Honorary Members 2004 to 2010

2004 Willie Young, Jack McConnell
2005 Robert Fisk
2006 Ian Rankin
2007 William Cowan, Michael Marra, George MacDonald Fraser
2008 James Wilson, OBE, Phil Cunningham, MBE, Rt Hon Gordon Brown, Rt Hon Alex Salmond
2009 Andrew O'Hagan, Janet Elsie-May Coom
2009 (Nov.: Homecoming Finale) Giovanni Benedetti, Nicola Benedetti, Nicola Sturgeon, Baroness Ford of Cunninghame,
Eddi Reader, Janice Galloway, Sir Tom McKillop, Viscount Weir, Graeme Obree
2010 Tim Smit, Sir Christopher Hoy, Carol Ann Duffy


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Willie Young (-) Honorary member 2004

His life & work:

Willie Young, flautist par excellence, has been delighting audiences for a good number of years - in particular those who attend Irvine Burns Club's Annual Celebration.

Willie's father, an amateur player, was his first teacher. Willie, then eight years old, showed such promise that he was assigned to the foremost teacher in Ayrshire at that time - one Adam Bennett. He subsequently entered the RSAMD and studied under David Nicholson and has since attended Masterclasses under such eminent flautists as James Galway, Jean-Pierre Rampal, William Bennett and Richard Chester. His record in the contests run by the British Flute Society is impressive and is unlikely to be matched - seven times Scottish Open Junior Champion and eight times Senior Champion. Willie plays an 8-carat rose gold Muramatsu flute - surely the Rolls Royce of flutes.

Willie is married to Elaine, has two boys, and is a Music Instructor for North Ayrshire Council.

Jim Butler (President 1992-93, and piper)

His letter, written from his home in Kilwinning in late January 2004:


      It is with pride I would like to officially accept Honorary Membership of Irvine Burns Club.
     Over the years it has been a great pleasure to perform to such an appreciative audience.
     My recital nights in Wellwood were also memorable, and I look back at them as a highlight of my playing career.
     With these few words may I reiterate my somewhat perforated acceptance speech at the Annual Celebration and wish you and the club well,
     Yours with grateful honour,
William J M Young
ARCM Kilwinning

The letter is written to Andy Howat, President 2003-04. 'Wellwood' is the name of the Irvine Burns Club premises. ARCM is the acronym for Associate of the Royal College of Music.

Jack McConnell (1960-) Honorary member 2004

His life & work:

<biography to follow; born in Irvine>

His letter, written from the office of the First Minister, Scottish Executive, St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on 12 July 2003:


Dear Willie,
      Thank you very much for the invitation to join Irvine Burns Club as an Honorary Member. I am delighted to accept.
     Please pass on my best wishes to the committee.
     Yours sincerely
     Jack McConnell

The acceptance, in his own hand, is written to Willie McPike, President in the previous year, 2002-03.

Robert Fisk (1946-2020) Indicated willingness to accept honorary membership 2005

His life & work:

Robert Fisk is Britain's most highly decorated foreign correspondent and the world-renowned Middle East correspondent for 'The Independent' newspaper in London. Mr Fisk received a Ph.D. in Political Science from Trinity College, Dublin in 1985 and an Honorary Doctorate of Literature and Journalism from the University of Lancaster. He was 'The Times' Belfast correspondent from 1971 to 1975, and the MIddle East correspondent for the same newspaper from 1976 to 1987.

Fisk has covered the conflict in Northern Ireland, Israeli invasions of Lebanon, the Iranian Revolution, the Iran-Iraq War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Gulf War, wars in Bosnia and Algeria, and the Palestinian uprisings. He was the winner of 'The Amnesty International UK Press Awards' in 1998.

His books include 'The Point of No Return: The Strike which Broke the British War in Ulster', 'In Time of War: Ireland, Ulster and the Price of Neutrality' and 'The Great War for Civilisation, The Conquest of the Middle East'.

Fr Willie Boyd (President 2004-05)

His letter, written from Beirut on March 28th, 2005:


Dear Father Boyd
     Thank you so much for your letter of January 2nd, which was forwarded to me in Lebanon. Unfortunately, a late return from Iraq, Mr Hariri's subsequent murder in Beirut and work on my forthcoming book has set my correspondence way behind.
     So I must apologise sincerely that I did not respond to your kind letter before January 28th.
     Obviously, it's too late for you to nominate me as an 'Honorary Member' of the Irvine Burns club this year.
     However, if I'm not on your 'black list', I should add that I would be privileged if you wished to nominate me next year - although I appreciate you may by then have found a more worthy person to honour.
     Yours sincerely,
     Robert Fisk
     Middle East Correspondent
     The Independent

Fr. Boyd was President in 2004-2005.

This letter is technically not an acceptance, but indicates willingness to accept, so we include him in our acceptances.

The letter is typed,
not in holograph.

Ian Rankin (1960-) Honorary member 2006

His life & work:

Ian Rankin, the award-winning Scottish author, was born in Fife, graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1982, and (he freely admits) spent the three years he was supposed to be working towards a Ph.D, (in Scottish Literature) in writing novels. He has since made famous throughout the world not only his main character, Detective Inspector John Rebus, but also the city where the novels are set, Edinburgh. The first Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses, appeared in 1987 and the 'final' one (the eighteenth), Exit Music, in 2007, with the 19th, Saints of the Shadow Bible, appearing in 2013. He lives in Edinburgh with his wife and two sons.

His success has come in worldwide popularity (the Rebus books are now bestsellers in twenty-two languages), in many awards (the Chandler-Fulbright Award, four Crime Writers' Association Dagger Awards including the prestigious Diamond Dagger in 2005, America's Edgar award in 2004, Denmark's Palle Rosenkrantz prize, the French Grand Prix du Roman Noir, and the Deutscher Krimipreis), in honorary degrees (from the universities of Abertay, St Andrews, Edinburgh, Hull and the Open University, the first two being honorary doctorates), and by the Crown (awarded the OBE for services to literature, he is also a Deputy Lieutenant of Edinburgh).

