TIME Books

Alan Cumming’s Boyhood Was No Cabaret

Alan Cumming attends the HRC Marriage for Equality USA celebration at the Calvin Klein Boutique on April 17, 2013 in New York City.
Alan Cumming attends the HRC Marriage for Equality USA celebration at the Calvin Klein Boutique on April 17, 2013 in New York City. Andrew H. Walker—Getty Images

The actor's funny, heartbreaking new memoir recalls his struggles with an abusive father and his journey from the Scottish Highlands to Broadway

When Alan Cumming arrives for brunch at a café not far from his apartment in Manhattan’s East Village, he’s wearing a blue baseball cap with a big white yes on the front. It’s been almost two weeks since Scotland voted no to separating from the United Kingdom, but Cumming, a Scot who campaigned heavily for the yes side from New York, hasn’t quite gotten over the loss. He heard the results in his dressing room after a performance of Cabaret, a revival of the 1966 musical that brought him a Tony for his electrifying performance as the androgynous Emcee when it returned to Broadway in 1998. “I just cried,” he says. “I felt like it was the difference between choosing imagination and hope and positivity or being cowed and doffing your cap and letting the establishment tell you what to do.”

Scotland still defines the effervescent 49-year-old Cumming in a way that nothing else does. He grew up there on a vast estate called Panmure where his father was the head forester. The men who worked the 21 sq. mi. (54 sq km) of woodland addressed the authoritarian elder Cumming as “the maister.” Alan and his brother Tom might as well have called him that too. Doing grueling chores under his unforgiving eye, they were always fearful of paternal rages that often ended with a beating. Cumming once wound up with a vicious haircut administered with sheep shears that left the 12-year-old bleeding and half bald.

How Cumming finally freed himself from the grip of that painful past is the subject of his new memoir, Not My Father’s Son. “I wrote the book partly to say that this kind of abuse is not normal,” he explains. “Abusers make you feel like it’s acceptable. And for the world who knows me one way, now they’ll know me in a different way, and I’m glad, because it’s all a part of me.”

It’s hard to fathom how the terrorized little boy grew up to be the slender, joyful man who can’t stop cackling as he shows off photos of the pink neon sign saying “Club Cumming” that he had made for his dressing room at Cabaret. Reading the book, you understand how he got so enmeshed in the Scottish campaign. Self-determination and liberation–of himself and others–from old conventions, gender restrictions or just boredom have been Cumming’s quest since he left home at 17 to study at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

He began writing his memoir after his father’s death in 2010 while working his day job as the Emmy-nominated co-star of CBS’s The Good Wife, now in its sixth season. On that show, Cumming plays Eli Gold, the tightly wound, manipulative political adviser to Chris Noth’s Governor Peter Florrick and his wife, played by Julianna Margulies. His book takes us from his primary school in the Scottish Highlands to London, where he played Hamlet in a cast that included his then wife Hilary Lyon as Ophelia in 1993. His father came back into his life a few years later when a British tabloid wrongly reported that Cumming had been sexually abused in childhood. (Harking back to his father’s beatings, Cumming had told another publication that he had been “abused,” a quote the tabloid misinterpreted.)

Cumming weaves into this story his 2010 turn on the British version of the TV show Who Do You Think You Are? which researches the family histories of celebrities. The program’s producers focused on Cumming’s maternal grandfather Thomas Darling, a much decorated World War II vet who died mysteriously in Malaysia. The effort to unearth the truth about his death sparks a crazy journey that sends Cumming around the world, from the former battlefields of France to a graveyard in Asia. It turns out that his grandfather died in a fatal game of Russian roulette. To complicate things, Cumming’s father hears of the family research and announces that Alan is not his son but the product of an extramarital affair of Alan’s mother’s. DNA tests eventually prove the father’s claim is false, but the episode leads Alan and his brother to confront their dad about his lifetime of cruelties toward them–after which, they never see him again.

Cumming leaves off a few years after his 2007 marriage to Grant Shaffer, an illustrator. (His first marriage ended in the mid-1990s, and soon after, he declared himself bisexual.) Now happy, settled and extraordinarily busy, Cumming suspects that not really getting to be a child when he was young might be what keeps him so preternaturally youthful now. (Holding his own in a Cabaret kick line of 22-year-olds is no easy trick.) A friend, British theater director John Tiffany, jokes that there must be a Dorian Gray–style portrait of Cumming in an attic somewhere. He just doesn’t age. “J.M. Barrie could have written him,” says Tiffany. “Alan’s got an incredibly impish, Peter Pan sense of humor. In fact, he’s a gorgeous combination of Peter Pan, Captain Hook and Mrs. Darling.” (Let it be noted that Cumming’s mother’s name is Mary Darling.)

