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David Allfrey MBE FRGS

former CEO, Edinburgh Military tattoo

  • What was your favourite subject at school?

My time at school was not hugely successful and I am challenged to pick out a ‘favourite’ anything!  In retrospect though, I think I connected best with Biology and remain fascinated by the natural world and our human interactions with it.  My career in the Army has allowed me to explore all aspects of science and people.  I would have like to have pursued Art earlier and would like to be much better at Maths!

  • What was your first job?

Although I had a paper round for some years, my first real job was weekend and holiday work in a newsagent.  I learned many aspects of running a small business and the owner was a great instructor.  I remember being very proud of my first successful transaction, having rung it up correctly, given the right change and marked the stock.  My employer, Mr Webb, was less impressed and asked me why I had not offered the customer a box or matches, a paper or some sweets!  I have never forgotten the principle of ‘upselling’!

  • Which is your favourite restaurant /hotel?

 I have been lucky to have stayed in some of the world’s great hotels and it is challenging to compare the best of these.  Each has offered something special alongside excellence in the ‘normal’ things.  I do like traditional hotels with great service, and I think The Imperial in New Delhi is perhaps top of my list for a truly memorable stay.  In similar vein I have experienced great cooking – street, home and professional – all over the world.  I think Italian home cooking and Indian are my favourite.  Of course only topped by my wife’s cooking!

  • How do you inspire your team? 

Wow!  This is a huge question.  As a military officer, I have studied leadership, team-manship and management throughout my career.  I have tried hard to take example from those that I have admired and avoid repeating the mistakes that I have made and the errors of those that have failed to impress.  While military leadership equipped me for leadership in business, I found I needed to dig deeper to encourage unity of purpose – this is far more challenging to achieve in a ‘civvy’ context!  I think leadership is very situational and I try to match my style to the task, team and individuals of the moment.  This can involve adapting my approach many times a day, with different people, while trying to remain consistent and focussed on the goal.  I look to set a proper vision, select good people, build them, delegate appropriately and focus on excellence.  Saying “Thank You” is so important.

  • Which person in hospitality have you most admired / inspired you?

I have been involved in hospitality – giving and receiving – for most of my life.   The span of experience covers sharing grubs in the Darien through to a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace.  Every occasion has offered inspiration and benchmarks; all of which have influenced my own planned events and in enjoying others.  Great food and drink, great atmosphere and great company demand careful preparation, attention to detail and a genuine desire to put your guests at ease.  Every occasion should feel like a wonderful family party.

  • How do you manage your stress levels?

I have not consciously managed my stress levels, always believing that you soak up the challenge and get on with the task in hand.  The nature of military life is that you are on duty whenever and wherever required.  Accordingly, I have become accustomed to accepting a certain pressure in my working life.  To be honest, I have largely ignored the dangers of stress, particularly over an extended period. Perhaps I should have been more disciplined. However, I am blessed with a wonderful family and friends who have supported me on difficult days and have been close by in the sunny moments.  I have always enjoyed the outdoors, country and equestrian sports and travel alongside an array of pastimes and hobbies.  Nowadays my passions are painting, fishing and not working quite so hard!

  • Instagram, Twitter or Facebook – and why?

I have always tried to stay abreast of technology and trends and have been on Twitter/X since starting with The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.  I felt there was a need to understand and master the principles of social media.  At various times, I have engaged on Facebook, WeChat, Linkedin, and increasingly now: WhatsApp and Instagram.   I am pretty discerning in who and what I follow and, have become quick to block or ignore the more unpleasant excesses of contemporary channels.  The professional use of social media is all about connecting with your audience and customers – each channel has a part to play.  Now, I would need a younger and expert collaborator to guide my engagement.  I’m not on TikTok!

  • If you had not gone into hospitality, where do you think you would be now?

If I had not joined the Army, I would probably be dead or incarcerated!  The Tourism, Hospitality, Festivals and Events sector has been my pride and pleasure for the last 14 years.  I was lucky to enjoy a second career beyond a full 35 years in the military.  Along the way, I have seen lots, learned so much, met many fabulous people and made some wonderful friends.  If I had my time again, I would just press ‘Repeat’.

  • What did you do on your last days off? 

I am now a consultant and days off are more easily within my control.  The perfect day is a fried breakfast and good coffee, a walk with my wife and the spaniels, cheese and soup in the garden with family, painting for the afternoon, a couple of hours for the ‘evening rise’ to catch a trout, home for whisky and supper with a couple of friends.  Perfect as long as the weather is fine…and even if it is not!

  • What do you do to relax, to support your wellbeing?  

Now, with fewer responsibilities, it is easy to relax.  I am reconnecting with friends, taking greater care with diet, exercise and a more disciplined approach to work and play.  I enjoy the moment and soak up simple pleasures.