I was shy when I was young, reveals Willie Mackay in an oral history recording
Willie Mackay is well known in Caithness for his confident and cheerful style of presenting at a wide range of community events.
Many who saw him embrace the role of sidekick may therefore be surprised to learn that he suffered from shyness in his youth.
“To tell you the truth, I was a little shy at school,” Willie, 73, recalls in a new recording for Wick Voices, the Wick Society’s oral history project.
“I used to sit at the back of the class and if the teacher asked a question, I never raised my hand to answer.”
In the 27-minute interview, he also points out that it wasn’t until his early 50s that he started speaking in public.
Originally from Embo in Sutherland, Willie came to Caithness in 1970 to run the AI cattle breeding service – hence his nickname, ‘AI Willie’.
He was elected to Highland Council in 2007 and was re-elected in two subsequent elections. Willie, who lives in Oldhall, Watten, was civic leader of Caithness before taking up the title of Provost of Wick.
He tells how he started speaking in public after being persuaded to give a speech at the Latheron Show Committee dinner dance at the Portland Arms in Lybster in November 1999. He remembers being “petrified” by the prospect.
Since then, he has acted as entertainer at countless community events throughout the county, including concerts, ceilidhs, parties, games, galas and fun days.
“I always think it’s a good hint to practice beforehand,” Willie says in the recording. “The big secret of competition is that if you have the audience in the palm of your hand, you can say anything.”
At events such as the Mey Games, he has become accustomed to encounters with royalty. Willie points out: “Prince Charles knew who I was because I was responsible for the insemination of cattle at the Queen Mother’s farm in Longoe. He came and chatted.
Willie also recalls how he managed to learn the 101 lines of Holy Willie’s prayer so he could perform it at Burns’ suppers – locally and as far away as Argentina via video link.
Additionally, he talks about his volunteer role as president of the local branch of Enable, the charity for adults with a learning disability.
The recording can be listened to for free on the Wick Society website, www.wickheritage.org
There are now 322 records in the oral history collection.