Welcome to the first instalment of our ‘Behind The Ropes’ blog series! Each blog will feature an exclusive interview on board The Royal Yacht Britannia.
This month we go behind the ropes with The Royal Yacht Britannia’s calligrapher, David Lang, who expertly inscribes invitations for our evening events on board Her Majesty’s former floating palace.
David, aged 82, has been a calligrapher for over 60 years and is one of just a handful of professional calligraphers in Scotland.
David has beautifully hand-scribed over 185,000 invitations for a range of luxurious private and corporate dinners and drinks receptions which have taken place aboard over the past 19 years.
We met with David on board The Royal Yacht Britannia to find out about his passion for perfection when it comes to one of the most important elements of organising an event on Britannia, writing the invitations!
When did your career in calligraphy begin?
My passion for calligraphy really began during my time at Edinburgh College of Art. I was taught by Stuart Barrie, an internationally known calligrapher. After graduating in 1959, I embarked on a graphic design career which included working for medical publisher E & S Livingston. Here, I designed book covers and produced medical illustrations.
In 1968, I began producing diploma certificates for The Royal College of Surgeons and The Royal College of Physicians. After this I went on to become an art teacher at Musselburgh Grammar School.
I was also part of one of the last intakes to complete National Service in the Royal Air Force from the age of 24 to 26. It was here whilst taking part in the Medical Training Establishment that my superiors noticed my illustration skills, and asked me to prepare diagrams for teaching purposes.
How did your relationship with the Royal Yacht come about?
I have worked with Britannia ever since they opened in 1998. I’ve had the privilege of working alongside the lovely Diane, Britannia’s Senior Event Sales Manager, for almost 10 years and she and the other members of the team on board are an absolute pleasure to work with.
Take us through the artistic process of inscribing invitations?
The invitations are hand delivered by Bob from Jane Street Printers, who lives in the village next to me. I’ve been working with Bob for a number of years and their invitations are produced to such a high standard. Britannia’s invitations give guests a first impression of what to expect when they step aboard the Royal Yacht.
From my studio, I begin the process of inscribing the invitations by first counting the characters of each name to be written. I then refer to a bespoke scale I created many moons ago which tells me exactly where on the invitation to begin the first letter so as to ensure the name is perfectly centred on each. I do have a few extra invitations at hand just in case but I rarely use them!
Do you use a special type of pen?
Yes, and it is indeed very special! My lovely wife gave me a beautiful Parker pen, purchased from Waterstons Stationers on George Street, for my 21st birthday and I have used it every day for the last 60 years. She tells me it cost her 5 guineas which she had saved from 2 weeks' wages! Parker Pen kindly changed the nib to an italic nib which is shaped like a chisel and perfect for calligraphy.
What is the most famous person’s name you have written on an invitation or certificate?
Oh there have been so many! But it would have to be Her Majesty The Queen for the invitations I had the honour of inscribing for Zara & Mike Tindall’s pre-wedding drinks reception on board Britannia in 2011.
I once had a certificate to write for a ‘Professor No Khan Dhu’ which gave me a chuckle!
Imagine you are hosting your very own dinner on board Britannia, who would be top of your list to send an invitation to as the perfect dinner party guest?
Apart from my lovely wife of course, I would love to invite Sir Andy Murray. As a keen tennis player myself, we used to watch his mother Judy play as a teenager in North Berwick and I’d love to meet him.
What advice would you give to someone keen to embark on a career in calligraphy?
My advice would be to get in touch with the Society of Scribes & Illuminators and take part in one of their workshops. Unfortunately calligraphy was removed from the curriculum at art colleges in Scotland some time ago so anyone looking to study the subject would have to venture south. If it’s a real passion then it will be worth pursuing!
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