Here’s a guest post from Scotland-based reporter Cori Princell.
In this Jekyll and Hyde story, Dr. Zara Gladman is the ordinary, respectable character.
Zara is in her late 20s and a scientist. She got her PhD a couple of years ago in ecology and now works doing outreach for the annual Glasgow Science Festival.
She’s planning to vote yes in the upcoming Scottish independence referendum because of issues like care for the elderly and free education. She thinks Scotland will do better if it separates from the United Kingdom.
But Dr. Zara Gladman has another side. When she applies her make-up and secures her platinum blonde wig, she becomes Lady Alba. And Lady Alba is voting “naw.”
On stage, her backup dancers wear paper face masks of Scottish and British politicians. “I want your weapons. I want student fees. I want a country run by Tory MPs,” sings Lady Alba in the online video that went viral in Scotland.
The video is a spoof on the hit “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga. Like Gaga, Lady Alba has crazy make-up and soda cans rolled into her hair, although hers are cans of Irn Bru, an orange soda that’s iconic in Scotland. Her name, Alba, comes from the Gaelic word for Scotland. But don’t mistake all that for Scottish nationalism: Lady Alba wants Scotland to remain part of Britain.
“I want your love, even if it’s wrong, I like being told what I should do,” she sings. “It would be mental to try something new. Let’s sit around and wait for things to improve.”
Zara says the joke is on “no” voters. “I’m just trying to poke fun,” she says. “I just think some of the arguments against independence are so ludicrous.”When Zara realized how popular Lady Alba was becoming online, she created a Facebook page for her. Lady Alba now does media interviews and performs at comedy shows—always in character as an outrageous “naw” voter.
The Scottish comedian Keir McAllister says it’s a great example of Scottish humor. “We always laugh at ourselves when we kind of downscale things,” he says. “It’s just a really clever piece of satire.”
McAllister recently invited Zara to perform as Lady Alba at The Stand Comedy Club in Glasgow. The sold-out show was all about the referendum, and it was clear there were both “yes” and “no” voters in the audience. But as Lady Alba came out on stage wrapped in a Scottish flag, they were all laughing.
I did have to ask Zara whether this split identity is having any effect on her. She laughed and said there’s no danger she’ll transform permanently into Lady Alba. “I don’t have any kind of weird conflict in my head like, oh maybe she’s right!” she says, “I just put on a character and that’s it.”
Zara sees an important role for comedy as people in Scotland face the difficult questions ahead. Comedy can dispel apathy, she says, and “it can get people engaged.”
This past weekend, she released her second Lady Alba video. This one is a take on Yellow Submarine by the Beatles, and it focuses on another issue in the Scottish independence debate: nuclear weapons.
The hits have been going up.