ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I’ll start at the beginning, with a little background of my family. Ballindalloch, my home for 70 years, has always been a much-loved family home, where my relations have lived since 1546. It is one of the very few castles to have been lived in by the same family for over 450 years, and I am the 22nd generation of my family to do so – and also the first ‘Lady Laird’. I arrived at Ballindalloch in 1950 when my father inherited the castle from his cousin, Sir George Macpherson-Grant, and probably from that moment my life was paved out. It was made clear to me from an early age that it was my duty, as the only child, to carry on the family heritage - and in those days you did as you were told! I had a wonderfully happy childhood at Ballindalloch and, although sometimes a little lonely, I had Cammie, my lovely governess, who taught me everything I know. She was a ‘Wee Free’ lady and a daughter of the Manse, so on a Sunday, the Lord’s Day, I was allowed only to read the Bible and go for nature walks. I was brought up on Robert the Bruce (think of the spider and ’try, try again’) and ‘idle hands are lazy hands’ and ‘money doesn’t grow on trees’. I think that Cammie might be smiling down on me now, as I had the great honour a few years ago of receiving an honorary degree from the University of Aberdeen for my work in Banffshire, something of which I am extremely proud.
At 18 years of age I went to the bright lights of London, where I was offered a job by Constance Spry, who had been creating a sensation with her flower-arranging business. I remember ringing my father in great excitement to tell him the news; there was a long silence, followed by a horrified “Young ladies don’t take jobs; they get married and have children!”. I accepted the position, and so began my long-lasting love affair with flowers and gardens. I then started my own flower business, making the most wonderful friends in the old days of Covent Garden Market; it was just like My Fair Lady! The East-enders were all wonderful, and I am afraid I must have stood out like a sore thumb amidst them, but they all became the greatest of friends, and I was always known as the ‘bonnie wee lassie from Scotland’. I would not have missed those few years for anything.
Then I did the best thing in my life I met and married Oliver, an Englishman! I did make it quite clear that the arrangement had to be ‘love me, love my castle, love Scotland’ but, most important of all, ‘love my dogs’! It was a big undertaking and sacrifice for Oliver, who had to give up his banking career in London.
We spent the following forty years entertaining corporate parties at Ballindalloch, and we also opened our doors to the public. Our corporate guests enriched our lives and we met many amazing people, from television personalities such as Monty Don and the Hairy Bikers, to Hollywood stars like Billy Connolly and Kurt Russell. The earnings from the corporate parties helped us to modernise every room in the Castle, as well as fifty estate houses, our hotel, and our shop and tearoom.
My love of gardening really arose from my flower-arranging days in London, and when I arrived at Ballindalloch I had great aspirations that the garden there would soon look like Covent Garden; what I hadn’t realised was that south Banffshire is one of the most difficult growing areas in the country! I shall always remember meeting the Head of the National Trust Gardens just after I had returned north, and his asking me if I was a gardener. I replied “Yes, I am, but I am a very amateur one”. Where did I garden? “South Banffshire”. I can see his face now, as he replied “Good God, you will have to be keen to garden there”! Forty years later, I can tell you that he was totally correct. All I can say is that we try to have ‘a garden against all odds’. We love alchemilla and nepeta, in fact anything that grows, and we don't worry about colours - God’s Garden, after all, is a myriad of colours. One of our more recent projects was to re-design our walled garden into a beautiful rose garden to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the Castle; it has been much admired, and we are delighted to have been featured in the Good Gardens Guide and in several books.
