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Two questions focus the minds of those who follow the fortunes of kilt-wearing Shoreditch hipsters. One, of course, is: 'What, if anything, do they wear underneath them?' The other, far more fascinating, is: 'Just who is Scott Douglas?'

Until 2010, the flamboyantly Caledonian Casanova was Tracey Emin's long-term other half. Inevitably, they met at The Golden Heart pub, a boozer across the road from Spitalfields Market, which has served as social HQ for the Brit Art set for more than a decade. She was a long-established star. He was a McNobody.

Four tempestuous years later he is a staple of the London arty-party circuit. But their romance has apparently run its course. Emin, who has raved about their sex life, is 'heartbroken'. And the parting of ways does not seem unconnected with the tartan swain's admir-ation for the lovely Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova. She happens to be a friend of Emin and is married to the aristocratic socialite Justin Portman.

But Natalia is not even the first inter-national supermodel in whom Douglas has shown an interest while officially squiring our Trace. A couple of years ago Elle Macpherson was another suggested rival to Miss Emin's less conventional good looks. For his part Douglas has claimed that Elle, an Emin collector, was 'not my type' while he and Natalia, whom he met at an Emin-curated show, were just good friends.

But to return to that nagging question: what or who is Douglas, aside from a handsome face in the same paparazzi frame as our most iconic contemporary artist? And why do his older friends know him as Scott MacNee? Lately, Emin's protective inner circle have been questioning the credentials of a man usually described as an 'ex-war photographer', while paying homage to his undoubted personality and networking skills.

New information from his pre-Emin days suggests he has always been a ladies' man. Unlike Emin, Douglas is not a working-class overachiever. Friends say his father was in the oil industry, based in the Gulf. Young Scott was sent to Glasgow Academy and Strathallan public school – alma mater of recent Ryder Cup golf-winning captain Colin Montgomerie – where he had to wear a kilt in all weathers. 'It was a habit he carried on in later life,' recalls a one-time teenage girlfriend. 'It's a shameless Scottish pulling gimmick. But even then he dripped with charm and you could tell he was going to be a world-class lover. He was a great kisser' she adds dreamily. Hoots, indeed.

Douglas took up photography and moved around between London and Paris, before returning to Scotland, where he had a son with a 'beautiful girlfriend of ten years'. Then the 'penniless snapper from nowhere' as one old acquaintance called him, was introduced to Emin at the bar of The Golden Heart. As one long-time close friend of Emin says: 'Scott became Tracey's boyfriend literally out of the blue. No one knew him, but he very quickly became part of her life and the lives of everyone in her circle.' Indeed, Douglas's Facebook friends include Bianca Jagger, Vogue editor Alex Shulman, tycoon Anton Bilton and, intriguingly, given the gossip, Justin Portman.

'No one really knows what Scott does or where he lives,' says the Emin confidante. 'If they had a row, he would sleep on someone's floor and next day be back at her place. But I like Scott. In fact he is impossible to dislike. He is very personable, very easy to talk to and I suppose that is why these people are attracted to him. I have never seen a person work a room like him. He could be talking to you very entertainingly and then spot JK Rowling and within a minute he's gone over and got her hooked. Then he will see some other A-lister and know exactly how to draw them in.'

But there is now a growing backlash among the Eminenti. When Tracey threw a 47th birthday party in the South of France in July, Scott was there, but the atmosphere was tense. 'We thought it a bit strange for him to turn up because by then everyone had heard the Natalia story,' says one friend. 'Last time I spoke to Tracey she was feeling very much that Scott wasn't being straightforward with her.' Another friend says: 'If you ask anyone they will say Scott has done extremely well out of knowing Tracey. On the other hand Tracey is a real handful; a very, very generous friend who has struggled when it comes to partners for a number of reasons. She has been vulnerable and takes a bit of looking after. He did that job for a bit, but the benefits to him have been incredible, which would be the problem most of her friends would have with him. Has he ever really been a loved-up partner? I dunno.' He adds: 'I feel really bad for Tracey. She feels left on the shelf. She's not as hard as nuts. She would love to have a proper partner.'

Today, another friend says the photographer divides his time between London and Scotland where his teenage son still lives. But those who knew Douglas in his youth puzzle over his current incarnation. 'His family name is MacNee and he was always Scott MacNee until a few years ago, after he became involved with Tracey,' says one former admirer. 'Maybe it's nothing un-toward, but it's odd for a 38-year-old man who is not a film star to play around with his identity in this way.'

Scott Douglas/MacNee has served his time as the boyfriend of Brit Art's most difficult talent. Now the Shoreditch chameleon in a kilt is on to his next project.

With thanks to the Evening Standard

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