RICH Thomson is very much a stockman's stockman and is the feature of this week's Stockmen of our Time.

Brought up around the Morphie Beef Shorthorn herd, where his father was head stockman, he left school at the age of 15 to work with his father for six years in what was then a world-renowned herd. That's when the stockmanship and showing bug really kicked in for Rich, who then travelled to New Zealand and spent three years there, working with the Ardmore herd of Shorthorns and Angus cattle.

Rich has earned the nickname 'Vidal' (after the famous hairdresser, Vidal Sassoon) mainly because of his ability to present immaculately dressed Highland cattle, a skill learnt over many years, but honed to perfection working with the late Jimmy McConachie's Culfoich fold. He's also known for turning himself out in top form also and always joked that he owned shares in Bryclreem.

In 2014, he was made an honorary life member of the Highland Cattle Society and has not missed many events in more than 50 years. He never tired of attending shows, both big and small.

Well-known for his fantastic memory of shows gone past and former champions, here Rich shares his worldly experience with Kathryn Dick.

What happened when you came back to Scotland from abroad?

Since then, I worked with the Glenfarclas Aberdeen-Angus herd before moving, again with Angus cattle, to Bankhead of Kinloch.

After my work there and since then, I have been operating as a freelance stockman, working with various folds, breeds and people including Innisard, Culfoich, Merklands, Bien Esk, Gartocharn, Ubhaidh, Cefn-Gwrhyd Highland cattle and Alvie Shorthorns.

It's been rewarding – I have shown three Highland Show champions with different Highland cattle folds and four male and three female champions at Oban, including one that belonged to myself.

I have also been honoured to lead our two champions at the Glasgow International championships and two champions at Dalmally – which as every Highland breeder will tell you is the 'one to win'. It's also a very hospitable show – it's not known as the whisky Olympics for nothing.

What got you into showing?

From a young age and when I was in school, I assisted my father when he would show livestock at many shows – including the Royal Highland Show. It just seeped into you being around great cattle and fine people.

There are very few days going when you don't learn something. That's what's so great about being involved in this business.

Favourite breeds and why?

My favourite breeds would have to be the Highlanders and the Shorthorns because of their placid nature and ease of handling.

I first learned of this in 1956, in Inverness, when helping my father with Morphie Shorthorns. It makes such a difference that the cattle you work with are easy to handle.

Best animal ever shown?

It would definitely have to be the Aberdeen-Angus, Alana of Bankhead. She was female and supreme champion at the Royal Show, in 1975, and again stood female and reserve supreme, in 1976.

Another one of her highlights would be standing as champion Angus at Perth Show for three years in succession, from 1974 through to 1976.

Best animal ever seen?

I am drawn to Hugh and Lynne Dunlop's Dancing Queen, which stood as champion at Smithfield, in 2004. She was perfection on legs, a true fatstocker.

The best Highlander would be the bull that John Henderson bred, Dalriada of Ballyheather, which went on to be stock bull at Tordarroch for John Cooper. The power and presence of him was exceptional, however he was maybe too modern for some at that time.

Changes over the years, good and bad?

One of the good things is the number of young ones involved in the show circuit – they are the future. I can't think of any bad point that come to mind, I try to always be positive about everything!

Abiding memories?

It would have to be bringing out and showing the first ever Limousin-sired Smithfield champion, in 1984, called Thunderflash and having the honour of judging the Highland Show twice.

Biggest disappointment?

The finish of Smithfield Show. Going to Earls Court was a very special thing, taking farming into the capital was something else and it was a sad day when it stopped – many legends surrounded the show, but what went on in London, stayed in London. Aye, there were some great kist parties down in Earls Court.

Most influential person?

In the early years it would have to be my father, Dick. However, now, I would say it was the late Jim McConachie – a man who said it as it was. He had been a friend of mine for 32 years and there was never a cross word between us. And we shared a few drams together!

I also can't forget to mention Betty, for putting up with me for the past 35 years!

Favourite show?

Highland cattle shows and sales at Oban, in February and October, are the best in my opinion. It's where you meet the best of people and have the most social fun in the calendar!

In recent years I've been lucky enough to go there as mentor to Jim and Catherine McKechnie's Gartocharn fold. Catherine is my partner, Betty's daughter, and both her and Jim were brought up showing cattle. It's been a great experience for me to be taken in by them as 'one of the family' and also pass on some of the tips of bringing out Highland cattle.

As we're all members of the West of Scotland Club – actually I've got connections to all of the clubs – we attend many of the local events in the run up to the Highland and there are some great wee shows that manage to attract a great line-up of cattle, like Kilmacolm and especially Neilston.

Best kist party ever?

The best would be at Smithfield Show, at Earls Court, in the year that I won the Queen's Cup with my home-bred pure Highland steer, Sir William – which also stood as baby steer champion.

Also that year I won the Bob Rickatson Trophy for the best presented stockman and cattle in the show, which I was very proud to get. The Bryclreem scored again!

One piece of advice for aspiring showing people?

Let your work do the talking!

Choice of best stockman ever?

There have been many, but in no particular order, Dave Smith, Rob Shiach, Hendry Durward and John Crilley were men of outstanding ability, however, the master of them all was Jim Donald. He really was Gentleman Jim and a treat to watch prepare cattle – he turned it into an art form.

When was your first Highland Show?

I first attended the Royal Highland Show in 1956. The cancellation of the Highland this year was a blow to everyone, but I'd been unwell and wouldn't have made it anyway ... so that gives me lots of time to get ready for the 2021 event.

I'm already looking forward to catching up with old friends and new!