Jeremy Paxman has invested in what is thought to be Scotland’s first organic whisky distillery, part-owned by the former prisons chief at the centre of his infamous interview with the former home secretary Michael Howard.
The University Challenge presenter is one of the financial backers of Nc’nean Distillery, a “green” Scotch producer on the Morvern peninsula in the west Highlands, founded by Derek Lewis, the former director general of the Prison Service, and his daughter, Annabel Thomas.
The company uses renewable energy to make whisky from organically grown barley. It is sold in bottles made from recycled glass and 99% of the waste created by the distilling process is reused by a neighbouring farm.
Paxman, 71, said: “I have enjoyed a dram for more years than I care to remember. When the opportunity came along to get involved with a Scotch that is made while taking care of the environment, I was keen to get involved. How often can you say that your pleasure causes no harm to anyone else?”
Lewis was sacked as director general of the Prison Service in England and Wales in 1995 by Howard, the then home secretary, after two high-profile break-outs.
Later, Paxman interrogated Howard on Newsnight about whether he had threatened to overrule Lewis’s decision not to suspend the governor at one of the jails in question. Paxman notoriously asked the same question 12 times, to which Howard evaded giving a straight answer.
In retirement, Lewis, 75, bought the Drimnin Estate, on which the distillery sits, on the Morvern peninsula on the west coast of Scotland. Nc’nean – an abbreviation of Neachneohain, the name of the Scots Gaelic goddess of spirits – was established there in 2017 when 39-year-old Thomas, the company’s chief executive officer, gave up her job as a management consultant in London to follow her dream of making whisky.
To build the business, she raised £7.5m from an EU grant and other investors, including Paxman, who owns a 0.6% stake. A fresh round of funding in 2020 brought in a further £1.7m and handed 11% of the company to the taxpayer-backed quango Scottish Enterprise. Lewis remains on the board of directors.
Paxman, a keen angler, has been outspoken about his love of the Highlands and last year accused the salmon farming industry in Scotland of putting wild stocks of the fish at risk of extinction.
He has previously referred to his fondness of whisky, describing himself as “a fan and loyal supporter of the Highlands and Islands”, adding: “I do my best to support one of their main industries. It’s a sort of social service.”