The Hebridean Baker, Coinneach MacLeod, tells Nan Spowart about 10 things that changed his life

1 Clootie Dumpling

OR duff, as we call it in Gaelic. That is the recipe that inspired me to become the Hebridean Baker. It really is the most Hebridean of all bakes and if you want to know the way to a Hebridean man or woman’s heart, you have got to learn how to make a duff!

Growing up, I used to watch my mother and aunts make a duff, and in the Hebridean cookbook it is my 93-year-old Aunt Bellag’s duff recipe. She still bakes it every week for her husband who is 94. Maybe the secret to a long life is a slice or two of Clootie Dumpling every week!

The best way to serve it is: the first day you slice it warm as a cake – delicious. Day two, it is perfect if you pour custard over it like a pudding. But it is day three when it comes into its own – we fry it with bacon and Stornoway black pudding. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. If it wasn’t for a Clootie Dumpling, I don’t know if I would be a Hebridean Baker. It is all because of that.

2 The Outer Hebrides

I WAS born and raised in the village of Cromore on the Isle of Lewis. My father was a trawler fisherman, my mother was a Harris Tweed weaver and I really did have an idyllic upbringing.

I am still very, very proud of my Hebridean identity. We are passionately Scottish, but we are a wee bit different. Our culture, Viking heritage, language and landscape is unique, and without the identity of the Hebrides I think my life would be very different.

3 Gaelic

I WAS lucky enough to have been brought up in a Gaelic-speaking household. Both my mother and father spoke Gaelic.

It has given me the most wonderful opportunities throughout my life. When Runrig had their final tour at Stirling Castle a couple of years ago, I was one of the backing singers for their Gaelic songs, and to be able to perform in front of 25,000 people was an amazing experience.

I think all of us who speak Gaelic feel a responsibility to keep it as a living language we speak every day and encouraging others to be part of this, hopefully, growing community.

If there are any Sunday National readers learning Gaelic, keep it up. There are only 18 letters to make it easier – although, to be fair, we do like a few consonants in a row!

4 Hebridean Baker cookbook

WHEN I decided to post my first recipe on TikTok two years ago, I would never have anticipated the journey this has taken me on. Just over 18 million people have watched my videos online, and when you are from a village of 30 people, that is quite a number.

The book came out last year and I became the bestselling Scottish cookbook author of 2021. It has given me opportunities to appear on TV and radio channels across the world.

I have been on This Morning with Holly and Phil and Kirstie Allsopp’s Christmas Show, and I’ve just got back from my American book tour where I visited 12 cities in 13 days and hundreds of people came out in every city. The book has now been released in the US, Canada and Australia and is being translated into German so it is crazy.

I think people have bought into, not just the recipes, but the storyline of what it is like to be from a Scottish island.

I met someone in LA who has started learning Gaelic and has booked a holiday to the Hebrides just because of this book. That is amazing.

I am very humbled by the whole thing, but excited that people who had maybe never heard of the Hebrides are planning to travel there because of the videos and the book.

5 Moving to Russia

WHEN I was 19, I packed my bags and moved to Moscow. It was November, it was -20C and I didn’t speak any Russian. My mum had just died and she had never had the chance to travel and I just wanted to do something for her – a big adventure that hopefully would make her smile.

I think as a Hebridean you have something in you to travel, to challenge yourself. I don’t know if it is the Viking in me but I just wanted something that was so different culturally to what I had experienced. I thought the most extreme thing I could do was move from a village of 30 people to a city of 15 million when I didn’t even know the alphabet, never mind the language.

I managed to get a job as a journalist at The Moscow Times, an English-language newspaper. That was 1994 and it really was a life-changing experience. I was there for two years, made wonderful friends, learned Russian, experienced -40C winters and had to stay warm drinking vodka! Culturally, it was an amazing experience and I met the most wonderful folk.

The current situation in the region is heartbreaking because I know it is not the people of Russia. I am just hoping for a peaceful resolution to the troubles.

6 Meeting my partner Peter

IT might sound a wee bit like the script for a Hollywood (or BBC Alba!) romcom, but I was performing at the Royal National Mòd as a solo singer in Stornoway in 2016 and the BBC contacted me to say there was a documentary about some of the singers who were performing and could I be one of them. I agreed and Peter was the cameraman who met me at Stornoway airport! The rest is history.

I didn’t win that year, so it wasn’t the perfect ending to the documentary, but I did meet Peter and returned a year later to win. I managed to persuade him to sing a duet at the Mòd in 2018 and we won – much to our surprise. We were the first male duet to win the Mòd since the 80s.

7 Nicola Sturgeon

I HAVE been a proud member of the SNP for many years and I think the setback of the 2014 independence referendum could have knocked us back many years but instead her leadership has inspired so many to believe it is the right journey to go on.

The National: WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 16: First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon delivers remarks before meeting with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) at the U.S. Capitol on May 16, 2022 in Washington, DC. Sturgeon will speak at the Brookings Institution,

I feel we are on the right track and I think the policy-making under Nicola as First Minister has built a more equal Scotland that is part of a global community. That to me is really inspiring. I am confident that when the time is right, she will lead Scotland to independence.

I think timing is everything. I don’t want it to be 51% Yes. I want it to be when people are confident enough to know it is the right decision to make and if anyone is going to get the timing right it will be her. She is my absolute hero.

8 Eurovision Song Contest

WHEN I sat down in front of the telly when I was five years old to watch Bucks Fizz win Eurovision in 1981, I never anticipated that I would be involved in the competition years later.

The first Eurovision I attended was in 1997. I was there as part of the Russian delegation. I attended

12 Eurovisions over the years from Dublin to Stockholm to Belgrade and, last year, I got the opportunity to sing the backing track for the Icelandic entry and we came fourth.

However, I think my biggest achievement at Eurovision was being part of Alba who represented Scotland at the Eurovision Choir Contest in Sweden in 2019 when we performed in Gaelic. Even though we did not win, it was unforgettable to be standing on a Eurovision stage singing in Gaelic. It was really special.

9 Cookbooks

MY favourite kind of day is pulling out all my cookbooks, sitting in front of the stove and just flicking through recipes.

My favourite is The Scots Kitchen from 1929 by F Marian McNeill which is the first cookbook I received as a gift. It is a book of recipes but also stories

– and nearly 100 years later that is what I wanted my cookbook to be as well. I wanted to create something that was more than recipes. In a way, I feel I have written a Hebridean love story.

10 A Rowing Boat

WHEN I was a kid, our croft was by Loch Cromore and we had a rowing boat on it. I would take the boat out to Dùn Cromore, a 1500-year-old broch. The Vikings came to the islands in about 800AD so these brochs were lookout points for marauding invaders. I used to row out and stop on the wee island and was always imagining I would find Viking silver or a sword. I would only ever come home with brambles and tired arms! But the rowing boat gave me my imagination and, even now at 47, I still love to go on an adventure – but still haven’t found any Vikings!

Coinneach MacLeod is appearing at the XpoNorth conference from June 15 to 16,