It is indicative of Ian Rankin's appreciation of his native country that he opted to receive his OBE in his home city of Edinburgh. On his website, www.rankin.net, he mentions some of his current enthusiasms; in late 2007, he wrote: "I also turned ‘political hack’ courtesy of The Times and covered May’s Scottish elections, interviewing the likes of Tony Blair and Alex Salmond. Then there was the opera libretto, the two BBC TV documentaries (one celebrating 20 years of Rebus, the other the roots of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde). And did you happen to catch ‘Reichenbach Falls’, a one-off BBC drama about a detective who starts to realise he’s a character in a long-running series of novels? I co-wrote that with an old friend from university, James Mavor. We enjoyed it so much, we’re trying out other ideas…"

His letter, written from his home in Edinburgh on 23/1/06:


Dear Jim
     Many thanks for your letter of 4 January, inviting me to become an Honorary Member of Irvine Burns Club - I am happy to accept!
     Sorry I missed the annual celebration on 7 January, but your letter didn't reach me till after that time.
     Right, I'd better get back to the next Rebus novel . . . All the best to you - and thanks again!
     Cheers -
     Ian Rankin

The letter is written to Jim Burns, President 2005-06.

The AGM had been on the 7th January - the Annual Celebration was on its usual Friday, 27th Jan. that year.

The following declined to accept honorary membership in 2006:

Sir David Attenborough CH, FRS:
Replying to President Jim Burns, he wrote: "Thank you for your letter which has only reached me today. I am very flattered that you should invite me to become an honorary member of Irvine Burns Club. Nonetheless, since I am not a Scot and have no particular involvement with Burns I feel I should decline. Thank you nonetheless."

Sam Torrance, OBE, European Team Captain:
Replying to President Jim Burns, he wrote: "I am writing to thank you for your kind invitation to be an Honorary Member of Irvine Burns Club. I feel very honoured to have been asked but reluctantly I will have to decline. My busy schedule means that sadly, I haven't enough time to dedicate to honorary memberships and as a result I endeavour to keep them to a minimum. I tend only to accept things, which I know I will be able to put adequate time towards."

Michael Marra (1952-) Honorary member 2007

His life & work:

Born in Dundee, Michael Marra is predominantly known as a singer songwriter but has worked extensively in theatre, radio and television.

To most he is a solo performer touring the length and breadth of Britain performing in art centres, folk clubs and village halls.

In recent years he has performed in Washington, DC, and Melbourne, Australia, in the show “In Flagrant Delicht” written in collaboration with Liz Lockhead the playwright. In theatre Michael has written original music and worked both as an actor and musical director. His own operetta “If the moon can be believed” was performed at the Dundee Rep to sell-out audiences.

Michael has also performed original music with the Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the Scottish National Orchestra .

He is a keen student of Robert Burns and includes Burns songs in his performances. In 2008 Michael was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Dundee University in recognition of his contribution to the cultural profile of the town.


His letter, written from his home in Blairgowrie, Perthshire, on 30.11.06:


Dear Raymond,
     Many thanks for your letter and invitation to become an Honorary member of Irvine Burns Club. I am not normally a joiner of clubs but have no hesitation in accepting your kind offer.
     I am very grateful to you for the compliment and will regard it as an encouragement for my future efforts.
     Yours Sincerely,
     Michael Marra

The letter is addressed to Raymond Fitzgerald, President in 2007, and is typed.

William Cowan (....) Honorary member 2007

His life & work:

Bill was President of the Club in 1977 and has therefore been a director for over 30 years.

In that time he has worked tirelessly for the benefit of the club and has represented the club in an outstanding manner. He has been active in organising the Wits Dinner which raises funds for the benefit of the club and several charities.

Recently he was part of a three man committee which managed the commission and development of the bronze sculpture of Burns and Wallace, by Alan Herriot, which now stands proudly in Wellwood.


His letter, written from his home in Irvine, Ayrshire, on 12th December, 2006:


Dear Raymond,
     Many thanks for your letter of 8th December, 2006, offering me Honorary Membership of the Irvine Burns Club.
I have much pleasure in accepting.
When I opened your letter, I was surprised, delighted and emotional to be asked to join the distinguished list of Honorary Members representing as it does such a wide range of World and local figures.
     From the time I joined the Directorate in September, 1974, as Vice-President Elect, I have tried at all times to promote the interests of the Club. I look back with pleasure and pride at my involvement as Secretary, the 150th Celebration which included the opening of the upstairs part of Wellwood, the fund raising Barn Dances, Charity Shop and the Wits Dinners which all helped to raise funds for various capital projects in Wellwood and beyond, not forgetting the Heckling Shed Dinners unequalled anywhere.
     All of this was achieved with the willing assistance of Directors and Members, all of whom I consider to be personal friends, making up the finest Burns Club in the World.
     I have been delighted to be able to do what I could for the Club but, in turn, Irvine Burns Club has been good for me helping my personal development in so many ways.
     I look forward to many more years of service to the Club.
     Many thanks again, for bestowing this honour on me. I consider it to be the highest honour to be achieved in Irvine.
     Yours Sincerely,
     William Cowan

The letter is addressed to Raymond Fitzgerald, President in 2007.

George MacDonald Fraser (1925-2008) Honorary member 2007

His life & work:

Born in Carlisle of Scottish parents he was educated in Carlisle and Glasgow.

After several years in the army he was demobilised as a commissioned officer. His experience in the army was the foundation of several of his subsequent novels.

He is best known for his series of twelve ”Flashman” novels but also wrote several novels on such diverse subjects as his military career historical topics and politics.

He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1999.


His letter, written from his home on the Isle of Man on 11.1.07:


Dear Dr Lovie
     Thank you very much for your letter inviting me to become an Honorary Member of the Irvine Burns Club. To be allowed to join such an extraordinarily distinguished company is an honour indeed, and I accept most gladly.
     Again, thank you for thinking of me.
     Yours sincerely
     George MacDonald Fraser

The letter is addressed to Dr Jack Lovie, a Past President of the Club.

James Wilson OBE (....) Honorary member 2008

His life & work:

In the late Fifties, James Wilson, Clement’s son, also a Past President and Honorary Member of the Irvine Burns Club, made a highly significant contribution not only to the family business of Robert Wilson & Sons but also to marketing as a recognised business tool. It is no exaggeration to suggest that his visionary work in advertising Kennomeat, a pet food for dogs, changed the image and impact of British advertising.