The ongoing tension in his nature between dark and light, so evident in the book, is part of what gives Cumming’s work such breadth. It allowed Tiffany to cast him at various times as both Macbeth and Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy. Cumming can slip from playing a movie Smurf to the übersexual host of Cabaret’s Kit Kat Club and then host Masterpiece Mystery on PBS without dropping a sequin. He combines a Calvinist work ethic with an eternal party-boy vibe. And the party is almost always on. Not only do legions of friends show up nightly at Club Cumming after the show, but he even has a kind of Camp Cumming–a second home in upstate New York where the landscape reminds him of Scotland. He often invites the entire cast of whatever show he’s in for weekends.

Cumming’s brother also thinks that in his offstage and offscreen life, his famous sibling may be re-creating a childhood he didn’t have. As evidence, you could point to the big trampoline that Cumming installed at the house. When guests ask about it, he’ll insist they try it. “‘It’s really great,’ I tell them. They say, ‘No, no, that’s not for me.’ People are so afraid of being judged. But as the weekend goes on, you look, and there they are, bouncing away. I love seeing that. It makes my heart swell.”

TIME Scotland

Scotland Faces Challenge of Putting Referendum Behind It

Pro-independence supporters' Scottish flag seen in front pro-union activists in Glasgow's George Square, in Scotland, on Sept. 17, 2014, on the eve of Scotland's independence referendum.
Pro-independence supporters' Scottish flag seen in front of pro-union activists in Glasgow's George Square, in Scotland, on Sept. 17, 2014, on the eve of Scotland's independence referendum. Leon Neal—AFP/Getty Images

As a service of reconciliation is held in Edinburgh, community leaders and politicians urge for unity in Scotland after a divisive vote

Scotland’s decisive answer to one of the biggest questions in its history — the question of independence — has raised another, less easily addressed one: How does a divided nation move forward?

Since the country voted against splitting from the United Kingdom 55% to 45% on Sept. 18, politicians, community leaders and even Queen Elizabeth II have urged for reconciliation, fearing that the explosive issue might cause a lingering divide in Scotland.

While there were reports of clashes and nasty incidents between the two camps in the lead up to the vote, the fallout from the referendum campaigns had the potential to be much worse. With so much passion and political fire on either side, there’s no easy way for the two sides to reconcile opposing beliefs on what’s best for Scotland.

“I think there will be significant damage from this referendum,” says James Stirling, a 23-year-old trainee wealth management specialist in Edinburgh and a pro-union supporter. He says that the referendum debate split the country in two and “the [campaigning] passion is not going away. It was like fueling a fire.”

That fire has burned out of control at least once since the vote count. Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland and one of only two councils where pro-independence votes were in the majority, saw a pro-union rally turn violent on Friday. Reports and photos on social media depicted swathes of anti-independence supporters in George Square, a pro-independent Yes campaign hotspot before the referendum,draped in Union Jack flags and singing “Rule Britannia,” before fights and vandalism were reported. Six people were later arrested.

It was the kind of scene that many had hoped to avoid. The Church of Scotland planned a special service of reconciliation on Sunday at Edinburgh’s St. Giles’ Cathedral, led by Reverend John Chalmers, to address any wounds in the community. The service was also an opportunity to bring politicians on either side of the referendum debate together, Chalmers told TIME a few days before the service. He also noted that for those who had championed independence, the referendum loss was so pronounced, it was “almost a bereavement.” He hoped that the service would be a way to highlight that those on the other side of the issue could be a source of support in post-referendum Scotland.

Yet, though the service was attended by estimated 1,000 people, including many senior politicians, both First Minister Alex Salmond and his likely successor Nicola Sturgeon, the two most high-profile politicians behind the independence campaign, were no-shows.

Salmond himself has struggled to overcome his grievances. Having publicly accepted the results of the referendum, the fervent nationalist leader claimed Sunday that political leaders in Westminster had misled the people of Scotland with empty last-minute promises to give the country more powers. “It’s the people who were persuaded to vote No who were misled, who were gulled, who were tricked effectively,” he said. “They are the ones who are really angry.”

