In this day and age we have to be practical, organised and professional. In short, it is imperative that an estate pays its way.
Scone Palace and the surrounding land has been owned by my family for over 400 years and after some difficult times, we are confident the business is well on the way to becoming one of the most successful in Scotland. This is our ambition - and it does not happen overnight.
Of course, the stereotype of a big crumbling house and threadbare carpets still applies – it is a bit of a pile after all. However, my mother and our team do a fantastic job at keeping much of the place immaculate.
Maintaining it is a constant process. And yes, it is a great worry. It costs several hundred thousand pounds a year to maintain palace and grounds alone and that is just to stand still.
Yet the most important step my family has taken - and I credit my parents with this – is a critical change in mindset and culture.
We no longer think of Scone as a 20th century (or even 19 th century) landed estate – Scone is a family-run, diversified rural heritage business. Indeed, 400 years on and I am the first member of our family to receive a formal business education.
In 2018, I obtained an MBA from Oxford and set up my own business helping firms with outward investment in the Far East.
Yet, back at home there is the business of Scone and I play an active role in what is a gargantuan family and team effort in guiding the place forward. It is our responsibility to preserve this incredibly historic place and keep it looking its best for everyone to enjoy.
We are trying to stay ahead of the curve. At times, it can feel like turning the Titanic, but if the estate is to remain relevant, we need to think and act commercially.
Our ancestors were very good at things like breeding pedigree cows, a commendable pastime, but without being overly critical and appearing ungrateful, they often had a relaxed approach to asset management. This does not work today. In this day and age, we need to run the estate as a modern business with entrepreneurial spirit required to keep attracting new events and opportunities.
The GWCT Scottish Game Fair is the jewel in our crown. This event was first held at Scone in 1988 – the year I was born – and it has grown into Scotland’s largest, longest-running game fair, attracting around 30,000 visitors over three days.
Yet this is not the only event at Scone. Over the past ten years our business has begun hosting events in-house, rather than just supplying the land, and acting as the landlord.
This is where we can and need to be creative - and we have done a good job. We now have a wonderfully eclectic mix of events in our annual calendar. ‘Paws at the Palace’ is a family favourite. It is a dog-themed September day, dreamed up by my mother and now in its third year.
Just two weeks ago, we launched a new event, The Scone Palace Garden Fair proved remarkably successful and attracted over 4,000 visitors.
Pre-covid, the palace and gardens attracted 110,000 visitors a year. Today we are only seeing 65% of that number through the gates. Up until Covid, we did not realise how reliant we were on the international market.
Unfortunately, we believe it will take another three to four years for tourism to fully recover. We were lucky during the lockdowns that our other activities like forestry and farming continued. They helped to keep us going – a palace always needs feeding.
I work between London and Scone, and everyone always asks if, or when, my wife and I will ever live in the palace. It is a very special place, but one mistake I have seen others make is putting a flag in soil too early.
To stay relevant, we need to be agile and flexible. I am head of the next generation, so I have a responsibility on my shoulders to ensure the estate flourishes.
I look at other estates, such as Blenheim and Chatsworth. They are an inspiration, a masterclass. They set incredibly high standards, especially when it comes to branding.
Of course, they are on a completely different scale, and they also benefit from being close to vast population centres. We can still learn big lessons from them. However, we, too, are blessed at Scone, as we have a uniquely historic site and decent access. Our park below the palace on the banks of the Tay is very well suited to hosting 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 crowning place of Scottish kings. A romantic site in the heartland of Scotland it is both a fascination and a treasure.
Back in 1894, my great, great, great grandfather, who was known as ‘The Good Earl’, was exceptionally popular due to how much he supported the local community.
He was a great philanthropist, and it is reported that some 5,000 people attended his funeral.
Over the course of what was a very turbulent 20 th Century, landed estates may have become detached from the communities around them. This is definitely something we are looking at.
In order to work and live with those around us, Scone has to thrive. Which brings us back to the importance of being a modern rural heritage business.