Celia Stevenson

Born: September 22, 1943;

Died: November 10, 2023

Seated next to Mel Gibson, at a grand party in Stirling Castle to mark the premiere of Braveheart in 1995, Celia Stevenson’s typically flamboyant but stylish earrings caught the actor’s eye. “If you shake your head, you could do someone a serious injury with these,” he quipped.

Celia, in her role as director of Scottish Screen Locations, was used to rubbing shoulders with the stars of stage and screen. She started early. A large, framed, black and white photograph of five-year-old Celia standing next to Harry Lauder, the renowned music hall and vaudeville star, hangs on the wall of her house in Alloway, Ayrshire.

Born during wartime in the village of Ballantrae, South Ayrshire, in 1943, Celia, who has died aged 80, was the daughter of farmer, Robbie Stevenson and his wife, the local Women’s Land Army leader, Elizabeth. Celia went to Wellington School for Girls in Ayr as a boarder, then enrolled at Edinburgh College of Art, where she metamorphosed from being the smart, uniformed head girl at Wellington, to being a striking, black-leather-clad beatnik, sharing a flat with an American divinity student called Fiona.

The flat was on the top floor of an ancient tenement building at James Court in the Royal Mile. A former doss house, the ground floor and basement had been converted into a tiny avant-garde theatre with only 60 seats. This was the beginning of the famous Traverse Theatre and Celia helped on the opening night on 2nd January 1963, heaving furnishings around and helping to serve drinks in the ground floor bar and gallery.

Celia’s tenure at art college ended after first year with the polite suggestion that perhaps she might like to consider other options! Returning home, she threw herself into the Ayrshire social scene, in due course falling in love with and marrying Bill Judge, a handsome young soldier who had recently returned from national service in Malaya (now Malaysia) and was helping run his uncle’s tenanted farm at Jameston, near the village of Maidens.

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Celia and Bill’s first son, Gary was born while they lived in rented accommodation in Turnberry. Soon, they moved into the farmhouse at Jameston where Gary was joined by younger brother Steve and sister Abi. The family thrived in a happy melee of dogs, cats, poultry and Bill’s herd of pedigree Simmental cattle. Early tatties grown on Jameston’s sandy fields were a sought-after delicacy, although Bill spent almost as much time on the farm as on nearby Turnberry Golf Course, where he was a scratch player and Club Captain. Despite Bill’s best efforts, even buying Celia a full set of clubs, he never persuaded her to take up golf. Instead, as well as being a full-time mum, she busied herself as a local and successful interior designer. Retiring from farming in 1986, Bill and Celia moved to their new home in Alloway.

Famed for her parties, Celia loved nothing more than organising events and bringing people together. Her expertise as an accomplished cook, hostess and skilled networker, laid the foundations for her move into mainstream media. Rumour has it that she sat in reception at the newly formed West Sound Radio in Ayr for three days, determined to persuade founder Kenneth Roy that he couldn’t run the station without her. Roy succumbed, and Celia became a reporter and presenter, including hosting a morning phone-in.

In the mid-1980s she moved to STV in Glasgow, co-presenting What’s Your Problem with John Toye and a number of other variety, current affairs and consumer shows, later joining the programming and planning department. It was from here she was head-hunted to join Scottish Screen Locations. Two years later, with the founding of Scottish Screen, Celia took on the post as head of corporate communications.

In her new Scottish Screen role, the glamorous and ever fashionable Celia, never seen without makeup, became a familiar face promoting Scotland as a key movie location. On frequent visits to Hollywood, the Tartan Week celebrations in New York and the Cannes Film Festival, she mixed with such A-list luminaries as Sean Connery, Alan Rickman, Brian Cox, Peter Mullan and many others.

But as well as mingling with the stars, at the other end, she was always keen to help young people get into the industry. When Scottish Screen morphed into Creative Scotland in 2010 Celia decided to retire, enjoying some well-earned time with friends, family and her husband Bill, who sadly died in 2013.

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With grandchildren spread from Devon to Aberdeen, in her new role as vice chairman of the Rozelle-based Maclaurin Trust and editor of the Maclaurin Gallery Magazine, Celia’s life continued to be as busy as ever. A voracious reader and book club adherent, she was also a frequent and feisty contributor to The Herald’s letters page.

In the summer of 2022 Celia was diagnosed with cancer. She faced her illness with courage and dignity. Determined as always to mark the occasion, she celebrated her 80th birthday with a big family party, filling her home in Alloway, only weeks before her death, for a day of fun, laughter and love.

She is survived by her three children and four grandchildren.

Struan Stevenson