Getting to know you - Joan McAlpine
South Scotland SNP MSP Joan McAlpine talks to Gemma Fraser about her adventures in genealogy and journalism
Image credit: Holyrood
What’s your earliest memory?
My earliest memory is my father holding me up to the window of our tenement house in Gourock and saying, ‘look at the boats’ because it looked over the bay. He was obsessed with boats and was a marine engineer.
Did your father’s passion for boats rub off on you?
Yes, in that I used to go to his boat at Inverkip. We would scramble about the beach and have adventures while he was working on it. I don’t sail, but I would like to, actually. In retirement, he bought himself a wee yacht that he kept in the marina. He died in 2015 and I did actually seriously think about keeping it, but I knew that because of this job, living in Dumfries, working here and going to sail in Inverkip, it just wouldn’t have happened.
What were you like at school?
I was painfully shy in school. Very, very quiet and quite timid until I was a teenager, really. I was artistic and painted a lot. That was my saving grace when I got to secondary school, hanging around the art department. I used to go to Glasgow School of Art Saturday classes. At that time it was for kids who were judged to have some ability. It was really great.
Do you still do a lot of painting?
No. When the children were younger, I would do creative projects with them and paint with them and when we would go on holiday, we’d take sketch books.
What’s your greatest fear?
Something terrible happening to my family. Isn’t that everyone’s greatest fear? I do worry quite a lot about accidents and fire and things like that.
Who would be your dream dinner date?
That would be my father, who died three years ago. You wish you had that one last opportunity to say things that you felt you hadn’t said.
What would you want to talk to him about?
After he died, I think as a way of dealing with it, I started researching the family history. My father had researched it a little bit a few years ago, but that was before the days of the internet. I found out a lot about his family that I would love to have told him. He would have been really fascinated and I wish I’d done it when he was alive. I discovered a great, great uncle who had left Glasgow and had joined the Household Cavalry in Victorian times. He had risen to the top and he had died in the household of the Duke of Beaufort. It was so bizarre because his brother and everybody else were working as labourers in sugar refineries in Greenock, and this guy, Robert McAlpine, had become a major in the army and had become a friend of the Duke of Beaufort.
What’s your most treasured possession?
I used to have a Mini Cooper that I used to tell my children was my most treasured possession. It was the flashiest car I ever had, it had leather seats. Unfortunately, its engine wasn’t as good as its appearance so I ended up trading it in. But in terms of my most treasured possession, it would have to be my cottage. I always wanted to own a cottage. It’s a work in progress but it is quite idyllic.
What’s the worst thing anyone’s ever said about you?
Why don’t you just go on Twitter and read some of the abuse I get! You find lots of horrible things that people have said about you. I’m not going to repeat it.
Do you read a lot of the comments?
Not anymore. I don’t get them as much now. When I was first elected, I seemed to get them more, and when I was Daily Record columnist. One of the things that upsets me is when people misrepresent you.
What do you dislike about your appearance?
I wish I could lose weight. And I’m trying, though not very successfully. I go to a personal trainer once a week but I think I must be her most disappointing client because she gives me fantastic programmes that I’m supposed to do – she’s constantly trying to think of ways that she can design things for me to fit into my lifestyle – but I think I’m a great disappointment!
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
Chocolate. I’m addicted to chocolate, so that’s relating to the last question.
If you could go back in time, where would you go to?
I think I would go back and speak to myself when I was 16.
What would you tell your 16-year-old self?
I’d tell myself that things are going to be OK. I wasn’t very confident so if you knew things were going to turn out right, it gives you a bit more confidence.
What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?
When I was in journalism, there was an editor of the Sunday Times when I was there who used to say ‘trust your instincts’. He was making calls every day as an editor so from a journalist’s point of view, I always thought that was quite good. It’s not necessarily always the best advice for this job because you do often have to delve in and there’s two sides to every story.
What’s your favourite TV programme or film?
At the moment, me and my partner watch The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. And we’re both quite addicted to it. It’s so bizarre because he actually likes genre fiction, he likes horror, and I would never in a million years have watched it if it hadn’t been for him. I mean, zombie movies! My children find it hilarious as I’m much more of a historical drama or psychological thriller kind of person, but it is very well done.
What’s the best holiday you’ve ever had?
I took my children to Hawaii in 2004. It was a trip of a lifetime. It was absolutely amazing, we stayed in treehouses and explored the old molten lava paths and swam with dolphins and went deep sea fishing. It was my girls who wanted to go. There was a Disney movie called Lilo and Stitch that they both really loved that was set in Hawaii.
What are your hobbies?
I cannot claim it’s a hobby because I don’t do it enough, but I do really like working in my garden when I can. The garden, like the house, is a work in progress, but I would love to be able to transform it. I’m quite proud of my pots – they’re always colour coordinated – and my window boxes.
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