in The Quaich Project.

Edinburgh Napier student Alannah Moar won the chance to perform alongside Alan Cumming and KT Tunstall at the Lincoln Center.

Edinburgh Napier student Alannah Moar won the chance to perform alongside Alan Cumming and KT Tunstall at the Lincoln Center.

The event, which was sponsored by whisky giants Glenfiddich, also featured a speech from the leading Scottish sculptor Andy Scott, who masterminded the creation of The Kelpies, the two 100 ft tall horse head sculptures, for a new park in the Falkirk area.

Cumming was a backer of an American-led consortium, headed up by New York-based design practice wHY, which won an international design competition in 2017 to overhaul the historic gardens and replace the existing bandstand, which dates back to 1935, allowing a new open-air arena to host weekly events of various sizes.

In the Instagram video filmed in the heart of Broadway, in which Cumming declared he was "a Scottish American," he said: "I'm going to a very fancy gala for a Scottish architectural project which is going to change the face of Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh."

He later posted a series of pictures from the event on social media, include an image of the proposed "reinvention" of the gardens and a link to "The Quaich Project website "to find out more and how you could help make this dream a reality.

Plans for the 25 million overhaul of Princes Street Gardens are due to be lodged with the city council early next year.

Plans for the 25 million overhaul of Princes Street Gardens are due to be lodged with the city council early next year.

Cumming added: "Scotland’s ties with the USA and New York in particular are incredibly strong. Both are centres of excellence for the arts, and the Scottish diaspora helped to make New York the city it is today.

“Edinburgh has strong emotional connections for many New Yorkers, so bringing the best new talent from the city and outlining the plans to create an inclusive space in the heart of the city, was a great pleasure."

However Old Town resident John Mitchell tweeted Tunstall and Cumming to tell them: The Quaich Project is a subsidiary of the Ross Development Trust led by tourist commerce.

"They are trying to turn West Princes Street Gardens from a much loved and needed public park into a performance venue. Pity celebs don't do their homework before backing commercial shysters."

However Tunstall, who sung the famous Dougie MacLean anthem Caledonia at the event with Cumming, responded by saying: "The gardens are currently not 100 per cent accessible to the disabled, have poor facilities and could be much improved as a nature-based community space."

However Joan Ballantyne replied: "When you say natural space, does that mean leaving West Princes Street Gardens alone and revamp with acoustic acts and every performance open to the public without the need to close the gardens and erect screens on Princes Street?"

Speaking ahead of the campaign launch, The Quaich Project's director of development, Jules Haston, said: "Edinburgh may be incredibly historic, but The Quaich Project embodies the forward-thinking mentality that exists in harmony with the ancient surroundings.

"Sensitive to the past, but crucially maximising the site's potential for the future, the vision for West Princes Street Gardens speaks to an ambition to create an inclusive, accessible space for all of the city's residents and visitors to enjoy."