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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Austria

24th September 2019 Vienna, Austria

A Tam O’Shanter in Vienna

The headgear is a subtle grey with a bright blue bobble.  It sits aslant the head, keeping you warm and dry.

I was delighted recently to attend the HQ of the London Scottish Regiment in Westminster to be awarded with a “Hodden Grey Tam O’Shanter”.  How did this happen?

The story begins with my decision in January 2018 to wear my kilt to Austrian President Van der Bellen’s annual diplomatic reception for ambassadors.

This was the second time I had attended the reception.  Both times, inspired by my Danish colleague in Vienna, I had cycled to the event rather than taking an official car.  The second time, I had cycled in my kilt.  The combination appealed to people, including President Van der Bellen himself (who is a keen environmentalist).

In January 2019, I again cycled in my kilt, this time with my new Danish colleague.  Again the ride drew some attention, in part because it was a cold and snowy day.  Shortly afterwards, representatives of the London Scottish Pipes and Drums got in touch to say that they had noted my actions and my earlier blog “How Scottish was my Great-Grandmother?” and wondered if they might award me an honorary “Hodden Grey Tam O’Shanter”.

At the presentation, Haydn Cottam and Jim Lucas of the London Scottish Pipes and Drums explained The Tam O’Shanter was a traditional Scottish headdress derived from 16thC Scottish bonnets and later named after the hero of Rabbie Burns’ eponymous poem.  It still has a tradition as the day-to-day head gear of the Scottish soldier.  Haydn told me that soldiers of the London Scottish Regiment had worn the “ToS” since early in the First World War prior to the Battle of Loos in September 1915; and that reservists of the London Scottish continued to wear it on operations.

Hodden Grey describes the colour of the material of the ToS: originally an unwashed homespun wool worn by crofters, referred to in Burns’ poem “A Man’s a Man”.  The colour was worn by the London Scottish Regiment as a form of camouflage after 1859, being less visible than traditional scarlet tunics, and was intended to be more neutral than traditional clan tartans.  Haydn designed and now makes the “Hodden Grey Bonnet” himself.  I was touched and honoured to be invited to wear one.

Will I wear the Tam O’Shanter to the next diplomatic reception in January 2020?  Watch this space.

About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.