If this writer were to have any preconceived notions about the potentially lofty, impenetrable intellect of a Nobel Prize winner, Professor Sir David MacMillan is something of cliché buster. 

A bundle of perpetual energy, fun and enthusiasm, you can see symbiosis in his character and the Chemistry academic's work in catalysis. It’s certainly not a stretch to see how this man’s intervention can get things moving quicker. 

When I mention he’s not lost his Bellshill accent despite over 30 years in the United States he beams with pride. It’s clear that whatever lofty heights he has already reached in his career, his roots are an intrinsic part of the climb. 

‚ÄúI'm¬†intensely proud of being Scottish, being from Glasgow and Lanarkshire,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúIt makes you who you are.¬†You'll¬†never be anybody else.¬†

“I get asked to join a lot of boards of companies in London, so I was doing one of my first meetings last week. They're nice people, there are a lot of upper-class English people on them. And so I started talking away and this woman goes ’you've got a really American Scottish accent’.

"I've¬†never been more offended in my life. How dare she? And so we had that conversation quickly.‚Ä̬†

Professor MacMillan breaks out in a belly laugh that comes to punctuate our conversation. He’s gifted with an earthy wit and engaging to a fault. He’s also a genius, a professor at Princeton University running his own research group and, of course, winner of the prize every scientist dreams of.  

Used mainly to manufacture¬†medicines, his work means they can be produced quicker and more cheaply, a significant breakthrough for humanity.¬†Professor MacMillan is¬†passionate and articulate about his¬†life in America but he‚Äôs¬†just as engaged by another topic very¬†close to his heart¬†‚ÄstRangers FC.¬†

He began going to Ibrox regularly in the 80s and took control of the Glasgow University Rangers supporter’s club, organising tickets and buses for his fellow students. His timing was impeccable, arriving in tandem with a certain Graeme Souness. 

Rangers Review: Souness changed the fabric of Scottish football and MacMillan had a front row seatSouness changed the fabric of Scottish football and MacMillan had a front row seat (Image: SNS)

The young academic was utterly hooked but, by 1989, work in the States was calling. And although his heart was set on building a life across the Atlantic, he had no plans to give up watching his beloved club.  Today, such a move would involve adapting to late nights or early starts to watch the official stream but in that era, it was much more complex.  

‚ÄúI lived in Southern California and there was the Orange County Rangers Supporters Club,‚ÄĚ he recalls.¬†‚ÄúThey would do lock-ins¬†and just stay in the whole night and get to 7am¬†when the game started. That was the only way you could watch games. It was great¬†‚Äď but¬†hard work¬†finding a place to go.¬†¬†

“One time they didn't have enough money to buy the satellite feed. Rangers and Celtic supporters clubs used to hold their events separately but they made the mistake of having everyone together in this big warehouse in a place called Garden Grove. I think it was the League Cup semi-final, Rangers had a man sent off and [Ally] McCoist scored the winner. I remember going out into the car park and bedlam ensued. And then, all of a sudden, the California Highway Patrol show up.  

“I remember standing there, the sun shining down, the palm trees swinging in the breeze, you can see the beach. And there are all these Rangers and Celtic fans knocking the shit out of each other with the California Highway Patrol chasing them! 

‚ÄúThen¬†obviously Rangers TV came along and changed everything. I‚Äôve¬†been a¬†subscriber¬†ever since and that's¬†solved a lot of the problems!‚Ä̬†

With word of his success reaching across the pond, Rangers invited Professor MacMillan to a game in April last year. The club honoured him with a silver quaich and managing director Stewart Robertson led a toast in his honour. It was a visit and reception that MacMillan admits he still finds emotional to talk about.

‚ÄúI was in the Blue Room,¬†Andy Cameron was there¬†and¬†I‚Äôm¬†getting to talk to John Greig,‚ÄĚ he recalls. ‚ÄúI mean, how unbelievable is that?

