WATCH: Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival welcomes guests to opening dinner
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THE Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival got off to a spectacular start last night with a packed marquee of guests enjoying the Touch of Tartan opening dinner at Dufftown's Glenfiddich Distillery.
For the first time since 2019, organisers were able to welcome attendees to the six-day festival, which ends on Monday and will bring many thousands of pounds into the local economy.
More than 500 events will be held over the coming days.
New festival chairman George McNeil welcomed guests to the dinner, describing it as an honour to be able to open the 21st festival.
He said: "It’s good to be back, in person, among so many friends and colleagues. Here’s to an amazing night of catching up and having fun.
"Firstly, we must thank William Grant & Sons who are our hosts this evening. We would like to compliment them on the magnificent setting for our opening events and recognise the new Glenfiddich distillery building that impressed us all as we arrived.
"The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival would not happen if it weren’t for our members, partners and the communities of Speyside who create all the events and welcome festival-goers to our region.
"The festival depends on people behind the scenes and I’m sure you wish to join me in recognising them. I’d like to thank the board of volunteer directors whose continued support ensures we steer this ship in the right direction. One person has remained our constant anchor - Julie Fraser, our event coordinator, who has effectively become our event manager in recent months. Julie, you have managed some very challenging moments, and come through them all successfully. Without your commitment this night and the 2022 Festival would not be the success that we are going to experience. Thank you from on behalf of everyone.
"This is of course the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival’s 21st year but I would like to take a little time to reflect on the past two years. It took vision and strong leadership to steer the festival through some pretty tough times since the decision to cancel the 2020 event at the 11th hour. Initially this meant refunding all customers – no mean feat.
"During the following year the Spirit of Speyside really appreciated the commitment of members and partners without whose financial support it might have been difficult to have continued. We remain very grateful for the generous support of all these businesses."
Mr McNeil said he was eager to look back at the successes achieved in 2019, a festival which attracted record numbers. And while he said those figures have not quite been reached for 2022, he highlighted that more than 5200 tickets have been sold for the more than 500 events. This, he said, would bring an estimated £200,000 of revenue that will be going directly to local businesses.
"This gives the festival a great foundation as we look ahead to 2023 and beyond.
"It’s also great to see the return of our Whisky School, and I would like to thank Alan Winchester and the volunteer lecturers and committee members for making it happen. It is a pleasure to welcome the delegates who are here tonight."
Announcing that the festival will soon have a new event manager, Fiona Milne, Mr McNeil also paid tribute to past festival chairman James Campbell.
Mr McNeil continued: "James has dedicated 10 years to the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival as our volunteer chairman.
"During James’s leadership the festival has gone from strength to strength and added two new events - Distilled and the Gin Experience.
"However, I would like to focus on more recent times.
"In early 2020 James faced the challenges of Covid and had to steer the festival through a significant cancellation programme. He then had the foresight to create a virtual festival, ensuring it continued in an online format in 2021. In November 2021 it was followed by the Limited Edition to remind people the festival was still here. This also ensured the groundwork was in place to deliver this successful festival.
"From a personal point of view, James has been my significant other for the past six months! He has ensured I had the most professional of handovers, arranging introductions and meetings so I could build relationships with many members and partners."
Mr Campbell was invited to the stage.
Commenting that he was delighted "somebody as capable as Mr McNeil is taking the festival forward", Mr Campbell added: "Over the years I have been so fortunate to have so many great people work with me.
"It is you, the people, that are at the real heart of the Spirit of Speyside festival and it has been a real privilege to have worked with so many of you."
A charity auction at the end of the night raised a total of £10,050, which will be donated to the Moray School Bank. Established in 2017, the Craigellachie-based charity was set up with the aim of providing new school uniform and warm winter clothing to children living in poverty across Moray.
Find out all your event information at the Spirit of Speyside website