Prue Leith

Notebook | 5 October 2017

Also: how rich Americans are saving the Highlands and why I can’t afford to go to the theatre

To Skibo Castle for a four-day wedding, a dream of super-luxury and great good fun. I was struck by how the American rich are saving the Highlands. Skibo is supported by a band of mega-wealthy Americans, some of whom have invested heavily in the nearest town of Dornoch, which is thriving as a result. They are following a great tradition: Andrew Carnegie, having made his fortune in the US, returned to Scotland and rebuilt Skibo. He also donated libraries and halls ‘big enough for dancing’ all over the world, many in Scotland. A great combo: reading and reeling.

I live in the Cotswolds, where the rich often splendidly transform derelict farms and villages, only to be looked down on by the indigenous toffs who raise their eyes to heaven at the vulgarity of new stone walls and deep gravel. But when those old houses were first built, they’d have been exactly like that: manicured lawns, specimen trees, dressed stone and show-off statuary. I once helped Desmond Guinness show well-connected Georgian Society members round Daylesford, then Stanway. Daylesford then belonged to Baron von Thyssen, who had restored everything to its original splendour. He’d even had the carpet remade by Aubusson. Oh my dears! So vulgar! But Stanway, with pictures invisible under centuries of smoke, carpets near threadbare and the bottom out of the sofa, got nods of approval — not for the undoubted beauty of the Jacobean mansion, but because nothing had been ‘done up’. Maybe ‘shabby chic’ started as the landed gentry’s answer to being a bit skint.

In Edinburgh at the Queen Margaret University graduation, I had to shake the hand of 800 students. Two things struck me: how every one of them met my eye and smiled.

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