Sir James Forbes of Newe, pictured at the Lonach Gathering (Photo: Steven Rennie Photography)
Sir James Forbes of Newe, pictured at the Lonach Gathering (Photo: Steven Rennie Photography)

Looking ahead to the 178th Lonach Gathering with Sir James Forbes

Ahead of the Lonach Gathering on 24 August 2019, we caught up with Sir James Forbes of Newe, patron of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society.

Talking of his love of the north east of Scotland, the annual Lonach Highlanders march and his all-time hero, his father, here is what Sir James had to say…

Sir James Forbes of Newe, pictured at the Lonach Gathering. © Steven Rennie Photography 3

What do you enjoy the most about coming back to Scotland?

When I was growing up, we were back in Scotland as often as we could be. There is a strong spiritual connection with the area. I need to be back there more than I actually am, but it’s home and it feels that way. I now live out in California. Part of my role out here is banging the drum for Scotch whisky. I’ve also developed an app about single malt scotch called Dramophone – it covers every distillery in Scotland, how to drink it and when to drink it.

The north east is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I live in the Napa Valley at the moment, so I know what I’m talking about when I say that! The people in the north east are fabulous. So really, what more could you ask for?


What did you study at university?

I went to university in Bristol to study philosophy which prepares you for everything and nothing – an important qualification these days!


What is it like being patron of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society?

I became patron of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society in 2007. It’s a fabulous thing to be part of. The Lonach Highlanders are a great group of people, so to be at the centre of it is a huge privilege.

The society was founded in 1823. The games and the march of the Lonach Highlanders are the big public face of the society, but there’s much more to it than that. Preservation of Highland dress and promoting friendly feelings and the inhabitants of the district are a big part of it. I am very proud of it.

We are coming up to our 178th games. We didn’t have gatherings during the World Wars, but our 150th – back in 1991 – was amazing. We got new colours, new flags and our own coat of arms for the society, so that was quite a spectacle. I imagine our 200th in 2023 will be even more so.


Tell me about the march of the Lonach Highlanders!

The march of the Lonach Highlanders is great fun. Despite my interest in Scotch whisky, I don’t drink it at 8.15 in the morning on any other day of the year! We march a mile to the dram. The camaraderie of it is magnificent. The cart that follows behind is sort of legendary, but it’s a matter of pride that you never actually get in it! People want to keep marching for as long as they possibly can and sometimes they misjudge that. But generally people don’t fall by the wayside.


Have you ever met Billy Connolly at the games?

On the march we visit Candacraig which is where Billy Connolly used to live. Billy and his wife Pamela were marvellous. It was fun having the likes of Robin Williams run in the hill race and Dame Judi Dench in the stands. It swelled the numbers very nicely but it did change the crowd a little bit. We really enjoyed having the Connollys but now that they are gone we are back to having a smaller gathering and it has the intimacy which was always the hallmark of it.


Who’s your hero?

My hero… My father was extraordinary. He was patron of the society for 24 years and he was a genuine war hero. He was captured in 1940 and was a prisoner for the rest of the war. He escaped 12 times and was recaptured every time apart from the last. It was obviously a very formative experience for him.


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