On his return from the Harvard Business School, and by then living in London, James Wilson became a pioneer of effective television advertising when, involved in the pet food side of the family food business, he persuaded the Board of Robert Wilson & Sons Ltd. to invest a relatively small sum in promoting Kennomeat in a series of high profile television commercials featuring the voice of Peter Sellers.

Coupled with an entertaining storyline involving Albert and Sidney, two dogs whose role in life was man management, i.e. they had to select suitable male owners who could be trained to bring home Kennomeat, Wilson’s adverts from 1960 simply revolutionised television advertising in the UK. As a direct result of its television campaign, Robert Wilson & Sons Ltd. captured 18% of the UK pet food market within two years, selling 3 million cans of Kennomeat weekly and making a massive dent in the market shares of both Petfoods Ltd and Spillers Ltd., the industry’s giants.

James Wilson’s entrepreneurial vision and leadership within in the pet food industry were so successful that by June 1964, Spillers Ltd had taken over both Kennomeat and Kattomeat for the astonishing figure of £7,309,425 - today’s equivalent value would be an incredible £103,563,286!

It is as a direct result of that business development within Robert Wilson & Sons that the original Clement Wilson Foundation was made possible. Through it, and its successors, Wilforge and now Barcapel Foundation, many local and national organisations have received generous support over the years. Irvine Burns Club is only one of many bodies with reason to be grateful to the Wilson family.


His letter, written from his home at Skelmorlie Castle, Ayrshire, on 25th Jan 2009:


Dear Drew,
     Although I accepted verbally your much appreciated invitation to become an Honorary Member of the Irvine Burns Club last year, I am very aware that I should have accepted in writing as is the custom and I do apologise for the delay.
     My connection with the Irvine Burns Club goes back more than thirty years and I got involved because of my father Clement who had been President in 1971 who had brought up his family with the teachings and poetry of Burns. We had always felt we had a common kinship as our ancestors had been tenant farmers in Ayrshire at the same time - in the late 18th century we farmed at Drumboy Farm in Fenwick and our landlord was the then Earl of Eglinton who owned most of the land in Ayrshire.
     Burns was to describe the life of a tenant farmer as "a hard life in this ruinous bargain of a farm" back breaking toil and a ploughman's wage was only £6 a year. The then James Wilson who farmed Drumboy in the 1750s would have been "dumbfoonert" if he had known that his descendants, 200 years later, would own both Eglinton and Skelmorlie the great Castles belonging to his landlord, Lord Eglinton - an outcome that would have intrigued Robert Burns especially as it was in Eglinton Woods, in Irvine in 1786 that he decided to publish his poems with the Kilmarnock edition. Little would he know that the descendants of a struggling Ayrshire tenant farmer like himself would one day own those Woods and then gift them to the local Council.
     The Barcapel Foundation, the Wilson family charity has greatly helped the Club over the last 30 years and I enclose with this letter a list of donations made over this period. We have been of particular help with the Strong Room, the Stewards Bungalow (now sold) the Glasgow Vennel restoration and the Burns Bronze Project. Over the last 10 years we have supported the Wits Dinner.
     It is with gratitude that I accept your invitation to become an Honorary Member and to reply, although far too late, on the 25th January 2009, the 250th anniversary of the Bard's birth! Most sincerely
     Jimmy Wilson (OBE: too)

The letter is addressed to Drew Duncan, President of the Club.

The 'list of donations' is filed with his letter.

The final words "(OBE: too" refer to Drew Duncan also being an OBE (Jan. 2008, for services to local government). James Wilson was awarded an OBE in 1984 for “charitable activity in Scotland”.

Phil Cunningham MBE (1960-) Honorary member 2008

His life & work:

<biography to follow>

His letter, written from Castle Grove, Dundas Castle Estate, South Queensferry, on 25/1/08:


Dear Mr Duncan,
     Thank you so much for your kind letter and wonderful invitation to become an Honorary Member of the Irvine Burns Club. Of course I would be delighted to accept and I consider it a real honour to have been asked.
     I have had a long association with the words and music of Robert Burns and, for some strange reason, have never been a member of any Burns club!! So . . to be invited to become an honorary member of your iconic club, is very special indeed. Thank you.
     Sadly, due to prior commitments, I will be unable to attend this year's celebrations, but look forward to visiting with you all at some time in the future. Have a wonderful evening.
     yours aye,
     Phil Cunningham

The letter is to President Drew Duncan.

Gordon Brown (1951-) Honorary member 2008

His life & work:

<biography to follow>

His letter, written from 10 Downing Street on 11 Feb 2008:


Dear Mr Duncan,
     Thank you for your letter of 17 January inviting me to become an Honorary Member of the Irvine Burns Club and to attend the Club's Annual Celebration on 25 January.
     I am sorry that, due to existing diary commitments, I was unable to join you and other members for your Burns Celebrations in Irvine. I very much appreciate your kind invitation to become an Honorary Member and am delighted to accept.
     With my very best wishes
     Gordon Brown

The acceptance, typed except for the signature, is to President Drew Duncan.

Alex Salmond (1954-) Honorary member 2008

His life & work:

<biography to follow>

His letter, written from the office of the First Minister of Scotland, Scottish Executive, St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on 22 March 2008:


Dear President,
     As First Minister of Scotland I am delighted to accept your kind invitation to become an honorary member of your famous club.
        "The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
        The man's the gowd for a' that."
     Yours for Scotland,
     Alex Salmond


Janet Elsie-May Coom (c. 1925-2012) Honorary member 2009

Her life & work:

Mrs Coom's background is indicated in her letter. Her descent from Robert Burns is this: Helen Anne ('Anna') Park was the niece of Mrs Hyslop, who kept the Globe Tavern in Dumfries. Anna was Burns' "Anna of the gowden locks" and the inspiration of "Yestreen, I had a pint of wine", considered by Burns to be his best lovesong. Anna and Robert were Janet Coom's great-great-great grandparents.

On 23rd March 1791 (nine days before the birth of his son, William Nicol, by Jean Armour), Anna gave birth to their daughter, Elizabeth ('Betty'), Mrs Coom's great-great grandmother, who was legally adopted and brought up by Jean Armour. It is not known what happened to Anna, some saying she died in childbirth with Elizabeth, some saying she married a soldier in Edinburgh.

