Sir Billy Connolly at his home in the USA

Sir Billy Connolly on all things tartan!

Sir Billy Connolly shares his thoughts with V&A Dundee on his mother’s tartan, the rebellious act of kilt-wearing…. and cauld bums.

Legendary Scottish comedian Sir Billy Connolly has lent his famous NYC Tartan Day Parade kilt to the Tartan exhibition at V&A Dundee, until 14 January 2024.

V&A Dundee: What were your initial thoughts the first time you were asked to wear a kilt?

Billy: "I thought: “No way!” At that point I didn’t like the tartan culture…it seemed very ‘end of the pier’. It belonged to variety theatre tenors - Callum Kennedy and the Jimmy Logan brigade - they always did a tartan bit. And when I was a boy in Glasgow, people who wore kilts were thought of as weird. When we saw someone in a kilt we used to follow them, singing: “Kiltie, kiltie cauld bum!” But when the Boy Scouts started to wear kilts the idea of kilt wearing took a leap forward as far as we were concerned. Over the years it has become very popular so now it’s the done thing to wear a kilt at your wedding. On the other hand, when I got married to Pamela it was in Fiji and I had a Fijian sarong painted like a tartan kilt…well, in that heat a woollen one would have been nightmarish…

But the first time I wore a kilt was probably for my sister Florence’s wedding …or maybe when I bought a house in the Scottish Highlands and there was the local annual Lonach Gathering in Strathdon. And I loved dancing in my kilt at ceilidhs. There’s no Connolly tartan but there’s ‘Lord of the Isles’ which is connected with my name… I had to decide if I wanted to wear that or wear my mother’s tartan: McLean of Duart. My current kilt is McLean- a lovely pinky weathered tartan.

It wasn’t so comfortable the first time I wore the kilt. It took ages to get it right. If you put the bits and pieces on in the wrong order you end up getting terribly confused. You have to remember that the kilt itself goes on last. You put everything else on first - your shirt and tie, your shoes and hose. If you don’t, you get in a terrible mess…lumps sticking out, and things going up when they should be going down. The worst thing was I wasn’t used to not wearing underwear. The jaggedness on my bum was unbearable."

V&A Dundee: What about the jewellery?

Billy: "Oh, the Scottish plaid brooches and kilt pins I find very attractive. Pamela gave me a beauty - an enormous plaid brooch that was supposed to have been worn by John Brown. Hardly anyone wears a plaid, but I like it. It’s good for showing off. Mind you, I usually suspected people around me who’d been wearing the kilt for years were always whispering behind my back - they’d spotted I’d got something wrong."

V&A Dundee: What about modern kilts?

Billy: "I love the way the kilt is going. I love the new styles of the jackets and the plaids and so on. Leather kilts and all sorts of fabrics."

V&A Dundee: What about different kinds of kilts?

Billy: "The military people wearing their kilts look spectacular. I love seeing the men dance with the way the kilts all swing together. Military regalia is so formal and complex. You’d look silly walking down the street like that…I like the casual way some people wear their kilts - just with a pair of boots and a sweater. I like the greenish hunting tartans. Kind of camouflage…worn with tweeds it was invisible on the hills. That was before it was banned. But when it came back it was like Disneyland colours. There were two brothers who designed a lot of them - and Sir Walter Scott - he had a lot to do with it. Even today among your own people – pro- and anti-kilt people - it’s a rebellious act to wear the kilt.

There’s more nonsense talked about the kilt than anything else in Scotland. People say: “You can’t wear your mother’s tartan” and you can’t do this or wear that tartan…They’re just speaking out of a hole in their head…"

See Sir Billy Connolly's kilt in the Tartan exhibition now

Billy Connolly Does… footage from Gold/UKTV