He had a successful corporate career in London but gave it up to look after his father’s huge estate in Scotland. Jenny Fyall meets Lord Hopetoun, a man revelling in his new role
UNTIL five years ago, Andrew Hopetoun held down a job in London and supported his growing family. It was a life that bore some semblance of “normality”. Then, overnight, everything changed. His father made a decision that was to fire Andrew into a position where, at the age of just 38, he was responsible for one of the best known and most prestigious estates in Scotland.
Andrew, now Lord Hopetoun, the eldest of two brothers, gave up the corporate life in London where, following a physics degree at Exeter College, Oxford, he had worked for 15 years at defence electronics firm GEC Marconi. And, instead, in 2006, he found himself at the helm of Hopetoun Estate in South Queensferry, while his father made the unusual decision to “take a back seat” at the age of just 60, moving out of the palatial Hopetoun House into a smaller cottage in the grounds.
Lord Hopetoun, 43, who has four young children, took on full responsibility for the 6,500 acre estate, while his father, the Marquess of Linlithgow, 65, now spends most of his time tending his garden.
Giving a rare interview, Lord Hopetoun says: “About five years ago, my father announced he would take more of a back seat. We swapped houses then. It has been hugely exciting and great fun. My father said he was going to take a back seat and he has done exactly that, and he has been very complimentary about what I’m trying to do. He has been very supportive”.
His new role presented him with the enormous challenge faced by any large estate today: how to make it make money when it can no longer survive from farming the land.
Many of the estate’s buildings were dilapidated, parts of were falling into disrepair and the young lord desperately needed to find a way to generate funds for the upkeep of the vast tracts of land.
His list of ideas for how to regenerate the estate is exhausting in its scope and, incredibly, many have already been achieved in just five years.
He has set up a farm shop, rebuilt crumbling buildings and rented them out, installed renewable energy schemes to power Hopetoun House and a vast new grain store, set up holiday cottages on the estate, attracted a major annual horse trial event, and even established stag weekend activities. And his tireless effort is beginning to create rewards. In the past three years alone, the turnover generated by the estate has trebled, although Lord Hopetoun is keeping any exact financial figures a closely guarded secret. His motivation is to be able to hand over the reins of the estate to his own children one day. “Most of what we are trying to do is invest and generate greater revenue, but it’s not just about commerciality,” he says. “It’s also about heritage and trying to keep the family involved. We have always lived here and I hope we always do.”
Together with his wife, Skye Bovill, whom he married in 1993, the daughter of an army general, he has four children Olivia, 15, Georgina, 13, and twins Charles and Victor, ten.
Despite his two oldest children being daughters, it is his oldest son who will inherit. When asked whether that posed potential difficulties in choosing his successor as they are twins, he says: “One is older and one is younger.” He does not want to dwell on the subject but reveals he has had conversations with his own younger brother about who was the lucky one.
It is one of the only signs during a morning spent touring the estate that he ever finds the responsibility of his role a strain. As he poses for a photo among one of his flocks of sheep, it is clear that it is mainly a labour of love, rather than the burden it becomes for some estate owners.
His proudest achievement since taking the helm, he says, has been establishing a farm shop selling produce from the estate and from other local suppliers.
From haunches of venison to freshly cooked pies, organic bread and locally produced jams, he proudly shows off the array of produce in Hopetoun Farm Shop, which has all been hand picked and vetted by him and his wife.
Along with Lady Hopetoun he has sampled every single one of the more than 1,500 items on sale to make sure they pass the taste test.
Now exactly a year old, the farm shop, which cost £1 million to set up, is showing promise of making a profit.
Turnover is double what it was when they first opened and 1,100 customers a week come through the door, compared to a few hundred in the early weeks. Lord Hopetoun is hoping to make a 10 per cent return on investment. “We wanted to do it to increase the margin that we were making on the farm but also because it was a passion of mine and my wife’s. At the heart of it is meat. It all comes from the estate where possible. Rabbits are a very good seller and a lot of people also like the venison.”
He explains how 76 per cent of the produce on sale in the farm shop comes from Scotland. The majority comes from within 20 miles of the estate.
They used the shop to support Independent Traders’ Day on 4 July. “That’s exactly the sort of thing I’m excited by and exactly the sort of thing I want to support.”
Other major schemes under way at the estate include a biomass boiler to heat Hopetoun House which, he says, has an £85,000 annual heating bill. As a result, spending £900,000 on the boiler seems a sensible investment, which he hopes can be recouped in about a decade. He has built a new grain store, capable of storing 4,000 tonnes of grain a year, meaning it can be sold directly by the farm instead of having to pay another firm in the middle.
The building is decked out with a 30 kilowatt array of solar panels, which cost £60,000 to install. He installed them just in time to make the most of the government’s Feed-in Tariff subsidies before they were reduced.
Then there are the annual Hopetoun Horse Trials in July, two holiday cottages set up three years ago, redundant farm buildings that have been transformed into office space for rent and clay-pigeon shooting weekends and quad-biking events that have been established. Disused hunt kennels have been sold off for housing. Another dilapidated building has been transformed into a meat processing facility. The list goes on. “I don’t particularly switch off,” admits Lord Hopetoun. “But I would much rather be busy than bored.”
DOWN ON THE FARM
Whitmuir the Organic Place
An organic working farm at Lamancha, West Linton, which specialises in Tamworth pigs, Shorthorn cattle and lamb. Whitmuir also offers the first loaf made from Scottish wheat since the repeal of the corn laws. The shop sells fruit, deli and veg as well as meat.
Rothiemurchus Farm Shop and Deli
This Aviemore farm shop is at the heart of a family-run Highland estate set in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. Rothiemurchus produces its own Highland beef, forest venison and rainbow trout, all reared on the estate. Neighouring Loch An Eilean was voted Britain’s best picnic spot – so you might want to take a walk as well.
Ardardan Farm Shop
Highland beef and lamb is a speciality at this Helensburgh farm shop and cafe. There is also a cheese counter and an olive bar, a woodland walk and a walled garden.
Loch Arthur Creamery and Farm Shop Beeswing, Dumfries
Home to the Camphill Village Trust where people with learning difficulties are employed to work with farmers making cheese. Lots of local products, including lamb and organic vegetables.
Blairgowrie Farm Shop
Specialises in fruit and vegetables from farms in Perthshire, including Blairgowrie raspberries and strawberries from Essendy. Also stocks a range of Highland-reared meat and specialities such as oatcakes and biscuits.