RAF veteran launches vodka brand to support military veterans

Chris Gillan, a former soldier who has founded Heroes Vodka.
Chris Gillan, a former soldier who has founded Heroes Vodka.
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ENTREPRENEUR Chris Gillan is hoping to tap into the spirit of social enterprise - with a vodka brand to support military veterans.

And early signs are promising as Chris’s Heroes Vodka goes on sale in 350 supermarkets across the UK from its humble Ocean Terminal base.

The RAF policeman came up with the idea during his lowest ebb having demobbed with an injury suffered while serving his country.

“I’d gone from the top of my game to sitting there with nothing, it was a dark time,” said Chris, 37.

After two tours of Iraq, Chris was training for a posting to Afghanistan when he suffered a thigh muscle tear.

Unaware of the extent of the injury, Chris completed the training - and a six-month tour in Helmand helping defuse roadside bombs.

“I was just taking Ibuprofen because I didn’t know how bad it was,” said Chris, of his injury.

“Helmand was the closest thing to hell I’ve experienced - 54-degree heat with all your kit on.”

After nine years in the RAF, Chris finally called time on his military career in 2009 with a clear exit strategy.

“I was going to join the police to be closer to my girls in Edinburgh who I’d been away from so much,” said Chris, only for his injury to rule it out.

“I had this terrible flat in Leith. No central heating, no carpets, no curtains. I know how it feels to have no job - it hits your pride.”

But after getting help from a forces’ charity, Chris got back on track and was soon drawing up the blueprints for Heroes Vodka.

“It started small as a one-man operation but now I’ve been able to give work placements to veterans and hope to employ more in the future.”

Now retail giant Asda has confirmed Chris’ premium British wheat grain vodka will be on sale in its stores across the UK.

The deal signed by Chris means that a minimum 20 per cent of all profits will go to UK Armed Forces’ causes.

“The scale of opportunity will not only fast-track our ambitions of employing disadvantaged veterans nationwide but also greatly increase our financial support to our partnering charities,” said Chris.

Asda’s interest was another first for Chris, having become the first non-profit organisation in the alcohol sector. Now Chris is preparing Heroes Drinks for the next level, having secured a £100,000 loan from the supermarket and a further £150,000 of finance from Social Investment Scotland.

“Heroes Drinks is a fantastic example of the benefits in working together with innovative social enterprises to make ethical and high-quality products more readily available to consumers,” said Heather Turnbull, buying manager for Asda.

Alastair Davis, chief executive at Social Investment Scotland, said: “We have a fantastic opportunity to create much more sustainable and long term income for good causes.”