Rev. Chalmers, speaking before the service, said that those Scots still feeling angry or hurt must focus on the heritage and history that unites them. “The people of Scotland are on two sides of the same coin,” he says. But in order to move forward, he said that Scots must get on the same side and “get back to being Scotland.”

One canny entrepreneur believes he’s found one way for Scotland to do that. After spending months watching the debate unfold amongst his family and on social media, Edinburgh resident Stuart Ebdy, 32, realized that “no matter what happened in the referendum, half our country would be happy and the other half would be sad.” So he decided to make a Referendum Reconciliation Ale, an IPA specially made at a craft brewery in Scotland, that could be shared by Yes and No voters. He ordered 100 kegs, had special labels printed and began selling them online. “There’s only about a handful left,” he says, noting that many orders had been placed after the results were announced.

It doesn’t pay, however, to underestimate the Scottish ability to put aside grievances and simply “get on with it,” as Darren Crocker, a 28-year-old support worker in Edinburgh, puts it. “On paper it’s a divided nation,” he says. “But in real terms we’re fine.”


TIME Scotland

Scotland’s First Minister Says Voters Who Backed Union Were ‘Misled’

Scotland Decides - The Result Of the Scottish Referendum On Independence Is Announced
First Minister Alex Salmond delivers a speech to supporters at Our Dynamic Earth on Sept. 19, 2014 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Matt Cardy—Getty Images

Alex Salmond says "no" voters were wooed by empty promises from British Prime Minister David Cameron

First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond says that those who voted “no” to an independent Scotland during last week’s referendum were “gulled,” “misled” and “tricked effectively” by last-minute promises from the United Kingdom.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and leaders of other political parties had agreed before the referendum to grant Scotland greater ability to act on its own to set tax, welfare and budget policies, London’s The Telegraph reports.

But Cameron said after the referendum that those changes would only happen “in tandem” with the exclusion of Scottish politicians from votes on matters that concern only England.

He also expressed hesitance about granting Scotland new powers without doing the same for Wales, Northern Ireland and England. “We have heard the voice of Scotland and now the millions of voices of England must be heard,” Cameron said on Friday.

Salmond accused Westminster leaders of “cavilling and reneging on commitments,” speaking to the BBC on Sunday. “They seem to be totally shameless in these matters,” he said.

“The Yes campaign aren’t surprised by this development. It’s the people who were persuaded to vote No who were misled, who were gulled, who were tricked effectively. They are the ones who are really angry.”


TIME Scotland

Russia Says Scottish Referendum Could Have Been Rigged

Scottish Independence Referendum 2014
Dejected Yes supporters in Glasgow, Scotland, on Sept. 19, 2014. Robert Perry—EPA

They should know

Scotland’s historic election on independence did not meet international standards for constitutional referendums, the head of a Russian voting rights organization has said, with procedures that left the result subject to rigging and vote-tampering.

Igor Borisov, chairman of the Public Institute of Suffrage in Moscow (also translated as the Russian Public Institute of Electoral Law), said the voting took place according to United Kingdom voting rules, which differ from the international community’s accepted procedures for such votes, Russian news agency Ria Novosti reports.

The unusual criticism comes just months after the international community rejected the results of a referendum in Crimea. The White House said the March ballot had been “administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law.”

Borisov said the chief concern in Scotland was the counting of the votes, which he alleges was not secure and was open to potential voter fraud and rigging. Borisov noted that the vote-counting room was the size of an “aircraft hangar,” which opened up the democratic process to tampering.

“Even if you want to, it’s impossible to tell what’s happening,” he said. “It’s also unclear where the boxes with ballot papers come from.”

[Ria Novosti]

TIME Scotland

Donald Trump: Wind Energy Support Hurt Scottish Independence Movement

The billionaire thinks Alex Salmond’s support of wind energy may have hurt his referendum efforts

This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

By Ben Geier

There’s been a lot of talk today about why exactly the people of Scotland voted to stay in the United Kingdom instead of becoming an independent country: Was it patriotism? Concerns about national security? Or an unclear vision for the future monetary policy of an independent Scotland?

Donald Trump thinks he knows the real reason: wind turbines.

Trump told Fortune that recently resigned Scottish First Minister and leader of the independence campaign Alex Salmond is a huge supporter of wind energy, something Trump says contributed to the deterioration of his relationship with the politician, whom he said he knows “very well.”

