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Top Ten Scottish Italians

Updated on November 21, 2012

Italians in Scotland

The 1890s saw many Italians come to the UK to escape poverty in rural Italy as a temporary measure. Many brought with them a desire to set up modest businesses such as ice cream parlours, barber shops and fish 'n' chip shops. All were poor and had to work very hard to make a modest living. Many came to Scotland to find more opportunities for making a living.

Italian immigrants in Scotland helped allies fight in World War I, however in World War II things were a little different. The threat of fascism caused much suspicion directed towards the Italian communities in Scotland. A large number of Italian males were rounded up and interned in domestic prison camps on the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland. Others fought with the British Army throughout the war. After the war, Italian communities built up notably in the largest cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Many successful Italian family businesses still exist in Scotland in the catering and food industries (restaurants, fish and chip shops, delis) and long-running ice cream businesses still thrive today.

Here, in no particular order, is a top ten list of celebrated 'Scotalians': that is, Scottish Italians who are the pride of both Italy and Scotland.

Then a few surprising Hollywood descendants. We all know Jennifer Aniston has Greek heritage, but is she also Scotalian? What about Martin Scorcese and Liza Minnelli? Do they have Scottish Italian connections?

Paolo Nutini, Scottish Italian singer
Paolo Nutini, Scottish Italian singer
Sunny Side Up
Sunny Side Up

Paolo's 2009 album


10. Paolo Nutini

Singer, born 9 January 1987, Paisley, Scotland

Paolo has become a well respected singer songwriter yet he's only in his 20s. His debut single Last Request (2006) rocketed to number 5 in the UK charts. Successful platinum-selling album, These Streets, followed. His second album Sunny Side Up was one of the UK's best-selling albums in 2009.

Paolo was discovered after winning a local event's pop quiz and allowed to sing a couple of songs as a filler. His dad is third generation Scotalian from Barga, Italy. He owns a fish and chip shop in Paisley.

Although Paolo can't speak Italian, he's very popular in Italy. In 2007 he was awarded Barga's Golden St. Christopher medal - an annual honour for those who have contributed to this beautiful Tuscan town and people. Barga has strong links with Scotland to this day.

Paolo has opened for the Rolling Stones and Amy Winehouse and has sang with Ben E King. In 2012 he is touring Europe and also will represent Scotland in the opening ceremony concert for the London Olympic Games.

Paolo says:

"When I come to Tuscany, I get the same feeling I get when I go home to Paisley, I sort of feel like I'm me again..."

Can he speak Italian? No.

Bonnie Prince Charlie
Bonnie Prince Charlie | Source

9. Bonnie Prince Charlie

Exiled prince, 31 December 1720 - 31 January 1788, born in Rome, Italy

Charles Edward Stuart, young Jacobite, rightful heir to the throne of Great Britain, heir of the Stuart dynasty and son of the exiled James III of England.

He led the Jacobite uprising of 1745 with an army of 9,000 - including Highland clans, Irish and French troops. They marched to within 130 miles of London then retreated. The Jacobite challenge was defeated by the English at the Battle of Culloden on the 16th April 1746. Charlie fled from Scotland after the defeat but became involved in the (later abandoned) French plot to invade the UK in 1759.

Charlie was born and brought up in Italy by his exiled parents and dedicated his life to returning the Stuarts to the British throne and to claim his rightful crown. It never happened. Charles died in Rome on 31 January 1788. His remains lie in the crypt of Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican alongside the rest of his exiled family.

Did he speak Italian? Yes.

Dario Franchitti
Dario Franchitti | Source

8. Dario Franchitti

Racing driver, born 19 May 1973, Bathgate, Scotland

A hugely successful driver, Dario is married to Ashley Judd (US actor with Sicilian-Scottish heritage) and lives in Tennessee, USA.

He is four-time IndyCar Series champion. Dario is known for combining partial Sports Car racing schedules during his IndyCar and NASCAR career.

Dario became interested in karting when he was at school in Scotland, was successful in junior Formula One and was mentored by Jackie Stewart. He has survived several serious crashes and a motorcycle accident in which his back was fractured.

Dario's father George was also a racer as well as owning ice cream parlours in Scotland before retiring. He now travels the world watching both his sons race. Dario has a huge and close-knit extended family in Scotland and in Cassino, Italy. He wears a Scottish flag and an Italian flag on his racing helmet. A true Scottish Italian.

Dario says:

"I often get homesick and I would love to spend more time at home in Scotland but I'm on the phone home pretty much every day and I watch a lot of DVDs just so I can get my dose of humour from back home as well."

Can he speak Italian? Yes.


7. Pietro Urbani

Singer, 1749 - 1816, born in Milan, Italy

Italian composer and singer Pietro arrived in Glasgow in 1780 and went on to Edinburgh in 1784. He was part of a wave of Italian musicians who spent some years in Scotland (including Francesco Barsanti and Domenico Corri) around this time. In Edinburgh he sought to preserve traditional Scottish songs and compose new songs in an Italian style.

He approached a poet named Robert Burns (yes, the Robert Burns) for some help. Pietro was working hard to publish a music book named Selection of Scots Songs (1794). Robert Burns sent him the lyrics of a country song he had heard a young girl sing and Pietro put those words to original music.

