Olympic curling medallist, bagpipe champion, kilt wearer: Is Eve Muirhead Alex Salmond’s secret weapon?
They don’t come more Scottish than Eve Muirhead – so who will get her referendum vote?
For the six million or so people who stayed up late on the night of Thursday 21 February 2002, few will have forgotten the sight of Rhona Martin gliding like a ghost into that hail of frenetic brushing, releasing the hammer, dislodging that crucial Swiss stone and, in the last action of an incredible match, delivering Great Britain’s first Winter Olympic gold since Torvill and Dean.
But quite a few will have forgotten the decidedly entertaining imbroglio that followed, when more than one breakfast radio presenter south of the border greeted their waking listeners with news that “England have won a gold medal at curling”. It was not the most accurate claim, on the basis that – then, as now – not a single member of the TeamGB rink (as a team of curlers are known) came from anywhere other than Scotland.
An 11-year-old Eve Muirhead, the current British captain or “skip”, who hails from Perth, was among those allowed to stay up late and listen – and it is tempting to imagine that her entire life since has been a mission to prevent such a shameful occurrence as that inaccuracy on the airwaves from happening again.
When asked the inevitable question on Scottish independence, in the wake of her bronze medal triumph on Thursday, her response was as guileful as every sporting Scot who has ever faced it down before.
“Whenever you’ve got Great Britain on your back, you’re super proud,” she said. “You’re equally as proud when you’ve got Scotland on your back.”
Yeah, right. Even if Ms Muirhead had painted her face bright blue and rode down the Sochi ice on horseback making loud exhortations on the subject of freedom, it could scarcely have made her any more Scottish. She is already arguably the most Scottish person ever to have lived.
After all, a Scottish saltire draped over her chest was all that maintained her modesty when she posed for this year’s Women of Curling calendar, standing in front of a dry stone wall somewhere in the Scottish Highlands. And it is far from her only dalliance with Celtic haute couture.
The Vancouver Games of 2010, at which she was only 19, may not have ended in success (the team were eliminated at the round robin stage), but it didn’t prevent her from stopping off in Manhattan on the way home to sashay down the catwalk of the Dressed to Kilt! fashion show in a Vivienne Westwood tartan – introduced by the hosts of the evening, Sir Sean and Lady Connery.
“It’s a bit weird,” she said at the time. “But we’re trying to get the sport to grow, so it’s always good to promote curling.”
Not as weird, one might imagine, as what came next, when in May 2010 she became an ambassador for the world’s largest bagpiping festival, Piping Live!.
As a keen and accomplished bagpiper and member of the Pitlochry & Blair Atholl Pipe Band, she was an obvious choice. “I’ve been playing the bagpipes since I was a child, and I think it’s fantastic that we have a festival to celebrate them,” she said, before compelling young people to get involved in piping and “to see for themselves how modern the music is”.
Naturally, she also plays off scratch at golf, at Pitlochry Golf Club, at the foot of the Cairngorms. Her father was an international curler and her brothers are also devotees of the sport, supposedly invented by medieval monks at Paisley Abbey in Renfrewshire, and codified by the Grand Caledonian Curling Club in 1838.
Among those who have been on hand over the past fortnight to wish the team luck are Katherine Grainger, the three-time silver and finally gold medal-winning Scottish rower, and of course Edinburgh-raised champion cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, who gave Ms Muirhead and her team-mates a motivational talk last year.
Politics and sport should never meet, some claim, but try saying that to the American sprinters who raised their black power fists aloft in the Mexico sky. It never works, and it seems inevitable that Alex Salmond will, with a flurry of political brushing, attempt to coax the curlers into his independence house. (If you’ve not been watching her in action, that was a curling metaphor.) He may not succeed, but the smart money is on Ms Muirhead delicately guiding her X into the “Yes” box come September.
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