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Getting to know you: Councillor Ellie Bird

Councillor Ellie Bird - Image credit: Gemma Fraser/Holyrood

Getting to know you: Councillor Ellie Bird

What’s your earliest memory?

My earliest memory is playing a monkey in my primary school show and my mum made me my outfit. That’s when I first realised I wanted to be an actor, when I was five, in my first ever primary school show.

What was the show?

It was something about a circus and I got to be a mad monkey and I really leaned into the role.

What were you like at school?

There were ups and downs. It was not my favourite time of life. I’d probably not agree that school is the best time of your life. I definitely think the best is always yet to come.

Who would be your dream dinner date?

Now this is a really hard one. Actually, I dislike cooking so much, I like entertaining, I like socialising, but I tend to wash the dishes. So, I think I’d be pretty terrified to have anyone I massively respected at my dinner table, so I’d probably say someone that I had very little respect for.

You could go out for dinner…

That’s true, but is it on me? I’d like to say some of the good women from history. Just surround myself with Frida Kahlo and Ruth Bader Ginsburg and people like that.

What’s your greatest fear?

I think my greatest fear would be having to live this life without the people that I’ve got around me in it. The people in my life, my friends and my family, are the most important thing to me. It would be very difficult to negotiate this crazy world without them.

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

My drama teacher once told me that I wasn’t a classic beauty. I wondered about it at the time, because obviously I was a teenager, but actually what she was meaning was ‘you’ll be a really good character actor, Ellie, because you’re very characterful and you’ve got a characterful face’. I think that’s what she was getting at, but telling a teenager she wasn’t a classic beauty… I took that to heart.

So, did you go to drama school?

No – I was rejected from drama school! But I actually ended up working at the Comedy Unit in Glasgow. I got an audition out of youth theatre. I ended up working in comedy in Glasgow, some TV and radio, then off the back of that got an agent and then I went down to London and was an actor for a few years down in London. And then Scottish politics brought me home.

That’s a bit of a jump…

It is, but I’ve always been quite political. I’m a child of the trade unions – my parents were in the EIS. Probably one of my earliest memories actually is being on an EIS march. These are the things that I was brought up with. It’s always been in my blood, but it all started getting quite interesting around 2011 when I saw the writing on the wall, so I came back from London.

What kind of acting did you do?

It was mostly TV – I did Holby City, Doctors…

All the classics!

All the classics! I did this thing called The Old Guys which was written by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, who wrote Peep Show and things like that and at that time they were up for an Oscar for The Thick of It. I went up for the read-through because it was in Glasgow and I lived in London at the time, and I didn’t realise – because I didn’t know what he looked like – that I was sitting next to Jesse Armstrong on the plane. Then we both got a car – not environmentally friendly – a different car to Pacific Quay, and then we walked in the door and were like, ‘Well, this is awkward’.

What’s your most treasured possession?

I’ve got so many. I’ve got a duck that my dad gave to me when I was born. He got it in his head that he wanted to get me a duck, and he found me one just in the nick of time.

A cuddly duck?

Yeah, a cuddly duck, like a soft toy. He didn’t give me a rubber duck to cuddle up to at night! I’ve still got it. I think that was my earliest present.

What do you dislike about your appearance?

I would say nothing. I don’t dislike anything about my appearance. I think it’s a cliché, but when you’re in politics as a woman, you’ve got enough people critiquing you and criticising you and finding things to attack you on so there’s really no room for self-criticism.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

I think it’s probably as a 32-year-old woman going out to my mum and dad’s and being looked after like a bairn. Just coorying up by the fire, having some time out in the sticks. It’s just kind of a warm feeling to be back out in the country. Edinburgh’s a beautiful, very green and semi-rural place to live, but I grew up in a hamlet with no bus service surrounded by fields, so that’s something I miss a lot.

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

I’ve been watching a lot of The Crown recently. The third series is amazing. I probably shouldn’t say that as a republican! I guess because there’s so many events that I hadn’t been aware of, the historical and factual aspects of it are really interesting.

So which era would you want to visit? Early queen or series three queen?

Series three queen, sixties queen, Harold Wilson queen.

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

The best piece of advice I’ve had was from a colleague in here who said, don’t take anything in this place personally, which has been very good because it’s meant that I’ve been good at keeping the political and the personal separate.

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

I have had ongoing root canal for months now. I got a phoenix abscess and that was really painful.

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

It’s got to be Local Hero, every time. It’s the film I was brought up on.

What was your best holiday ever?

I’ve had some lovely holidays. Croatia was really beautiful, I love Paris, I love going to European cities. My mum was an artist and we always used to go to the west coast or the Hebrides every summer and she used to paint and we always used to play on beaches that were as long as the world and those, to this day, were my best holidays.

What was the last book you read?

It was Normal People by Sally Rooney – on holiday, actually. I went to Gran Canaria last week for my Christmas winter sun. That was an amazing book, very easy to get through, very relatable. I love a book about human relationships that we can all relate to.

Read the most recent article written by Gemma Fraser - Kate Forbes: 'There is light at the end of the tunnel'

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