Looking after the Ballindalloch gardens, the corporate parties, and my dogs has been only part of my daily duties. In November 2002 I was given the great honour by Her Majesty the Queen to become Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire (the Queen’s personal representative in the county) and it is a role of which I am extremely proud. It is a great honour and privilege to serve Her Majesty and Banffshire in this way, and I very much hope that I do our wonderful county justice. I am the 11th Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire and, to satisfy my feminist side, the first Lady Lord Lieutenant in Banffshire and the North-east. Lord Lieutenants retire at the ripe old age of 75 years, so I will have served for seventeen years at the end of my term of office. It always amuses me that, in this age of sex equality, a peer’s wife is known as a ‘lady’, whereas a peeress’s husband stays a ‘Mr’, and a lady Lord Lieutenant is still a Lord Lieutenant - with the result that nobody knows what to call me! ‘Lady Lord Lieutenant’, 'Lady Laird’, very often ‘Lady Clare’, sometimes 'Lady Lieutenant'; indeed, I had a wonderful old housekeeper who wrote a lovely letter congratulating me on my appointment, and ended it with “I never knew you were in the Army”!
The duties of a Lord Lieutenant are probably unknown to most people; my predecessor used to say “A Lord Lieutenant is like a bidet – everyone knows what it is but nobody knows what it is for – but it adds distinction to the room!” My job is, first of all, a very pleasant one. I have the joy of meeting so many different special people from different parts of the county. I have the pleasure, on behalf of Her Majesty, of giving out 100th birthday cards, diamond or platinum wedding cards, honours, and the Queen’s awards for voluntary service in the community. I am involved in citizenship ceremonies, the British Legion, the Territorial Army, the cadets and the RNLI. I am involved also in many charities, and in various ways with the Police and Fire Brigade. I help organise invitations to royal garden parties and royal visits, which are enormous fun but which involve considerable work.
The role of Lord Lieutenant commenced in Scotland in 1794, and the first Lord Lieutenant for Banffshire was the Earl of Fife from Duff House. A Lord Lieutenants' principal role was to rally troops for the king from their particular counties. Luckily, we don’t have to do that now, but I still have the honour to be involved with the Army, the RAF and the Royal Navy; indeed, I was privileged to be invited to tour round the new aircraft carrier 'The Prince of Wales', and also the P8 reconnaissance plane which replaces the Nimrod.
The most delightful duties, of course, are when members of the royal family visit Banffshire. In my seventeen years as Lord Lieutenant we have been honoured to have had about 40 visits from members of the Royal family.
One of the most important and memorable occasions of the last two years was the Gordon Highlanders’ Victoria Crosses Commemoration Parade and Gathering, when It was my enormous honour and privilege to stand in for their Colonel in Chief, HRH the Duke of Rothesay. Also in the last few years I have laid four stone slabs in memory of the four VC holders who lived in Banffshire, and gave the ultimate sacrifice. What an honour for our small county.
Last year Banffshire has surpassed itself with the amazing church services, laying of wreaths, and poppy nets made by the community, to remember those who never came home. Our schoolchildren, too, have been hugely impressive, with their events and researches on the men who were educated at their schools and gave their lives for future generations.
In January last year we organised a visit by HRH The Princess Royal to open the amazing renovations at Banff Academy and the Myrus Stadium. Her Royal Highness was due to arrive by air at Lossiemouth at 10am; the aeroplane arrived and circled 1,000 feet above, but due to the horrendous gale was not allowed to land at Lossiemouth, or any other nearby airport! It was a nightmare, as I had over 1,000 pupils and guests waiting for the royal arrival, so there was no alternative but for me to be a Princess for the day! Generously, Her Royal Highness immediately suggested another date, so we had the pleasure of entertaining her on another day.
The last twelve months have been a real landmark year for me, especially as I was presented with a CVO from Her Majesty the Queen; an incredible honour. Also, this last year Oliver and I celebrated our Golden Wedding, which was very special. I really have been so lucky to have been given a wonderful life.
One of my reasons for writing 'I Love Food 3' is to tell you of our great excitement about the building of our little distillery, that we started in 2014. Oliver and I were sitting in front of the fire one evening discussing a dilapidated steading on the estate. It was clearly visible from the main road and we agreed that it was letting down the look of the estate. We did not want to bulldoze it to the ground, and it was in the wrong place for a retail outlet. In a moment of inspiration, Oliver said “Why don’t we build a distillery – whisky is in your DNA!” He was correct, as my great-grandfather Sir George Macpherson-Grant, along with the famous distiller John Smith, had built Cragganmore Distillery in 1869. Unfortunately, my father had to sell his share of the distillery for tax reasons in the 1950s.
