40 years of service
From hosting celebrities to dodging around film crews, Jess Tait has had a busy career.
As a child, Jess Tait was convinced that there must be a castle with a princess living in it at the end of the long driveway.
“When I was about five or so, the school transport would stop at the end of the drive for the children from the estate, and I’d think it must be a castle up there,” Jess said.
“It was so pretty and I used to wish I could walk up and just see what it looked like.”
Now, more than six decades later, Jess is celebrating almost 40 years of working at the end of that long driveway in what is now the Macdonald Pittodrie House Hotel.
And at 72, she has no plans to retire from her position of restaurant assistant and waitress.
Jess has won two long-service awards and is one of the hotel’s best loved, and most recognised, assets. Over the years, she has seen many changes as the hotel moved hands from the Smith family to Macdonald Hotels, and has looked after famous and celebrity guests from the world of film, entertainment and business. It was when she was in her 20s that Jess, who had been brought up on a nearby farm, first went to work part-time at the hotel to help support her mother following her father’s death.
“I originally came to work for Lady Smith, the former owner’s granny’s sister,” Jess said.
“Because I was helping my mother, I could only work in the evenings, and gradually I moved into helping in the hotel, washing the dishes and then waitressing at events.”
And she has certainly been no stranger to hard work over the years.
“During that time, I was also working on the farm to help my mother,” said Jess.
“I would help her during the day then come work here from 7pm until midnight. But that was just the way you were brought up. You worked on the farm and you helped out on the farm as well.”
Macdonald Pittodrie House, at Chapel of Garioch, is one of the most historic hotels in Scotland and was originally one of the homes of the Smith family.
“I’ve worked at all sorts of events over the years and seen all sorts of visitors,” said Jess.
“Some of them do recognise me, even after 20 years or so, and say hello.”
Among the times Jess has enjoyed most at the Pittodrie House have been when it was used by stars visiting the area for filming or to perform in Aberdeen.
She said: “We’ve had filming done here and we’ve had lovely visitors like Lenny Henry, I particularly remember, and Daniel O’Donnell.
“When Mr Theo Smith was in charge, he used to like to entertain them and we had some wonderful evenings. We used to always see him in the bar chatting with people in the evening.
“My son also worked here for a while from when he was about 14 until he was 20, and the owners were very good to him. They kept in touch when he went to train as an architect.
“That family atmosphere has carried on under Macdonald Hotels and I have had two lovely evenings with them for my long-service awards. Mr Macdonald is always lovely.”
Jess has seen other changes too. The hotel has grown in size over the years. Originally the owner also did all the cooking. Then there was a chef for many years who grew all his own vegetables in the hotel gardens.
“He would pop out into the garden and just pick the veg for the menu,” said Jess.
“And there would always be something a wee bit different.”
Now the Macdonald Hotels has a team of cordon bleu chefs and the hotel continues to offer the finest cuisine for all its corporate events, guests and weddings.
Its Mither Tap Restaurant serves fine Scottish food, made with locally-produced ingredients.
Jess also worked at the hotel through the biggest boom years of the oil industry in the north-east when the area was a huge magnet for business people. But she has never wanted to share their lifestyle or travel away from the area.
“Oh no,” she said.
“I have always been happy on the farm and have built my own home there now too.”
The wee girl who imagined life in the big house has, in many ways, made that house and life her own over the years.
It’s difficult to imagine one without the other.