Published: January 23, 2016

Sandy Grant Gordon: the pipes|drums Interview

Sandy Grant Gordon, August 2015.

There can be no doubt that no one in history has contributed more in terms of financial assistance to Highland piping than Sandy Grant Gordon. For more than 40 years, the patriarch of William Grant & Sons Ltd., one of the UK’s last independent, family-owned distillers of spirits, has contributed funds to assist many of solo piping’s premier events.

The marquee event is the Glenfiddich Solo Piping Championships, which Grant Gordon has underwritten since 1974 when the idea for a year-ending premier invitational competition was dreamed up by the famous Seumas MacNeill, who used his connections to get the attention of the head of the Grant’s business.

Originally known as “The Grant’s Championship,” the competition at Blair Castle in Blair Atholl, Scotland, eventually was renamed The Glenfiddich so as to better showcase the single malt whisky that is in many ways the hallmark brand of the company, which also carries the Balvenie single malt, the Grant’s blended whisky, the Tullamore Dew Irish blended whisky, and Hendrick’s Gin under its umbrella, in addition to support brands such as Gibson’s Canadian rye whisky, Sailor Jerry Spiced rum and many others.

In addition to sponsoring the Glenfiddich, the Glenfiddich brand is attached to other solo piping competitions, including:

  • The Atholl Gathering
  • The Silver Chanter
  • The Senior Piobaireachd at the Argyllshire Gathering
  • The Captain John A. MacLellan MBE Recital-Competition
  • The Scottish Piping Society of London’s annual competition
  • The CPA B- & C-Grade contests in Scotland

Grant Gordon also sponsored the Donald Macdonald Quaich for 27 years until 2015 and has been a sponsor of Piping Live! since its inception, and next month is a sponsor of the 2016 International Bagpipe Conference being held at the National Piping Centre.

The day after the Glenfiddich Solo Piping Championship, the Glenfiddich Scottish Fiddling Championship is also held at Blair Castle each year.

A younger Sandy Grant Gordon.

Relatively few people know that it is not, strictly speaking, William Grant & Sons the company that sponsors piping and fiddle causes, it is Sandy Grant Gordon himself, from his own financial resources, who has made them happen. There is no direct support from any of the operational budgets of the company and, only in the last few years, funding comes through the William Grant Foundation, set up by him directly.

Sandy Grant Gordon also contributed to the establishment of the National Piping Centre, and the entire project in the 1990s might never have come to fruition without his financial support.

One might assume that such a successful man of business might expect a financial return from his investments in piping, but one would be wrong. Despite the untold sums that he has poured into piping, he only hopes that they will help to raise the stature of the . . .



  1. I loved the interview and I agree with John what they’ve done for the piping community can’t be measured. I think I would of asked in the early days of the Glenfiddich who advised them what pipers to invite and why wasn’t Donald MacPherson ever invited to play. If in fact he was never invited because of a feud he had with Seumas MacNeill and put to rest all the rumors that have circulated throughout the years.

  2. When Donald won any of the Glenfiddich qualifying events, he received an invitation which he always graciously refused. When he stopped competing, he was invited, and always accepted, a judging role; something we will always look back on with appreciation and gratitude. He was awarded his Balvenie Medal for Services to Piping in 1997.

  3. I had the great pleasure of helping to create the first solo championship. The late Mike Grieve (son of Hugh McDiarmid) came to me with a plan from Seumas MacNeill for a new event to round off the solo piping year. I was working as a p.r. consultant to Grant’s Whisky at the time and we took the idea to Padraig Goodman, Grant’s Marketing Director. We then met with the Duke of Atholl’s head of staff to select the Great Hall at Blair Atholl as the venue. Apart from a tricky moment when there was a proposal to include one of the Atholl Highlanders in the competition, the Castle were wonderfully supportive. While the event quickly became a success in the piping world, in terms of publicity for Grant’s it was limited until Arthur Foster, then a Glasgow photographer, suggested a group photograph of the contestants in one of the Castle’s stunning rooms. He wired the photograph to the UK Press and often made the Sunday Nationals. Very happy memories of great piping legends…..


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