WHERE does the world’s most famous male ballet dancer go to wind down away from the prying eyes of the public and press photographers?

In the Summer of 1975, Rudolf Nureyev, or possibly one of his flunkeys, signed in to Europe’s oldest swimming club, the Arlington in Glasgow.

After being ushered through the dimly lit corridors of the Grade-A listed Victorian building, he was treated to a muscle-easing massage in the hot room by ‘Wee

Jimmy’ the club’s on-site masseur at the time.

Following his defection from the Soviet Union in 1961, Nureyev was invited to join The Royal Ballet in London where he and Margot Fonteyn created a dream-team stage partnership.


The pair also often worked with the newly-founded Scottish Ballet, led at that time by innovative director Peter Darrell and it was during this collaboration, aged in his thirties, that Nureyev came to the Baths.

The visit was described in the club newsletter,  which was discovered in a box file in the basement and it’s possible he came more than once to enjoy the inner-city sanctuary off Woodland’s Road.

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“Before I became the chairman I used to volunteer with the tours group and I had heard of this visit, says Gordon McDougall, Chairman of the Arlington Baths Club.

“Nanzie MacLeod had written a book, Tales of the Arlington and I thought, this is too good a tale not to tell.


“You would go round doing the tour and I was telling the group that Rudolf Nureyev had come to the baths.  This elderly gentleman said to me, ‘Aye you’re right son. I brought him here. I was the driver.

“I can’t remember if it was the King’s Theatre of the Theatre Royal but he was looking for massage in a heated room and the driver knew the Arlington had that.

“So that was the first piece of the jigsaw but then we got a letter from a member saying he was with a group of members and a very muscled youngster came in and one of the elderly men said, ‘Isn’t that yon dancer chappie.’

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“So there was an eyewitness. So we started researching it. How often he came we don’t know.”

“I suspect if he came once - like most people - he came back.”


Nureyev was pictured leaving the city at Glasgow Airport on September 14, possibly en-route to a dance festival in Madrid, in which he was performing with Scottish Ballet. He did in 1993 at the age of 55.

Decades later,  the Arlington is still enticing famous faces into its 21-metre skylit swimming pond, below the trapeze swings. Actor Alan Cumming often pops in for a dip if he’s appearing on stage in Glasgow.

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The Grade-A listed building is marking its 150 birthday this year - it opened on August 1 1871 -  but unfortunately a full programme of celebratory events including a civic reception hosted by Glasgow’s Lord Provost were curtailed by the pandemic lockdown.


However, the chairman is feeling optimistic. After re-opening on Monday, there has been a lot of interest from new members, he says. The  club has around 900 and needs 950 to break even as the cost for maintaining a historic building is considerable.

Mr McDougall says the club still provides a draw for those who want something a bit different from identikit gyms. For a tenner a week, members can enjoy a swim, Turkish and slipper baths and sauna as well as a licensed lounge and cafe.

Swimmers can also leave a towel and costume behind and it is freshly laundered and returned to their own hook.

“There’s lots of added value," he says. “Where else can you go and do something that you love and also help to maintain a historic piece of the city’s heritage.

"Where else can you go and meet friends and work, rest and play. You can’t really do that in a commercial club.

"The club is owned and run by members and any surplus goes back into the facilities because a building that has been wet for 150 years doesn’t come without problems.

"Once you join it becomes part of your life and you are part of the Arlington family.”