Outlander star Steven Cree on his Kilmarnock childhood, wild days and the truth about Onthank

EACH weekend we ask well-known faces from across public life to share their favourite place. This latest instalment sees actor Steven Cree, known for his roles in Outlander and A Discovery of Witches, talk about his love for his hometown.

Where is it?


How did you discover it?

I was born and grew up there. I moved to London when I was 21 – just over 20 years ago. The expression “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is definitely true for me and Kilmarnock.

How often do you go?

As much as I can. All my family are there, including my mum, cousins, aunts and uncles. My dad lives in nearby Mauchline.

What are your fondest memories?

I have so many. When I was at school, we had a fantastic music teacher called Fiona McKenzie, who now runs CentreStage in Kilmarnock. That is how I got involved in acting – through Fiona and her love of musicals. We did our school shows at the Palace Theatre.

I am a huge fan of Kilmarnock FC and winning the Scottish Cup in 1997 sticks in the memory. The party in Kilmarnock that night – the town has never been more electric. There were thousands of people celebrating on the streets into the wee small hours.

Favourite childhood haunts?

Dean Castle Country Park. My friends and I spent our summers down there playing football or hide and seek in the woods. It felt safe. Having a space like that on your doorstep was incredible. And to this day it is still beautiful. There is a little animal sanctuary and great play parks.

HeraldScotland: Dean Castle Country Park. Picture: AlamyDean Castle Country Park. Picture: Alamy

The cool hang-out spot in the 1990s?

Expo. That was the club. Going out to Expo on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night was the thing everyone looked forward to. Beforehand you would drink in bars, such as O’Donnells – which I worked in for a few months – and The Gathering.

My group of friends, we were the opposite of the height of sophistication; we were probably better known as the height of idiocy. We were quite wild. But when I look back on those days, especially now living in London, I am so grateful for having grown up in a town like Kilmarnock.

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One of the great things about going out at weekends was you knew everyone. But it was a double-edged sword. It didn’t take long for things to get around. I once got barred from every bar after a very stupid drunken night.

I should point out that I don’t drink alcohol anymore. It is not a fond memory to look back on. It is the sort of town where it was easy to become notorious quite quickly.

Any myths and legends?

The documentary series The Scheme – and I say “documentary” in inverted commas – was one of the worst-made TV programmes ever.

After my mum and dad separated, then later divorced, we moved to Onthank. I lived in Onthank from the ages of seven to 16. When I watched The Scheme, it seemed to take advantage of people who lived there and had maybe hit hard times or weren’t having the best fortune in life.

It completely manipulated those people and almost tried to insinuate that if you live in Onthank, or in a council estate, this is what your life must be like, you must be a drug addict or not aspiring towards anything else.

HeraldScotland: Prince Charles visits Onthank in 2012 Prince Charles visits Onthank in 2012

My experience of living in Onthank wasn’t like that at all. The Scheme gave Kilmarnock a bad name, it gave Onthank a bad name and it gave council estates a bad name. It was poverty porn. And done in the most snobbish way.

I remember watching it at the time and it made me feel fiercely defensive of Kilmarnock and even more proud to be from there.

For quite a long time afterwards, when I said that I was from Kilmarnock, people would jokingly say, “Oh, I hope you are not from The Scheme …” I would say, “Actually, I am.” The TV series gave such an unfair reflection of life there.

What about the town’s history?

We have the “Killie pie” which is legendary. Kilmarnock FC’s Rugby Park is nicknamed “the theatre of pies”. The pies are very good – they do live up to their reputation.

Kilmarnock also has the weird tradition of celebrating Halloween on the last Friday of October, rather on October 31 itself. There are a few theories why that happens, such as payday being on the Friday or there being no school for the kids the next day.

HeraldScotland: Kilmarnock FC's Rugby Park. Picture: GettyKilmarnock FC’s Rugby Park. Picture: Getty

My Uncle Johnston, who sadly passed away recently, had a great memory for stories about Kilmarnock. Hearing about life in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, you realise what a teeming and busy industry town it was. When the Johnnie Walker whisky factory and the BMK carpet factory closed hundreds of jobs were lost.

When I was growing up in the 1980s, we used to have a House of Fraser. My mum told me that people would come from Glasgow to Kilmarnock because it had such a great selection of shops. It was a thriving and vibrant town.

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Kilmarnock town centre is not the place it was when I was a kid. Back then it had a Woolworths, John Menzies, BHS and Marks & Spencer – so many great shops. It is sad to see because growing up it felt like if you needed anything, you could “go down the town”.

Who do you take when you visit?

My wife and my daughter. Our cat comes too.

Years ago, I took a friend from Melbourne to Kilmarnock for a night out. He was probably not quite as enthralled by the town as I am. I am fond of Kilmarnock, but it is the kind of place that if you are just visiting, you aren’t necessarily going to appreciate all its charms.

What do you leave behind?

I always feel a tinge of sadness and melancholy as I’m leaving. I am sentimental. It feels like I am leaving a piece of me behind because my roots are still embedded in Kilmarnock, even though my life is in London.

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Sum it up in five words.

Home. Comforting. Picturesque. KTID [Killie ‘Til I Die]. Family.

What other travel spots are on your wish list?

I want to do a safari in Botswana. I would love to visit Hawaii, Iceland, the Inca Trail in Peru and to explore South America.

Steven Cree stars in A Discovery of Witches on Sky Max and NOW, Fridays, 9pm

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