By Rory Reynolds
ONE of the most senior officers in the British Army will perform the Lone Piper at the sell-out Edinburgh Military Tattoo tonight – the night he retires.
Major General David McDowell will play at his own spectacular send-off after 30 years of service – in front of 9,000 dazzled visitors.
The general was the head of the army in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North of England – and Governor of Edinburgh Castle – until handing over in June.
And David’s ascent to the rank general is nothing less than spectacular.He grew up in a council house in Stranraer, Wigtownshire and joined the army as a private.
Over the years he worked his way up from the bottom rung of the ladder to be an officer and then to one of the top posts in the UK today.
David, 54, – who is the highest ranking piper in the British army – also serves as President of the Royal Signals Pipes and drums.
But far from relaxing on the last day of his 30-year career, General McDowell spent it brushing up his piping skills for the big night.
He said: “Everyone who knows me well with know that for the last two years I’ve been saying that this is the way to go – as the lone piper at the Tattoo.
“I think it’s fair to say that for the last month I wished I’d kept my mouth shut and just gone quietly.
“And because this is the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns birth, Captain Steven Small – director of the bagpiping school – has written a new tune for tonight – so on top of everything I’ve had to learn this new one.
“But I was humbled this morning when they only suggested a few minor adjustments.”
Military piping also runs in the family. David’s dad was a Pipe Major himself – and his proud father will witness him play the famous Lone Piper – before a spectacular fireworks display and fighter jet fly-by from the RAF.
David said: “Having been a piper before I joined the army, one of the routes I may well have taken when joined as a soldier was have become a piper – like my father.
“And I’d have wanted to have been director of the army bagpiping school.
“But as a soldier and later Governor of the Castle I’m privileged to have served with some of the great military leaders of this generation.
“So the combination of both as my final act in the British army is fantastic.
“Playing tomorrow night is a wee bit like taking a penalty for Scotland – it’ll win you the world cup.
“It’s great if it goes well – but if something’s going to go wrong I don’t think the Edinburgh Military Tattoo is the place to do it.
“But you can’t go through life avoiding these things.
“I would be hugely frustrated if I didn’t have a go at it and I’m the best prepared that I’m ever going to be.
“Because I’m being the lone piper and it’s my final night – it’s particularly special.”
However, this won’t be the first time that David has played on the famous esplanade. 40 years ago David stood by the castle dreaming of one day playing at the Tattoo – in front of his proud dad.
“Before I ever joined the army my father brought me here as a boy to the castle.
“My father was a Pipe Major at the Stranraer District Pipe Band and I actually played the bagpipes on the esplanade with a group of district pipers when I was 14.
“I think at the time I never thought I’d actually play at the Tattoo – but here I am.
“My father was very supportive throughout my career, when I was offered an officer’s commission and with my piping.
“And my father with here tonight – so It’ll be a proud moment.
“As a commander when I’ve been on operations no matter how confident you are you never want to let them down.
“And I wouldn’t want to let the tattoo down.
“I think emotion comes into it a bit.
“Tomorrow night is a case of getting the job done – but it will be a tremendously emotional experience as well.”
“The fact that I’m getting the chance to do this is an unbelievable thing to happen.
“It just ranks up with being accepted as a soldier – it’ll be another one of those moments.”