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Miriam and Alan

Miriam and Alan: Lost in Scotland starts on Tuesday 16th November at 9.15pm 

Part rediscovery, part revelation and always a total riot, cameras follows the duo as they take to the high road to motorhome through Scotland’s Highlands and into its wildest places.

As the pair show each other their beloved Scotland with Alan at the wheel and Miriam the constant backseat driver, this raucous campervan odyssey documents a charming friendship and is packed full of laughter, personal confession and wisdom. Over three episodes, they encounter a fascinating cast of characters, take trips down memory lane and relive painful memories.

Thank you very much to Channel 4 for this interview.

First things first, how and when did the two of you meet?

Alan – Well we can’t quite remember exactly! It must have been in the early nineties because I shot this film with Ian Holm about FR Leavis (The Last Romantics) and that was who Miriam was taught by at Cambridge. At some point around that time, I was with Ian and we chatted to you about FR Leavis so that was probably the first time, but we’ve met a lot over the years at various backstage things.

Miriam – The most recent time of course was on The Graham Norton Show and it was just lovely to see him again. Very thrilling!

Alan – We’re sort of like showbiz friends who meet over the years at various things and can’t quite place it. I shot that film in 1991 so it’s been a long time ago!

Why did you want to do the show together?

Miriam - Well I think it was because we got on so well on The Graham Norton Show. It must have been Alan’s idea because I never would have dreamed of such an impertinent suggestion!

Alan – I’d been talking to Blink Films (the production company behind the series) about doing something about Scotland. They suggested perhaps I did it with someone else, so I suggested Miriam as I thought we’d make a good oddball couple! And then they had the idea of the van and it all went from there.

Miriam, how was Alan’s driving?

A great deal better than mine I would say! He’s a very good driver and what’s terrific is that he can talk and drive at the same time. He is an international celebrity you know, so he knows how to do it!

Alan, how did you find Miriam as a backseat driver?

There were little outbursts sometimes but what I liked is when she fell asleep! I mean, what I liked is that she trusted me enough to fall asleep when I was driving. I think that’s quite a compliment.

Miriam – Yes it is. Sometimes I would find myself saying ‘you’re very near the edge!’ or just ‘ooohhhh!’

Alan – New York has been your home for over 20 years but how frequently do you get back to Scotland? And how do you feel when you get there?

I try and get back a few times a year. I was there in August and October so quite a lot. As I get older, and it’s been interesting since we did the show, I feel much more drawn to it. You always have - wherever you’re from, this sort of tremendous pull, and specifically being Scottish, there’s this very primal thing that makes you always miss home, miss the history and spirit of it. I think doing this show made it even stronger.

Miriam – Yes, I felt you were very emotionally connected to Scotland and that is not going to change – it will only increase I think.

The Aliam tartan is absolutely incredible and Miriam, you looked blown away by the surprise. Has it made it home yet and do you know how it’s selling?

Oh you bet it has! It’s in my bedroom and I don’t bring it out often. I haven’t been at home much as I’ve been working in Wales. I thought about bringing it with me, but I’m so frightened I might lose it, or somebody might steal it so it’s staying at home at the moment. It is wonderful, it’s the most wonderful present I think I’ve ever had. I love it and I love Alan for having the thought to do it.

Alan – I don’t think it’s for sale yet – they’ve just got the things they made for us, but they could do it. The lovely girl at Prickly Thistle said if we wanted to do something for charity then she could help.

Miriam – I’m in touch with them and I’ve said I’ll do whatever they need. I’d like to help them as I thought it was such a wonderful place to be.

You did so many incredible things during the trip – was there a highlight?

Alan – Gosh, Sophie’s Choice!

Miriam – Well, I mean they were all highlights, it’s very invidious to pick out one. I was very moved by coming back to where Alan lived. I hadn’t known about the history of his life and I met his mother who talked to me about it all and that I found incredibly moving. Things like the haggis too – going into a real shop and making a real haggis! That’s something I never thought I’d ever do in my life.

