In this day and age we need to be practical, organized and professional. In short, it is imperative that an estate pays dividends.
Scone Palace and the surrounding land have been in my family for over 400 years and after some difficult times we are confident that the business is on track to become one of the most successful in Scotland. That’s our claim – and it doesn’t happen overnight.
Of course, the cliché of the big dilapidated house and worn carpets still applies – after all, it’s a bit of a pile. However, my mum and our team do a fantastic job of keeping much of the place spotless.
Your care is an ongoing process. And yes, it’s a big concern. The maintenance of the castle and grounds alone costs several hundred thousand pounds a year and that means downtime.
Laird speaks of a “simply appalling” reality of inheriting a country estate
But the most important step that my family has taken – and I don’t put it past my parents – is a major shift in mindset and culture.
We no longer think of Scone as a 20th (or even 19th) century country estate – Scone is a family run, diversified business with a rural heritage. 400 years later, I am the first member of our family to receive a formal business education.
In 2018 I earned an MBA from Oxford and set up my own business to support companies investing abroad in the Far East.
But back home there is Scone’s business and I play an active part in a massive family and team effort to move the place forward. It is our responsibility to preserve this incredibly historic place and make it look as good as possible for everyone to enjoy.
We try to stay ahead of the curve. Sometimes it feels like filming the Titanic, but if the legacy is to remain relevant we need to think and act economically.
Our ancestors were very good at it, e.g. For example, raising thoroughbred cows was a commendable pastime, but without being overly critical and seeming ungrateful, they often had a relaxed approach to wealth management. That is not possible today. In this day and age we must run the property as a modern business with the entrepreneurial spirit required to continue to attract new events and opportunities.
The GWCT Scottish Game Fair is the jewel in our crown. This event first took place in Scone in 1988 – the year I was born – and has grown into Scotland’s largest and longest running games fair, attracting around 30,000 visitors over three days.
However, this is not the only event at Scone. Over the past decade, our company has started hosting events in-house, rather than just providing the land and acting as a rental company.
We can and must be creative here – and we have done a good job. We now have a wonderfully eclectic mix of events on our annual calendar. Paws at the Palace is a family favorite. It’s a dog-themed September day that my mom came up with and is now in its third year.
Just two weeks ago we launched a new event, the Scone Palace Garden Fair, which has proved remarkably successful, attracting over 4,000 visitors.
Before Covid, the palace and gardens attracted 110,000 visitors a year. Today we only see 65% of that number through the gates. Until Covid we didn’t realize how dependent we are on the international market.
Unfortunately, we assume that it will take another three to four years for tourism to fully recover. We were fortunate that our other activities such as forestry and farming continued during the lockdown. They helped keep us going – a palace always needs food.
I work between London and Scone and everyone is always asking if or when my wife and I will ever be staying at the Palace. It’s a very special place, but one mistake I’ve seen others make is putting a flag in the ground too soon.
To stay relevant, we need to be agile and flexible. I’m leading the next generation, so I have a responsibility to make sure the estate thrives.
I’m looking at other properties like Blenheim and Chatsworth. You are an inspiration, a master class. They set incredibly high standards, especially when it comes to branding.
They are, of course, on a completely different scale and also benefit from being close to large population centers. We can still learn great lessons from them. But we too are blessed in Scone as we have a unique historical site and decent access. Our park below the Palace on the banks of the Tay is very suitable for large events.
You run with what you have and make it work – and we have quite a lot. Steeped in history, Scone Palace is the coronation site of Scottish kings. A romantic place in the heart of Scotland, it is both an allure and a treasure.
In 1894, my great-great-great-grandfather, known as “The Good Earl,” was extremely popular because he was so supportive of the local community.
He was a great philanthropist and it is reported that around 5,000 people attended his funeral.
During the very turbulent 20th century, country estates may have detached themselves from the communities around them. That’s definitely something we’re looking at.
To work and live with those around us, Scone needs to thrive. Which brings us back to the importance of being a modern rural heritage company.