Paul Watson

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“A WORKING man, a family man, a travelling man” are the words of a song written this week as a tribute to Paul Watson.

Penned by his son Robbie 20, and his friends Ed Cox and James Adam, and performed by Ed and James at the funeral on Monday, it is a fine song and after countless requests the boys have agreed to record it. But, in truth, no song or appreciation can begin to capture the richness and vibrancy of the life that Paul Watson packed into 63 years.

From meagre beginnings in Dalkeith, the first child of Doug and Betty Watson, Paul’s outlook on life was shaped by early years in which Doug, a veteran of Dunkirk and true war hero, travelled from Midlothian to London and back to the Scottish Borders in search of employment to look after his family of four, with a daughter, Frances, following Paul into the world.

Paul attended Borders village schools at Towford and Morebattle and earned the top practical prize at Jedburgh Grammar School before leaving at 15 to work on a local farm. Work for Doug at the new Anglesey power station took the family to Wales and Paul left Holyhead and Bangor and Caernarvonshire Technical colleges with motor vehicle technology qualifications, the Hilson Technical Award and a craftsman’s certificate.

After running his own garage with Eric Jones and developing an interest in fast cars and motorbikes he and friends Cled Hughes and Bill Morell bought a 17-year-old Land Rover for £30 and decided to head to Australia, attracting much media interest.

We never discovered how they were to reach their intended destination, Melbourne, as they ran out of money after an eventful few months in 1969 that took them from England to Belgium, through Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey and Afghanistan to Iran, with odd jobs and police interrogations along the way.

It was at this time that Paul found the interest in Westerns that was to lead to a lasting fascination for horse-riding and guns and a neat line in facial hair.

Paul attracted headlines again in 1970 when he rescued a five-year-old boy from the Thames, and after an hour’s searching with police divers he found the drowned body of the boy’s sister four, and took her to the family home nearby. It was a public demonstration of what those who knew Paul privately were already aware of, that he was a strong, courageous and determined individual who could not let something or someone go.

Paul had a yearning to travel, though never as a tourist, and worked in Kitwe in Zambia, where he learned to fish, fly and speak Afrikaans, then Riyadh and Al-Khobar in Saudi Arabia. During this time he met Chris and they were married in Kent in 1977, daughter Carys coming the following year.

After a successful time in charge of 5,000 vehicles with Saudi’s leading private transport company, Paul returned to the UK in 1982, settling in Jedburgh, where he developed further a love of Land Rovers and restoring houses that was to take him from a 16-acre plot at Glendouglas to a glorious 400-acre farm at North Sorrowlessfield high above Earlston. He and Chris separated in 1986 and divorced in 1988.

Paul then met Elspeth, a local teacher and eventer, at Kelso Races. They were married at Mertoun Church in 1989, rode to their reception at Dryburgh on horseback together and soon welcomed the arrival of Robbie and Catherine, and two years ago a first grandchild in Ella, born to Carys and Dereke.

Paul’s reputation for rebuilding Land Rovers brought him friends across the world, while the Red Cross and Borders Search and Rescue were two of many organisations that relied on his ability to restore them for use on every continent.

Paul was an Earlston Primary School committee member and ardent fundraiser, and Santa Claus for the past decade; a strong-willed, yet quiet man; happiest in the shadows yet one of the most enthusiastic and generous of party-goers and hosts, with a rich sense of humour demonstrated often in hilarious fancy dress attire.

A great supporter of the local farms and traditions, including Borders festivals and hunts, Paul liked to do things with a bit of character.

He had come through so many scrapes in his life, from being (unintentionally) run over by his garage partner to spending hours stuck in a 28cm drum on a ship sinking in the Gulf of Mexico during a hurricane, that many felt he was immortal.

The reality came suddenly on New Year’s Day when he fell from his horse after riding to Lauder to see off the hunt in western dress, with cowboy hat rather than hard hat. It was a decision made with typical flair and determination, and one that his family will forever struggle with.

But it cannot overshadow an extraordinary life full of colour, character, courage, generosity and warmth towards his fellow man, nor the inspirational legacy that he leaves.