Glasgow Life is a charity which delivers services on behalf of Glasgow City Council; helping to transform lives through cultural, sporting and learning activity. As its chief executive, Bridget McConnell leads a staff of 2,600 working across 97 facilities and venues. She also leads the city’s destination marketing, including the PEOPLE MAKE GLASGOW brand and Glasgow’s award winning convention bureau.
Bridget was instrumental in bringing the highly successful 2014 Commonwealth Games to Glasgow and oversaw the delivery of the inaugural European Championships, held jointly in Glasgow (6 sports) and Berlin (1) in August 2018. Glasgow will host the inaugural UCI Cycling World Championships in 2023. This will bring together 13 UCI World Championships for different cycling disciplines in one unprecedented event.
Other career highlights include the £30 million refurbishment of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum; the opening of the £74 million Riverside Museum; the opening of the £113 million Emirates Arena; the £35m refurbishment of the Kelvin Hall as a world-class centre for heritage, learning, culture and sport; and the ongoing c.£66 million Burrell Renaissance project to refurbish and redisplay one of the world’s finest, single art collections.
Having gained her Masters and Doctorate of Education degrees focusing on the development of Cultural Policy in Scotland, Bridget is a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Arts and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. She also sits on the boards of Arts and Business Scotland, The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland and recently joined the board of Festival UK 2022.
Awarded honorary doctorates from the Universities of St Andrews, Aberdeen, Glasgow and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Bridget was made a CBE in the 2015 New Year’s Honours list for Services to Culture.
What was the first Live Event Hospitality programme that you attended and what particular impression did it make on you?
I can’t remember my first Live Event official VIP hospitality programme but my first experience of an Indoor Track Cycling event at the Velodrome in Glasgow where the hospitality was in the centre was just breath taking. Not only do you see the cyclists prepare, warm up and warm down, not to mention the thrill of being really close up to the world’s cycling stars but, to feel the air move with the speed of the racing cyclists and to experience the outrageous height of the actual track, makes it feel like being on the Wall of Death at the fairground, the circus and a Xmas party all rolled into one! Brilliant!
Other than your own, what is your favourite Live Event that you would encourage everyone to book when it goes on sale and what makes it so special?
Apart from every event in Glasgow of course, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle is definitely an amazing spectacle and worth seeing. The setting of the castle, the scale, the drama, the music, the choreography and the diversity of the performers. It’s an astonishing and unique Scottish experience.
Who do you consider to be your business mentor or mentors?
My business mentors have been most of my bosses, demonstrating commitment to public service, getting the best possible experiences and services for the public and understanding the power of what we do in culture and sport to change lives for the better.
What was the significant 'Sliding Doors' moment in your career and how did this impact on you?
When as a graduating student at 23 with a three year old child I was told by someone in the careers office at university that ‘unmarried mothers in my position should forget having any notion of having a career in the Arts and I should think about training as a secretary where the hours would be regular!’ My fury, feminist sensibilities and sheer bloody mindedness and determination to prove them wrong put me on course for what I do today!
If you had the option to experience/live in one music video which would it be and why?
There are two music videos I would want to be in – both by Queen: Playing the Piano in Bohemian Rhapsody and the only time I wanted to be a man, so I could be a cross dresser in ‘I Want to Break Free’.
What was your favourite televised live sport event or moment that you remember from childhood and why did it make such a lasting impression on you?
There are lots of televised live sport events I remember from childhood as my mother was a sports fanatic, especially athletics, football, golf, snooker, wrestling, boxing, darts and the summer ritual of Wimbledon. I felt I knew Ann Jones, Billy Jean King and Virginia Wade personally! And I actually remember the Anne Jones/Billy Jean King match where Anne Jones won in 1969…I was 11. My mum wept, screamed for joy and talked about nothing else for months! I was the eldest of seven children and we would all gather round the TV at the weekend to watch her favourite sports, mainly athletics and tennis.
Who was playing at the first concert you attended and what do you remember of the experience?
There are two concerts that spoke to my soul and are seared in my memory for ever. Going to the Proms in Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall when I was about 15 in the early 70’s and a junior student at the Royal Academy of Music & Drama (now the Royal Scottish Conservatoire) and seeing my first ever close up live classical music performance by the world renowned cellist Paul Tortelier. I was transfixed and overawed and knew I was in the presence of utter genius! And then a couple of years later, when my parents thought I was going to some scout & guide gang show, it was Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention at Glasgow’s iconic and now gone Apollo Theatre. They were bad, mad, dirty, shocking and I loved them! It was probably the beginning of my ruin!
What do you remember as the most emotional moment in television, film or a sporting event that still brings tears to your eyes?
Two of the most emotional moments in television for me were in 1985 - Live Aid and Dennis Taylor beating Steve Davis for the World Snooker Championship. Amazing examples of the power of TV!
What was your first paying job and what impact, if any, did it have on you?
My first paying job was between school and university when I was an auxiliary nurse in a long stay hospital for people with chronic and life limiting illnesses. It made me feel very humble and grateful for the life I have and taught me how much more I benefited and learned from those I was nursing than they ever gained from me.
How has your upbringing and family experiences shaped who you are today?