“Had he not littered Scotland with these horrible wind turbines, which have raised everybody’s taxes … I think he would have done much better,” Trump told Fortune. “There’s tremendous anger [in Scotland] over this subject.”

Trump, of course, has been fighting wind farms in Scotland for years. Earlier this year he decided not to build a second golf course in the country after he lost a legal challenge to block the building of new turbines (he decided to build a course in Ireland instead.)

There has been some talk in recent days that, had the independence campaign been successful, Salmond and the Scottish National Party would have had to put their ambitious wind energy plans on hold.

For the rest of the story, please go to Fortune.com.

TIME Scotland

Why Scotland Wanted to Break Up With England

The two countries fought for centuries before being united as part of the U.K.

It turns out that Scotland will be staying in the United Kingdom, but why did Scotland want to break away in the first place? Partially, it had to do with Scotland’s long-standing rivalry with England.

Before the neighboring countries were joined together by the Acts of Union in 1707, their history was marked by a slew of battles. Although the wars ended, their rivalry continued into to the modern era. Even with a “No” vote against independence winning, Scotland’s general distaste for the English is unlikely to fade.

TIME States

A Quarter of Americans Want to Secede From the U.S.

Pins in a United States map show where students have come from to take classes at Oaksterdam University, the nation's first marijuana trade school, on Sept. 23, 2010 in Oakland.
Pins in a United States map show where students have come from to take classes at Oaksterdam University, the nation's first marijuana trade school, on Sept. 23, 2010 in Oakland. Tony Avelar—The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

Which is extremely unlikely

The Scottish referendum on secession from the United Kingdom may have failed to pass, but it succeeded in stirring secessionist sentiment in that country and beyond—specifically, in the United States.

Nearly a quarter of Americans, 23.9%, said they strongly supported or tended to support the idea of their state leaving the United States and forming its own country, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll taken between August 23 and September 16 released Friday.

Support for secession was weakest in the northeast and strongest in the southwest. It cut across party lines, though Republicans (29.7%) are somewhat more keen on the idea than Democrats (21%). A majority, 53.3%, said they strongly opposed or tended to oppose the idea.

Even in states with the with the highest level of support for seceding from the Union, the possibility that it could actually be done is extremely farfetched. In modern American history even attempts at simply seceding from a state have proven impossible—seceding from the country entirely is a different matter altogether. No state since the Civil War has come anywhere close enough to force the courts to issue a final word on the legality of secession, but any such argument would, at the very least, face a very steep climb.


TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 19

1. China should match its massive investment in Africa with robust support for the Ebola fight.

By James Gibney in Bloomberg View

2. The market alone can’t drive advances in biomedical science. Philanthropy has a role.

By David Panzirer in Wired

3. Far from radical, the new USA Freedom Act protects citizens from government spying with better oversight and less secrecy.

By Mary McCarthy in USA Today

4. Outdated laws on debt collection and wage garnishment are crushing the working poor.

By Paul Kiel in ProPublica and Chris Arnold at National Public Radio

5. Scotlands referendum was a reassuring exercise in the ‘majesty of democracy.’

By Michael Ignatieff in the Financial Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Scotland

We Went to a Scottish Bar to Watch Scotland’s Vote

What better way to watch the vote than with a glass of whisky in a rowdy Scottish bar?

Scotland wasn’t the only country watching the vote for independence Thursday night. St. Andrews Restaurant & Bar in New York City had its own crowd of Scottish expats, tourists, Americans, and more watching the television and waiting to see if Scotland was going to become independent or not.

The night might have ended with a “No,” but it didn’t drown out the shouts of “Yes!” that rang through the bar (with a ferocity no less than a Scotland/England soccer game) each time a voting result was revealed. TIME spent the evening there and filmed the reactions and opinions of the many “yes voters” and “no voters” present.

TIME United Kingdom

The World Reacts to Scotland’s Decision Not to Leave the UK

The world had a mixed reaction to Scotland's "No" vote

When Scotland voted against independence in Thursday’s referendum, people across the world reacted with a mixture of relief, disappointment and trepidation at what the result might mean for other separatist movements. Yet while Scotland’s silent majority for unity won out in the final ballot, the Yes campaigners succeeded in making their voices heard, not only by the Westminster political establishment but in global headlines. One debate may have ended for now, but in many parts of the world, others are just beginning.

