In 1999 I was asked by Jim and Eva to represent J&S at the Royal opening of Hunters of Brora new wool mill to be opened by H.R.H. Prince Charles. My first viewing of this new enterprise was its vast size and modern machinery. It was very unlike the old mill I had visited. The day of the opening everything appeared to be in order; lots of people in suits, the managing director met me briefly and said he would see me later. I went through to the warehouse where I met my old friend, Biba. He showed me around and showed off some of the new cloth and such like. I remember a tannoy announcement somewhere in the distance later followed by a lady running towards us; it turned out I was to be at the front door to meet the Prince and I was holding up proceedings; news to me! But as Catherine always says I only listen to part of the conversation. I made it just in time and joined the end of the queue and shortly was introduced to H.R.H and answering his questions he appeared to be very well versed in Shetland and its sheep.
Next, we had to walk around the mill behind the Prince. I found this very interesting and at one machine actually saw some of our Shetland natural undyed yarns being spun which was very encouraging. In the early evening I had to attend the gala opening dinner minus H.R.H in the Marine Hotel. The guests gathered in the cocktail lounge prior to the meal, I looked around for someone I knew but to no avail I felt a bit uncomfortable everyone else seemed to know one another. My gaze fell upon this very attractive youngish blond lady sitting on a sofa by herself. I introduced myself and asked to sit with her; like me she seemed to be alone and glad of the company. She was herself into textiles and had two stores in Paris I explained about our company and Shetland in general. She knew a bit about the Isles, we were deep in conversation when a waiter politely asked us to join the rest of the people at dinner.
I was shown to my seat and lo and behold the lovely lady was seated across from me, we had an enjoyable meal and after the speeches people started talking amongst themselves. My attention was drawn to a raised voice opposite me an elderly gentleman was staring at me I then realised he was addressing me. He raised his voice and the room went quieter. “I repeat,” he says, “Shetland is like Bosnia without the guns.” “Excuse me?” I replied again he said the same phrase and added that Shetland people “…were always bickering fighting and back stabbing one another.” I replied, “I take exception to your choice of words in your description of people in Shetland it is simply untrue and you must have been ill advised.”
“It is true,” he said, “I have experience of the Shetland textile companies attending fashion shows in Milan and Paris and they speak ill of one another”. I replied “I work with the vast majority of Shetland crofters and farmers; perhaps a 1,000 people and they all get on and work together as does the majority of the community.” He did not respond to this and thankfully nothing more was said.
It was while in the bar after the meal I was talking to this American textile manufacturer, Hunters managing director approached us, “What was with the rude guy at the dinner table?” asked the American. The M.Ds replied “what do you expect; the blond lady Oliver was chatting up is the man’s mistress! He is well known in the textile world and he bought her two stores in Paris!”
Another lesson learned it would be safer if I took Catherine with me in the future!
My impression of the new mill was it was far too big and elaborate. The machinery was modern and was nothing like the old mill. Talking to some of the older staff at the mill they felt unsure about the future but time would tell. I thought of Mr Simpson’s comment all those years ago, “You must come and see the magic.” I feared that somehow the magic had waned!