Faking it: why a phoney Scot should feel no shame

Dr Peake has only done more amusingly what millions of others do in a shamefaced, furtive way

Only true, dyed-in-the-wool prigs will welcome the news that a successful Hebridean cricket international, Celtic storyteller and eminent member of the Scottish cultural élite has been revealed, yet again, to be none of these things, with the possible exception of the storytelling. Dr Scott Peake, a classics teacher at Bedales with a twinkly Scottish persona, complete with och-aye accent and tartan trews, has been exposed by a snoopy 14-year-old as something of a fantasist. He was not, in fact, born on a remote island near the Isle of Skye but was - the shame of it - an Englishman who had been raised on a council estate in Woolwich.

The inevitable concerned parent has told the press that discovering his teacher was a fake Scotsman had been an "awful shock" for the boy and had proved that, in spite of his popularity and effectiveness at the school, Dr Peake was "hardly a good role model". Back in Woolwich, the man some journalists are calling "Walter McMitty" described his adventures as a Scotsman as "a health thing", the reasons for which he was not able to explain.

Frankly, this is defeatist, English talk. I would urge Scott the Scot to give himself a talking to, don his best tartan trews and go out to face the world, whistling Scotland the Brave. As he has already shown, there is a huge demand for Scotsmen out there and, on the evidence of the past few years, he has the dynamism and enterprise to bring credit to his beloved adoptive country.

For, apparently, he has been Scottish for quite a while. A successful teacher at the Dollar Academy of Clackmannanshire when he was first outed as a closet Englishman, Dr Peake was also, hilariously, director of the much-respected Saltire Society, which champions the cause of Caledonian culture throughout the world.

Clearly, here was a better Scot than most Scotsmen could ever be, the sort of cheery Celtic type - a scholar, sportsman and man of the world who was healthily in touch with rural roots - who is an asset to any establishment or society.

Opinion seems to be divided as to precisely why Dr Peake changed his nationality. Some have said that, while attending St Andrews University, his accent and manner began to slip. Others have suggested his forename provided him with a new, more interesting identity and that, if he had been David and had gone to Cardiff University or Pat, an undergraduate at Dublin, his future would have been different.

But who, in all honesty, could blame him for hankering after change? Being an Englishman can be distinctly dull these days, ever since the old advantages - class, manliness, national success - became objects of embarrassment. Faced with the challenge of being attractive, charismatic or interesting, the English male finds himself working in a grey vacuum.

Being Scottish, on the other hand, is a huge personal and professional asset. Over the past few years, the rest of us have been seduced into the assumption that those born north of the border are intrinsically more reliable, hard-working, articulate and generally in touch with themselves and their culture than we are. Even their losers - Rab C Nesbitt and the psychos and junkies from Trainspotting - are more spirited and bold than their counterparts elsewhere. Irvine Welsh's most famous riff - the one that starts "Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family" - can only sound authentic and defiant when spoken in a raw, Braveheart accent.

Besides, whether or not Dr Peake chose to live his life as a Scotsman through mental fragility or as a canny career move, the fact is that he has only been doing more thoroughly and amusingly what millions of others do in a shamefaced, furtive way. Notting Hill Gate and Islington teem with middle-class boys and girls who have dropped their accents a notch or two, in the manner of Ben Elton or Dido, in order to disguise a background low on credibility. Plummy-voiced pseudo-toffs, wearing Huntsman suits and assuming a drawled Tory world-view, are playing the same game as columnists, MPs or historians.

Faking it is all around us. The worldwide web, which by a cruel paradox revealed the truth about Dr Peake's past, is famously a dangerous playground in which people can take on a false identity. In America, hardly a month seems to go by without a successful journalist being revealed as a fraud while, in Australia, the fashion has been for literary or artistic fraud, usually involving the impersonation of a non-existent but sublimely-talented aborigine.

Every night, fakery of some kind appears on our TV screens: indeed the celebrity culture is almost entirely based on it. This week, the country's latest sex symbol announced she would no longer be Jordan, the invented, blow-up fantasy figure, but plain Katie Price, personality and family favourite. Dr Peake should take heart from this shameless approach to self-invention and become the great Hebridean role-model that he deserves to be.

terblacker@aol.com

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