What a truly spectacular morning in the ancient woodland of The Hermitage in Dunkeld, Scotland. The River Braan roars past, full of meltwater from the Cairngorms. The giant Scots pines sway and sigh overhead. The air is thick with the smell of wet bracken and moss. Chunks of ice melt in the thin winter sun.
And there, on a giant rock next to the river, stands Finlay Wilson, yoga ambassador to King Charles’s Prince’s Foundation, stripped to the very crafty waist and performing a series of advanced yoga poses, wearing a kilt.
First he does Warrior I: legs spread, muscular arms stretched up, soft swirls of glossy strawberry blonde chest hair and giant calves bobbing and bending as he holds the position, deeper and deeper.
Then he does Wild Thing: a very flexible backbend with an outstretched arm that, well, rather makes my heart sing.
Flex it: Finlay Wilson, yoga ambassador at King Charles’s Prince’s Foundation, balancing on rocks in the River Braan
And finally Bird of Paradise, where he bends his left leg, tucks it over his left arm, twists a little and stretches behind him. That’s quite something to see when performed in a kilt, worn in full Scottish tradition.
No wonder the first luxury yoga and wellness retreat at King Charles’s Dumfries House in East Ayrshire – run by Finlay and his husband Alan Lambie, which takes place today and includes yoga, meditation and a kind of tennis ball self-administering massage – was almost sold out. immediately, despite costing £500 per head.
Or that there is already feverish interest in further sessions at Highgrove and other royal residences, some indoors, some outdoors.
Or indeed, that Finlay’s schedule quickly fills up with private bookings for lessons on remote Scottish islands and in castles, often with overstimulated Americans.
Rumor has it that the Queen Consort herself is eager to give his sessions a whirl if she and the King have a window. “She’s already doing barre and ballet, so I hope so,” says Finlay.
But of course she’s into it. Yoga with a half naked hunk in kilt? We are all! And it may be just what poor King Charles needs to cheer himself up after a challenging year.
Hunk in a headstand: Jane from The Mail doesn’t know where to look as Finlay does a headstand
“I get a lot of guys who start at his age. It’s never too late. Almost everyone I work with is over 60 — I like to focus on what people can do, not what they can’t. And Charles is very progressive, so I know he’s open to it,” says Finlay.
The 36-year-old has been making waves in yoga circles for a while now. Not only is he one of the nicest people I’ve met in a long time, he’s a best-selling author, runs a yoga charity called Heart Space with husband Alan, teaches worldwide, launched an app with free content, sells at least 20,000 copies of his Kilted Yoga calendar each year and mental health campaigns.
But it’s his body that makes hearts beat faster – oddly, especially women, even though they know he’s happily married to a man.
“I think there’s something romantic about a man in a kilt, even though I’m being taken,” he says. “Maybe it’s because I’m taken that they think they can post the comments safely — but they do get pretty snappy.
“I am very grateful for the ‘block’ function [online].’
When he appeared via video link on ITV’s This Morning before Christmas for a festive fitness segment – in just a kilt, from the snowy Spittal of Glenshee in temperatures of minus 12C – things got really exciting.
“The producers told me I’d be fine in a jacket because it was so cold, but at the last minute they all started yelling ‘Take off your top.'”
So he did.
In the studio, presenters Alison Hammond and Dermot O’Leary burst into laughter as viewers went into a Twitter frenzy, shouting lots of “Hello there!” placed. and “This is how I like my Scotsman,” accompanied by fire emojis, love hearts, and suggestive aubergines. “There were some very appreciative comments,” says Finlay.
‘My mother was shocked. She had always wanted me to be a doctor.’
The furor around Finlay really started in February 2017 when, just before teaching a yoga class, he posted a short video to his social media account of himself and an equally handsome friend named Tristan, both kilted and topless performing yoga poses in the Scottish wilderness.
