In amongst it at the Highlands and Islands Press Ball

It was one glitzy but nerve-wracking do. Friday night saw the Highlands and Islands Press Ball and Media Awards take place at the Kingsmills in Inverness, and I was there with Kathleen, my best pal and wingman.

I’d never been to the press ball before — mainly because I spent most of my newspaper years as part of the Glasgow press pack —but I went this year because I was shortlisted in the category of ‘best use of digital media’ for this very blog.

I figured I had to go, on the off-chance I won. It was a very off-chance, as the award went to The Shetland Times but anyway…

I was desperately nervous. The shortlist was announced more than a month ago — I was up against Calum Maclean for BBC The Social as well as The Shetland Times – and it was a tense wait.

It’s not just the question about whether you’ll win. There’s also that fear of making a total plonker of yourself by doing something really stupid like falling over. You also wonder about whether you will know folk so I was very glad to have Kathleen (we’ve been friends since the age of 11) chum me.


In the event, we travelled up from Glasgow just a few hours beforehand and it was too rushed. I was actually writing a blog post on my laptop in the front seat of her car as she barrelled up the A9.

By the time we made it to the Kingsmills, after a very quick shower and slapdash makeup, I was just about hyperventilating. “Breathe, breathe,” she said. “You’ll be fine.”

I wasn’t sure if I would see anyone I knew but was delighted to bump into Paul Holleran, the NUJ’s Scottish organiser, with his girlfriend. I hadn’t seen him in years and it was great to catch up. I thought he would have been at this gig every year but not so. It had been about 20 years. “Tickets are like gold dust,” he drawled, in his fabulous Liverpool accent.

It was quite a glamorous affair. We were hosted at the VisitScotland table (thanks Kim at VisitScotland) and had a thoroughly good time getting to know everyone on it.

The evening kicked off with speeches from John Ross, as chairman of the press ball, and Gordon Fyffe, chair of the judging panel, and then David Ross, who received the Barron Trophy for lifetime achievement.


They were all very entertaining, with Kathleen confessing: “This is so much better than these engineering dos Crawford takes me to.”

Well, if you can’t get good political commentary — Trump might have been mentioned — and some good gags among this kind of company, there really is no hope.

The lifetime achievement award for David Ross — Highland correspondent for The Herald for years — was the first to be presented and so well deserved.

I first met David nearly 20 years ago, when I was a trainee reporter on the West Highland Free Press. I was in Knoydart for the launch of the land reform bill and he couldn’t have been nicer to me, really taking the time to talk. He would have thought nothing of it but I never forgot it.

I hadn’t known till last night that Sorley Maclean was his father-in-law and I could relate to the list of issues he covered, including community ownership and Gaelic.

I also laughed at his reputation for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The BCCI scandal broke when he was on holiday— and apparently Highland Council were once considering asking him for his holiday dates, in case they needed to release some bad news…


A picture of David and John Ross (who previously covered the same patch for The Scotsman) with a dictaphone and a labrador also got a laugh. “They were looking for a lead.”

It was onto the other awards after this and mine was the second category, so at least the pain was over relatively quickly.

I can handle losing out to The Shetland Times, particularly as they also won best newspaper of the year. I was just delighted to have been shortlisted and it was nice to see other Lewis names on the shortlists.

Events and Fios were both up for community newspaper of the year, and Fios won. Alasdair Dunlop picked up the award on its behalf and we had to congratulate him with a “well done, sir!” as it’s the only way to address one of your former (PE) teachers.

The final award of the night was the overall journalist of the year title and it went to Will Clark, senior reporter with the Caithness Courier, who was sitting at our table.


Will had been shortlisted in three categories and, as they all came and went, you couldn’t help but feel bad for him. That all changed when he was named journalist of the year though. We clapped, cheered, whooped and bellowed. Well done, Will!

Talking to him afterwards about his job, he said it was the human interest stories that he loves the most. “It’s in the blood,” he said.

Tell you something else that’s in the blood — alcohol! The press ball is a famously boozy affair and I have to admit, given the general sway by 10pm, to feeling quite glad that my drunken days are behind me.

That could have been a hangover and a half.


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