As an actor, Tam Dean Burn’s work has taken him all over the country.
Having appeared on screen, notably several roles in Taggart and as gangster Thomas McCabe in BBC Scotland soap River City, Tam has also been all over Scotland on stage too.
But one of his most unusual journeys occured in 2014, when he followed the Commonwealth Queen’s Baton Relay the length of Scotland, reading Julia Donaldson’s stories to children as he went.
What was the ‘Books on a Bike Challenge’?
I followed the Commonwealth baton around Scotland by bike and camper van attempting to read all of Julia Donaldson’s books and songs to children. My partner Emma played the flute and Andy Alston from Del Amitri played accordion. All of the performances were free.
Where did the idea for the challenge come from?
I’d been reading her stories at the Children’s Wood in the West End of Glasgow. I started with The Gruffalo, then the Gruffalo’s Child, Stick Man, and Room on the Broom. Then I realised that she had written 195 books and songs and to endeavour to read them all started to sound like a sporting challenge. So I tied that in with the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
How far did you travel?
We started in the Children’s Wood on 13 June. I read Superworm and Julia Donaldson and her husband Malcolm came along to join in the Superworm song. When the baton arrived in Edinburgh the next day we started the challenge at Craigmillar Library, cycled around Edinburgh and then off through the Lothians, the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway and back up almost as far as Glasgow. Then we headed across the Central Belt, Fife and the East Coast and up to Shetland. We came across the top of the country and down the middle before heading to the Western Isles and Orkney. We were lucky enough to have glorious weather everywhere we went.
What was the highlight of the challenge for you?
When we were on Orkney we started the day in Stromness community centre reading to about half a dozen children in a little hut in the play park there called Cubby Roo. That evening we performed at the Pickaquoy Centre in Kirkwall where we played to 900 people. My daughter Morgan followed me on my bike waving a Scotland flag and danced around us for the entire performance. It was an amazing day. When we got back to Glasgow I did some readings at Yorkhill Hospital and I continue to read bedtime stories to children there, often on a one-to-one basis.
Did you do much training in preparation?
I did a few spin classes and kept myself generally fit. I could have spent more time cycling, but I wouldn’t have had time to do any reading so we followed the baton in a camper van. Emma drove and because the readings were free I was able to plan and add dates as we went.
Did your acting background help you?
I think so. One day at Gretna Primary School we arrived to the entire school, 300 children, sitting cross-legged in a huge semi-circle in the playground. I had to blast it out with no microphone. Playing to children was an experience – the way they get involved is just fantastic. It’s at the other end of the spectrum for me as I’m probably known as one of Scotland’s scariest actors.