To hundreds he was known simply as “Monkey”, at the vanguard of the Capital’s army of street drinkers, by turn amusing, annoying, frightening and, often as not, pitiful.
A familiar face on city centre streets, Monkey was well known as much of a nuisance to authorities as to passers by, with a rap sheet of no less than 186 breaches of the peace against his name.
But now, as the man once thought too much of a handful for even the toughest of hostels is set to be buried tomorrow, the charity which gave him a roof over his head and a sense of purpose in his latter years, has asked that the story of the man behind the nickname, and the experiences that shaped him, be told.
David Kelbie was born in 1948 in Arbroath, one of no less than 11 children to Daniel and Elizabeth Kelbie. The Kelbie clan were of a travelling background and moved around various parts of Scotland.
Davie spent most of his childhood in the care of Aberlour Orphanage, with three of his siblings. At its peak, the orphanage was one of the largest establishments in Scotland with about 600 children living there. Long defunct, it is now the focus of allegations of historic child sexual abuse.
Davie left the orphanage at 16 years old having found work at a local farm, before going to live with his sister in Inverurie. He then moved to Aberdeen where he found a job delivering coal. With his eye on the high seas he headed for London at 17 where he signed up to the Merchant Navy.
The chaos of his childhood and years hopping from place to place made Davie yearn for a more settled lifestyle and he found it in his future wife, Eileen, whom he met in Aberdeen.
The happy couple spent a number of years together but tragedy was just around the corner, when a devastating car accident killed Eileen.
Davie would claim to others later that the couple’s two children had also died in the crash. That version of events is unclear, although Davie repeated it often.
Regardless, it was then that his life began to unravel. He left Aberdeen in turmoil and for the next two decades he was to be a common sight in the Grassmarket, Hunter Square, and the Royal Mile, drinking heavily.
He was excluded from many – eventually all – homeless services and had a string of failed tenancies, spending the vast majority of these 20 years sleeping rough. Davie was deemed “unhouseable” by mainstream organisations and could not access the most basic of services and benefits.
But homeless charity Rowan Alba refused to turn its back on him and in 2004 he became one of the first residents of its new Thorntree Street homes and remained there until September 8, enjoying the view from his living room over Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat. He passed away peacefully in his own bed, in his own flat, where he had lived for 14 years.
Helen Carlin, Rowan Alba’s chief executive, said: “We at Rowan Alba are indebted to Mr Kelbie for what he taught us.
“We cannot say that at the beginning it was easy for us ‘dealing’ with Davie. But as we listened to him, we began to see the world through his eyes, and saw that was a scary and intimidating place where most of his interactions were negative, and there was a constant fear of abuse, threats and intimidation, as he had experienced so often in the community and in his previous interactions with ‘services’.
“As trust and understanding grew between Davie and the staff, the happier and more content he became. Realising that regardless of his behaviour, we could not ban or bar him from his secure tenancy; it was his home.”
David Kelbie’s funeral will be held at Warriston Crematorium at 10.30 on Tuesday, September 25.