Radio legend Paul Cooney tunes in to Kiltwalk 2016

Kiltwalk CEO Paul Cooney. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL
Kiltwalk CEO Paul Cooney. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL
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AS A radio presenter and executive with more than 30 years’ experience, Paul Cooney is used to handling live broadcasts and newsrooms working to tight deadlines.

But he still admits to feeling some trepidation when asked by Sir Tom Hunter to become CEO of Kiltwalk.

The brief was simple - make it the biggest mass-participation event in Scotland, and raise as much cash as possible for children’s charities.

“It’s a huge responsibilty,” he admitted. “I think it would be strange if you didn’t have a moment when you think: can I do this? But we have a great team. The number of talented people here is remarkable.”

Cooney’s voice is familiar to a generation of Scots radio listeners, particularly to the thousands who regularly tuned in to Clyde FM during its 1980s heyday.

He joined the Clydebank-based station in 1975, going on to become news and sports editor. After a spell as managing director at West Sound in the late-1990s, he returned to Clyde in the same role in 2000.

“Radio is in my blood,” he said. “I had the best toy set in the world when running Clyde. It was the flagship of commercial radio.

“When you go back to 1973/74, people really did wonder whether commercial radio could work. People used to think: why would I advertise on radio? In America, commercial radio preceded television. Here, it was the other way around.

“But Clyde was the enduring success.”

Cooney left Clyde in 2009 and later took charge at Capital FM when it was launched north of the border.

He was exploring new projects when he was asked to meet for coffee in August last year by Ewan Hunter - no relation to Sir Tom, but a co-Kiltwalk board member.

“Sometimes it’s just luck,” he smiled. “Ewan asked if I would come on board. I text Tom and said you’ve blindisded me with that one!

“I didn’t realise he was going to offer me a job - and he took that as an acceptance.

“I’m absolutely loving it. I had no official start or end date. I have no plans to do anything else.”

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Sir Tom announced last year his Hunter Foundation would underwrite the costs of the 2016 Kiltwalk, a series of sponsored walks talking place across Scotland, with the aim of raising more than £1.5 million for children’s charities across the country.

The philanthropist, who made £260 million after selling his Sports Division chain aged 37, credits his childhood in East Ayrshire as first opening his eyes to the importance of helping others.

Cooney first met Hunter in the early 1990s when he recorded voiceovers for his sportswear firm.

The two would later work on Cash for Kids, Clyde FM’s long-running annual fundraiser.

It gave Cooney a firsthand view to Hunter’s determination to help others.

“When I moved to Clyde in 2000, he was already supporting Cash for Kids,” he said.

“Tom asked: is it still every penny you raise going to the children? And about our overheads. I said you had to spend money to raise money.

“He went away and didn’t say anything else, and a few weeks later, he called me with a £1m commitment for the costs. We didn’t need £100,000 a year to run it - so the residue would go into the fund for the children.

“Tom was also great at bringing people along - Gordon Ramsay, David Gray. It was phenomenal, and it changed Cash for Kids. It was a great appeal that was raising around £500-600,000 a year. But with Tom’s support, and the wider network, it went to over a million. It took it to the next level.

“To get attention you need a really good cause, and celebrity endorsements help - but you also need people’s trust. People realise Tom’s the real deal.”

The first Kiltwalk takes place in Glasgow on Sunday, 24 April, and is followed by three events in Speyside on 14 August, Aberdeen on 5 June and Edinburgh on 18 September.

Participants can choose to walk six, 13 or 26 miles - and are encouraged to go at their own pace.

Organisers pledge that every penny raised in sponsorship will go to charities.

Cooney hopes that more than 10,000 people will take part in the four events, and raise more than £1.5m in the process.

“A lot of people have told me they plan to sign up,” he said. “My message is: sign up today! We’re still looking for new sponsors, as well as volunteers to help on the day - the Kilties.”

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