Betty married John Thomson, and their eldest son was Robert Burns Thomson, Mrs Coom's great-grandfather. His daughter Mary McNaught Thomson, Mrs Coom's grandmother, married Provost Fisher of Rothesay. Their daughter Eliza McNaught Fisher, Mrs Coom's mother, married Macdonald Halliday. Janet Elsie-May was happily married to W A ('Bill') Coom and they have children and grandchildren. He passed away in December 2011 and Elsie-May herself about a month later.

Her letter, written from her home in Glasgow on 15th January 2009:


To: Iain Doole, President Irvine Burns Club
     Thank you for your kind invitation inviting me to become an Honorary Life Member of Irvine Burns Club.
     I am honoured, not only because in itself, this is a great privilege to be awarded, but because it happens to be the 250th Anniversary of our National Poet, Robert Burns, my great-great-great-grandfather's birth. There could not be a more auspicious moment, & I accept not only with delight but with a sense of awe, love & the deepest respect for such an honour.
     I was born in Scotland, Rothesay, Isle of Bute, but spent my first seven years on the Atacama Desert, in Chile, South America. I felt I'd lost my Scot's Heritage when we returned to the island, but thanks to Burns, he made me proud to be a Scot. He embodies for me Scot's Patriotism - not parochial but far-reaching - "that man to man the warld o'er shall brithers be" - that's the bit - which is so very satisfying and inspiring.
     I am so glad to become an honorary Life Member of Irvine Burns Club. I feel more than ever I've come home.
     Janet Elsie-May Coom


Andrew O'Hagan (1968-) Honorary member 2009

His life & work:

< biography to follow >

His letter, written from his home in London on 12 Jan. 2009:


Dear President, Mr Doole:
     The great Samuel Johnson missed the Kilmarnock Edition by two years, but I strongly believe his native prejudice would have been stood on its head by the appearance of Burns' volume. It was Johnson, after all, who said 'there is nothing too small for such a small thing as man', and that notion, so instinctive to our own bard, has been a motto to me over my writing life so far. As a person brought up in Kilwinning, who ran about the braes of Irvine and always admired Burns' feeling for fellowship, I am delighted and humbled that you should elect me an honorary life member of the Club. I am well aware of the traditions you embody and uphold - they are deeply graven in the poet's image - and I have no hesitation in accepting your kind invitation. I do so with thanks, believing it is always a happy day when one can join the company of one's true fellows.
     Yours sincerely
     Andrew O'Hagan

Johnson died in 1784.

Andrew O'Hagan did indeed join us at the Annual Celebration in 2009.

Giovanni Benedetti (1943-) Honorary member 2009 Homecoming Finale

His life & work:

Born in Barca, Giovanni Benedetti came to Scotland from Italy at the age of 9, arrived here speaking very little English, and worked in his Uncle’s café in Bridgegate while attending school in Irvine. But while Gio came to these parts with very limited English, he arrived with a fierce determination to succeed in whatever he did. Aged 19, Gio purchased a small Dry Cleaning Shop which he grew in 8 years to 16 shops servicing Ayrshire and Glasgow.

In 1981 he formed a new company “ICS” to exploit his new and innovative process development for reclaiming industrial gloves. With a £12m turnover servicing customers that included Ford, Vauxhall, Rover, Nissan, Lucas, GKN and Tesco, Gio sold ICS in 1989 for a substantial sum. He then bought out Silcock Express from Sears Group, grew it from £36m to £120m and in 1993, sold it for another substantial amount.

In between, he had also bought Wrapfilm, a Cling Film and Foil converting company with a small £2m turnover which he grew to a sizeable £36m and then sold it to Management at the end of 2007 for £21m with Giovanni remaining a Director and retaining a major shareholding.

Today, Gio is Chairman of Benedetti International, consisting of Wallace Cameron, UK’s leading First Aid Company and Benedetti design division. He is an example of how a young person with talent, drive, dedication, and ambition can make it right to the top. North Ayrshire is very proud that he chose to settle here in this lovely part of the world and Irvine is proud to have been an influence in his success.

For his outstanding contribution to Scottish industry, Irvine Burns Club was happy to nominate Gio Benedetti as an Honorary Member.

from the nominating speech, by Bill Nolan, at the Honorary Members lunch,
hosted by President Billy Dickson, on 27 Nov. 2009

His letter, written from his home in West Kilbride on 16th November 2009:


Dear Mr Dickson,

Thank you for your kind invitation to become an Honorary member of the Irvine Burns Club, which I am delighted to accept.

Unfortunately, due to prior commitment, I may not be able to be with you until approximately 11.30 am on the 27th.

I look forward to seeing you and thank you again for the invitation.

Yours sincerely,

Gio Benedetti

The letter is addressed to President Billy Dickson.

The letter refers to the reception for past and new Honorary Members, on 27 Nov., 2009, at the Homecoming Finale exhibition "Dear Mister Burns".

Nicola Benedetti (1987-) Honorary member 2009 Homecoming Finale

Her life & work:

Nicola Benedetti, the younger daughter of Gio (also an honorary member) and Francesca Benedetti, started to learn the violin at the age of four. By the age of nine, she had already passed the eight grades of musical examinations, and in September 1997 began to study at the Yehudi Menuhin School for young musicians under Lord Menuhin (also an honorary member) in rural Surrey. Like her dad had been, she was a young person, on her own and in a strange land.

At the end of her first year (1998), she played solo in the school's annual concert at Wigmore Hall, and performed in London and Paris as a soloist in Bach's Concerto in D minor for two violins and orchestra. In 1999, Nicola performed in the celebrations to mark the opening of The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood Palace with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland and within two years had performed with the City of London Sinfonia, as well as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Scottish Opera, Scottish Chamber, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. So many musical achievements and still barely 15.

In 2002, she left the Menuhin School to begin studying privately with Maciej Rakowski, and in May, 2004, aged 16, Nicola Benedetti won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition performing Karol Szymanowski's First Violin Concerto, which was not an obvious choice, in the final at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Because of this brilliant wonderful and highly-acclaimed performance, she won the music section of the Top Scot award in December 2005 – no mean feat for a classical performer. Since then, her career has been nothing short of phenomenal with regular tours across the United States, the Far East and throughout Europe and her concert success has been matched by her recording success in a notoriously difficult market.