That song was 'My Love is Like A Red, Red Rose' and was first published in Pietro's Selection of Scots Songs. This song has been covered by many artists around the world. Bob Dylan admitted that it was a huge inspiration for his own songwriting. Urbani set up a music publishing business in Edinburgh but nevertheless he died in poverty in Dublin.

Did he speak Italian? Of course!

Daniela Nardini, top right
Daniela Nardini, top right | Source
The Half
The Half

Daniela appears in this wonderful photography book of actor portraits


6. Daniela Nardini

Actor, born 26 April 1968, Largs, Scotland

Actor and member of the famous Nardini family which owns and runs Nardini's ice cream parlour and restaurant in Largs.

Daniela attended the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow and has become a successful actress of stage and screen. Perhaps her most remembered role is that of Anna, the feisty Scottish lawyer of This Life (a popular mid-1990s TV series in which she won a BAFTA in 1998 for Best Actress).

As a child, Summer holidays were spent at her grandparents home in Tuscany. She now lives in Glasgow with her husband and daughter.

Daniela says:

"My image is of a strong contemporary woman. My name springs to mind when they are casting feisty women. I've never played victims or doormats. All my characters are responsible for their own actions and take the bull by the horns."

Does she speak Italian? No.

Peter Capaldi
Peter Capaldi | Source

5. Peter Capaldi

Actor, born 14 April 1958, Glasgow, Scotland

This Scottish Italian actor and director won many fans when he starred in the adored Scottish film Local Hero (1983) with Burt Lancaster and has appeared in many films since. Perhaps now more famous as political spin doctor Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It and the film In The Loop (2009).

Peter attended Glasgow School of Art with Craig Ferguson (host of The Late Late Show) and they formed a comedy punk band called Dreamboys. In 1995 he won an Oscar for his short film Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life. He now lives in London with his wife and daughter.

Funnily enough, writer of The Thick of It, Armando Iannucci, is another Scots-Italian who had been brought up in the same street as Capaldi. They had never met until The Thick of It auditions.

Peter's parents ran an Italian café on the ground floor of the tenement they lived in. His grandparents lived in the same building. Aunts and uncles lived close by. His father's family is from Picinisco, Italy.

Peter says:

“It was the tail end of that very traditional, extended family and I loved it. My Italian granny and my mother made great spaghetti, but it wasn’t a kind of southern Italian, Godfather-esque kind of thing – it was a wonderful, big mixing pot of all kinds of people – when you came home from school and your mum wasn’t in, there were lots of people you could go to".

Does he speak Italian? Yes.

The Thick of It: Complete Series 1-3 [Regions 2 & 4]
The Thick of It: Complete Series 1-3 [Regions 2 & 4]

Watch Peter Capaldi's hilarious and amazing performance as spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker


Nicola Benedetti's latest album is fab.

Catch a preview by clicking the video above


4. Nicola Benedetti

Classical violinist, born 1 July 1987, West Kilbride, Scotland

Nicola was very talented at violin from the age of 4. At just age 10 she began studying at Yehudi Menuhin School for young musicians in England. By 2000, at age 13, she was performing with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Scottish Opera. At the age of 16, she won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition (2004) and signed a £1m six-album recording contract.

In September 2011, she performed with Andrea Bocelli in the Great Lawn of Central Park, for an audience of 70,000.

Nicola is also fiercely dedicated to music education. Through her work with Sistema Scotland, she has helped to transform the lives of young people. She currently performs and gives recitals around the world. Like her parents, Nicola has worked very hard to make a success of her talents.

Her father came to Scotland from Barga at 10 years old and went on to set up a very successful recycling business. Nicola has enjoyed many family holidays in Italy. Inspired by her Italian heritage, Nicola's 6th album Italia was released in 2011, a collection of Italian baroque music.

Nicola lives in London when she's not travelling extensively and has many, many projects and recitals back in Scotland. She is one busy lady.

Nicola says:

“The parts of the family that moved to Scotland discouraged my parents from speaking Italian to us when we were kids. It was that generation’s attitude to immigration, I think, and when I visited Barga it made more sense. My father is typical of people who have worked hard to leave somewhere so aren’t inclined to celebrate where they have left. They celebrate where they’ve arrived. Though, of course, my parents couldn’t entirely abandon their cultural habits, no matter how hard they tried.”

Can she speak Italian? Yes.

fascinating interview with the artist from the early 1990s

3. Alberto Morrocco

artist, 14 December 1917 - 10 March 1998, born in Aberdeen, Scotland

Alberto's parents were Italian immigrants who owned an ice cream shop in Aberdeen. He studied painting at Gray's School of Art aged just 14.

He then travelled widely in Europe before, in 1950, becoming head of the School of Painting at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee. In this year he also visited Italy for the first time.

This Scottish Italian artist is best known for his vibrant, simple paintings, portraits and outdoor scenes of Europe, especially Venice. He has a massive output of work which never stopped until his death. He received many prestigious awards in his lifetime and died in Dundee aged 80.

