Gordonstoun students pipe the King and Queen into St Giles’ Cathedral, making music, and history

“The three pipers from the King’s old school, Gordonstoun school, playing for him in yet another of these touches that he himself has been so involved in planning himself.” Sally Magnusson, BBC

Two days before the dedication and presentation of the scottish crown jewels to King Charles III, three Gordonstoun students, Elspeth, Hamish and Patrick, and their teacher, Pipe Major Scott Oliphant, arrived at Edinburgh Castle to practise the pieces of music chosen by His Majesty for the first time together. Those pieces were ‘Scotland the Brave’ and ‘Bonnie Lass o Fyvie’. The latter piece holds some personal significance to Pipe Major Scott Oliphant, this being one of the earliest pieces he remembers in his piping career, when he performed with the Elgin Pipe Band in the 1980s.

The military precision with which the rehearsals were organised ensured the worst of nerves were calmed. Timing for any musician is incredibly important, and never more so than on an occasion such as this, where every musical note is timed with precision. For example, as King Charles’ vehicle turned the corner into Parliament Square, ‘God Save the King’ began; the vehicle's speed and route was planned to perfection so that the final note of our national anthem was played as the wheels of his car stopped turning.

Elspeth Spencer-Jones recalls, “As well as our own personal practice, on Monday the 3rd we attended a rehearsal of the service where we had a few run-throughs of the set at the cathedral. After that we were able to watch the service and to listen to some of the brilliant other musical pieces and musicians there as well. It was brilliant to see how all of this event came together, and the intricate planning put in place. “


The morning of the dedication and presentation of the Scottish Crown Jewels found our pipers once more back at Edinburgh Castle. Dressed, warmed up and ready to perform for the King, they left the castle on foot via the only available route to St Giles’ Cathedral - straight down the Royal Mile. Crowds of spectators had already formed along the route and as our pipers passed, they were applauded, cheered and thanked - something that made all four pipers stand a little taller.


Hamish Martindale, Gordonstoun’s pipe scholar, reflects, “I don't think I had fully processed the scale of the service that I was playing for until I was standing outside the cathedral with several regiments lined up waiting for the King. I still don't think that I had fully grasped it until the King stepped out of the car, about two metres in front of me.”


Elspeth, Hamish and Patrick are three of our school’s finest pipers, all of whom have put a lot of work and energy into their piping. It was a privilege for them to be chosen to represent Gordonstoun, and for the school to be awarded the prime position of piping the King and Queen into St Giles’ Cathedral, which was a kind gesture of acknowledgement from our King and former student.

Hamish tells us, “I think that it's very significant that the King chose members of his old school to be at the Honours of Scotland as it shows his continued connection to the school.” Elspeth adds, “I think that it was of great significance for Gordonstoun, being the King’s former school, to pipe him into the cathedral. Much of the Scottish coronation was formed around the King’s ties with Scotland. Gordonstoun, being a place where the King spent his secondary schooling and teenage years, was therefore a significant part in the King’s history in Scotland.”

Awaiting the King’s arrival on the top steps of St Giles , the student’ stomachs started to knot a little; it was hard hard not to be impressed by the grandeur, or to fail to realise the significance of the event, when faced with ranks of smartly dressed military personnel, horses, colours and weaponry. Elspeth remarked that, “There was a busy atmosphere outside St Giles with crowds lining the streets of the royal mile, as the various massed bands and parades marched through the street. I personally loved watching the military bands and parades that marched down and formed up in front of us as we stood next to the cathedral.”


One stomach remained firm; Scott Oliphant was the last Pipe Major ever to have been presented with the Braemar shield by the late Queen Elizabeth II, and has over forty years of experience to steady him. Or so he thought…

As the King and Queen arrived at the top of the steps at St Giles’ our pipers played perfectly. Scott recalls, “I was looking at the King as I played, and quite unexpectedly, he turned to look at me and gave me a gentle nod of appreciation and acknowledgement. It is a moment I will never forget.”

Elspeth tells us that she had, “ been asked many times if the King looked at me, and although I was focusing on playing everything right and following the cues from our pipe major, I noticed a sign of acknowledgment to the band from His Majesty as he slowed for a second after he reached the top of the stairs.” and Hamish thought that he got, “a wee glance from the King, I was trying not to stare at him so I'm not sure! I know he gave Mr Oliphant a nod though.”

Another surprise came quickly for Scott who remarked that he got, “the shock of his life” when the Princess of Wales arrived at the top step. Whilst her beauty is no secret, he said that her eyes sparkled and her smile radiated kindness in a way that was completely unexpected, authentic and remarkable.

A moment of tension came soon thereafter, when the pipers’ view of each other became blocked by other dignitaries entering the Cathedral, making the physical cues for musical synchronisation challenging, but as a team that have worked so closely together and know each other so well, this didn’t impact their ability to perform immaculately and Gordonstoun are so proud of them.

“It was undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime experience to play for his Majesty and I know that all three of us were immensely proud of the part we played and the opportunity that we were given.” - Patrick Blair

“It was an unforgettable and once in a lifetime opportunity. I could probably say for all three of us that it was an honour to be chosen from the band to play, and although finishing my time at Gordonstoun this summer, I wish the band the best of luck for future one-in-a-lifetime opportunities such as this.” - Elspeth Spencer-Jones

“I may never get to play at such an important occasion again in my lifetime and I know that I will certainly remember the opportunity that I've had for the rest of that life, and I feel privileged to have been able to play for an important and historic moment.” Hamish Martindale