Nicola Benedetti has a very special and unique musical talent that has been harnessed to a resolute dedication that has brought her success through sheer hard work, patience and practice.

She has performed at Irvine Burns Club and the club is delighted to recognise this young virtuoso by awarding her Honorary Membership – so Nicola Benedetti became our 300th Honorary Member of Irvine Burns Club.

from the nominating speech, by Bill Nolan, at the Honorary Members lunch,
hosted by President Billy Dickson, on 27 Nov. 2009

Nicola was awarded a Doctorate of Letters at Heriot-Watt University in November 2010 in recognition of her contribution to music.In the New Year Honours list of 2014, she was awarded an MBE for her services to music and to charity. In 2014, she is artist in residence at the Cheltenham Music Festival. Her network of agents is ('The Times' interview, 31/5/14) "poised to drop her in front of a symphony orchestra [in Europe, Asia or North America] at a moment's notice".

Her maternal grandfather was a Scot, passing through northern Italy with the advancing Allied armies when he fell in love with a local girl. The family moved back to Scotland when her mother was a child. Her father's story is told above, in the preceding entry.

Her letter, written in Nov. 2009:


Dear Billy Dickson,
     I am writing to thank you very much for your kind invitation to become an honorary member of the Irvine Burns Club. I would be absolutely delighted to accept this invitation, and am most honoured to be asked.
     Being an Ayrshire lass myself, I have grown up with a huge admiration for Burns and his work, so to become an honorary member of a club so dedicated to such an incredible man is just wonderful.
     The overwhelming list of honorary members only adds to my delight in being placed alongside them all.
     Thank you so very much once again.
     Yours sincerely,
     Nicola Benedetti


Nicola Sturgeon (1970-) Honorary member 2009 Homecoming Finale

Her life & work:

Born in Irvine, Nicola Sturgeon was educated at Greenwood Academy and read law at the University of Glasgow where she graduated with an LLB (Hons) and Diploma in Legal Practice. She worked as a solicitor in the Drumchapel Law Centre in Glasgow before becoming an MSP on the restoration of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

Deputy Leader of the Scottish National Party since 2004, Nicola led the CNP at Holyrood for three years until Alex Salmond’s return in 2007, and is now the MSP for Glasgow Govan, Deputy First Minister for Scotland, and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing.

As well as deputising for Alex Salmond, her wide-ranging paliamentary responsibilities include the NHS, health service reform and improvement, health promotion and sport, public health, dentistry, community care, mental health, learning disability, social inclusion, and anti-poverty measures.

A feisty performer at the ballot box and a vigorous campaigner for those ideals in which she believes, she not only won the Scottish Politician of theYear award last year but also the Donald Dewar Shield for outstanding debating performances at Holyrood.

Irvine Burns Club, recognising her outstanding political involvement over such a relatively short period, was happy to nominate Nicola Sturgeon, MSP, as an honorary member.

from the nominating speech, by Bill Nolan, at the Honorary Members lunch,
hosted by President Billy Dickson, on 27 Nov. 2009

"Sturgeon is one of the finest politicians Scotland has produced. This has long been evident to her colleagues and her adversaries in the other parties. Last year, the rest of us got a glimpse of this for ourselves during the nationwide swine flu alert. In the initial weeks of the alert and following the first few deaths, her command of the situation when broadcasting updates commended herself to the country. She seemed to possess those qualities that we Scots like to think we have on our best days: calmness, authority, reassurance and with a small dash of Presbyterian rectitude." (Kevin McKenna, "The Observer", 14 Feb. 2010)

Her letter, written from The Scottish Parliament on 30th October 2009:


Dear Mr Dickson

Thank you very much for your letter of 9 October inviting me to become an Honorary Member of Irvine Burns Club. As a proud native of Irvine, I would be absolutely delighted and honoured to accept your kind invitation.

Unfortunately, due to constituency business, I will not be able to join you for the exhibition and lunch on 27 November, but I wish you well for a successful occasion.

Many thanks again for your invitation in this most special of years - the 250th anniversary of the birth of our Bard. With very best wishes,

Nicola Sturgeon

The letter is addressed to President Billy Dickson.

The letter refers to the reception for past and new Honorary Members, on 27 Nov., 2009, at the Homecoming Finale exhibition "Dear Mister Burns".

Baroness Ford of Cunninghame (1957-) Honorary member 2009 Homecoming Finale

Her life & work:

Born in Saltcoats, Margaret Ann Ford has had a prominent career in public life and was awarded her Life Peerage in May 2006, choosing in her title to recognise her links with her family home in North Ayrshire.

She spent her early career in a variety of roles either in the public sector, including a period at the previous Cunninghame District, or as an advisor to Government, and is a specialist in leadership development, culture change and public sector reform. From 1997 to 2000 she was Chairman of Lothian Health Board and from 2000 to 2003 was a Non-Executive Director of Ofgem.

In December 2007 Margaret retired from English Partnerships, the national regeneration agency, after six highly successful years. From 2000 to 2005 Margaret was a Director of Good Practice Limited, the publishing company that she founded. She was, until May 2009, Managing Director, Social Infrastructure and Development, Royal Bank of Canada Capital Markets.

Baroness Ford is also the Senior Non-Executive Director of Serco and, in what passes as her spare time, she is also president of the UK charity Epilepsy Action.

In April 2009, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, Mayor of London Boris Johnson, and Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell announced her appointment as Chair of the newly created London 2012 Legacy Delivery Company, a somewhat onerous and demanding post but one that is set to bring lasting benefits not only to the East End of London but to other parts of the UK on the back of the London Olympics.

Much closer to home, Baroness Ford is Chair of the Irvine Bay Regeneration Company, an organisation that has already demonstrated both vision and commitment in improving the environment and well-being of several local communities including The Three Towns, Kilwinning Town Centre and Irvine Harbourside.

