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Lager lovelies: everyday girls who became Scottish icons

Photographer Mel Gillies took the everyday girl on the street and made her an icon in his Tennent’s “lager lovelies” campaign.

The photographer, who has died suddenly aged 65, leaves an indelible mark on Scottish social history with the campaign that put glamour within reach of

everyone who lifted a can of the famous lager.

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Four former lager lovelies tell how working with Gillies shaped their lives and made them the modern princesses of Scotland during a period that brimmed with diamante, big hair and fabulous, glamorous energy.

Fiona Best worked on the 1979 campaign and now organises catwalk shows and corporate events in the Glasgow area.

When I started with Tennent’s I was the baby and I was too young to do the TV campaigns; you had to be 21 for that.

I put myself forward for the work. My father and my grandfather had been in the licensed trade and I thought it would be nice for them.

We travelled all over Europe and did the poster campaign with Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. I was new to modelling and for me it was a big job to pick up.

They provided us with evening wear for dinner dances that was all designed and made for us. As a blonde I wore the red dress, as did my blonde colleagues. Blue dresses were for those with darker hair.

They treated us like princesses. We had people there to make sure that men didn’t speak to us for too long. We were kept completely safe and secure and driven everywhere.

June Lake, 46, face of the 1985 campaign and now a health juice distributor in the UK.

I had done modelling before, winning Miss Edinburgh in the early 1980s, and was the face of Black Heart Rum. Tennent’s told me to get in touch when that contract was up and I did that as soon as I could.

It was a fabulous time. They would fly you out on their own plane and it was very glamorous, fantastic work. I was never tall enough to be a real model but with Tennent’s I got to do lingerie, swimwear and jewellery.

Tennent’s had such a high standard of behaviour. Your private life had to be squeaky clean. There would be no affairs with married footballers. The lager lovelies idea was just simply the perfect combination for men – booze and glamorous women.

Karen Flynn, 47, a lager lovely during the 1980s who now runs an animal rescue charity and a rabbit hotel in Buckinghamshire.

I was spotted on an animal rights march in Glasgow by an Evening Times photographer, who gave me my first break really. I was in the newspaper office at the same time as a talent scout and he offered me an audition.

I didn’t realise at the time how iconic the campaign would be and that it would always come back to you.

Working as a lager lovely started off a great life for me. I bought my first house when I was 21. I got to travel with Tennent’s and took my first trip abroad – to Africa on a private plane. That wasn’t bad for a girl from a council estate.

It gave me the push to move out of Glasgow. I had to move to London to get the contracts and I knew that I wanted more of the modelling life. Tennent’s opened my eyes to what was out there and it just showed me what I could do. In the end, though, I had enough of red carpets and just wanted to get back to my animals.

Karen Thomson, 47, took part in the last can campaign in 1989 and now runs landscape gardening company Earth Angels.

I used to work in graphic design and actually worked on the cans before I became a can girl. Tennent’s found you really. They asked you for an interview to judge if you were suitable and it was quite secret squirrel at the time.

We were the last can girls. It was glamorous and we were treated like minor celebrities.

I can understand why the lager lovelies came to an end. By that point they had become unfashionable and maybe a little bit sexist.

At that point, there were a lot of new American beers coming out, like Schlitz and Red Stripe, and they became trendy. At the end of the day, everything has a shelf life but the lager lovelies do live on.

One of the builder’s merchants I work with found out about my can, and asked me to bring it in for a bit of a chuckle.

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