British political leaders praised the outcome Friday morning, but also looked forward to the new reforms promised by the Westminster parties, such as greater tax and welfare powers to be given to the four nations that make up the United Kingdom. Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones tweeted that he was “pleased the people of Scotland have voted to remain in the Union – together we will shape a new constitutional future for the UK.” Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson agreed: “Delighted Scotland has voted to remain in the Union. We are better together.”

Some, however, were more cautious. A number of Northern Ireland politicians, including Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin (the Irish Republican political party) expressed the need for London to “deliver its promises.” The leader of Plaid Cymru (the Welsh nationalist party), Leanne Wood, said that her party remained “skeptical about Westminster’s promises of new powers” and insisted that “any offers to Scotland must be offered to Wales too.” She said it was clear that: “Britain has changed forever” and that “a new process must now begin involving all the nations of the U.K. to ensure meaningful and significant decentralization.”

Further afield, support for Scotland’s results came from many world leaders, some of whom may be hoping the No vote will discourage their own secessionist movements. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in a video statement the Scots “chose the best option for everyone – for themselves and for Europe,” avoiding “the serious economic, social, institutional and political consequences that separation would have brought.” His comments come at a critical time in the Catalonian independence movement, as on Friday afternoon, Catalan politicians are set to vote on an independence referendum penciled in for November 9. The semi-autonomous Catalonia region is one of the most wealthy and industrialized regions in Spain, and support for secession has surged since Spain’s financial crisis. Spain’s foreign minister said Tuesday the Spanish government would use “the full force of the law” to supersede any kind of vote in Catalonia.

But Catalan campaigners aren’t deterred by Friday’s outcome. Richard Gené of the pro-independence Catalan National Assembly movement told The Guardian: “Whether they voted yes or no, that would have been all right . . . What we really feel is envy about the possibility of voting. This is what we are fighting for.” While a Yes vote “would have acted as a kind of icebreaker for difficult issues such as EU membership and NATO membership,” remarked Albert Royo of Diplocat, the Catalonian body for public diplomacy, the No vote “does not mean that everyone here will decide to give up and conclude that the issue is over.”

In fact, Royo saw a lesson in the outcome that could reassure governments unsure of whether or not to hold referendums. “Letting people vote does not mean that they will automatically vote for independence,” he said.

The Scotland vote has also struck a particular chord with nationalists from the Canadian province of Quebec, where the No vote prevailed in the two independence referendums of 1980 and 1995. Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird tweeted: “Canada welcomes this decision,” but the sizable contingent of Quebecois nationalists who flocked to Scotland in hope of a Yes vote may well feel differently. Meanwhile in India, leading news sites have analyzed the impact of Scotland’s referendum in fueling calls for a similar referendum in the disputed Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir. Violent opposition to Indian rule peaked in this northeastern region in the 1990s, but tensions still run high. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a hardline separatist leader, argued that ”India should learn lessons from UK and honor its commitment of granting the right to self-determination to people of Kashmir.” Moderate Kashmiri separatist leader Mirawiz Umar Farooq said Scotland’s referendum was an encouraging example of how “in a peaceful manner people will be deciding their future.”

Indeed, it is the peaceful democratic nature of Scotland’s referendum that has drawn the most praise from politicians, not to mention its high turnout of 84.6%.

“We welcome the result of yesterday’s referendum on Scottish independence and congratulate the people of Scotland for their full and energetic exercise of democracy,” said U.S. President Barack Obama in a Friday morning statement. “Through debate, discussion, and passionate yet peaceful deliberations, they reminded the world of Scotland’s enormous contributions to the UK and the world, and have spoken in favor of keeping Scotland within the United Kingdom.”

German Foreign Minister agreed with many leaders that the No result is “a good decision for Scotland,” but added that he held “great respect for Great Britain’s exemplary democratic culture as it was displayed in this referendum.” Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, praised the vote as being part of a “democratically agreed process,” while Irish political leader Dr. Alasdair McDonnell said the Scottish National Party had shown how independence campaigns “should be fought.”

“This was a campaign of ideas, policies and debates not violence, death and intimidation. The futility of our own recent history has been drawn into stark contrast,” McDonnell said. And though many are disappointed with the vote’s outcome, it’s worth noting the success of the referendum in energizing Scottish voters. Pro-independence leader Alex Salmond heralded the historically high turnout as a “triumph for the democratic process.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser