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by Gemma Fraser
05 April 2021
Getting to know you: Andrew Kerr

Getting to know you: Andrew Kerr

Holyrood speaks to Andrew Kerr, chief executive of Edinburgh City Council and returning officer for Edinburgh

What’s your earliest memory?

My earliest memory is walking hand-in-hand with my cousin through Glasgow to my early years class, with my mother and her mother walking behind us making sure we were OK because we could have only been about three-and-a-half or four at that point.

What were you like at school?

I enjoyed school, I was pretty ordinary at school without being spectacular.

Did you go to school in Glasgow?

For the first five years, then I moved to Falkirk. I was at Falkirk High where, interestingly, another three chief executives have come from.

Really? That is interesting…

It must be a breeding ground.

Who would be your dream dinner date?

I think Barack Obama. I saw Barack Obama when he came to Scotland for the dinner two or three years ago. It was fantastic. His wife is just as interesting.

What’s your greatest fear?

I’m not sure I have any specific fear, but I know that I’m a bit claustrophobic so I would never go caving, for instance.

What’s the worst thing that anyone’s ever said to you?

I think the thing that always triggers me is not being trusted. In the couple of times in my life where somebody has said ‘I don’t trust you’, it’s the thing that properly gets to me.

Trust is pretty important in your job, both as chief executive and returning officer….

My integrity is very important to me. Of course it’s important to my job, but it’s one of the things I value in life anyway.

What’s your most treasured possession? 

My most treasured possession is the memories and scrapbooks I have of my time as an athlete. I keep them and look at them fairly regularly to remind me of what it was like when I was in my younger days.

What was your event?

I ran for Great Britain at 400 metres. I guess it’s just a reminder of some of my background, and part of the reason why I’m here of course, you know the discipline of athletics and sport has a place in my job.

What major events did you take part in?

I ran in the European Championships and that type of event, and ran in lots of what you would call grand prix meetings nowadays. I never ever got to the Olympics because I was ill Olympic year and that’s how it works sometimes. I ran about 20 or 30 times for Great Britain.

What an achievement. Do you have all your medals displayed?

I have all my medals in a shoe box on top of a cupboard! So, I have them, I haven’t thrown them away. I do value them, but I don’t display them. It’s part of reflecting on your life rather than showing off your life.

What do you dislike about your appearance?

I would almost certainly say that I could do with a bit longer legs.

They must have served you well though, as a runner…?

Having longer legs would have helped in my previous career.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

I watch box sets of things like Vikings and Game of Thrones and things that are fairly violent, which is my switch-off. Vikings is definitely my current favourite. I’ve just finished the first three series of The Bridge. My wife’s Icelandic so we can watch it partly understanding the language, and partly reading the subtitles – at least in my case!

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

I did a history degree and I’m a huge fan of a writer called Bernard Cornwall who writes historical fiction. He writes about Anglo-Saxon Britain in the ninth century, so Bamburgh in the ninth century.

Very specific…

I’m very, very interested in the life of Anglo-Saxon warriors, their lifestyle etc. I’d like to go back there and see what it was really like.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?

Quite early on in my career I had a boss who said to me that it doesn’t matter how talented you are, that hard work always trumps talent and I’ve held onto that all through my career and it’s served me very well. I thought it was a very wise thing to say. He was probably trying to pull me in a bit, on reflection!

What skill should every person have?

The skill that most people don’t have, which is listening. Everyone should learn to listen and speak less.

What’s the worst pain you’ve ever experienced?

That’s quite easy actually. Not so long ago I had an attack of gout, which I’ve never had in my life before and that’s easily the worst pain I have ever been in. I had gout in my knee and it was just excruciating. Hopefully I will never have that again. I couldn’t walk for days.

What’s your top film or TV programme of all time?

I like the Liam Neeson film Rob Roy; I’ve seen it about ten times, I think. I don’t know why I like it, but I do. Something to do with history again, probably. I like Line of Duty, it’s the most fantastic thing I’ve recently watched. Something with a bit of tension in it.

What was your best holiday ever?

Two or three years ago we went to Lake Garda and spent a fortnight there and I think it’s the best holiday I’ve ever had. It was very relaxing, a beautiful, amazing place, right at the bottom of the Dolomite mountains.  

What was the last book you read?

I read a book called New Power by Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans. I read a couple of books a week. I usually have some kind of fiction and some kind of factual book at my bedside and flick between the two.

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