In recognition of her past achievements in public life, Irvine Burns Club was happy to nominate Baroness Ford of Cunningham as an Honorary Member.

from the nominating speech, by Bill Nolan, at the Honorary Members lunch,
hosted by President Billy Dickson, on 27 Nov. 2009

Her letter, written from the House of Lords on 18th November 2009:


Dear Mr Dickson,
     Thank you so much for your kind invitation to become an Honorary Member of Irvine Burns Club.
     It is a real honour for me to be considered in this way and I am delighted to accept. Yours sincerely
     Margaret Ford

The letter is addressed to President Billy Dickson.

Eddi Reader (1959-) Honorary member 2009 Homecoming Finale

Her life & work:

Glasgow-born Eddi Reader was the eldest of seven children when the family moved to Irvine in 1976 as part of the first intake by Irvine Town Council of what were then known locally as The Glasgow Overspill. She began playing guitar at the age of ten and started her musical career singing in the Eglinton Folk and refers in one of her CD’s sleeve notes to her very early appearances at The Marymass Folk Festival and in the local Harbour Arts Centre.

She left Irvine Royal to busk her way round Europe but returned to work locally before the bright lights drew her to London and a singing career that saw her fronting the band Fairground Attraction. In the early 1990’s, Eddi Reader came home again and turned to acting - including playing a major role in Michael Boyd’s production of Janice Galloway’s The Trick is To Keep Breathing - before returning to her first love of singing but this time as a soloist.

Her self-confessed admiration from her Irvine days for the poems and songs of Robert Burns led to an award-winning album, "Eddi Reader Sings the Songs of Robert Burns", with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in 2003 and that was the start of an association with the Man and his Work that was at the heart of two sell-out concerts earlier this year in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and another highly acclaimed album.

Her contribution towards the Robert Burns project brought her an MBE in the New Year's honours list of 2006 for outstanding contributions to the arts; in May 2007, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Strathclyde and four months later she received an honorary doctor of Letters from Glasgow Caledonian University for her involvement in the education and encouragement of young musicians.

Irvine Burns Club, recognising Eddi Reader’s contribution to the musical interpretation of the songs of Robert Burns, was happy to nominate her as a new Honorary Member.

Since this nomination, Eddi Reader was appointed (in January 2010) the first celebrity Burns Ambassador, assisting the National Trust for Scotland in promoting, world-wide, the new Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, due to open in Alloway in autumn 2010.

from the nominating speech, by Bill Nolan, at the Honorary Members lunch,
hosted by President Billy Dickson, on 27 Nov. 2009

Her email, sent from eddireader.com on 01 January 2010 05:15:


Dear Irvine Burns Club,
I am absolutely delighted to have been invited by you to accept this honorary membership. I, like the rest of you, have fallen MADLY in love with what Robert Burns donated to our world.
There is nothing better than discovering something that allows you to see the beauty of the minds and hearts AND SOUL of the country that gave birth to you. Mr Burns with his eloquence, inventiveness, love and creativity brought me back home so warmly and completely I can't begin to thank him.
Therefore I accept your kind honour and I will ask you to thank the spirit of Mr Burns for me.


love eddi reader

The first acceptance by email.

Janice Galloway (1955-) Honorary member 2009 Homecoming Finale

Her life & work:

Janice Galloway was born in Saltcoats and read Music and English at Glasgow University. Between 1980 and 1989 she worked as an English teacher, afterwards attending a writers' class at Glasgow University, before moving into the literary world.

Her acclaimed first novel, The Trick is To Keep Breathing (in 1989) won the MIND Book of the Year/Allen Lane Award and a Scottish Arts Council Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Irish Times International Fiction Prize. Michael Boyd, the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, also turned Janice’s novel into a successful production for both BBC and Glasgow’s Tron Theatre.

Her second novel, Foreign Parts (in 1994) won the McVitie's Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year and, Clara, about the 19th-century musician Clara Schumann, published in 2002, won the Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award.

Her latest book, published last year, is “This is Not About Me' – and really it’s not. Instead, it’s about all of us who were growing up in the 1950s and 60s. In my case, I happened to be growing up then in Saltcoats, also my home town, and thanks to Janice’s evocative and stirring writing, I found myself reliving my own experience of that strange time of mixed emotions and totally new experiences, that progression from childhood to adolescence known as growing up. Once familiar sights, sounds and sensations long forgotten came flooding back and became alive again in reading “This is Not About Me”.

For her outstanding contribution to Scottish Literature, Irvine Burns Club was happy to nominate Janice Galloway as an Honorary Member.

from the nominating speech, by Bill Nolan, at the Honorary Members lunch,
hosted by President Billy Dickson, on 27 Nov. 2009

Janice Galloway contributed an essay entitled ‘Singing for Suppers’ to a new book celebrating the life of Robert Burns, published by Dundee University Press, ‘For A' That, A Celebration Of Burns’, in January 2010.

Her letter, written on 2nd November 2009:


Dear Mr Dickson,
     If your letter gave you great pleasure in the sending, I can assure you it was received in the same spirit; possibly more. As an Ayrshire resident for most of my formative years (though I would not like to hazard a guess at which, in particular, those were) - indeed as a former resident of Irvine - this invitation is particularly sweet. As an admirer of Burns, it touches me deeply. I was a Burns singer in my teens & have sung at & for various suppers, but never, to the best of my recall, in Irvine. This might be a first. The songs are still my chief Burns love and it remains a staggering truth that, strapped for cash as he almost continually seemed to be, the songs - over 360 of them - were collected, altered & preserved in amber by him for no fee & largely no accreditation. It will give me a great deal of pleasure to join the Irvine Burns Club for all sorts of reasons - stellar ranks among them - but to confess open appreciation of the man is perhaps most keen.
     With all good wishes & gratitude for you thinking of me -
     Janice Galloway
PS I most certainly will join you on Friday 27th.

The letter is addressed to President Billy Dickson.

Sir Tom McKillop (1943-) Honorary member 2009 Homecoming Finale

His life & work:

A real “lad o’ pairts”, Tom McKillop was born in Dreghorn, attended Irvine Royal Academy where he was school dux in 1960 and continued his education at Glasgow University where he gained a BSc Hons and PhD in Chemistry.

Having started at ICI Ardeer, he joined their corporate research laboratory at Runcorn after extensive research work in Paris, moved to ICI Pharmaceuticals Division and was later appointed its Technical Director with international responsibility for research, development and production.

