Alan Cumming reveals fury over 75-year wait for Edinburgh International Festival to appoint a Scottish director

Stage and screen star Alan Cumming says he was shocked and “p****d off” when he discovered Nicola Benedetti is only the first Scot to become director of the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) in its 75-year history.

Alan Cumming is in Scotland to launch his new movie My Old School at the Glasgow Film Festival.
Alan Cumming is in Scotland to launch his new movie My Old School at the Glasgow Film Festival.

The Perthshire-born Hollywood and Broadway star praised Benedetti's appointment as both the first Scottish and first female director of the event, saying it was a "huge moment" that would "alter the lineage of the festival in a very positive way".

But Cumming, who is in Scotland for the premiere of his latest movie at the Glasgow Film Festival, blamed an “inferiority complex” for the previous failure to appoint a Scot to take charge of the festival, which will mark its 74th anniversary this summer, before the Ayrshire-born violinist.

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New York-based Cumming, one of the most-high profile celebrities to back Scottish independence, said there was a parallel between the EIF’s history of appointing directors and the case for self-determination.

Nicola Benedetti has been appointed the next director of the Edinburgh International Festival. Picture: Jessica Shurte

Cumming also said it was a "disgrace" Prime Minister Boris Johnson was still in Downing Street.

Born in Perthshire, Cumming found fame in 1984 with Forbes Masson when the pair took Victor and Barry, the variety double act they had formed at drama school in Glasgow to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

He made his International Festival debut in 2008 in The Bacchae, when Australian impresario Jonathan Mills led the event, and has made regular appearances under the directorship of Irishman Fergus Linehan.

Cumming will appear in Linehan’s swansong season this August, in a Robert Burns-inspired dance show.

Asked about Benedetti’s appointment, Cumming said: “It’s great news. She’s young, she’s a woman, she’s Scottish. She’s got a classical background, but she’s also got a contemporary outlook.

“I had heard rumours about other people, so it was a surprise.

“I think the fact there is a young woman there immediately changes the sensibility of it. It alters the lineage of the event in a really positive way.

“It’s great for her, but it’s also great for Scotland. I knew there hadn’t been a woman appointed as director before, but I was shocked to discover she was the first Scot.

“When I read that she was the first Scottish person, I thought ‘that’s great’, but it also f**** me off.’ It really p***** me off that only now, at this stage in the festival’s history, with its 75th anniversary this year, this is the first time a Scottish person has been appointed.

“I do think there’s been an inferiority complex. It’s why, I think, we need to self-determine, as we’re just so used to assuming that those people make the decisions for us.

“When you look at it in comparison to Westminster controlling Scotland, to have English men – not Fergus obviously, as he is not English – telling us how to run our biggest cultural instruction, there is a parallel there.

"I think it’s great that we’re actually going ‘do you know what? We can do this pretty well ourselves and probably make a better job of it’.

“It’s great that they’ve gone with someone who is very well-respected in classical music, but I do think it will bring a new energy of someone who is not the patriarchy, and especially the English patriarchy, in any way. It’s a huge moment.”

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