The distillery has been a true family collaboration Guy focussed his energy on the business plan and the structure; Edward oversaw the project management and the application for grant funding; I designed the interiors of the Long Gallery and the Family Room; and the whole project was overseen by Oliver. We are incredibly lucky that we have the perfect access and position on the A95 on Speyside, and that we benefit from seven beautiful springs on the hill behind the distillery. The distillery is totally integrated with the estate and sustainable. We grow our own spring barley that is used to make the whisky; our famous Aberdeen Angus cattle eat the draff; the pot ale fertilises our farm field; and the wind farm on the estate offsets the electricity. We are making whisky the old fashioned way.
I'd like to end this glimpse of the 'landmarks' in my life with some stories about my books. I wrote the first little ones because I had so many recipes, concocted and tried over the years of entertaining our corporate parties. So many people enjoyed them that I decided to write my first hard back book 'I Love Food', which has been an amazing success and is still selling after fifteen years and over fifteen re-prints. 'I Love Food 2' followed eight years later. 'Third Helpings' wasn't really on the cards, but I received so many lovely e-mails asking for a further taste that I couldn’t resist putting pen to paper again. In this book I have again included a selection of my favourite poems and sayings, along with photographs of some of my landmark events of the last two years. My beloved dogs have a section, of course, and they thoroughly approved of their special recipes, most of which were baked by my, 'doggie masterchef', my grand-daughter.
You might think, if you watch television, that everyone aspires to cooking like a celebrity chef, but in reality few of us have the time. I don't presume at all to be a ‘master chef’ – just a home cook who loves traditional food. I have two recipe categories; ‘posh food’ and ‘comfort food’, and in my books I try to show how even easy recipes can be made ‘simply elegant’.
'I Love Food' and 'I Love Food 2' have been enormous fun, and because of them I have made such lovely friends and acquaintances. The two books have found their way to most of the British Royal Family and some of the European Royal families, as well as the White House. Several years ago, just before Christmas, I had a call from an American lady saying that she was going to spend the holiday with very special friends who had everything, but she thought they wouldn’t have my book. Could I sign it for them? The first book was to be signed 'to Barbara', and the second was for Laura! What a privilege to have my little books in the White House! One other very special story concerns the occasion when I was given the privilege of presenting Her Majesty The Queen with her 80th birthday present on behalf of the Scottish Lord Lieutenants. While waiting for Her Majesty to arrive, her Private Secretary turned to me and asked if I wrote cook books. “Yes”, I replied. He then went on to tell me that he had just come from the kitchen where, while he was talking to the head chef, his eyes had alighted on a very scruffy book filled with post-it notes. He asked the chef if he used 'I Love Food', to which chef replied “Constantly, look at the post-it notes; in fact, we are having one of her puddings today”!
After many years at Ballindalloch Castle, we have now 'downsized' to Pitchroy Lodge, a delightful house looking over the River Spey to Ben Rinnes, and our eldest son, Guy, and his family have moved into the Castle; this is wonderful as I was the last in my family and there were no brothers or sisters or close cousins to inherit.
Pitchroy has an interesting history. It was rented for many years by Captain W.E. Johns of 'Biggles' fame, and many of his books were written here. Also, Her Majesty the late Queen Mother fished here with her nephew, the late Lord Elphinstone.
I do hope you have enjoyed my introduction. I have been so lucky to have been given such a wonderful and varied life, and I feel privileged at my age still to have a very full one, with many challenges and great happiness. I only hope that I have given back a little to this world as well. I would like to end with one of my favourite poems, ‘Success’ by Bessie Anderson Stanley; I find her words so inspiring.
She has achieved success who has lived well laughed often and loved much;
Who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who has filled her niche and accomplished her task;
Who has left the world better than she found it;
Who has looked for the best in others and given the best she had;