When ICI Pharmaceuticals demerged to become Zeneca, he became Chief Executive Officer of the new company and when Zeneca merged with Astra to form Astra-Zeneca plc, Tom McKillop became Chief Executive of the merged company bringing to what was to become a global pharmaceutical giant, a strong sense of corporate social and community responsibility that was unusual in that industry but which drew worldwide recognition and approval.

He was knighted in 2002 for services to the pharmaceutical industry and on retiring early from Aastra-Zeneca in January 2006, became the chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, from which he retired last year.

The son of an Ayrshire miner who, like many from that background, introduced his sons to the works of Robert Burns at an early age, that lifelong interest in Burns was particularly evident when in 2006, Sir Tom became Chairman of the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award panel, now a major international event.

For his outstanding contribution to the pharmaceutical industry globally and for his involvement in establishing the Robert Burns International Humanitarian Award, Irvine Burns Club was happy to nominate Sir Tom McKillop as an honorary member.

from the nominating speech, by Bill Nolan, at the Honorary Members lunch,
hosted by President Billy Dickson, on 27 Nov. 2009

His letter, written from his home in Gawsworth, Cheshire, on 20th November, 2009:

Dear President,
     For a Dreghorn lad raised in the heart of Burns country with the Bard's poems and songs a staple part of my diet and educated at Irvine Royal Academy under the watchful eye of Rector Alex MacMillan, himself a Past President, your invitation to become an Honorary Member of Irvine Burns Club is a great honour and one which I accept with all humility.
     The works of the Bard have accompanied me like a true friend along life's journey at home or abroad and through the inevitable highs and lows. Over and over again I have returned to his writings and found within them the solace, the encouragement, the guidance I was seeking.
     "Is there a man, whose judgement clear
     Can others teach the course to steer,
     Yet runs, himself, life's mad career
          Wild as a wave? -
     Here pause - and, thro' the starting tear,
          Survey his grave."
    It will, therefore, be a great privilege to become an Honorary Member of Irvine Burns Club which has done so much to promote and celebrate the life and works of our National Poet. I also look forward with great anticipation to the "Dear Mister Burns . . ." exhibition and to the celebratory lunch on Friday, 27th November.
     Yours sincerely,
     Tom McKillop

Viscount Weir (1933-) Honorary member 2009 Homecoming Finale

His life & work:

Viscount Weir is the third individual to have held that title, and William Kenneth James Weir is the grandson of the First Viscount Weir, for whom the title was created in 1938 for his services to politics, industry and commerce and, particularly as Secretary of State for Air. Originally, the Weir Family had an estate and farmed near Torranyard but later moved to Renfrewshire.

Educated at Eton and Oxford, Willie Weir has the background of those normally found on the grouse moors but, in his time as chairman of Weir Pumps, Viscount Weir was just as much at home on the shop floor of the busy Glasgow-based international engineering company.

His interest in Robert Burns and his work is well-documented and Viscount Weir is justly proud that he is a direct descendant of The Poet, through an illegitimate line through Elizabeth Paton who was the mother of Burns’ first child – his much loved “dear bought Bess”, whose birth he celebrated with warm tenderness, in “A Poet's Welcome to his Love-begotten Daughter” (or, as Burns himself more pithily put it in one of his several versions, to “his bastard wean”).

Elizabeth, as the child was baptised, and in a remarkable act of domestic kindness, was brought up at Mossgeil by Agnes Brown, Burns’ mother. In later life, she married John Bishop. Out of that line, Viscount Weir is directly descended.

For his support of Scottish industry and commerce and for his lifelong interest in Robert Burns, Irvine Burns Club was pleased to nominate Viscount Weir as an Honorary Member.

from the nominating speech, by Bill Nolan, at the Honorary Members lunch,
hosted by President Billy Dickson, on 27 Nov. 2009

His letter, written from his home in Mauchline, Ayrshire, on 22nd Oct. 2009:


Dear Mr Dickson,
     I cannot tell you what great pleasure it gave me to receive your invitation to become an Honorary Member of Irvine Burns Club. I am delighted to accept and do so with some humility when I see the list of those eminent people who have previously had this honour.
     I am only sorry that I am away and unable to come to your lunch. I am descended from Burns' first child Bess by Elizabeth Paton and by coincidence live about a mile from Mossgiel Farm.
     With kindest regards
     William Weir

The letter is addressed to President Billy Dickson.

Graeme Obree (1965-) Honorary member 2009 Homecoming Finale

His life & work:

Though born in Warwickshire, Graeme Obree has lived most of life in Scotland and is so much an adopted Scot that his autobiography, published in 2003, is entitled “The Flying Scotsman”, as is the 2006 film based on the book.

Graeme Obree has always been fascinated by bicycles and became involved in cycling locally in Ayrshire, notably with Fullarton Wheelers, in road time trials in the early 1990s. However, when the unknown Irvine-based rider suddenly emerged in July, 1993, from obscurity in deepest Ayrshire to smash Francesco Moser’s World Hour Record of 51.151 km by almost half-a-kilometre, he turned the international cycling world on its head.

What made it even more intriguing and sensational was that, on the way to breaking the World Hour record, Obree created major controversy in the international cycling world with his unique riding style and his pioneering construction techniques in which he famously used washing machine ball bearings in building ‘Old Faithful’, his successful own-designed racing machine.

Having broken Moser’s record, Obree then lost it to Chris Boardman but had the satisfaction knocking Boardman out of the 4000m Pursuit at the 1993 World Championships in Norway to claim the Gold Medal. In March 1994, Graeme Obree regained his world record when he cycled 52.713 km in one hour.

Shortly afterwards, almost in a fit of pique, the UCI, the world governing body, banned his unusual riding position but Graeme simply invented a totally new, and equally successful, style in which his arms were extended out in front. It became known as “The Superman position” and Obree himself was a real Superman when he won his second 4000m Pursuit Gold Medal in the World Championships in Bogota.

