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A world at her feet

Iseabail Mactaggart could have pretty much chosen to work anywhere. She chose the Islay whisky industry. Here's why…
By Iseabail Mactaggart
Although she would hate anyone to say it, Iseabail Mactaggart was the sort of person they were thinking of when they coined the phrase ‘high flyer.’By the time she had reached her 20s she had a degree in two languages under her belt, was a native speaker of two more, had worked in Shanghai and London, had been employed by the BBC in England and Scotland and had risen to assistant editor on BBC Radio Five’s prestigious Breakfast Show. She was one of the company’s youngest producers and set for a glittering broadcasting career.So what did she do? She headed home to Scotland, back to Islay, and sought work in the whisky industry.And it’s to the sector’s great credit that she is now communications officer for Morrison Bowmore – and happy as can be.Iseabail is from Islay and is a native English and Gaelic speaker. Indeed she speaks English with a West Coast lilt that makes it sound like it’s a foreign language.When it came to going to University, then, it made sense for her to study English and Gaelic.“And I was going to,” she says “but then I decided to go the opposite way and to study Japanese instead. I’d like to say it was part of a structured career plan for the future but it was not. It was just me being contrary.”As easy as that. Japanese and Chinese.And she wasn’t finished yet. With the degree under her belt she decided to pursue a career that allowed her to use her Chinese and she settled on law, studying her Articles and spending time in the 80s in the Chinese offices of a company in the window between the introduction of free market reforms and the crackdown.Pretty much forced back to Britain she joined the BBC in Inverness before moving on to the news and sports channel, Radio Five. Her glittering career lay before her. “I was enjoying it and I knew I could carry on and do well at the BBC,” she says.“But I think I wanted to do something more, perhaps to give something back, and that was something challenging. So I left.” Whisky for Iseabail was a natural choice.It was an international symbol of Scotland in general and of Islay in particular, and so she sought work in that sector. And it was Morrison Bowmore who benefited.Reflecting on the move now, it makes perfect sense. And you suspect that if anyone did raise their eyebrows at what might have appeared a backwards move she feels vindicated by the rise and rise of the fortunes of Islay whisky. To her it’s perfectly natural for a dynamic and professional woman to make such a move.“I don’t really share that view that it is a very male industry, any more than I thought the BBC was a very male place,” she says. “It is true that there are a lot of men involved with it, but there’s more to it than that.“And it’s probably different for me coming from Islay because everybody there has a link with the whisky. It is part of the whole community and affects every life. I feel I am coming back to be part of something I can be very proud of. I am very proud to be an Ileach and to be involved with its best-known product.”And there can be no doubt that she’s right. Across the water from Islay is Campbeltown, a region for whom the new malt whisky boom came too late. There, where once there was a thriving centre of commerce, nearly all the whisky and fishing have gone.On Islay the whole community is benefiting from the renewed interest. And distilleries such as Bowmore are encouraging it, offering local seafood and oysters drizzled in their product, or, as in the case of Bruichladdich, supplying local farmer Mark French whisky to marinade his smoked beef and venison products in before sale.For Iseabail there is the best of both worlds; the intimacy of communal living on Islay, where she can speak her favoured Gaelic and sing at local ceilidhs; and her role in the ever growing international success story that is Morrison Bowmore.She’s at ease in both arenas, and doesn’t find it strange at all to see her company’s whisky in the strangest parts of the world. In this sense she is still flying high and she still has the world at her feet.But she has kept her grip on reality in the process.With visitors from Japan now commonplace, and all the indicators suggesting that Chinese whisky enthusiasts aren’t far behind, Iseabail’s situation has been turned on its head. Rather than going after the world, the world seems to have come to her.“It’s a nice place to be in all senses,” she says. “In recent years the interest in this part of the world has grown a lot, and I think it will continue to do so.“Morrison Bowmore is a lovely company to work for and they are great people,” she says. “I feel very honoured to be part of that and to be representing a distillery on my home island. It’s a special place to be.”