In the New York Times, the celebrated journalist Maureen Dowd describes Crieff as ‘a sleepy town in Scotland’. Well. There speaks a woman who has never been in the Quaich on a Friday night when the homemade haggis baws with whisky mayo are on special offer and Duncan has come down from Ochtertyre with ‘the fire o’ the deil in ma loins’. A fire, I might add, that no amount of whisky mayo could ever douse. It’s all happening there, Maureen! The Visit Crieff website even promises tourists in the pearl of Perthshire ‘a high chance’ of ‘bumping into a young Obi Wan Kenobi in the high street’. Tiny sigh. The force might be strong, but that’s not really true, is it? Yet the area still fizzes with pride because Star Wars actor Ewan McGregor was born in the town, and his family still live there.
Miss Dowd was writing about McGregor because he is playing the American fashion designer Halston in the eponymous Netflix miniseries. It has had mixed reviews and who knows why, because I could watch Ewan playing Halston forever, or at least until the next resort collection. His big, handsome Crieff head pokes through Halston’s trademark polo necks like a furious tortoise crusted in fake tan; he prowls through the disco sleek of 1970s Manhattan wreathed in cigarette smoke and ego. Halston’s family are not happy with the result, particularly the depiction of the more sensational parts of his story. That is sad, because I like to think the series honours Halston’s art and humanity alongside his compulsions towards sex and drugs and orchids. While his private life might have been seamy at times, Halston’s professional one was dominated by a quest for seamlessness. His spiral-cut dresses rippled down the body like a caress; his original designs now sell for £10,000 on vintage websites. He set women free in gossamer gowns lined with silk chiffon, each one lighter than a kitten but engineered like a yacht. The show reminds us that his influence lives on everywhere, from the designs of Tom Ford to the high-street racks in Mango. Halston is with us still, whispering through the coat hangers like a satin wind.
For many years my late, beloved Auntie Ismae was the head cook in a popular Crieff teashop. Obviously she knew young Ewan and he certainly would have been familiar with the excellence of her fruit scones. That is one reason why the women in my family have always taken a proprietorial interest in Ewan’s life. In 2017, when he left his wife of 22 years for a young actress, we all folded our arms and hoisted our bosoms for a good tut. ‘Your Auntie Ismae would have been very disappointed with Ewan,’ said my mother: perhaps our family’s version of the Skibbereen Eagle newspaper in 1914 warning Kaiser Wilhelm that it ‘had its eye’ on him.
Actually I did once meet Ewan, at a photoshoot in an old London gym. Adored him of course! During downtime, the photographer took snaps of us larking about on an arm-wrestling machine, bouts which I repeatedly won. Later the Crieff-born actor, as he is always known in Scotland, autographed the snaps: ‘You’re as strong as an ox, love Ewan.’ My mother was thrilled. ‘Jan’s got some Polaroids with herself and Ewan McGregor,’ she told anyone who would listen. So many eyebrows shot up in Crieff that an unseasonal gale blew down the A9.
Halston had his thing; property porn is mine. An LA real estate website lists a ‘Hollywood Screenwriter’s Funky Laurel Canyon Tudor Seeks $1.7 Million.’ My attention is drawn by the windows in the first-floor dining room which are ‘directly from Jane Austen’s study’. Hush naysayers, of course they are! It cheers me up that Californians still prize the treasures of the Old World, from English hunting-lodge mantels to Portuguese tiles to — hang on — French drains? My dears, no. Highly undesirable, even in Paris. Especially in Paris.
Restaurants are open again! I go to Bocca di Lupo in Soho for fried squid and lemon just like at the Italian seaside. At Sally Clarke in Kensington the veal ravioli with walnuts and sage is whimperingly good. I feel like a hairy troglodyte inching out of the age of porridge into the dawn of deliciousness, which in many ways is exactly what I am.
Of course, all I really want is lunch with Ewan’s Halston on the terrace at his Montauk home. We would enjoy the iced vodka and caviar with all the trimmings that he would often fly in from Manhattan. Halston was so spoilt he’d be furious if the baked potatoes got cold en route. Well. Crieff might be sleepy, as Miss Dowd insists, but at least our haggis baws are always piping hot.
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