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Glasgow: a city on the up

Who’d have thought that a city whose most famous culinary export to date has been the deep fried Mars Bar could have also produced arguably the world’s best chef and definitely the most famous, Gordon Ramsay.

Deep-fried chocolate aside, the foul-mouthed restaurateur is in good company. Dozens of A-listers were born and grew up in the city that is now well deserving of its 1990 ‘European City of Culture’ title. Billy Connolly, James McAvoy, Sir Alex Ferguson...the list goes on.

While their talents might be diverse, the one thing they have in common is their agreement that they wouldn’t have got where they are today without the influences and inspiration of Scotland’s gritty city.

"There are no airs and graces, no silver spoons in Glasgow," says Gordon Ramsay. "People are straight to the point and I like that. No flannel. Just get the job done. It's raw and it's helped me enormously in setting up my business. Glasgow is my backbone. I couldn't have achieved half of what I have achieved if I had not been born here."

But what does the man himself do when he goes home? "No return visit to Glasgow is complete without a curry night" he says. Recalling his Glasgow childhood, Ramsay says he used to visit the Bangladeshi curry houses just off Sauchiehall Street. “I used to love the lamb biryani and the real treat was the After Eights that came with my parents' coffee."

It was Glasgow that helped the young Ramsay first develop an interest in food and Scottish produce. "In Glasgow you are only 20 minutes away from some of the finest country in the world. I used to walk on the esplanade at Port Glasgow, go to Dumbarton Rock and catch the ferry to Dunoon. But best of all, I liked fishing with my father and my uncle. We used to eat the salmon we caught and I've honestly never tasted any finer anywhere. The same goes for scallops, langoustines, line-caught sea bass and for lamb, beef and venison. We served them when I was working with Guy Savoy (France's leading chef) in Paris and I still serve them today in all my restaurants, including at Versailles." For traditional Scottish cuisine today, Ramsay recommends eating Arbroath smokies at Cafe Gandolfi in the Merchant city.

Legendary football manager, Sir Alex Ferguson was brought up in another part of the city, Govan, near Clydebank. He describes the area as a “real hub”. Once the centre of heavy industry, it’s now dotted with fascinating riverside architecture. Internationally renowned architect Zaha Hadid has designed a brand new Transport Museum on the shore.

“I remember a journalist doing an article on me and he said that I'd done well despite coming from Govan," says Sir Alex. "Despite coming from Govan! It's because I come from Govan that I've done well! It gives me something to be proud of”.

“It was a great upbringing. All we ever did was play football and fight. That's what you did in these areas because we all lived so close together. You hear it said that you never locked your door, but it's true. You'd come in one day and you'd find a note: ‘Lizzie, I've borrowed some tea', that type of thing. People shared with each other. There was a common cause to help each other, far more than you get today. You knew all your neighbours and probably worked with half of them. Today I don't know half my neighbours."

Marvel Comics’ chief writer, Mark Millar, whose lastest movie Kick Ass with Nicholas Cage is out this autumn, is equally proud of his Scottish heritage. "It's 100 per cent true that there's a huge element of Gotham City to Glasgow. The people who built Glasgow [on a grid] are the same people who went on to build New York. Whenever I go there I feel strangely at home because Glasgow feels like a modestly-budgeted version of New York, one where the buildings stop after four storeys."

Millar’s “inventiveness and industriousness”, something he directly attributes to growing up in Glasgow, is respected worldwide. Mark says Brad Pitt, who collaborated on his new film, is equally enamoured with the city. "He comes up here once a year and has this little ritual where he goes around and looks at all his favourite buildings and goes for a cup of tea in the Willow tearooms wearing a baseball cap... People just think he looks a bit like Brad Pitt. He's a huge architecture buff and has this real affinity for Charles Rennie Macintosh."

The old-meets-new architecture is just one appeal of a break in Scotland’s cultural capital. You can pretty much walk anywhere in Glasgow and come across music events, art galleries and exhibitions. Turner Prize winning artist Douglas Gordon remembers visiting the Kelvingrove Museum every week as a child.

“We started off in the musty downstairs with this terrifying tyrannosaurus rex and knights in shining armour and all these species of birds in one box that if they’d actually been alive they’d have pecked each other to death: a fantastic Hitchcockian scenario...you could go to the Kelvingrove Museum and see a small cast of a rodent and Toulouse-Lautrec and Rodin and the famous Salvador Dali painting of St John on the cross.”

Douglas has most recently contributed to the ‘Inspired’ exhibition, running until September, showcasing a series of pieces inspired by Robert Burns from well-known artists including Tracey Emin, Ed Ruscha and many more who are internationally renowned.

Douglas’ top recommendation now is The Modern Institute. “Toby Webster the director is like a modern magician with what he has done in terms of promoting not just art from Glasgow but art in Glasgow. Toby would bring in art from a level that other people haven’t been able to do. He’s got a gilded tongue and very, very good shows that he puts on.”

This city spouts style. Whether it’s relaxed strolls through bonny streets or a hard-hitting cultural punch you’re looking for, Glasgow has it. There’s plenty of art, architecture, music and food to keep you going, all served with a helping of down-to-earth, Glaswegian fighting spirit.

Visit www.seeglasgow.com for more information.