Alan – And discovering you’ve missed all these years of haggis consumption due to a misconception?

Miriam – Yes! That’s true. I thought it was pork and it’s not so that was a nice surprise. Singing the song with Griogair Labruidh, that was very special. Alan really sang so beautifully; I didn’t realise that he had such a lyrical voice and it was wonderful. I just clapped along with bits of wood. I did my bit, did what I can do! We really met some great people along the way.

Anything you wouldn’t care to repeat again?

Miriam – I can’t really think of anything but I’m probably not going to bother go golfing again.

Alan – No! Even when we were in the rain, it was such fun. Every day was something hilarious and new.

Alan – you’ve talked about wanting to find somewhere to retire in Scotland. No spoilers but did anywhere tickle your fancy?

Well I have to say Miriam Margolyes wove her magic and I’m now looking in the Cairngorms area. I used to be very much a West coast person but through travel, I’ve now learned my obsession with the West was some sort of anti where I grew up, pushing away from that. But the Cairngorms is quite near where I grew up and I think it’s a better spot for me. I can get what I need – solitude, a loch, no midges and dramatic scenery. That was very much Miriam’s influence.

You’re both well known for being incredibly open and honest about things that have happened in your past and there are moments in the show that are hard to watch. Was there a therapeutic element to the trip?

Alan – Oh the whole thing was therapeutic for me.

Miriam – I just had a lovely time! (Alan – me too.) How could that not be therapeutic? I was at ease, I was joyous, and I was with an intelligent, searching kind of person. Alan is not just a surface person, he’s a considerable person and I felt I was travelling with a considerable person. He was wonderful, I loved it and I must stress this, he was incredibly kind. I’m slow, I don’t move well, I can’t climb up stairs and he was always there to help me, pass me my stick, make sure I got to the ground without falling – really kind and that’s something I value.

How was it recording the Gaelic song with Griogair? Could you see him performing at Club Cumming anytime soon, Alan?

I have actually been talking to him because in April, there’s a Scotland week in New York – a Scotland march on Fifth Avenue and a whole week of events so I think he’s definitely going to come to Club Cumming. He’s sent me his album and he wants me to do some speaking on top of another track about the independence referendum. I really like him – what a lovely boy.

Did you learn anything from each other? Anything surprising that you might not have known?

Alan – A lot! Especially when spending that much time together in such a concentrated way, being in the van together and constantly bubbled. I learnt a lot about Miriam’s life and amazing things about her family. Tons about her! Some of which I can’t mention here… I feel like it was a crash course in Miriam, a really great way to sort of fast forward an intense friendship. It didn’t feel like you were working a lot of the time, it just felt like you were in interesting places.

Miriam – I felt like I was on holiday with a glorious companion. It was delightful and I would do it again in a shot. We could go anywhere you’d like. Let’s go somewhere we don’t know – let’s go to Tallinn or somewhere like Kentucky!

You both have books out at the moment (Miriam’s is This Much Is True, and Alan’s is Baggage: Tales from a Packed Life) – did you read excerpts to each other before bedtime?

Miriam – We talked stories; I don’t think we read stories. Oh no, that’s not true. Alan did read me some poems which I liked very much (Alan – I get this thing called Poem a Day) and I did a couple that I remembered in my head. It was an opening of minds and that was really special.

And the final question, bar each other, who would be your fantasy road trip companions?

Alan – The bar is very high after Miriam! They need to be interesting and curious people. With the show I’ve been doing – Alan Cumming is Not Acting His Age – I’ve realised not acting your age is about being curious, open, wanting to still learn, meet different people and not staying in your lane. Miriam is completely like that and that was what was so fun – to be with someone with that energy of curiosity, wonder and sass. 

Miriam – I’m not usually interested in being with other celebrities – I like discovering people and in a sense, I was discovering Alan for myself and that was very special.

Alan – The reason we both did this is because we’re famous but actually I think we’re odd famous people.

Miriam – It’s the least interesting thing about us, that we’re famous.