Twice Gold Medallist, twice world pursuit champion and twice World One Hour Record-holder, Graeme Obree is certainly “The Flying Scotsman” and, for his cycling achievements, both on the road and on the velodrome track, Irvine Burns Club was happy to nominate this adopted Irvinite as an Honorary Member.

from the nominating speech, by Bill Nolan, at the Honorary Members lunch,
hosted by President Billy Dickson, on 27 Nov. 2009

His letter, written from his home in Saltcoats on 13-11-09:


Dear Mr Dickson,
     It is with great pleasure that I write to you. I realise what an honour it is to be offered honorary membership of Irvine Burns Club and as such it is, of course, an offer that I hereby accept.
     I look forward to The Homecoming celebration on 27th November, and on becoming a member that day.
     Yours faithfully,
     Graeme Obree

The letter is addressed to President Billy Dickson.

Tim Smit (1954-) Honorary member 2010

His life & work:

After ten years working as a composer/producer in the music industry, Tim Smit moved to Cornwall where he met John Nelson and John Willis and together discovered and restored the Lost Gardens of Heligan, a "Sleeping Beauty" lost for many years under mountains of bramble, ivy, rampant laurel and fallen timber. His book on the Gardens won the Illustrated Book of the Year Award in 1997, and a TV documentary on the Gardens won an award in 1998.

Born in the Netherlands, he was educated in Britain and studied archaeology and anthropology at Durham University. He was awarded an Honorary CBE in 2002, and holds several Honorary Doctorates.

He is co-founder and chief executive of The Eden Project near St Austell in Cornwall. When it opened its doors in March 2001 it was hailed as “The Eighth Wonder of the World”. More than 12 million people have now visited what was once a sterile pit turned into a cradle of life containing world class horticulture and startling architecture symbolic of human endeavour.

He is a regular inspirational speaker at conferences and dinners and is involved with a number of statutory and voluntary bodies both locally and nationally. As a highly innovative and successful businessperson, Smit has criticised a risk-averse tendency in British enterprise.

Tim Smit was awarded an honorary knighthood in January 2011 in recognition of services to public engagement with science. In raising funds for the Lost Gardens and the Eden Project, he "ignored the hundreds of people who told him it couldn't or shouldn't be done". When the Millennium Commission placed his dream project in Category 'C' for those unlikely to go further, Tim Smit held an extremely brief press conference thanking them for their decision, which was then reported in the press as success, and which led to a 'Times' leader saying what insightful thinking the Millennium Commission had shown by supporting such a tremendously exciting project. In the end the Eden project won more than £56 million of lottery funding.

His letter, written from his home in Fowey, Cornwall, on January 18th, 2010:


Dear Mr Dickson,
     Thank you for your letter and kind invitation to join the Irvine Burns Club. I feel privileged and flattered to fall into such good company and moreover, a club with such stellar previous recipients of the honour. So, it is with much pleasure that I accept the invitation and at the same time regret that I cannot attend the festivities on the 184th annual celebration on January 22nd. It is my mother's birthday.
     Thank you for so honouring me and may I wish you an evening of great conviviality and distinction.
     Yours sincerely
     Tim Smit

The letter is addressed to President Billy Dickson.

Sir Christopher Hoy (1976-) Honorary member 2010

His life & work:

Chris Hoy is a multiple world champion and Scotland’s most successful Olympian. Inspired to cycle at age six by the 1982 film 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial', he raced BMX between the ages of 7 and 14 and was ranked second in Britain, fifth in Europe and ninth in the world. He also rowed in the Scottish junior team, and played rugby for his school, George Watson's College in Edinburgh. Starting track cycling in 1994, Hoy won his first Gold at the 1km Time Trial (no longer an Olympic event) at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Chris Hoy was the first Briton to win three gold medals in a single Olympic games since 1908 and is the most successful Olympic male cyclist of all time. His three Golds are for the men's team sprint, the keirin and the men's individual sprint. Awarded an MBE in 2005, he was knighted in 2009. He holds three Honorary Doctorates of Science, from Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt and St Andrews Universities. In 2008, he was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Hoy is ten times a world champion,

Chris Hoy is a very committed sportsman, a great ambassador for Scotland and a genuinely nice person. He is also a columnist for 'The Daily Telegraph', his first column appearing in January 2011. At the time of writing, he is looking forward to the 2012 Olympics.

His letter, written from his home in Mere, Cheshire, on 4th August, 2010:


Dear Billy

Many thanks you for your very kind letter inviting me to join the Irvine Burns Club as an Honorary Member.

I would be delighted to accept and feel very privileged to become part of such a historic club. To be nominated alongside so many inspirational and legendary people is a huge honour.

I'm glad to hear the inaugural exhibition went well and I look forward to meeting you one day.

All the best,

Chris Hoy

The reply is addressed to President Billy Dickson.

The exhibition mentioned is the 2009-2010 "Dear Mister Burns" exhibition featuring our Honorary Members

Carol Ann Duffy (1955-) Honorary member 2010

Her life & work:

2010 President Billy Dickson was delighted to have the opportunity to invite Carol Ann Duffy and to add her name to our honorary member list of seven of the last eight Poets Laureate.

Born in the Gorbals in Glasgow, daughter of an electrical fitter, her family moved to Stafford when she was six, thereby causing her to lose "a river, culture, speech, and sense of first space". A passionate reader from an early age, her literary talent was encouraged by two Stafford English teachers. Her first poems were published when she was 15, and from 16 she dated and lived with the poet Adrian Henri for over ten years. She was poetry critic of 'The Guardian' from 1988-89, and a poetry magazine editor, and was appointed a lecturer in poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University in 1996.

Carol Ann Duffy was appointed Poet Laureate in May 2009. She had almost been appointed in 1999, but would not have accepted at that time. She is the first woman and the first Scot to hold the position in its 341-year history.

Her poetry addresses current issues and experiences. Her first two poems as Poet Laureate won immediate popular attention - the first tackling the scandal over British MPs expenses in a 14 line sonnet, and her second marking the deaths of Henry Allingham and Harry Patch, the last two British soldiers to fight in World War I. She is also a playwright and several of her plays have appeared on the London stage.

Carol Ann Duffy holds four Honorary Doctorates and is Creative Director of the Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Her acceptance by email on 26 January 2010:


Hi Billy,

your letter just reached me - I'll be delighted to accept. I'm on a big poetry tour at the moment so will handwrite my acceptance asap.

warm wishes

Carol Ann

The Club did not receive a handwritten acceptance, yet hopes that the Poet Laureate may send one before the end of her tenure of the Laureateship.

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