My upbringing as the eldest of seven children in a proud working class family – my father was a butcher, my grandfathers were miners, a grandmother who was in service and couldn’t vote until she was nearly 30 and a mother and grandmother passionate about the power of education, music and sport to change lives. It made me who I am today. Undoubtedly people look at me in the position I am in today and make lots of assumptions. We were materially poor, our first home was a room and kitchen with an outside toilet shared with another family. Yet I felt we were rich. As a child my memories are of a palpable sense of community, a period of optimism and hope with the introduction of comprehensive education, university grants for poorer families and a thriving music, sports and events scene. Anything and everything seemed possible. That kind of start in life is priceless.
What tough experience or time did you have to endure that taught you the value of money?
As a young mother whilst still a student at St. Andrews University I can remember having to sell my bike to pay the electricity bill, and to take part time cleaning and door to door sales jobs to make ends meet. Unfortunately it didn’t so much teach me the value of money as most people would understand it, but made me feel there is no point in having money for the sake of it but rather spend it on those you love and on what you love as there might be no money tomorrow. I am a credit card queen and don’t see me changing now!
If your 17 year-old self could see you now, what would she think and what advice would you pass back to your younger self?
I have 22 nieces and nephews, 2 children and 4 grandchildren. I see my teenage nieces especially full of the same insecurities I had at their age. So I would want to say to them (rather than my 17 year old self) that you are not alone, everyone has the same feelings and worries and insecurities as you do. Don’t focus on these negative feelings but pursue your dreams with determination, do the best you can, remain curious and excited for the next day to arrive, be kind and show compassion and love and live life to the full. There is no rehearsal. Enjoy and appreciate what an amazing existence this is and be grateful.
What's the best, most useful word from another language that you aren't fluent in?
The most universal and useful word in any language is Welcome.
What is your go to karaoke song?
I was a bit of a hippy so some well known songs by Donavan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez (she was the last person I saw in concert in 2019), Dylan, Carole King….and I always wanted to sing and look like Stevie Nicks. I would tell my 17 year old self, get over it as it’s not going to happen!
What is a compliment that you really wish people wouldn't give you?
I struggle with accepting any compliment and find them all uncomfortable, yet like most people I crave them too…the contradictions of the human condition.
What is/was the new technology or device that you immediately understood was going to be life changing?
The internet – what can I say. The speed of technological change in my working life has been astonishing. I can remember when word processors were introduced and we no longer needed tip-ex and that blue duplicate paper.
What should every person running for elected office be compelled to answer truthfully?
They should be compelled to admit they are human like the rest of us. They have the same 24hrs in a day, don’t have all the answers, are complex and flawed and need to listen more and pontificate less! We have too much expectation of and faith in politicians, my utopia is a world where we are all obliged to give up time at some point in our lives to contribute to government policy making, like the civic obligation to do jury duty. A fantasy I know, but it would bring a greater diversity of opinion, life experience and realism to our governance.
What are the three most rewarding podcasts, newspaper apps or Instagram, YouTube and Twitter accounts you follow and why?
I don’t follow any podcasts, newspaper apps, YouTube or twitter accounts. Life is too full of information, opinions and stuff as it is! I do use YouTube for cooking recipes, knitting and crafting demonstrations and DIY when necessary!
Tell us something your colleagues might not know about you.
I knit, play the piano and I am recovering from a magazine addiction!
What non-curriculum subjects should be required for anyone leaving school or university to understand fully before they enter the workforce?
Some basic psychology and an understanding and awareness of different kinds of people and characteristics such as Asperger’s for example. Basic economics would be useful too.
If someone gave you a box that contained everything you have lost in life, what's the first thing you would search for?
I had the privilege of being in the royal box for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002 and at the reception afterwards at Buckingham Palace. Much to my husband’s embarrassment I got Ozzie Osborne, George Martin, Rod Stewart, Tom Jones and Brian May to sign the back of my Palace invitation. I haven’t been able to lay my hands on it since moving house ten years ago and every time I see Antiques Roadshow I think about it!
What is your worst habit?
Being the eldest of seven I am extremely bossy and constantly feel responsible for everything and everyone!
To quote The Goo Goo Dolls, for you, ‘… the closest to heaven that I'll ever be …’ is where, with whom, when and doing what?
The closest to heaven that I’ll ever be is in Arran with my grandchildren, crabbing at Lamlash pier!
During lockdown what are the things you’ve come to value most by their absence from your life and how will you put that right when we pen up again?
During lockdown I have come to value family and friends I have been unable to see more than ever – and to go with them to the theatre, safari parks, events, museums and concerts. I will be booking lots of these soon and indeed I still have tickets for some concerts that have rolled over to next year.
Which person who you have met, or not yet met, will leave you feeling most star struck?
Again I have had the privilege of meeting lots of famous people and the thing that has struck me most is that the most talented and amazing of them all are also the most humble, genuinely human and approachable. The more high maintenance ones are usually the ones with least reason to be so.
You get to fly anywhere after the coronavirus pandemic to take a trip you've always wanted to make: Where are you going, with whom and what are you planning to do?
After the coronavirus I am not sure I want to fly anywhere but rather be more inquisitive about our own country and neighbourhood, enjoying and appreciating where we are, what we have and all in the company of my family, especially my grandchildren whose curiosity, joy in living and unbridled enthusiasm for new experiences are an absolute joy to see.