"At the end of the day¬†they gave me this trophy and said¬†‚ÄėYou have the freedom to come here whenever you want ‚Äď anytime you want to see Ibrox, you have a seat‚Äô.¬†¬†

‚ÄúI mean, that's¬†completely insane. I can't¬†put it into words, it's¬†this team I followed my whole life. They're¬†giving you something,‚ÄĚ his voice tails off. ‚ÄúYou just don't feel worthy, you know?

“Conveying this to other people is really hard. It's not a football club, it's an institution. It's a culture, it's a community. It's a way of being. It's so hard to describe what it is. It's been here forever. It'll be here forevermore and it's just it's got all this great tradition. It's got this great ethic. It's got this great ethos and it's about doing things the right way and excellence and caring about being upstanding and right.  

‚ÄúWhen you walk into the club you see all of these components that your dad had told you about. You see and feel it, it's¬†a completely amazing thing.‚Ä̬†¬†¬†

MacMillan’s father was clearly a major influence on his life and he's mentioned several times during our chat. Perhaps the only disappointment in becoming a Nobel laureate has been his absence.

‚ÄúMy dad passed away just before Covid,‚Ä̬†he said.¬†‚ÄúHe got to 82¬†and¬†it's¬†been brilliant winning this thing¬†but it would been even better¬†if he‚Äôd¬†been around because¬†he would have been a royal pain in the arse, oh my God!

‚ÄúIn the village he‚Äôd¬†just have been¬†running¬†around bumming to everybody and¬†been terrible¬†to¬†be completely honest.¬†But he would have loved it. That's¬†the only downside of the whole thing, him not being here to see it.¬†Although, actually, I¬†think the Buckingham Palace thing he would have liked even more as a man of his persuasion.‚Ä̬†

Ah yes, ‚Äėthe Buckingham Palace thing‚Äô.¬†Not content with arguably the most prestigious prize known to man, MacMillan was also knighted in February.¬†And yet, he nearly didn‚Äôt¬†accept the honour.¬†

He confided: "I was in Korea. I've¬†been invited down to¬†meet the new president. So I was down there at the inauguration, he was a very¬†interesting¬†man¬†and¬†I was¬†meeting all these¬†interesting people. And then about 4am in the hotel,¬†the phone rings, which is unusual. It was the British Embassy in Washington DC who'd¬†been trying to get a hold of me in America but¬†couldn't¬†get me. They¬†contacted the hotel through my assistant. I picked up the phone and they asked¬†‚Äėcan you can you¬†talk to the ambassador?'¬†

"You immediately¬†assume something bad must¬†have¬†happened so I'm¬†waiting for this and my wife‚Äôs asking if I‚Äôm¬†OK¬†but I don't¬†know what this is and I'm¬†stuck waiting. Eventually, the ambassador¬†comes¬†on¬†and then she says ‚Äėthe queen would like to¬†offer you a knighthood‚Äô.¬†I'm sitting at the edge of this bed in Korea.¬†I'm¬†pretty jetlagged¬†and I just start bubbling and greeting like an idiot. My wife, who's¬†sitting beside me, assumes the worst.

Rangers Review: MacMillan with his wife at IbroxMacMillan with his wife at Ibrox (Image: SNS)

"The ambassador says that, to be knighted, you have to agree that you'll accept it. And I couldn't get the words out. It was too emotional. Then this woman on the phone starts greeting as well so it became this whole palaver. Eventually we got we got the words out and that was brilliant.  

“The Queen unfortunately passed away and then we got the invite to go to Buckingham Palace, which was wild because I watched The Crown. You see all these shots of what it's like inside Buckingham Palace.

‚ÄúSo¬†we pull up and the footman comes out and opens the door. You literally walk¬†in and it's¬†exactly what it's¬†like in The Crown. It's¬†exactly that. You go up there and then you wander around on the inside through these different¬†halls in all these different areas ‚Äď it's¬†just wild. I mean, it's absolutely stunningly beautiful.¬†I went off and met Prince William and as a Rangers¬†supporter,¬†to meet¬†him was pretty¬†good.‚Ä̬†

David MacMillan: Rangers fan, Nobel laureate, knight of the realm. And you suspect in that order.