In this new series, Nicola Blackburn interviews members of the St Andrews community with interesting stories to tell – all while strolling down Lade Braes. The first installment spotlights Grace Thorner, a student at the university.
It’s safe to say that Grace Thorner is someone you notice. I’m waiting outside Prêt, holding her Americano at the ready, when I spot her leopard print scarf and the cloud of curly hair bobbing towards me. Grace is scarcely seen around St Andrews without a flash of leopard print, a heeled boot, or a red lip, looking suitably fabulous for someone who is always pursuing a new project. She is currently ploughing through a university degree while simultaneously managing Concrete Catwalk’s blog – a go-to for the latest dose of university street style. She comes off as utterly chic, and her extracurricular pursuits suggest an utmost interest in the sartorial. You can imagine my surprise when, as we reached Lade Braes and set off on our wander, she broke the news to me that she’s not all that interested in fashion.
Somewhat controversial for someone who coordinates a fashion blog, right? Grace justified herself pretty well. ‘CC [Concrete Catwalk] is more student style than fashion I would say. While I’m not interested in designer brands, fashion shows – I don’t read Vogue [Magazine] or anything – I do find what people wear and how people dress really interesting.’
Personal style isn’t just an interest for Grace; it’s something she wants to celebrate. And she makes a good point about a particular stigma surrounding the St Andrews fashion scene that we’re all familiar with. ‘I think there’s this whole stigma, especially in St Andrews, about people dressing up for lectures. I personally just think that that’s getting dressed. If people want to wear a dress and heels, or chinos and a blazer, then why is that dressing up? It’s just clothes, it makes them feel good and… happy.’
This is what I like most about Grace. She’s intelligent, constantly voicing ideas that send your thoughts running at a thousand miles an hour. Nodding vigorously, you’ll often exclaim, ‘yes, oh my gosh of course, that’s so true!’ And yet, what’s she’s got to say is never unrelatable. Whether it’s unintentional or not, her profundity never comes across as intimidating. She makes you forget you’re talking to the coordinator of a fashion blog. Perhaps this is because, like Concrete Catwalk itself, Grace preaches inclusivity within fashion. Later in our interview, she tells me she doesn’t tend to follow trends; quite refreshing from my point of view. And when I press her for a favourite timeless fashion trend, she eschews the notion of popular fashion altogether, offering a friendlier paradigm: ‘whatever makes you feel good.’
So what is she currently working on? Today, her answer is The Greenhouse, which she eloquently explains to me is a purpose-built, eco-friendly theatre venue at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival; a venue whose foremost purpose is to exhibit how art can be produced in an eco-friendly way. Grace is managing the publicity for this project. The venue will be built of recycled and reclaimed materials, with no electricity involved in the construction process, nor in the productions themselves. Grace would know – she’ll also be helping with the physical construction of the event.
The Greenhouse isn’t just a venue for theatre. Its productions will include a dance and some musical shows, as well as some workshops, one of which Grace will host. Here, she will lecture about zero-waste marketing. Binding all these elements together is a shared focus on the relationship between man and his Earth, which Grace and the Greenhouse team hopes will ‘open up a dialogue about how we’re treating the environment.’
I hear the passion emanating from her voice as she explains the project, her so-called “all or nothing” attitude comes across. As anybody who knows her will tell you, this is so characteristically Grace. In the past, this has manifested in running a marathon to raise money for cancer research, and touring around the country with a theatre troupe to promote better accessibility to theatre in rural areas. Now her sights are set on eco-theatre. ‘Well, we do only have twelve years to save the planet’ she reminds me, citing a recent UN report.
So what is Grace up to when she’s not pioneering missions to save the planet via eco-friendly art practices? Grace is in her third year of her degree in English and Social Anthropology at St. Andrews. The story of how she ended up here is one we’ve all heard from an English countryside dweller: she liked the idea of going to the city, had her heart set on Edinburgh and then on Durham, was accepted at St Andrews and cried a lot, then came to see it and ‘quite liked it, actually.’ Two and a half years on, she’s come to like being at a smaller university, because ‘you know everyone, so it makes going in to anything a bit less scary,’ and there are ‘more opportunities to get involved in lots of different things. More so than if you were at a big Uni.’
And when she’s not studying? If Grace is going for a night out, you can find her at the Vic. She’s got a pretty good grasp of the place: despite the (admittedly large) ‘amount of pervy old men,’ she thinks it is the best place in St. Andrews to dance, ‘and on a night out I like dancing.’ If Grace throws herself in to a night out the way she does everything else in her life, then you can be sure she’s a pretty excellent dancer.
Grace’s fun fact: she’s a triplet.