Alberto lived with his family in the incredible Binrock House overlooking the River Tay. You can see inside Alberto's amazing house in the video above.

Alberto said this one day to his class of students before immediately inviting them all to his wonderful house for a party:

"Let's celebrate. It's Michelangelo's birthday!"

Did he speak Italian? No.


2. Ken Stott

actor, born 19 October 1954, Edinburgh, Scotland

Ken has had a prolific acting career in the UK on stage and screen. In 2006 he took the role of Detective Inspector Rebus in the popular TV series of the Ian Rankin crime novels (which had previously starred John Hannah). He has also tackled real life characters as diverse as Hitler and Tony Hancock.

Ken's mother was Sicilian and she met his father, a Scotsman when she emigrated.

Ken will appear in the new Hobbit films directed by Peter Jackson. He has a house near Perugia where he lives with his partner between filming and stage roles.

Ken says:

"I've been wondering where I call home - Edinburgh, London or somewhere else. I've lived in London for years but it doesn't thrill me any more. I have a holiday home in Italy which is really becoming my main home and I have some very good friends there. But I honestly don't know where I call home. It's an unusual thing."

Can he speak Italian? Yes.

sculpture at Dean Gallery, Edinburgh
sculpture at Dean Gallery, Edinburgh | Source

1. Eduardo Paolozzi

Artist, 7 March 1924 – 22 April 2005, born in Edinburgh, Scotland

This very influential international artist remains an artistic hero in Edinburgh. Several of his sculptures are scattered around the city streets and galleries. He trained at the Slade School of Fine Art in London before heading to Paris where he was influenced by several major artists.

On his return to the UK he settled in London and became a pioneer of British Surrealism as well as a founder member of the Independent Group in 1952. This group is widely recognised as the precursor to the mid-1950s British and late-1950s American Pop Art movements.

His very modern-looking work can be seen on the London Underground, at the British Library and all around the UK. Eduardo could often be seen in London searching for discarded objects to use in his sculptures.

His parents were Italian immigrants from Frosinone, Lazio. They owned an ice-cream shop in Leith, Edinburgh. When the Second World War broke out his father was arrested under suspicion of fascist tendencies and expelled to Canada on the Arandora Star ship. This ship was hit by a German torpedo and sank killing hundreds of deported Italians. Eduardo not only lost his father that day but also lost his grandfather and uncle in the sinking. As a result of the sinking the UK changed its policy on interring Italians as many were not even involved with fascism.

Scotland's Culture Minister Patricia Ferguson says:

"Eduardo Paolozzi was one of Scotland's true international icons. He was an artistic colossus and it is fitting that as an enduring legacy, his work adorns the walls of the Scottish Parliament as well as our modern art gallery in Edinburgh."

Could he speak Italian? Yes.

US stars with Scotalian (Scots/Italian) heritage:

Ashley Judd is not the only US celebrity to have Scottish Italian heritage. I've uncovered a few more that may surprise you.

Jennifer Aniston

Jennifer may have a high profile Greek background thanks to her actor father John. Jennifer's godfather is Telly Savalas. However take a look on her mother's side to find the Scotalian ancestry. Jennifer's mother and actor Nancy Dow is Scotalian and a distant relative of Mary Queen of Scots (aren't we all?).

Jay Leno

The Tonight Show host's mother, Catherine Muir, was born in Greenock, Scotland, and immigrated to the United States as a child. Jay's father, Angelo, was born in New York to Italian immigrant parents. This would make Jay a Scotalian.

Alicia Keys

Singer/songwriter Alicia was born and raised in New York by her Scotalian mother Teresa Augello.

Martin Scorcese

We all know about his Sicilian heritage but did you know that the legendary director has Scottish DNA? He claims that his surname derives from the Italian word for 'Scotsman' (Scozzese). When the Scorceses first came to America their name got mis-spelt. He has traced this ancestry on the male side of his family back to the Shetland Isles off the North coast of Scotland.

Liza Minnelli

Yes, Liza with a Z, can certainly claim her Scottish Italian heritage. Her mother Judy Garland has Scottish ancestry through her own mother's side of the family. The Milne family from Aberdeenshire to be exact (Judy's mother was Ethel Milne). As we all know, Liza's father was American director Vincente Minnelli whose family left Sicily for the US in the mid-1800s. I'm clinging to the idea of Liza being a Scotalian. Humour me, why not?

I'm sure there are a few more celebrity Scotalians over in America and I will hunt them down with my bare hands.

Find out more:


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    • Jelliebean profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      Hi Shinkicker, thank you so much for your kind words. I definitely had a few million more lined up but I haven't been on Hubpages much to continue the Scotalian feast. Shame. Never mind. Great to meet a fellow Scot on here. I like the look of your hubs - some great topics there to get my teeth into. I'll follow you on twitter to get the latest Shinkicker hubs. :-)

    • Shinkicker profile image


      6 years ago from Scotland

      Excellent list there Jelliebean. you could maybe even add another 10 I think. Off the top of my head there are Oscar Mozzarolli, Lou Macari, Sharleen Spiteri, Lena Zavaroni. I'm glad the Italians cane to my country :-)

      Voted up my friend and shared on Facebook


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