I remember putting together a profile piece on Alistair Darling and his old schoolmaster at Loretto in Musselburgh telling me how the young Alistair insisted to his schoolmates that his surname was pronounced ‘Durling’.
The reason was that, in a place where everyone was addressed by their second name, the future Chancellor couldn’t bear the shout of “Hello Darling!” across the playground.
In time, of course, he’s grown to shed the schoolboy sensitivity and a nation has come to know a political player.
From local councillor to MP to Chancellor, to chairman of the Better Together campaign, a sort of Defender-in-Chief of Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.
He’s Westminster’s Clark Kent – bookish, some say boring – but he’s no mug. A 27-year survival record in the political bear-pit is testimony to that.
Two hours of referendum debate, in particular, showed a man who knows when to adjust his game.
The Alistair Darling that faced Alex Salmond was in streetfighter mode. He shouted, finger-pointed and sneered his way through TV’s first referendum head-to-head.
To those who said he lacked passion, he laid it out before them in a spectacle rarely viewed. And it seemed to work.
The general consensus is that Darling was the winner on the night, prompting near-euphoria amongst supporters who’ve watched Alex Salmond trample over them in debate for years.
Darling landed blows on the subject matter, in particular the currency that an independent Scotland would use.
Critically, he also scored on style. He was more assertive and dominated the TV screen, drew the viewer’s eye.
Alex Salmond had clearly opted for mild-manners and measured tones. This, following reports he was in consultation with a ‘happiness guru’ who was grooming him for his performance.
I wonder if, on reflection, he’ll be happier toughening up his act for the TV debates to come.
Perhaps he needs to redress the balance between nice man and hard man before he can look statesman.