Sir Tom Hunter speaks of "magical" castle as his foundation buys Ayrshire pile

Philanthropist and multimillionaire Sir Tom Hunter has spoken of the “magical” castle and estate bought over by his foundation where headteachers, local authority staff and entrepreneurs will converge for inspiration and relaxation.

Blair Castle and Estate near Dalry, has been bought by The Hunter Foundation from former Tory energy minister Charles Hendry and his wife Sallie, who ran the property as a venue for weddings and house parties, for an undisclosed sum.

The pile, which has 19 bedrooms and sits in 220 acres of landscaped grounds, will now become home to the Hunter Global Leadership Centre, with the hope the impressive surrounds will open up greatness in those invited to stay there.

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Sir Tom, 60, said: “ The moment we drove up to Blair, we knew it was the place that we wanted. We looked at places all over Scotland, but this was it.

Blair Castle and Estate near Dalry, North Ayrshire, has been bought by Sir Tom Hunter's philanthropic foundation. PIC: Contributed.

“We wanted this really magical place where people feel ‘wow, someone has invested in me and I am going to do my best’.

"It’s a very relaxed place, it has got beautiful grounds and there are lots of places to relax and sort out the world.”

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Sir Tom said the foundation was “honoured” to offer Blair as a Central Belt home to Columba 1400, a not-for-profit organisation that has a long association with the philanthropist and which runs leadership academies for headteachers and children. It also has a base at Staffin on Skye, with it hoped that opening up Blair will allow more people to access the training more easily.

Sir Tom Hunter has spoken of the "magical" place where his foundation will bring people together for leadership programmes. PIC: SNS Group/Craig Foy.

The history of Blair goes back to the 12th Century, with the castle reportedly the longest continually inhabited mansion house in Scotland.

The barony was given by King William I – also known as William the Lion – to John Francois, whose son, also William, changed the family name to Blair.

His descendant, Bryce de Blair, reportedly fought alongside William Wallace and Robert the Bruce and was imprisoned and executed at Ayr in 1296, his hanging immortalised in Blind Harry’s 15th Century poem The Wallace.

The family line died out in 1732, and the property passed to the Scotts of Malleny, who took the Blair name. The castle was sold in 2013 after more than 850 years in the Blair name.

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It is understood that the oldest part of the castle that stands today dates to the 13th or 14th Century, with the walls of the original tower some 14ft thick.

Sir Tom, who was born in New Cumnock, East Ayrshire, said the castle was “handy” for him, with the businessman planning to drop in to see the foundation’s guests on occasion.

Around 1,000 headteachers and deputies have completed the leadership academy run by Columba 1400 and The Hunter Foundation, with another 3,000 set to go through the programme.

ScaleUpScotland, which offers acceleration programmes to entrepreneurs, will also use Blair.

Sir Tom, who famously started out in business by selling trainers from the back of a van after borrowing £5,000 from his dad, went on to build Sports Division which he sold to JJB Sports in 1998 for £290m.

According to the Sunday Times Rich list, Sir Tom’s net worth stands at £729m, up £104m on 2020. His wealth has recently been boosted by his stake in online retail empire The Hut Group.

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