First he does Warrior I: legs spread, muscular arms stretched up, soft swirls of glossy strawberry blonde chest hair and giant calves bobbing and bending as he holds the position, deeper and deeper
“I like to exercise in forests, up hills, on beaches,” he says. “And I wanted to show that Scotland is breathtaking.” But it wasn’t just the Caledonian landscape that captured viewers’ attention.
The video was a thing of beauty: strong, graceful bodies moving in tandem, filmed by Finlay’s twin brother Alastair and accompanied by simple drums and pipes.
At the very end, Finlay goes into a headstand and slowly, slowly, with a sweep of heavy tartan tweed – ‘it must be a bit like the flow of a waterfall’ – the kilt tumbles down for a glimpse revealing certainly the most perfect soil in the country.
“It was just a little bit of fun — yoga can feel a little holier than you sometimes,” he says.
An hour and a half later, when his class was over, Finlay looked at his phone and thought the world had gone mad. “I had over a million views!” he says. “The next day it was three million.” Today, that single post has been viewed more than 80 million times.
Naturally, it thrust him firmly into the spotlight. He has been on TV, on radio, appeared on America’s Today Show and been interviewed by The New York Times.
This is where he popped up all over the place, including on ITV’s Lorraine, where he delivered his host a ‘happy birthday’ message on his trousers – yes, he wore some that day – during a final handstand, leaving Lorraine a pink face and the audience yearns for more.
But while he embraced the moment, he insisted he wasn’t in it for the money or the fame.
He saw it as an opportunity to speak up about mental health issues in young men, and teach them how to ask for help when they feel desperate or even suicidal, as both he and his twin brother have sometimes done. And if people liked the look of his butt on the go, then so be it.
Because while Finlay looks like a Scottish forest god these days — chest out, beard trimmed to perfection, skin smooth and silky, muscles bulging as he moves through his yoga salutes — he sadly knows more than most about pain and suffering. And it was yoga that saved him.
He grew up in Lanark and was bullied terribly. ‘About being ugly, about being stupid, about everything. It happened all through high school,” he says.
At St. Andrews University, where he earned an MA in Classics and Geography and first separated from his twin brother, things took off and he began drinking heavily. “Every day — vodka, wine, anything I could get my hands on. Normally I would have started by noon.’
He also ate poorly and was overweight, deeply unhappy and desperate to come out as gay to his family, but somehow he couldn’t. Eventually it got so bad that he tried to take his own life.
And just when things didn’t seem to be getting any worse, a rare medical condition required him to have surgery on both legs that left him on crutches for more than a year, causing nerve damage to one leg and damaging his lower back. As the recovery time grew longer and longer, he missed exams and college fun.
It was then that he took up yoga to help with the pain and recovery. His first yoga teacher sounds awful – he said he had to sit out moves because he was “too fat” – but after finding a better one, the weekly sessions became daily.
That’s why he founded Heart Space, where he still teaches at least 16 classes a week – many for free – to give children, the elderly, the vulnerable, amputees and the disabled confidence and show them what they can do. Not what they can’t.
You can understand why The Prince’s Foundation wanted him on board. He also does deep tissue massage and can judge a potential yogi out of ten paces.
Including King Charles?
“Oh yes, his posture is already very good – you can tell by the way he holds his head.”
And while the King may not be quite ready for Wild Thing or Bird of Paradise, he has a nice selection of kilts to practice in.
“I have a Dumfries tartan kilt too!” Finlay says. “So if he comes in his, I’d definitely dress to match.”
However, Charles would ideally wear trousers underneath his, as it’s a skill few newbies possess not to flash the full Scottish breakfast during a kilted yoga session.
“It should never be more than the tiniest glimpse,” says Finlay. And with that, as the watery sun begins to set and just before his hands and everything else turn blue, he ends with one last yoga sequence.
Up come the feet, the big calves, the strong thighs, slowly, slowly.
Until the kilt flutters and nods and then, finally, that promised waterfall of pleats ripples down one by one, revealing for a moment what it’s all about.