In the US, the hit TV show Outlander has an audience of over a million and growing, yet in Scotland the Highlander meets Doctor Who time-travel romp through Jacobite-era Scottish history has yet to register a mass following, except for those who seek it out on pay-per-view channels like Amazon Prime.
So, it’s hardly surprising that one of it stars – even though he has a relatively low-key role – is not a household name. When I first see Scott Kyle, it’s at a charity bash in Edinburgh featuring Eva Longoria; it’s not a wonder that the attendant media, myself included, were, well, ‘distracted’. But a meeting the next day with the author of Outlander herself, Diana Gabaldon, and Kyle’s name crops up in conversation. In an events capacity.
As an aside to his role as Ross in the show, broadcast on US network Starz, Kyle has taken it upon himself to start organising fan events in Scotland; his first was last year at the Regal Theatre in Bathgate (more on that later), and the next is due to take place at Burgh Halls in Linlithgow, on September 16th. In 2016, the event attracted around a hundred loyal fans, mainly from the US and Canada, to the small, backwater community theatre, who arrived for what can only be described as an evening of overt Scottishness: neeps and tatties were on the menu, there was plenty of Highland jigging and even SuBo turned up to welcome guests.
In just a few months’ time, Kyle is hoping to replicate the success in Linlithgow, not far from the Palace where some of the scenes of the hit show were filmed. Laughing, Kyle, who counts The Angels’ Share and Kajaki among his other film credits, says he knows of plenty of Outlander fan events that take place in Scotland and overseas (he travels to make guest appearances at many of them, in Germany, France and Italy, to name a few) but he’s not aware of many that have been organised by one of the show’s stars.
“I suppose it’s unique in the sense that one of the guys in the show is organising it,” he says on a sunny day from his back garden in Glasgow, noting that Glaswegians must get out and see the ‘yellow ball in the sky’ whenever they can. “It’s a good event, last year’s was great fun. I treat it as an opportunity to meet the fans and have a good night, basically.”
Organising seems to be in Kyle’s bones. He’s nothing if not short on varied roles: he’s been a theatre manager (at the Regal), run his own theatre company (from his mum’s home in Rutherglen), artistic director, producer, workshop organiser and even the ‘jannie’, all in the name of running a small community theatre on a shoestring. He is about to step into a new role as programme manager for four theatres in Scotland, and is excited about the opportunity to work with an actual marketing department. “I was the marketing department before,” he says.
As for September’s event, I get the sense that even though he is about to take on a full-time, busy job, he is a naturally irrepresible character whose enthusiasm for many and varied things, not forgetting acting, will not impinge on his ability to organise an event for 120 people. His ambition to grow the event is modest, which is probably a good thing, given how the events business works.
“There was an organisation running an Outlander event and they needed around 500 people to break even so I gave them a wee phone to say, ‘look, my event is about a hundred. I’m in the show and I’ve got 225,000 followers on Twitter and I’m doing ok to get around a hundred’,” he jokes.
Last year he says he tried to make the event affordable, but seeing the bill for champagne made him realise he had to rethink the price. Proceeds go towards his other sideline – putting on children’s theatre workshops at home and abroad – but he thinks the £100 ticket will be good value, and the event will sell out.
“We’re having a ceilidh, the guests will be piped in and the welcome will be by myself and anybody else I can get to come along from the show,” he adds. “We will have Paca [Gaelic for ‘The Pack’], as well. They’re a group of supporting artists [‘extras’ in old money] who play Highland Warriors in the show. We’ll have a Highland buffet, which I describe as a ‘messy buffet’ as you’ll have the Highlanders with chicken legs hanging out of their beards, that kind of thing. And with two bands playing everyone will be partying until one in the morning.”