By Michael Jackson

Royal Return

On the Queen's yacht,Michael Jackson is back in Leith and heading for Islay
An invitation to dinner on the Royal Yacht. That’s what it says. I wonder, is she still royal? The yacht, I mean, not the Queen Even if the Queen were not the world’s most experienced practitioner of the position, she would still be royal; that goes with the territory. In fact, no one is more regal. Yachts, on the other hand, I have always found confusing. In children’s spelling books, ‘Y’ is for yacht, an odd-looking word for a vessel of a simple shape.Yachts always look serene in drawings, paintings and designs on bathroom curtains – but they’re extraordinarily uncomfortable when their crews have to hang from the sides, bums extended, human counterweights against the elements that drive the sail. I don’t suppose the Queen and Prince Philip even considered doing that. It would have been decidedly unregal.Realising that a yacht does not have to be wind-powered, and may benefit from engines (in this case, a couple of oil-fired steam turbines), must be like walking through a warm rain of precipitant pennies (from heaven).Once the drachma has dropped, you can go ahead and build a floating version of a summer palace.The yacht in question is about 100 metres long, and at sea accommodated a total of about 300 crew and royal household. Its chintzy furniture and furnishings and eau-denil walls seemed to me timelessly traditional, but structural curves and bevels added a touch of Art Deco. As yachts go (and it made voyages to almost 1,000 corners of an Old Empire turning into a New Commonwealth), this was a miniature cruise liner.“The Queen is being piped on board,” the Dimbleby-of-the- Day would announce.Today, when I conduct tastings of Scotch whisky in faraway lands, the organisers sometimes insist that I be piped on stage.How does it feel? It makes me feel like a haggis.Does the Queen miss being piped on to her yacht? I bet she misses the haggis – and all those Royal Salutes.The Royal Yacht is now permanently moored in Leith, the port of Edinburgh. She is a tourist attraction, and hosts ‘corporate events.’ The advantage of holding your corporate event somewhere as unusual as the Royal Yacht is that curiosity about the venue will boost attendance and make your event more memorable. The other side of that coin is that they may remember and talk about the venue more than your event. That is exactly what I have been doing. I have never been much of a royalist, but I was curious about the yacht, and thought you might be, too. The event which occasioned my presence was the presentation of three ages of Bunnahabhain, a malt born-again since the distillery was acquired by Burn Stewart Around the same time, Burn Stewart became part of the drinks group known for Angostura Bitters.I had fantasised that the bar on the Royal Yacht might have devised a Scottish counterpart to the Manhattan or Old- Fashioned. Perhaps the glamour of the Royal Yacht was going to my head. Among those who know Bunnahabhain, there is a frequently-stated view that it does not taste like an Islay malt. I do not agree. It is very delicate, but has a biscuity, toasty, nutty, herbal (garden mint?) freshness that speaks of the soil and the sea. It sharpened my appetite for a robustly Scottish spread including oysters, venison and raspberry dessert. The older expressions were enough to regard as a digestif.The new owners were clearly delighted to have acquired Bunnahabhain, and their expressed commitment to the distillery moistened the eye of manager John MacLellan. I would have liked to have heard more from John, whose skills, knowledge and passion were not given full rein by previous regimes.After dinner, a firework display showed Leith in a new, bright, light.The noises, too, differed somewhat from the foghorn that disturbed my dreams when I lived by the Newhaven shore. It took me 45 years to come aboard. Pity the Royal Yacht is permanently moored. She could have taken us Westering Home to Islay to visit the source of our pleasures.