Michael Alexander meets the first-ever female organiser of the annual student-run Kate Kennedy procession which takes place in St Andrews on Sunday April 2 and celebrates 700 years of history in the university town.
History runs deep through the veins of second year St Andrews University student Tatiana Apostol.
Brought up in Switzerland, the 20-year-old’s family roots can be traced to Brazil and originally Russia.
Her ancestors include Russian revolutionary Decembrists who led an attempted uprising in St Petersburg in 1825.
When the annual Kate Kennedy procession returns to the streets of St Andrews on Sunday April 2, however, it’ll be Scottish history – and the smooth running of the event – that’s very much at the forefront of Tatiana’s mind.
That’s because this year she is making her own mark as the first woman to organise the Kate Kennedy procession in its 97-year existence.
Tatiana, who was the first-ever female bejant (first-year student) to play Kate last year, will be the first-ever female Marshal of the Procession when the colourful spring event returns.
What’s the procession about?
Organised by the student-run Kate Kennedy Club, the procession, which dates back to 1926 and celebrates the town’s rich history, will see 150 students, locals and university staff dress up in historical costumes, re-enacting prominent figures who have made an impact on St Andrews.
The Kate Kennedy Club and the procession raise money for local Fife charities such as Home Start East Fife and Families First.
Catching up with The Courier over coffee in St Andrews, Tatiana, who studies history and Russian, explained how she was initially attracted to St Andrews University by its internationally-renowned academic excellence.
With quite a few friends studying at St Andrews, she was impressed how diverse Scotland’s oldest university is, which appealed to her having gone to an international school in Switzerland.
As a lover of history, however, she also really liked the historical feel of the town which, in turn, inspired her to get involved with the Kate Kennedy Club.
“The club has three main aims which is to help charities in Fife, to uphold the traditions of St Andrews University and to improve town and gown relations,” said Tatiana, who has ambitions to become a lawyer, and is also secretary of the student law society.
“These really appealed to me. Especially the charities aspect.
“As a collective, we all volunteer once a week at the Cosmos Centre and play with the children there.
“That’s something that really appeals to me.
“I did quite a lot of charity and volunteer work before in high school.
“I wanted to continue that in university.”
Moving with the times
Tatiana, who enjoys playing tennis and is also part of the St Andrews student-led political think tank, the Roosevelt Group, explained it’s a tradition that the previous year’s Kate is the marshal the following year.
However, she does not think being the first female organiser speaks so much about her as it does about the Kate Kennedy Club.
While the club strives to keep its traditions alive, it has enthusiastically renewed them to embrace an ever-changing society.
Route of the procession
It will start at St Salvator’s Quadrangle, then move on to North Street, along the Scores, Market Street and South Street.
Led by a barefoot Saint Andrew and the City of St Andrews Pipe Band, the annual procession sees characters from 700-years of St Andrews history parade through the town.
Characters depicting cardinals, queens and kings to golfers, bishops and even former St Andrews University rector John Cleese fill the cobbled streets in the special event which brings town and gown together.
However, nothing outshines the emergence of the most anticipated character: the mystical Lady Katherine Kennedy, the adored niece of St Salvator’s College founder Bishop Kennedy.
Legend has it that ‘Kate’ would come visit her uncle and was idolised by students.
Every procession day, St Salvator’s church bells ring to mark her arrival, one among which the bishop named after his beloved niece.
How is Kate chosen?
Tradition dictates that Lady Kate is played by the “most promising first-year member” of the Kate Kennedy Club.
She is drawn through the town in a daffodil-festooned horse and carriage, cheered on amid an atmosphere of spring celebration.
Traditionally ‘Kate’ was played by a male student.
This wasn’t a surprise given that the club only had male members until 2012.
However, it took until last year for Tatiana to become the first female to play the lead role.
“It was a pretty amazing experience,” she said.
“It was quite cool to see all the crowd outside – the students and the locals, interested in the procession and the history of the town.
“It was pretty amazing to be able to see the procession from the carriage as well, because when you are in the carriage you are more elevated.”
Breaking with the past
Theo Verden, 22, a fourth year art history and international relations student from London, was last year’s Keeper of the Costumes and has also held roles of charities convener and press and publicity officer.
He admits the Kate Kennedy Club has not always had the “best reputation” amongst the wider St Andrews student community.
Having historically been considered as a “secret” boys’ club that attracts students from prestigious backgrounds, he says the club has tried to be more “open” and to “break away” from its sometimes scrutinised past.
However, while last year’s female appointment was significant, he admits there was still an element of “nervousness” about the decision because some people don’t like change.
“Traditionally, the reason why a lot of people in the town or in the club or people involved in the procession thought it should be a boy was because it was somewhat comical that a boy played a girl’s character,” he said.
“That’s why, even with girls in the club since 2012, it only took until last year to get a female Kate.
“We were scared that some of the older people in the community might be angry at this. They look to see a boy dressed up.
“But when we did that it was well received.
“The people who were in the club at the time really just cared about giving the role to the person they thought was the best.
“Who they thought would be trustworthy and care about the history.
“Someone who shows they have goodness during their interviews and good knowledge of the town as well. Someone who seems like they are organised enough.
“Because putting on the procession is a huge task and so much work goes on behind the scenes. So you need someone who’s going to be able to do that.”
‘Ministry of Silly Walks’
Rufus Byrne Hill, 22, a fourth year maths and philosophy student from North Yorkshire, is the Kate Kennedy Club’s head of charities.
With around 80 or 90 membership applications per year, and only nine being admitted, he said this was the first year they’ve had more female applications than male.
As is tradition, the identity of this year’s Kate – chosen by past Kates after interview – won’t be known until the day itself.
However, he looks forward to again seeing the parade enjoyed by both town and gown.
Student volunteers will again be out with collection buckets for charity.
There’s also a lot of fun to be had.
Last year Rufus took on the role of John Cleese in his ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’ guise.
As he “got into” his role, he enjoyed seeing families enjoying themselves in the spring sunshine.
Bridging ‘town and gown’
Theo added that one of the best things about the procession was that opportunity to bridge “town and gown”.
Through his other extra-curricular activities, he’s done things with an electronic music collective, and with an environmental magazine.
But neither of them have “bridged the gap” in the way that being in the club has allowed him.
“I’ve really got a lot out of it,” he said.
“When I did the costumes last year you’d meet five or six old folk from the local community who were trying to fix the costumes – designing them, making sure they were stored all right.
“Some university staff also play the same roles and the same characters year after year. They really embody them.
“When I was Keeper of the Costumes, you had to reach out to all the incumbent roles.”
When is the 2023 procession?
The procession is traditionally held on the second Saturday of April.
This year, however, it’s being held on the first Sunday because St Salvator’s Quadrangle has been booked every single Saturday of April for a post-Covid-19 lockdown backlog of weddings. All that’s needed now is spring sunshine!
*The 2023 Kate Kennedy procession, Sunday April 2, starts at 2pm from St Salvator’s Quad, North Street, St Andrews.