TRAINING 2,000-plus children to skate is no mean feat – and taking classes at nearly 90 is quite an achievement too.
But then Bill Watt set up the club where he teaches himself. Border Ice Skating Club opened 48 years ago.
The retired electrical engineer teaches the youngsters most Sundays at the Border Ice Rink in Kelso and still skates himself.
He said: “I enjoy the freedom on the ice and skating to music. There’s just a self-expression there you can’t get anywhere else.”
Bill, of the town’s Croft Road, who is 90 in July, is a key member of the club for four to 16-year-olds, as president as well as tutor.
Head tutor and former Bill pupil, Alison Dagg, said: “The parents, tutors and, most importantly, the children think Bill is great and a true inspiration.”
He taught Lynne Regulski, who competed for Scotland as a 15 year-old. Three other former pupils skated professionally with Holiday on Ice, a show created by Olympic Gold medal winner and TV’s Dancing on Ice judge, Robin Cousins.
One was Kelso designer Doreen Shepherd who said: “I loved the club. Bill was terrific, encouraging us and organising trips to Edinburgh for extra practice sessions. Without Bill, I don’t think I would have gone on to join the Holiday on Ice cast and have the honour of skating with Robin Cousins.”
Bill said: “I thought it was marvellous that three girls from Kelso ended up in the show.”
Bill taught himself to skate as a child on the frozen ponds of his native Aberdeenshire. Moving to Edinburgh, he skated at Haymarket and later Murrayfield, before he and others in Kelso formed the skating club in 1964, a year after the Border Ice Rink opened.
Murrayfield’s head coach, Olympic skater Bobby Zebruck, helped the emerging club and taught Bill and others to the sport’s bronze coaching standard.
Bill thinks the club of about 80 members – 50 children regularly attend on Sundays – has survived so long because it is a family set-up: “It wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the volunteer tutors, parents who have children or have had children in the skating club. They come every Sunday.
“For the very young children it is an introduction to pre-school, they get to integrate and make friends and have a fairly strong discipline to their lives. They know they have to listen and learn and act.”
A former district commissioner for the Scouts, Bill joked: “I love the young ones, because they’re the same age group as me.
“I helped with youth clubs and, the fact that I was in the Scouts, I have a rapport with children.”
His proudest achievement in the club is teaching an autistic girl to skate. “She was about 11. You had to do it with eye contact and showing her. Her dad said it was amazing how well the two of us had a link. The sessions were only for maybe quarter of an hour, her concentration was minimal but it was amazing what she achieved, I was thrilled to bits.”
Bill continues to enjoy golf – he was competing last Saturday and won the Kelso club’s Bert Taylor Trophy, a Stableford competition, two years ago. He loves fishing, his garden is immaculate (all his own work), he was part of Kelso opera for more than 30 years and he likes DIY – he’s decorating his bathroom just now. A member of U3A, he also walks and was at the top of Cheviot and the Eildons a couple of years ago.
He’s the oldest playing member at Kelso Golf Club, the oldest skater, the oldest fisher. “If you have your health then you have got to use that to do whatever you feel like doing and you’ve got to be mentally active,” he said. “And the family keep me up to scratch!
“I had a cataract operation last year and it’s made a big difference – I can see the ball going down the fairway now.”
He and his wife Betty, who will celebrate her 90th in May, have three children: Ruth, a former highjumper for Britain who broke the Scottish record three times, Irene, who won the Merrydown Trophy for free skating and Christopher, who is a good skater and golfer. They have three grandchildren.
The couple celebrate their platinum wedding on Tuesday. Asked the secret to 70 years of marriage, Bill said: “Having a really lovely understanding wife, no secrets and to be so much in love with each other that it’s ongoing – it’s got to last and you have got to work at it to make it last.”