EILEEN Gallagher is a fast talker.
Asked how she's feeling about the impending Commonwealth Games opening and closing ceremonies, she maintains an unwavering positive front: she's "excited". As chair of the Glasgow 2014 ceremonies, culture and Queen's Baton Relay committee she is the cultural face of the Games ... whether she likes it or not. "They keep putting me in these photographs," she grins.
Gallagher, 54, seems good at it. She knows when to toe the party line; appears confident in her abilities; and she talks of collaborations, protocol and budgets with ease because she is, after all, a very successful businesswoman and television producer in her own right (the company she co-founded, Shed Productions, was behind such popular hit dramas as Bad Girls, Footballers' Wives and Waterloo Road).
Loading article content
But it would be wrong to view Gallagher as the Danny Boyle of the Glasgow Games ceremonies. Her role is wider than that. She's the puppet master, with the credentials, contacts and charisma to orchestrate things behind the scenes with what she refers to as "a light hand on the tiller". I suspect it's more than that. You don't achieve the success Gallagher has had - rising up the ranks of Scottish television from press officer to the top, then MD of broadcasting at LWT and Granada, to become one of the most powerful women in the world of television (Shed is now fully part of global company Warner Bros) - without being something of a control freak.
But then Gallagher is all about teamwork, too; and the ceremonies' success, she stresses, will come down to the crack group of professionals she has put together behind the scenes, as well as the 3000 volunteers taking part. Despite the weight of expectation, Gallagher says she is sleeping well ("I generally do anyway, all through my years of television") - a fact that may come down to her "belt and braces" approach, with back-up plans for the back-up plans. "Hopefully," she says, "It will all work out on the night."
Nor does she seem worried about comparisons to Boyle and his London extravaganza. Intimidated? "No. I was really pleased with the success of the London opening ceremony," she says, folding her hands together. "Obviously it's completely different," she says. Glasgow's ceremonies' budget is around an eighth of London's, "and we're really happy with that because we don't want to outspend," she says. It's not about blowing up ... Oops, I said 'blowing up'!" She smiles, clearly aware of the unfortunate terminology given the furore over the ill-fated Red Road flats proposal. "Burning up thousands of pounds," she corrects. "It's about out-thinking, rather than out-spending."
In reality, this has meant that her role over the past two and a half years, while not taking over her life, has taken up a lot of her headspace. Her main base is London, where she lives with her long-term civil partner Ann McManus, a scriptwriter and co-founder of Shed, but the couple maintain a flat in Glasgow's west end - "So I don't have to charge Commonwealth Games for accommodation, because that would be a hefty bill," she laughs. And throughout the planning process, Gallagher has been up and down, at first once a fortnight, now once a week, usually for several nights, with meetings in London also.
The youngest of five children, Gallagher was raised in Ayr and still has family here. She first got involved in Glasgow 2014 after spotting a mural on the side of the M8, and thinking: 'Glasgow's hosting - that's fantastic. It would be so good to be part of it." So after joining as a board member, a later meeting saw Gallagher given her chair position. But, she insists, "I'm not at all the creative lead. It's about the overview," and the big focus, she states, has always been the opening ceremony, because it sets the tone for the Games. So what can we expect? Though we now know Rod Stewart, Susan Boyle and Amy Macdonald will appear, at the time of our meeting Gallagher is fairly tight-lipped, though she does say the tone will be "authentically Scottish".
And that is? "We don't take ourselves too seriously, we're very proud of Scotland and its history and legacies but we're not overly boastful about it. We have an international outlook but are welcoming and inclusive." By using the 3000 volunteers - as well as the stars - it will also be "peopley", states Gallagher. "We're not going to be embarrassed about the Scottishness and Glasgowness at all."
The legacy, she says, will hopefully be that people think: Glasgow looks fantastic! "Because we'll have cameras outside as well as inside the stadium - that's unusual," she explains. "I want people to say, 'Why have I never been there?' We want to have an economic and tourism legacy; a call to action: 'Come to Glasgow.' We want people to see Glasgow for it's fantastic mix." First and foremost, the ceremony is about entertainment, as well as showing the friendly personality of the Glaswegian people.
I have to ask about the controversial plans to show the demolition of Glasgow's Red Road flats as part of the ceremony, an idea which was soon dropped following a massive public outcry. "The what?" jokes Gallagher. She is expecting this question. Ideally, she notes, the plan would have gone ahead and people would have seen the context on the night.
At the proposal's announcement she believes they had "quite beautifully contextualised it".
"But we lost control of it," she says. "There was the backlash and then the police said it completely changes the security context if there are people who are really upset about it. We don't want to have Games where a lot of people are angry or upset about it. They might not like parts of it because it's all about subjective judgments, but we want people to watch it with goodwill."
Gallagher wasn't surprised by the media storm. As a former journalist, she knows "how things gather", especially in the social media age. "And once something like that happens, I know from experience it's very difficult to drop back. Sometimes you have to say, 'Right, what next? Let's not bang our heads against the wall'."
Was she disappointed to let it go? She pauses. "Was I? Hmmm. Because we hadn't announced anything else, it gave it a prominence it didn't have in the ceremony. So I wasn't, 'What are we going to do now?' It was a small part of it, but obviously a controversial part as it turned out."
