The New Club to lift veil on old secrets

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THE NEW Club in Edinburgh has always kept its secrets closely guarded behind its anonymous 86 Princes Street doors, but the bespoke bolthole will at last be shedding a little light on its mysterious ways with a book on its history.

The tome has been officially commissioned by the club and will examine its history from its inception in 1787 through to the present day.

It is not due for publication until the end of the year, and its target audience will be the members rather than the wider public audience.

"A lot of books of this sort can be quite dry and dusty," says my man mixing the G&Ts. "But having seen some of the chapters, which have been written by a range of different contributors, it is set to be quite lively and a genuinely good read.

"There are a lot of funny anecdotes about some of the high jinks to have taken place there that might be alluded to. These include the time the pool had to be drained when one member threw a pot plant at another, and the time the head of a certain clan got frisky with a soda siphon.

"The New Club has always been home from home. What is interesting is that the club today is still going strong, and that is because it still offers the ultimate retreat and last word in discretion. Many members are related to those who joined from previous generations.

"Why else does Sir Sean Connery stay there when he’s in Edinburgh and still feel very happy to muck in and join other members at the club table?

"The membership numbers have never been higher, and lots of younger ones are signing up - whatever the allure of other new clubs on the block."

The book sounds intriguing, but the Diary wonders whether it will answer the big question: why was its splendid Georgian frontage knocked down to make way for the modern Sixties look, famously dubbed "Airport Georgian" by the late Sir Nicky Fairbairn?

Ben's Open stamping ground

LET’S hope that defending Open champion Ben Curtis is erring on the side of caution in his preparation as the golf gets under way at Royal Troon today.

When asked if he has seen anything like the venerable course’s signature 8th, aka the "Postage Stamp", the American replied that he played the hole no fewer than 12 times in one practice round. "It’s very similar to Pebble Beach No 7," he tells Bunkered magazine. "It’s a short hole, but at any given day you could walk up there and be hitting a 6-iron or a sand wedge, just depending on the wind.

"If there’s no wind, the hole is not that hard. But if there’s wind, it becomes very tricky. There’s no easy miss on that hole." Asked how he had fared in practice, Curtis said: "I hit it close several times and most of the time, if I missed it, it went to the right because it was blowing left to right. I mean, I’d rather miss it to the right than be in the Coffin - you don’t want to be in there." Fore!

Doctor Milligan

ALTHOUGH the conferring of honours of a different kind is currently getting a bad rap, few are likely to have disagreed with Heriot-Watt University’s decision to confer an honorary doctorate on Edinburgh’s colourful former lord provost, Eric Milligan.

The award is in recognition of Milligan’s 13 years of civic leadership and two terms as lord provost. As always, Eric is not short of a word or two on the matter, even though he pitched up to collect his gong without a minute’s worth of sleep.

"My wife and I had been in Florida sunning ourselves and had just flown back, so I had not been in my bed," says Eric cheerfully.

"I think my record of public service compares very well with other offices in the UK, and I was thrilled to speak at the ceremony and the dinner. I was also alongside Susan Rice, head of Lloyds TSB, and the brewer Sir Brian Stewart, so was keeping pretty good company. As I have spent a lot of my life trying to ingratiate myself with bankers and brewers, it was also pleasing."

Hopes of starring role to save Taymouth Castle

ANYONE who has experienced the splendour of Taymouth Castle at close quarters - one of Scotland’s hidden gems - will be pleased that its fate will be decided within weeks, after years of neglect and months of public consultation. On 4 August, ambitious plans to convert the majestic A-listed Perthshire pile into what would be only the world’s second seven-star hotel will be considered by a council development control committee.

"This is basically the last chance to save the castle," says my man in the turrets. "Unless something is done soon it will become a ruin. Although it sounds unusual, the vast majority of the local community in Kenmore and beyond are behind the plan. Not only will the castle be saved, but the work involved will generate hundreds of jobs and have huge benefits for tourism in the area from the guests that stay there." The project is being put forward by Hotels International Ltd.

In the castle’s heyday, its vast walls were adorned with paintings by Titian and Rubens. It is also where the infamous massacre of Glencoe was said to have been plotted.