A Martini with Catriona MacLeod

This is a martini interview with Catriona MacLeod. I have wanted to have this conversation for a while now, and I was not disappointed. I also have to say that during our chat, Catriona gave me a rendition of Billie Holliday whilst I enjoyed my second martini. What an absolute privilege.

What has been the highpoint of your day so far?

I decided to wake up this morning and put on my swimming costume and a sarong which probably hasn’t happened in about ten years.

“Sarong it’s right” she jokes.

Then I sat out in the garden like I was on a beach holiday.

I’m also in a place right now where I have the freedom and time to have creative ideas and just think about things. I need to be in a place where I feel I am capable of having new ideas.

Rubha Nan Gall Lighthouse near Tobermory
Where do you live right now?

Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull.

Are you a dog or a cat person?

Dog – I love cats but cats are aliens to me whereas I’ve always unconditionally loved every dog I’ve ever met.

If we could be having this martini together in any location in the world, just for an hour, where would you choose to take us?

One of those little jetties in a villa on the banks of Lake Como – OR on a really remote lighthouse OR just sitting on top of a hill in St. Kilda, just to say that I’d done it. I’ve always wanted to go to St. Kilda and I feel like I’d need a drink once I’d made it.

You have just died and I have to read your eulogy, so I want you to guide me. Describe in a word or a sentence where you would say you came from. How do you want your origins to be remembered?

It’s so strange to think I wasn’t born in the place I feel most connected to, but I am a product of a very hard won international love story, which has meant that I have one foot on the Isle of Mull and an itchy foot for somewhere else.

I’m still working on the eulogy – can you please tell me, what value did you bring to the world?

I’ve spent a very long time feeling that I’m a very bitter nihilistic person but what I hope I bring to the world is a very piercing honesty and an absolute embarrassment of optimism and joy, because these are the two sides of my personality that I know to be truest.

What can you tell me about your life that you think would surprise people?

I think I wear the aforementioned nihilism and joy openly but I’m actually a sentimental romantic person and I get hurt very easily, but that’s because I really believe in love and I really believe in loving people, even if it’s not in any way controlled or even visible. I don’t imagine people would peg me as a soft and gentle type.

Please could you rate how satisfied you have been with your life so far as a percentage – with zero being horrifically unsatisfied and 100 being almost impossibly satisfied with how things have gone for you so far?



Mostly because I like numbers that add up to 9 but also because I think there is a hidden quarter where I’ve maybe sacrificed the pursuit of deep connection in favour of ambition and satisfying creative goals.

What do you do?

At the moment I’m a writer and director of stage and film – mostly theatre.

If you could re-visit a location you have been before, just like that, where would you go, and why?

I’d go back to Italy in a heartbeat. I love it. There’s something… She sighs… there’s just something very magical about a country with a culture that old which has produced so many things that we just take for granted like art and food that are supposed to be enjoyed with people. It’s a country that facilitates collective experience. And if I could eat any food for the rest of my life it would be Italian.

The banks of Lake Como, Italy
What brings you happiness every day?

My morning coffee and music – making a point of listening to good music. I was in a really bad mood today and I walked up the road listening to the Gipsy Kings cover of ‘Hotel California’ and I instantly felt better.

Dear readers, I’ve started collating a playlist on the back of this interview.

When were you happiest in your life?

I’ve yet to gain enough perspective on this particular moment, but hearing “I love you” from someone I wasn’t expecting to say it but really wanted to hear it from.

When were you saddest in your life?

Every time I’ve said goodbye to someone I really love. There have been definite goodbyes and unknown goodbyes.

If you could change one thing in your life what would you change?

There are easily a lot of superficial answers to this question like changing my geographic location or my appearance but I’ve made enough of those changes to know that they don’t bring any lasting evolution, and I wouldn’t even change anything about myself other than I wish I cared less about some things – but then isn’t it the curse of the romantic to care?

Catriona MacLeod with her first martini
If you had to write a non-fiction book what subject would you write about?

Princess Margaret, (she laughs) and probably her patronages. This is purely on an iconic behaviour perspective rather than my belief in any divine right of kings. I just think that rebellious women are fascinating regardless of their backgrounds; badly behaved women are just interesting. You can be privileged and spoilt and still do good things.

She was also one of the first women in media who was celebrated in her beautiful youth but fell out of favour as soon as she started to get older. Everyone loves a villain, especially if they are a woman who has more liberal attitudes to sex and relationships than we consider “British”.

In reality, she did a lot of good, often uncelebrated work. She was the first royal patron of an AIDS charity, she was a patron of Scottish ballet… I just think she’s fascinating, but I’m also deeply socialist so as an alternative I would love to write a very poorly researched book on astrology which is what I always end up talking about anyway.

(Catriona is a Gemini sun, Leo moon and Gemini rising). I also want to know what kind of Martini Princess Margaret would like. Catriona thinks she was a vodka and whisky girl so I think maybe she would’ve liked a Paisley Martini made with vodka.

As an alternative choice, I would write about Billie Holiday and her oppression by the state. There is very little that I could write about Billie Holiday that hasn’t already been covered but she is the love of my life. She’s an artist who had the audacity to be female, black and rich at a time when being two of those things was persecuted and she is just… she has perhaps the only voice that’s ever existed that makes me feel more than I am comfortable with. I mean… I’m a Gemini. I’m not a natural feeler.

She was an experience. And in my mind she was the singer who legitimised the human voice as a jazz instrument.

If you went back in time to your five-year-old self, what would you tell them that would make them happy about you today?

You’re going to get more than one dog and they’re going to be the best thing that ever happened to you. But also – you’re going to perform A LOT and it’s okay that it stops being fun.

A cliche question from me, but what are your favourite three films?
  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  • Strictly Ballroom

I’m not very cool – she says, but I disagree.

What are your thoughts on martinis?

Martinis are always there when I need them – she laughs – but seriously, nothing quite hits the same when you’re in a good place or a bad place as a martini, especially when it’s made with care and accompanied with good conversation. Or silence – because you don’t need anyone else to enjoy a martini.

Catriona chose to enjoy a Gibson Martini, and I asked her why:

It’s a strong tossup between a Gibson and a Dirty Martini, because in my mind the more savoury the better, but sometimes the brine is just a little bit too much and the pickle of the Gibson adds just the right amount of sweetness – plus you get a snack!

For her second martini, Catriona chooses a Beetroot Gibson. Again, I ask her why:

I wanted to try something with a bit of colour and I get quite excited by alternative garnishes.

A Beetroot Gibson in the garden

As mentioned, Catriona goes on to serenade me with some Billie Holliday. What a delightful martini date. You can stay up to date with all of her writing, directing and musings via her twitter account.

Otherwise I will leave you with Billie Holiday, ‘What a Little Moonlight Can Do’:

Happy Birthday Catriona!

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