So whose idea was it? "I honestly don't know," she says, not entirely convincingly. "There was some sort of spark even before I was on the committee. I don't know who had the idea and put it on the table as a great idea, it was kind of there. And the timing of the fact that those buildings were coming down and the juxtaposition of the ceremony - people put two and two together and thought, 'We could use this.' But we move on."
So what of the referendum? Given the ceremony aims to reflect modern Scotland, will it play any part? "I can honestly say it hasn't been on our minds," Gallagher replies. "If there wasn't a referendum, I don't think an iota of the content would change. There have not been any political leanings. And I think politicians of all hues would respect that and anything else would be contrived."
Gallagher, who has a Glasgow University political science degree, doesn't get a vote in the referendum. When asked if creative industries like television would be better off in an independent Scotland, she is hesitant to commit to an answer, just as she stops short of saying if she'd vote Yes or No, instead remarking: "I'm very much a devo-max person. I believe in self-determination and being able to have an influence in the politics of your community. Whether that takes complete independence or whether that's about getting increasing responsibilities is a moot point."
But Gallagher is encouraged by the current state of Scotland's creative film and television community, despite her disappointment that Waterloo Road is no longer going to be made (production moved from Rochdale to the Inverclyde town of Greenock two years ago). Gallagher is no longer directly involved with the show, having stepped down as Shed Media Group's chief executive several years ago when Warner Bros took it over, but it remains close to her heart.
"It was 250 hours [of TV] and you can't argue with that - it's one of the longest-running soaps ever. It was a big thing for us to take Waterloo Road to Scotland. Was it a risk that paid off? I don't know. But we drew a lot of the support cast from the local community and having that regeneration in the middle of Greenock was a joy. I'll be really sad when we disassemble the set. I won't be there because I would cry. I love it and it's been part of our life. I would have liked it to continue but I'm very proud of Waterloo Road."
It's part and parcel of television. When Bad Girls was cancelled, Gallagher was devastated, sinking to her knees on the street, a polar opposite moment to when the series won a National Television Award, a career high, she recalls. "When you own dramas that you have written yourself, writing for years, the highs are there but when it goes, it's horrible. It's a big rollercoaster. But as I say, rather a big rollercoaster than a wee flat line of life, because who wants that?"
Gallagher and her partner McManus are currently writing a pilot script for an American version of Waterloo Road (Washington High anyone?) for Warner Bros. If an American version gets the go-ahead, filming would be in LA, although Gallagher would never move there. "We love London and we love Glasgow and LA wouldn't suit us," she insists. "We'd have to have face lifts because you're not allowed to walk around LA without a face lift, and you'd have to have your teeth done, and I can't be bothered with all that."
Gallagher hopes Waterloo Road helped pave the way for other big television productions to be made in Scotland. The key, she says, is creating "a critical mass of a drama and production industry" based on long-running shows. She is also very proud of the Glasgow Caledonian University scriptwriting course she supports. Now in its fifth year, she hopes it will lead to Scotland being seen as the centre for scriptwriting in the UK.
She has high hopes for more. One of her best friends, Peter Roth, is head of creative at Warner Bros Television in America. When Gallagher convinced him and his wife to visit Scotland - and they loved it - she told him: "I want a big long-running Warner drama set in Scotland."
"So that's what our aim is," she tells me excitedly. "And he's not against it at all; he would love it. And we'd like to write it. I'd be wrong to say it was imminent - it's just an ambition - but if you've got a long-running American drama, 22 hours, four or five million dollars an hour, that's a boost to the creative economy that would be jolly useful - whatever political colour Scotland is."
Ambitious, maybe; but then Shed - which Gallagher and her partners set up 16 years ago - is now a global entity. Success has brought money, which in turn allows her a freedom to do what she likes, including pro-bono work, as well as focusing on another personal business, called Armstrong and Armstrong, which buys derelict and empty retail units in Glasgow and rents them out to give people a business and help regeneration.
Gallagher lost her mother at age 12. Does she wish her mum could see her now? "Yes. I wish she'd seen us all. But my mum and dad were never pushy people so I think they would've been proud but not overly so." When she got her name in Who's Who, her father wasn't overly impressed. "I felt a bit stupid," she recalls. "'What is it anyway?'"
Her father would remind her to smell the roses. "He used to say that the most important thing is your health and that's completely true, for you and everyone you love. After that, it's all a bonus."
As the latest chapter in her life nears its end, she is excited about seeing it come to fruition. "I didn't even know if I was going to get a ticket for the opening ceremony because the policy of the games is no free tickets and I took that very seriously," she chuckles. "But I suppose given that I should be there in case something ..." Goes wrong? In any case, Gallagher has her ticket.
Immediately after the Games, she's going on holiday. "We're flying out, hopefully with success ringing in our years, touch wood … Plastic wood?" she says, hammering the possibly laminate table. "I don't think that's real," she smiles. "I'll blame this table if it all goes tits up."
The Glasgow 2014 opening ceremony takes place this Wednesay in Celtic Park. www.glasgow2014.com/