SIR Jack Stewart-Clark is fiercely proud of his family’s Scottish industrial heritage.

“Don’t call me a Scottish aristocrat, because my grandfather was a threadmaker and I worked for 17 years in the same company,” said the 86-year-old former Member of the European Parliament and owner of Dundas Castle, the 19th century house and five star tourism venue at South Queensferry outside Edinburgh.

It was Sir Jack’s great grandfather, Stewart Clark, who bought Dundas Castle for his retirement in 1899 after running the Clark Brothers thread empire with his four brothers. Originally established in the 1750s by brothers James and Patrick Clark, the business expanded into the United States in the 1840s and in 1952 merged with J & P Coats, the Scottish weaving and thread business that also grew into a global brand from its Paisley roots.

“[Stewart Clark] had made quite a lot of money making sewing thread in Paisley,” Sir Jack explained. “So our family traditions come from the textile industry in Paisley and I’m very proud of that.”

After serving as a lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards in Tripoli, North Africa, in 1948 and spending three years at Balliol College, Oxford, Sir Jack followed in his great grandfather’s footsteps by joining J & P Coats in 1952 as a trainee in the mills. Over the next 17 years, he worked in management roles around the world.

“I was district sales manager of the Coats company in Holland,” Sir Jack said. “I then became general sales manager of the Coats company in Portugal. I then went for five years to Pakistan and came back to Holland as managing director of the Dutch company. My wife is Dutch and I speak Dutch. I speak French, Spanish and Portuguese, so I feel very European and I think by working for a Scottish company in Europe, I’ve got to know Europe very well.”

Sir Jack went on to join Dutch electronics group Philips, where he spent five years as managing director of the UK consumer goods business, Philips Electrical. He spent another five years as managing director of Pye of Cambridge, a listed electronics company that was majority owned Philips and employed 20,000 staff.

It was Pye’s chairman, Lord Thorneycroft, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer and then chairman of the Conservative Party, who encouraged Sir Jack to become an MEP.

“For five years, I was vice president of the European Parliament, which meant I had to chair the sessions, rather like the Speaker [in the House of Commons]. I was privileged to meet visiting dignitaries including the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles. Lots of people who were heads of state would come to the European Parliament and one of my responsibilities was to look after them.”

Sir Jack spent another eight years leading delegations to Canada and Japan, and then five years focusing on European competition policy, including writing a book on the subject. In his second decade at the European Parliament, he moved on to work of a more social nature.

“I had a lot to do with education, the media and young people and my particular subject of specialism was drugs of abuse and alcohol,” Sir Jack explained. “I represented the European Parliament on the drugs monitoring centre in Lisbon (the European Council for Drugs and Drugs Abuse). I was also a trustee of the Mentor (UK) Foundation, which was set up to prevent alcohol and drugs abuse amongst young people. And I set up the Scottish office of the charity Foundation to help young people who were in and out of prison on drugs and alcohol.”

Since leaving the European Parliament in 1999, Sir Jack and his wife Lydia, an interior designer, have focused full-time on the multi-million pound restoration of Dundas Castle and its 400 acre estate, which includes a number of holiday cottages and an arable farm. The main house was designed by renowned Scottish architect William Burn and built in 1818 by Walter Dundas, whose Dundas clan ancestors fought alongside William Wallace and Robert the Bruce to defend Scotland.

Also in the grounds is the ‘auld keep’, which dates back to 1416 and celebrates its 600th birthday this year.

“The keep has a tremendous history right back to James the first of Scotland,” Sir Jack explained. “When Oliver Cromwell came here (to destroy Scottish fortifications after winning the battle of Prestonpans), Dundas Castle wasn’t destroyed because the Dundases made peace with him.”

The castle was also commandeered by the Ministry of Defence during World War II to be the headquarters of the Royal Airforce’s Balloon Barrage, which was protecting the nearby Forth Rail Bridge following a German bombing raid on the British fleet anchored in the Forth.

“They saw that we had a wonderful view right down the Forth and said, this is ideal for our headquarters. So they commandeered us from 1939 and I think they left in 1946.”

Dundas now turns over around £1 million a year as a luxury wedding and ‘exclusive use’ venue for private and corporate clients from around the world. North America has been the biggest source of business over the last year in particular.

“We had a lovely visit during the Open in St Andrews from one of America’s largest clothing groups,” Sir Jack said. “They had five helicopters on the lawn and all flew up to St Andrews and back in the evening.”