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Nicola Sturgeon’s sister Gillian: I don’t really get politics and Nicola doesn’t really get my sixth sense but we’re close and as proud of each other as sisters can be

Nicola Sturgeon and her sister Gillian
Nicola Sturgeon and her sister Gillian

They are as close as only sisters can be but, at the same time, could hardly be more different.

One is the most powerful woman in Scotland, a respected international leader at the helm of her country for the last seven years. The other sees into the future of others helping them unleash their inner potential.

One has cloaked herself in a stern inscrutability with even political supporters left guessing at her moves and motives. The other cheerfully admits to wearing her heart on her sleeve.

Gillian Sturgeon, 47, embraces the differences between herself and big sister Nicola, 52, laughing as she says: “There couldn’t be two sisters who are more different.

“I love acting, singing and everything theatrical, while I think Nicola started reading books by the time she was two. She’s always been serious and focused on work.

“In fact, we were so different growing up, I used to drive my mum daft by constantly asking her if I was adopted because we were so different. My poor mum had to insist that no, I was definitely not adopted, and that she should know.”

Gillian Sturgeon (Pic: Jamie Williamson)

Gillian, speaking before an event showcasing her supernatural “sixth sense”, believes an early memory hints at her special abilities. “I remember having the flu and telling my mum my Granny Mary had come and sat beside me with her hand on my forehead – but granny was dead.

“Mum told me I must be imagining it because I had a high temperature but I now believe what happened was real. Granny Sturgeon is now my spirit guide. During many years working in the NHS, as a midwife and then a phlebotomist, I’ve seen many dying people reaching out to family members who had already gone but came back for them.”

Gillian and Nicola grew up in Dreghorn, in Ayrshire in a working-class family with their electrician father Robin, now 73, and mum Joan, now 69, a dental technician. The first minister’s sister says her mum and dad are equally proud of their daughters despite their very different paths.

Nicola became fascinated by politics during the Thatcher years while Gillian, who enjoyed bit-parts in Take The High Road, dreamed of an acting career and landing a part in Coronation Street.

Gillian said: “I had a very active fantasy life as a child. While I was playing with my Barbie dolls, Nicola was always studying. I always knew she would do something very special because she worked so hard but I never dreamed she would one day be the leader of Scotland.

“I don’t really ‘get’ politics – I find it a little boring, to be honest – but I’m so very proud of her and what she has achieved.

“Equally, Nicola doesn’t ‘get’ what I do with Tarot cards but is proud of me and supports what I do.”

Gillian is about to headline her first big professional show, Laughterlife, billed as a mixture of comedy, Tarot, and psychic phenomenon at Glasgow’s Gallus Palace in aid of Brothers In Arms, a charity working with men to prevent suicide.

She said: “I’m looking forward to doing the show because it’s for such an important cause but of course I’m a bit nervous. The last time I said I was going to do a show using my talents, I got nasty press and some trolls called me a conwoman, which of course I’m not. It dented my confidence so much, I cancelled the show.

“Nicola told me I shouldn’t let trolls and nasty headlines stop me doing what I love. I look at some of the stuff trolls and haters throw at her, and she just keeps going, ignoring them. She’s quite right.

“It’s taken me quite a while to rebuild my confidence but I’m doing this show no matter what. Mum and dad and are coming and I’m sure if Nicola is able to come along, she will too.

“I’ve never proclaimed I’m a clairvoyant but I do have what I think is best described as a sixth sense and an ability to use that gift to help other people, which is what I want to do. Next year, I’m working on taking my own show to the Edinburgh Fringe, so who knows where it will take me?”

Gillian has found being the younger sister of Scotland’s first minister challenging after her personal life attracted unwanted attention. She reflected: “Bad things happen to everybody. That’s just part of life but when you are the first minister’s sister, the bad things always seem to end up in the newspaper. The headlines are not always kind.”

Gillian remains angry about the time she was “caught” apparently breaking Covid rules on a train with no mask. She said: “I was trying to eat a sandwich but people made such a big thing of it.”

But the worst came following the breakdown of her marriage. Gillian said: “I married young, had two wonderful children and, like many couples, my husband and I just grew apart. We split over four years ago. It’s always traumatic when life changes so dramatically.

“I threw myself into two new relationships one after the other and both were disastrous in their different ways.”

The second relationship ended in a fracas with police charging her for, she says, only trying to defend herself: “I had to get my dad to come and look after my daughter while I was taken to the station. I was horrified, embarrassed because of the impact it would have on my sister and family but Nicola never wavered. She was a huge support.

“It was a horrible time and in the end the cases did not go to court. I could have crawled away with shame when it all came out in the papers but the support of Nicola and other women who got in touch with me helped so much.”

© Jamie Williamson
Gillian Sturgeon says she and her sister Nicola are as close as sisters can be. (Pic: Jamie Williamson)

She is now offering online support to women who have suffered domestic abuse, adding: “If I can help other people, that’s what life is about, using bad things that happen to turn them into a positive.”

Colin Higgins, the comedian who persuaded Gillian to join the line-up for Laughterlife, which will include a question-and-answer session, said: “A friend’s daughter is a huge fan of the first minister and wrote to her to invite her to her birthday party. Nobody expected her to turn up, of course, but she did and spent several hours playing with the kids at the party.”

Gillian said: “That’s our Nicola. We’d never hear about that. She does lots of lovely things people never get to hear about.

“She’s Scotland’s first minister but to me she’s the best sister to me and the best auntie to my two children who absolutely adore her.

“If it comes down to votes, or all the hard work she’s put into it, Scotland will get independence but life isn’t straightforward and there are always things happening in the background that can affect what happens, so I can’t say it’s certain.

“No matter what, I think one of Nicola’s greatest legacies will be inspiring young girls to follow their dreams and be whatever they want to be because they see what she’s achieved as Scotland’s first female first minister.

“I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve. Perhaps I’m too painfully honest at times and that has got me into a bit of hot water. I just say what I think while Nicola tends to keep her feelings to herself.

“But I know my sister is as proud of me as I am of her. We’re very different people but we both have the same determination to help others.”

Tickets for Laughterlife, in Glasgow on October 6, with Gillian Sturgeon, clairvoyant Gordon Armour, singer Tom Urie, and Colin Higgins, are on sale now. Visit