In Stuart Letford’s Glenfiddich essay that appeared here last Wednesday, he wrote: “The only person whose opinion I want to hear in a pandemic is that of a virologist not that of a pub owner or a football pundit, a plumber, an actor … or a piper.”
It reminded piping historian, Jeannie Campbell of one virus expert who has appeared on British television a few times in recent months, someone who, Jeannie suspected, was also a piper.
Jeannie tells us that during the late 1970s, a Calum Semple was a regular pupil at the College of Piping. He was part of a weekly class of pupils from nearby Glasgow Academy and was photographed at the College’s 1979 Summer School.
A quick search online reveals a Malcolm Gracie Semple OBE FRCPCH FRCPE FHEA, Professor of Child Health and Outbreak Medicine at the University of Liverpool. Mr Semple is also a consultant respiratory paediatrician.
We contacted Mr Semple who confirmed Jeannie’s suspicions. He said: “Yes, this is me in the photo. The pipes were lent to me by Glasgow Academy until I saved up to enough to buy a half share in a set from Jim Wark.
“Glasgow Police had newly formed as Strathclyde and some of the pipers taught the Glasgow Academy boys. I progressed to taking lessons from among others Seumas MacNeill, Duncan Johnstone, Angus Lawrie, Alan McPherson of Shielfoot, and Jimmy Pryde.
“The summer schools at Otago Street were intense but really brought me on.
“An academic scholarship took me to Loretto School, Musselburgh where I was Pipe Major. I competed in the schools’ competitions from age 10 or so till age 18. I never won, but usually came a respectable runner up.
“My pipes travel with me on pleasure and work trips including some outbreak investigations. There’s a clip on Facebook with me playing in Sierra Leone in November 2014 in the midst of the West African Ebola outbreak. They also brought some light relief in Turkey after a severe storm and caused a security alert in Uzbekistan.
“So, when you hear me pontificate on the state of the second wave, you are listening to both a Virologist and a Piper.”
Stuart Letford, author of the Glenfiddich article, said: “What a lovely story. Calum, clearly, is precisely the type of person pipers should be listening to in this pandemic. The fact that he is a piper is a bonus for us. I note also that Calum received his OBE this year and it was for services to the Covid-19 response. He is appearing on the BBC Scotland’s ‘Debate Night‘ programme tonight at 7.00pm (GMT).”
Jeannie Campbell adds: “A few years later, in 1982, I taught Calum’s cousin, Donald Semple at Kelvinside Academy and in 1992 taught another cousin, Alan Semple at the Wednesday evening class.”