Sir Tom Hunter talks about ‘magic’ castle as his foundation buys Ayrshire piling

Blair Castle and an estate near Dalry were bought by the Hunters’ Fund from former Conservative energy minister Charles Hendry and his wife Sally, who ran the property as a wedding and house party venue, for an undisclosed amount.

The pile, which has 19 bedrooms and sits on 220 acres of landscaped grounds, will now be home to the Hunter Global Leadership Center, with the hope that the spectacular surroundings will reveal greatness in those invited to stay there.

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

Blair Castle and Manor near Dalry, North Ayrshire was bought by Sir Tom Hunter’s charitable trust. PIK: Contributed.

“We wanted to create a truly magical place where people would feel like “wow, someone has invested in me and I will do my best.”

“It’s a very peaceful place with beautiful grounds and lots of places to relax and make sense of the world.”



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Sir Tom said it was a “great honor” for the foundation to offer Blair as a home in the Central Belt to Columba 1400, a non-profit organization with a long association with the philanthropist that runs leadership academies for principals and children. He also has a base in Staffin, Skye, and hopes Blair’s discovery will allow more people to have easier access to training.

Sir Tom Hunter spoke of the “magic” place where his foundation gathers people for leadership programs. PHOTO: SNS Group/Craig Foy.

Blair’s history dates back to the 12th century and the castle is reported to be the longest continuously occupied mansion in Scotland.

The barony was given by King William I, also known as William the Lion, to John François, whose son, also William, changed his surname to Blair.

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

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

It is clear that the oldest part of the castle that stands today dates from the 13th or 14th century, and the walls of the original tower are about 14 feet thick.

Sir Tom, who was born in New Cumnock, East Ayrshire, said the castle was “convenient” for him, as the businessman planned to occasionally drop in on the foundation’s guests.

Nearly 1,000 school principals and their deputies have graduated from the leadership academy organized by Columba 1400 and The Hunter Foundation, and another 3,000 are due to complete the program.

ScaleUpScotland, which offers acceleration programs for entrepreneurs, will also use Blair.

Sir Tom, who famously started his business by selling sneakers from the trunk of a van after borrowing £5,000 from his father, went on to build a sports division which he sold to JJB Sports in 1998 for £290 million.

According to the Sunday Times Rich List, Sir Tom has a net worth of £729 million, up £104 million from 2020. His fortune has recently been boosted by his stake in online trading empire The Hut Group.

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