What do Scotsmen do when they get together for an event? Wear skirts and drink loads of whisky of course! Diageo brand ambassador Dougie Duncanson let’s us in on some of the traditions of the annual Scottish St Andrew’s ball.
I am sitting with Douglas Duncanson, Senior Reserve Brand Ambassador for the Diageo luxury spirits line, trying to interview him about his experiences working in Nairobi over the last three years. I am attempting to steer the conversation towards alcohol, his qualifications and any insights he has about Nairobi drinking trends. Somehow, though, we keep on going off topic and talking about his experience presiding over the St Andrew’s Ball in Loresho this November.
As I try to come up with an intelligent line of questioning, I realise that the problem lies in the angle of the story. When writing profiles about chefs, there is generally an origin tale that involves mothers, smoky kitchens and a childhood fascination with cooking. Yet it is hard to get the same details from an expert purveyor of fine booze. When did you first start drinking alcohol? How did you decide to get into the alcohol business? What makes you excited about alcohol? The responses to these questions are rarely as family friendly as they would be if you replaced the word alcohol with the word food.
Duncanson is as knowledgeable as any brand ambassador could ever aspire to be, has an easy going nononsense personality and a resume’ which includes stints working in some of London’s most exclusive bars. Yet my mind keeps on trying to picture what he would look like in a kilt. I finally give up and decide to scrap the brand ambassador questions altogether. “What was the St Andrew’s Ball in aid of?” I venture.
“The St Andrew’s Ball is one of two annual events put on by the Scottish Caledonian Society, a society that has been in Kenya since 1906 and of which I am currently the Chieftain.” Duncanson explains that while the events are chiefly about raising money for local charities they are also about getting together, eating food and having a great knees up.
What is the point of being part of such a society? Duncanson explains that it’s all about keeping in touch with his roots. “Celebrating my heritage has always been good fun as you have excellent opportunities to wear a kilt and dance around to Scottish music”
Has he always been part of the society? Duncanson laughs, “actually when I lived in London, I was part of the Kenyan Golf Society, my father has lived here for over twenty years so I have considered Kenya my second home for about half my life.” “So what were the highlights of the Ball?” I am genuinely delighted to hear about this Scottish pocket of Kenyan life.
“I feel the main highlights of the Ball were the amount of people that turned up and the two bands, one, Scotch Bonnet that we flew over from Scotland and the local Kalabash band which are always a hit. Between them they kept us dancing late into the night”.
“Any specific dress code?” I press on, angling for a great story about men in skirts.
“We have a strong dress code at the Ball. You have the option of highland wear which is your kilt or black tie or your traditional national dress. With regards to etiquette, there are quite a few rules, so for example we follow the haggis (stuffed sheep’s stomach, the Scottish national dish) in with a musician playing the bagpipes, you cannot take your jacket off until a toast for the Queen of England and the President of Kenya has been made and before eating, the Chieftain has to read out an poem to the haggis.”
It’s all sounds very formal, I mention. “On no, once all of that is done we just get to dance and have a great time”. I decide to tie up the interview with one last question that brings it all back to where we had begun. “What whisky did you serve the people sitting at your high table?” I ask.
“I had three bottles of whisky: a Singleton 12 year old, a 200 year anniversary bottle of Lagavulin, one of the best I’ve ever drunk and a very large bottle of Johnnie walker blue label to treat the honoured guests at my table”.