Spectator – Carla Carlisle

Go to Google, type in Gleneagles and the first site reveals that ‘the very name is surely renowned and revered world-wide . . . synonymous with luxury living, old-fashioned style and elegance.’

When my friend Martin Haldane hears the name Gleneagles these days, he winces. Grimaces, flinches, cringes. He lives at Gleneagles. He is the Laird of Gleneagles. The real Gleneagles, the 7,000-acre estate that succumbed to flattery in the early 1900s when the Caledonian Railway asked if they could rename the Crieff Junction ‘Gleneagles Station.’ Permission was never sought nor granted to give the estate name to the creation of the ‘Riviera in the Highlands’, the ‘playground of the Gods’. Work began in 1913 but was stalled by the First World War. Work resumed in 1922, and the grand hotel opened in June 1924. Since that time, the Haldanes of Gleneagles have been explaining that they live at Gleneagles-Not-the-Hotel.

In fact, the hotel is neither in nor at Gleneagles but in the Muir of Auchterarder, a mile from the small town whose name derives from Perthshire Gaelic: Uachdar ard dodhar, ‘summit of the wild’, which gives the Laird of Gleneagles even more to grimace about now that the G8, that manly group of leaders from the US, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada, Russia and the UK, are holding their annual meeting at Gleneagles the hotel.

Google ‘G8 anarchists’ and up come 88,000 entries. The pragmatic Laird has spent his spring preparing – and paying out: for assessments, additional insurance, installation of gates and fencing, removal of signs. He reckons his costs have passed £10,000. The Foreign Office has stated that it will not underwrite any expense or damage to livestock, trees, fences, land, advising businesses in Auchterarder to remain shut for three days with no compensation for loss of income or expense of protecting property.

Martin, a mild-mannered Wykehamist with a passion for Gilbert and Sullivan, has an ear fine-tuned for irony. Maybe that’s why he finds that the £150 million being spent on the three-day G8 conference on his doorstep sits uneasily with ‘Making Poverty History’. Why he feels that Mr Geldof’s plea for ‘fleets of cars, planes, trains, ferries and private boats’ to get to Edinburgh (50 miles from Gleneagles) and then onward to the hotel – now surrounded by an eight-kilometre long, two-metre high steel fence – doesn’t jive with the battle against Global Warming.

Surely it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that in this space age of video conferencing, the G8 leaders could do more for the planet by staying home and holding their meetings in cyberland. The hundreds of millions spent on their security, linen sheets and mineral water, as well as the vast sums spent repairing the windows of Gap and Starbucks, could pay for a lot of maternity clinics, vaccines, water-treatment plants.

Meanwhile, G8 and Mr Geldof have all the makings of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. I can see the G8 leaders in their navy suits, the chorus scenes with Spice Girls and Oasis emerging from limousines. Mr Geldof is King Paramount, and the Gaelic motto of the hotel – now owned by alcohol giant Diageo – is inscribed on the safety curtain: Heich abune the Heich – High above the High. Gilbert and Sullivan already used the perfect title: Utopia, Limited. I’d call the sequel Udopia, Unlimited.

This article first appeared in Country Life magazine on June 30, 2005.